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Friday, December 19, 2014

Pew on the Wealth Gap

Many posts have discussed aspects of inequality.  Pew reports:
The wealth gap between America’s high income group and everyone else has reached record high levels since the economic recovery from the Great Recession of 2007-09, with a clear trajectory of increasing wealth for the upper-income families and no wealth growth for the middle- and lower-income families.

A new Pew Research Center analysis of wealth finds the gap between America’s upper-income and middle-income families has reached its highest level on record. In 2013, the median wealth of the nation’s upper-income families ($639,400) was nearly seven times the median wealth of middle-income families ($96,500), the widest wealth gap seen in 30 years when the Federal Reserve began collecting these data.
In addition, America’s upper-income families have a median net worth that is nearly 70 times that of the country’s lower-income families, also the widest wealth gap between these families in 30 years.
Wealth Gap Ratios

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cuba and the Constitution

Does the president have power to reestablish full diplomatic relations with Cuba?

Article II, section 3 of the Constitution says that the president shall "receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers."  In our textbook, we write:
According to a generally accepted interpretation, this power means that the president decides whether to recognize foreign governments after a revolution or regime change. More generally, this power to shape the content of talks with foreign diplomatsit implies the power to define U.S. policy and run the day-to-day business of foreign affairs. Unlike Congress, the chief executive sits atop a bureaucracy that is responsible for defense and foreign affairs, and so has ready access to information. Unlike Congress, a single leader can act with dispatch, consistency, and secrecy, especially in a crisis.
Findlaw notes:
Ambassadors and other public ministers'' embraces not only ''all possible diplomatic agents which any foreign power may accredit to the United States,'' 569 but also, as a practical construction of the Constitution, all foreign consular agents, who therefore may not exercise their functions in the United States without an exequatur from the President. 570 The power to ''receive'' ambassadors, et cetera, includes, moreover, the right to refuse to receive them, to request their recall, to dismiss them, and to determine their eligibility under our laws. 571 Furthermore, this power makes the President the sole mouthpiece of the nation in its dealing with other nations.
But there are certain things that Congress can do.  Buzzfeed reports:
"I anticipate I’ll be the chairman of the Western Hemisphere subcommittee on the Foreign Relations Committee” in the new Congress, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said in a press conference hours after the release of American prisoner Alan Gross from a Cuban prison was announced along with the administration’s plans to normalize relations with Cuba, including opening an embassy there.

“I anticipate we’re going to have a very interesting couple of years discussing how you’re going to get an ambassador nominated and how you’ll get an embassy funded,” Rubio, an ardent opponent of lifting the Cuban embargo, said.

...A Senate Democratic appropriations aide acknowledged the administration also can’t simply repurpose funds that have already been appropriated to the State Department, explaining, “Any reprogramming must be approved by the Appropriations Committee,” which, starting in January, will be controlled by Republicans.
Amanda Taub writes at Vox:
 Legally, the President cannot unilaterally lift the embargo. Many of the restrictions are codified in legislation that only Congress can change. However, the President does have the authority to make sweeping changes how the embargo works in practice. If he chooses to exercise his full executive authority, there may be little left of the embargo for Congress to repeal...[The] President can make sanctions less restrictive in practice by exercising his licensing authority under the current laws. The executive branch has the authority under current law to issue licenses that permit US citizens and corporations to do business with Cuba, travel there, and send money to family members there. The president isn't making licenses for those activities universally available, but he will make them easier to get.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Executive Actions

