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Friday, August 7, 2020


A release from NY Attorney General Letitia James:
New York Attorney General Letitia James today filed a lawsuit seeking to dissolve the National Rifle Association (NRA), the largest and most influential pro-gun organization in the nation. Attorney General James charges the organization with illegal conduct because of their diversion of millions of dollars away from the charitable mission of the organization for personal use by senior leadership, awarding contracts to the financial gain of close associates and family, and appearing to dole out lucrative no-show contracts to former employees in order to buy their silence and continued loyalty. The suit specifically charges the NRA as a whole, as well as Executive Vice-President Wayne LaPierre, former Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Wilson “Woody” Phillips, former Chief of Staff and the Executive Director of General Operations Joshua Powell, and Corporate Secretary and General Counsel John Frazer with failing to manage the NRA’s funds and failing to follow numerous state and federal laws, contributing to the loss of more than $64 million in just three years for the NRA.
 In the complaint, Attorney General James lays out dozens of examples where the four individual defendants failed to fulfill their fiduciary duty to the NRA and used millions upon millions from NRA reserves for personal use, including trips for them and their families to the Bahamas, private jets, expensive meals, and other private travel. In addition to shuttering the NRA’s doors, Attorney General James seeks to recoup millions in lost assets and to stop the four individual defendants from serving on the board of any not-for-profit charitable organization in the state of New York again.
“The NRA’s influence has been so powerful that the organization went unchecked for decades while top executives funneled millions into their own pockets,” said Attorney General James. “The NRA is fraught with fraud and abuse, which is why, today, we seek to dissolve the NRA, because no organization is above the law.”
Since 1871, the NRA has operated as a New York-registered 501(c)(4) not-for-profit, charitable corporation. Under state law not-for-profit, charitable corporations are required to register and file annual financial reports with the Charities Bureau in the Office of the Attorney General (OAG). The assets are required to be used in a way that serves the interests of NRA membership and that advance the organization’s charitable mission. However, as today’s complaint lays out, the NRA is alleged to have fostered a culture of noncompliance and disregard for internal controls that led to the waste and loss of millions in assets and contributed to the NRA reaching its current deteriorated financial state. The NRA’s internal policies were repeatedly not followed and were even blatantly ignored by senior leaders. Furthermore, the NRA board’s audit committee was negligent in its duty to ensure appropriate, competent, and judicious stewardship of assets by NRA leadership. Specifically, the committee failed to assure standard fiscal controls, failed to respond adequately to whistleblowers, affirmatively took steps to conceal the nature and scope of whistleblower concerns from external auditors, and failed to review potential conflicts of interest for employees.
NRA’s Culture of Self-Dealing, Mismanagement, and Negligence
The lawsuit alleges that the four men instituted a culture of self-dealing, mismanagement, and negligent oversight at the NRA that was illegal, oppressive, and fraudulent. They overrode and evaded internal controls to allow themselves, their families, favored board members, employees, and vendors to benefit through reimbursed expenses, related party transactions, excess compensation, side deals, and waste of charitable assets without regard to the NRA’s best interests.
When board members challenged LaPierre and others over their financial governance and leadership of the NRA, LaPierre retaliated and turned the board against those who attempted to challenge the illegal behavior.
The complaint lays out numerous other instances in which LaPierre, Phillips, Powell, Frazer, and other executives and board members at the NRA abused their power and illegally diverted or facilitated the diversion of tens of millions of dollars from the NRA. These funds were in addition to millions of dollars the four individual defendants were already receiving in grossly excessive salaries and bonuses that were not in line with the best practices and prudent standards for evaluating and determining compensation.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Media Coverage of Race