Obama has made prolific use of memoranda despite his own claims that he's used his executive power less than other presidents. "The truth is, even with all the actions I've taken this year, I'm issuing executive orders at the lowest rate in more than 100 years," Obama said in a speech in Austin last July. "So it's not clear how it is that Republicans didn't seem to mind when President Bush took more executive actions than I did."
Obama has issued 195 executive orders as of Tuesday. Published alongside them in the Federal Register are 198 presidential memoranda all of which carry the same legal force as executive orders.
...
Kenneth Lowande, a political science doctoral student at the University of Virginia, counted up memoranda published in the Code of Federal Regulations since 1945. In an article published in the December issue of Presidential Studies Quarterly, he found that memoranda appear to be replacing executive orders.
...
Though they're just getting attention from some presidential scholars, White House insiders have known about the power of memoranda for some time. In a footnote to her 1999 article in the Harvard Law Review, former Clinton associate White House counsel Elena Kagan — now an Obama appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court — said scholars focused too much on executive orders rather than presidential memoranda.
...
There are subtle differences. Executive orders are numbered; memoranda are not. Memoranda are always published in the Federal Register after proclamations and executive orders. And under Executive Order 11030, signed by President Kennedy in 1962, an executive order must contain a "citation of authority," saying what law it's based on. Memoranda have no such requirement.
Jonathan Adler writes at The Volokh Conspiracy blog:
Earlier Tuesday, a federal court in Pennsylvania declared aspects of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration policy unconstitutional.
According to the opinion by Judge Arthur Schwab, the president’s policy goes “beyond prosecutorial discretion” in that it provides a relatively rigid framework for considering applications for deferred action, thus obviating any meaningful case-by-case determination as prosecutorial discretion requires, and provides substantive rights to applicable individuals. As a consequence, Schwab concluded, the action exceeds the scope of executive authority.
This is the first judicial opinion to address Obama’s decision to expand deferred action for some individuals unlawfully present in the United States. [I've now posted the opinion here.]
Josh Gerstein writes at Politico:
The Pittsburgh-based judge rejected a Justice Department legal opinion arguing that Obama's actions fall within the traditional realm of the executive's discretion about which cases to pursue and which to overlook. Schwab, a George W. Bush appointee, also quoted in detail from a series of public statements Obama made in recent years about the limits on his executive authority to make sweeping changes in immigration enforcement.
A Justice Department spokesman rejected the judge's legal rationale and his decision to opine on the legality of Obama's actions.
"The decision is unfounded and the court had no basis to issue such an order," said the official, who asked not to be named. "No party in the case challenged the constitutionality of the immigration-related executive actions and the department’s filing made it clear that the executive actions did not apply to the criminal matter before the court. Moreover, the court’s analysis of the legality of the executive actions is flatly wrong. We will respond to the court’s decision at the appropriate time.”
Another administration official, who also asked not to be named, added: "The judge's ruling has absolutely no effect on the president's executive actions. The judge hasn't been asked to rule on them, and the judge's order does not affect them. [The Department of Homeland Security] continues to prepare to implement the executive actions."

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Public Opinion and Nativity Scenes

A number of posts have mentioned First Amendment issues that swirl around ChristmasPew reports:
A new Pew Research Center survey finds that most Americans favor allowing religious displays like nativity scenes to be placed on government property. The survey found that 44% of U.S. adults say that Christian symbols should be allowed even if they are not accompanied by symbols from other faiths, such as Hanukkah menorahs, while another 28% say Christian symbols should be permitted as long as they are accompanied by symbols of other religions.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Wealth Inequality

Pew reports:
The Great Recession, fueled by the crises in the housing and financial markets, was universally hard on the net worth of American families. But even as the economic recovery has begun to mend asset prices, not all households have benefited alike, and wealth inequality has widened along racial and ethnic lines.
The wealth of white households was 13 times the median wealth of black households in 2013, compared with eight times the wealth in 2010, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of data from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances. Likewise, the wealth of white households is now more than 10 times the wealth of Hispanic households, compared with nine times the wealth in 2010.
The current gap between blacks and whites has reached its highest point since 1989, when whites had 17 times the wealth of black households. The current white-to-Hispanic wealth ratio has reached a level not seen since 2001. (Asians and other racial groups are not separately identified in the public-use versions of the Fed’s survey.)



Sunday, December 14, 2014

Survey on the Internet and Politics

A new survey from the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future

Users who said. . .
Users who said it is safe to say whatever they think about politics while online 31%

Opinion, Race, and Gun Control

Pew reports:
For the first time in more than two decades of Pew Research Center surveys, there is more support for gun rights than gun control. Currently, 52% say it is more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns, while 46% say it is more important to control gun ownership.
Support for gun rights has edged up from earlier this year, and marks a substantial shift in attitudes since shortly after the Newtown school shootings, which occurred two years ago this Sunday.
The balance of opinion favored gun control in the immediate aftermath of the Newtown tragedy in December 2012, and again a month later. Since January 2013, support for gun rights has increased seven percentage points – from 45% to 52% — while the share prioritizing gun control has fallen five points (from 51% to 46%).
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Dec. 3-7 among 1,507 adults, also finds a shift in attitudes about whether gun ownership in this country does more to protect people or put people’s safety at risk. Nearly six-in-ten Americans (57%) say gun ownership does more to protect people from becoming victims of crime, while 38% say it does more to endanger personal safety. In the days after Newtown, 48% said guns do more to protect people and 37% said they placed people at risk.
Over the past two years, blacks’ views on this measure have changed dramatically. Currently, 54% of blacks say gun ownership does more to protect people than endanger personal safety, nearly double the percentage saying this in December 2012 (29%). By contrast, whites’ views have shown less change: 62% now view guns as doing more to protect people, up from 54% in December.
As for the last point, see this provocative claim by Clayton Cramer in the Kansas Journal of Law and Public Policy:
The historical record provides compelling evidence that racism underlies gun control laws — and not in any subtle way. Throughout much of American history, governments openly stated that gun control laws were useful for keeping blacks and Hispanics "in their place" and for quieting the racial fears of whites.