Countless articles have been published in recent weeks, often under the guise of straight news reporting, in which journalists take for granted the legitimacy of novel theories about race and identity. Such articles illustrate a prevailing new political morality on questions of race and justice that has taken power at the Times and Post—a worldview sometimes abbreviated as “wokeness” that combines the sensibilities of highly educated and hyperliberal white professionals with elements of Black nationalism and academic critical race theory. But the media’s embrace of “wokeness” did not begin in response to the death of George Floyd. ...
There is a body of social science research arguing that shifts in race-related media coverage have a causal effect on racial attitudes. For instance, political scientist Paul Kellstedt has provided evidence showing that shifts in racial attitudes follow shifts in race-related news content. But, while building on Kellstedt’s findings, my own research suggests that not all demographics are equally or even similarly responsive to such media trends. Specifically, I find that the causal effects of race-related media coverage are strongest for white Democrats and liberals, weaker for nonwhite Democrats and liberals, and are largely nonexistent for white Republicans and conservatives. This differential effect is partly due to ideological differences in understandings of racial inequality, which influences how white liberals and conservatives respond (particularly in the moral-emotional sense) to related information.
Like Kellstedt, I compiled dozens of time series of racial attitudes—ranging from perceptions of discrimination and attributions of racial inequality to race-conscious policy attitudes—and ran them through an algorithm that was originally developed by James Stimson to generate singular aggregate indexes of general public policy liberalism. I then added the resulting “racial liberalism” index to my dataset of media term-usage, which provides the basis for the analysis in this article. While many of the terms were strongly correlated with the racial liberalism index, subsequent analysis showed that the latter was most uniquely associated with a scale (which I labeled the “Woke Term-Usage Index”) generated from the usage frequency of terms like, “privileged,” “systemic racism,” and “racial disparities,” in The New York Times.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Crime and COVID

The Dispatch:
A new report from the Council on Criminal Justice—which tracked changes in 11 different criminal offenses across 27 American cities—found the homicide rate increased 37 percent from the end of May through June and the aggravated assault rate rose 35 percent over the same period. Chicago, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Louisville, Nashville, and Detroit accounted for some of the biggest spikes. “In general,” the report concluded, “property and drug crime rates decreased, while violent crime rates increased during [the spring and early summer].”

A Wall Street Journal analysis of crime statistics casts a broader net, gathering data from the nation’s 50 largest cities. Its findings? Homicides have risen by 24 percent so far this year. The murder rate has increased by double digits in 36 of the 50 cities included in the study. Robberies, conversely, have decreased by around 11 percent year-over-year.
Despite the surge in recent months, the homicide rate remains far closer to its historic low-point than its peak. According to data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program compiled by the Disaster Center, the homicide rate over the past 60 years topped out at 10.2 murders per 100,000 people in 1980. It was less than half that—5.0 per 100,000—in 2018. The statistic reached its nadir in 2014, when there were just 4.4 murders per 100,000 people.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Public Opinion, Media Bias, and Polarization

From the Knight Foundation:
For the 2020 American Views survey, Gallup and Knight polled more than 20,000 U.S. adults and found deepening pessimism and further partisan entrenchment about how the news media delivers on its democratic mandate for factual, trustworthy information. Many Americans feel the media’s critical role of informing and holding those in power accountable is compromised by increasing bias. As such, Americans have not only lost confidence in the ideal of an objective media, they believe news organizations actively support the partisan divide. At the same time, Americans have not lost sight of the value of news — strong majorities uphold the ideal that the news media is fundamental to a healthy democracy.
  • Almost three-fourths of Republicans (71%) have a “very” or “somewhat” unfavorable opinion of the news media, compared to 22% of Democrats and 52% of independents.
  • Democrats and Republicans differ greatly in their ratings of the media on every aspect of performance, including providing objective news reports, holding political and business leaders accountable for their actions and helping Americans stay informed about current affairs.
  • Sixty-nine percent of Americans, including 61% of Democrats, say the increasing number of news sources reporting from a particular point of view is “a major problem.” In contrast, 77% of Republicans say the same.
  • While a majority of Americans across the political spectrum (80%) say the media is under attack politically, they are divided as to whether those attacks are merited. Whereas 70% of Democrats say the media is under attack and those attacks are not justified, 61% of Republicans say such attacks are justified.
  • In addition to partisan differences in media attitudes, views also vary by age, with older Americans generally more favorable toward the news media than younger Americans. Whereas 44% of Americans aged 65 and older have “very” or “somewhat” favorable views of the media, less than 1 in 5 Americans under age 30 (19%) say the same.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Decline in Legislative Capacity

Many posts have discussed declines in congressional capacity.

Since the 1990s, members of the US House have shifted resources away from legislative functions to representational activities. We reveal this decline using an original dataset constructed from 236,000 quarterly payroll disbursements by 1,090 member offices for 120,000 unique staff between the 103rd and 113th Congresses, as well as interviews with former members and staff in Congress. These data allow us to test two plausible alternative explanations, one rooted in the centralization of legislative power over time and the other in conservatives’ desires to contract government power. We show that the decline in legislative capacity is symmetrical between and consistent within both parties, contrary to expectations rooted in asymmetrical, ideological sabotage. Additionally, this divestment occurs within incumbent member offices over time, accelerates when new members replace incumbents, and persists when majority control changes. We conclude that competition over institutional control and centralization of legislative functions motivates declining legislative capacity among individual members.
From the article:
The general patterns we uncover here are substantiated in an interview with a Legislative director for a democrat, who serves as a senior staffer responsible for the office’s legislative matters and manages three junior colleagues. the staffer observed that the decline in legislative resources we document here is associated with increased turnover and decreased policy experience in the House:
The other piece is no one really knows how to legislate anymore. as someone who’s been around a little while…there’s not really the expertise, even among committee staff that there was a couple years ago because we’re not doing it [legislating]…i was talking to a [committee legislative staff friend] last year. she was telling me that she had to bring all of [the legislative assistants working for members on] the subcommittee in to teach them how to do a markup because not one of the [legislative assistants] of this subcommittee had ever staffed their boss in a markup before. ever.
We’ve got a great, smart team … but two of my legislative assistants are 23 and 24…you need a little bit more experience in a place like this. [Congress] is always gonna be a young place, it’s always gonna attract young people that are ambitious. But it’s gone to an extreme…you can tell that people haven’t gone through this before sometimes. sometimes you can use that to your advantage, sometimes it’s frustrating. But that’s a real issue…it’s hard when there aren’t people that have been through quite a few markups, or been through a couple reauthorizations of a major bill

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Race and Online Deliberation

As the coronavirus pandemic drags on and intensifies, courts around the country are moving toward reopening in fits and starts, with distancing, temperature checks, masks, and hand sanitizer. Some courts are also exploring distanced alternatives, including in some cases trial by Zoom, or by other web-conferencing tools that allow jurors to stay home. Including jury deliberations is “the final yard” in this transition, with some courts using the technology only for jury selection, while others are exploring deliberations as part of demonstrations or actual online trials.

If courts continue to move in this direction, what differences can we expect in deliberations? Will the medium of communication — in person or online — lead to differences in who participates? Discussions of online jury representativeness have focused on access to technology and to internet connections, and how they can be addressed (for example, by providing technology access in private rooms of courthouses or libraries). But what if the medium itself also causes differences in access? A large scale research project comparing in-person to online deliberations (Showers, Tindall, & Davies, 2015) was conducted five years ago, but now has new relevance. A team of Stanford researchers looked for demographic differences in comparing quality of participation across the deliberation styles, and while they found no significant differences based on gender, age or education, they did see a difference based on race. Online deliberation led to reduced black participation and increased white participation.

Showers, E., Tindall, N., & Davies, T. (2015, August). Equality of participation online versus face to face: condensed analysis of the community forum deliberative methods demonstration. In International Conference on Electronic Participation (pp. 53-67). Springer, Cham.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

The Cost of Citizenship and Asylum

Rachael Levy at WSJ:
The Department of Homeland Security said it would increase the fee to apply for U.S. citizenship by 81% to $1,160 and impose a fee for the first time to apply for asylum, according to a filing in the Federal Register on Friday.
The fee increases, proposed last year, come as the government agency that handles applications faces a budget shortfall and are the latest in a string of rule changes making it tougher for low-income people to immigrate legally or become U.S. citizens.

A USCIS spokesperson said 97% of the agency’s budget is supported by fees. USCIS, unlike most of the federal government, largely depends on funding from fees it collects on citizenship, green-card and other immigration applications, which have fallen in the past few years ... That decline has been compounded during the coronavirus pandemic as the agency has shut its offices.
The spokesperson added the new asylum application fee of $50 is “well below the $366 estimated cost of adjudicating the application.”
The rule also changes fee-waiver requirements to make fewer people eligible for waivers. The final rule is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Monday and will take effect on Oct. 2.
The fee for asylum seekers would make the U.S. one of four countries to charge a fee for humanitarian protections, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan Washington think tank. The other countries are Iran, Australia and Fiji, the institute said.
The fee may be prohibitive for asylum seekers. “While $50 may sound like a relatively modest amount, it may be a significant hurdle for those lacking a reliable income for extended periods,” the think tank said in a December 2019 report.