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Saturday, September 21, 2019

"Free and Fair Markets" Astroturf

James V. Grimaldi at WSJ:
About 18 months ago a new nonprofit group called Free and Fair Markets Initiative launched a national campaign criticizing the business practices of one powerful company: Inc.
Free and Fair Markets accused Amazon of stifling competition and innovation, inhibiting consumer choice, gorging on government subsidies, endangering its warehouse workers and exposing consumer data to privacy breaches. It claimed to have grass-roots support from average citizens across the U.S, citing a labor union, a Boston management professor and a California businessman.

What the group did not say is that it received backing from some of Amazon’s chief corporate rivals. They include shopping mall owner Simon Property Group Inc., retailer Walmart Inc. and software giant Oracle Corp. , according to people involved with and briefed on the project. Simon Property is fighting to keep shoppers who now prefer to buy what they need on Amazon; Walmart is competing with Amazon over retail sales; and Oracle is battling Amazon over a $10 billion Pentagon cloud-computing contract.
The grass-roots support cited by the group was also not what it appeared to be. The labor union says it was listed as a member of the group without permission and says a document purporting to show that it gave permission has a forged signature. The Boston professor says the group, with his permission, ghost-wrote an op-ed for him about Amazon but that he didn’t know he would be named as a member. The California businessman was dead for months before his name was removed from the group’s website this year.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Immigration and Public Opinion in 1965

Pew republishes a 2015 essay by the late Andrew Kohut:
Fifty years ago, the Immigration and Nationality Act dramatically changed the makeup of the country by ending a quota system based on national origins in favor of one that took into account occupational skills, relatives living in the U.S. and political-refugee status.
Despite the long-term impact of the 1965 law and the highly partisan tone the issue has taken on today, immigration was not highly divisive a half-century ago, and the American public paid it little heed. Of course, a lot was going on in 1965 to occ
upy the public’s attention – Vietnam and civil rights, to name just two mega-issues.
Nonetheless, Gallup polls that year found less than 1% of the public naming immigration as the most important problem facing the nation. And, by the end of 1965, the Harris poll found just 3% naming immigration revision as the legislation most important to them. (Back then, Medicare legislation was cited most often – by 28%.)
While Americans were much quieter about immigration back then, the public was divided about the right level of immigration. A June 1965 Gallup poll found that 39% preferred maintaining present levels, almost as many said they should be decreased (33%), and only a few (7%) favored increased immigration.
But in the end, a majority of the public approved of changing the laws so that people would be admitted on the basis of their occupational skills rather than their country of origin. And after the Immigration and Nationality Act was passed, fully 70% said they favored the new law.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Youth Turnout

Amy Gardner at WP:
College students across the United States more than doubled their rate of voting between the 2014 and 2018 midterm elections, according to a study published Thursday by Tufts University — a dramatic spike in political engagement that could draw unprecedented attention to these voters in next year’s presidential election.
The study found that 40 percent of students who are eligible to vote cast ballots last year, up from 19 percent in 2014.
Census Bureau data has shown that turnout rose in nearly all demographic groups between the two midterm cycles, but it rose most sharply among young adults. The Tufts study shows the turnout spike was particularly stark among college students — an extraordinary level of engagement for voters who typically stay home in nonpresidential elections.
Among all eligible voters, for instance, turnout reached 50 percent in 2018 — less than a 14-point jump since 2014, according to the United States Elections Project.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019


Nicholas Florko at STAT:
AARP’s white-haired “strike force,” as the organization calls them, is on the offensive like never before — bashing big business with a righteous indignation that could surprise activists decades younger and positioning AARP as the drug industry’s primary opponent.
“I can’t really think of another time when there’s been this strong a message in opposition to an entire industry,” said John Rother, the group’s former head of policy and the current CEO of the National Coalition on Health Care.
As Max Richtman, head of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, put it, “PhRMA is an 800-pound gorilla. And I think they’re meeting another 800-pound gorilla in AARP.”

Positioning itself as pharma’s main antagonist, however, has opened up the group to a new line of attack from PhRMA, the drug industry’s lobbying arm, which has launched something of a counter-offensive campaign. Its ads zoom in on the roughly $600 million AARP rakes in each year from selling private Medicare Advantage and Medicare supplement insurance plans to its members. That hefty sum, PhRMA says, raises serious questions about the motivation behind AARP’s push.
“In many respects, AARP is an insurance company that is masquerading as a seniors advocacy organization,” said Robert Zirkelbach, executive vice president of public affairs at PhRMA. “AARP has significantly increased their involvement in the drug pricing debate, and we think it’s important to point out what might be motivating their perspective.”

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Happy Constitution Day

Yuval Levin at AEI:
Populism and elitism are each in its way a kind of politics of hubris. Each is rooted in a plainly unreasonable view about the capacity of human beings — be it a select class or the people as a whole — to make just the right governing decisions. The Constitution is plainly dubious about both sets of claims to superior judgment. It is built upon a profound skepticism about the ability of any person and any group or political arrangement to overcome the limitations of human reason and human nature, and so establishes a system of checks to prevent sudden large mistakes while enabling gradual changes supported by a broad and longstanding consensus. Experts and aristocrats should not govern, nor should the people do so directly, but rather the people’s representatives should govern in a system filled with mediating institutions and opposing interests — a system designed to force us to see problems and proposed solutions from a variety of angles simultaneously and, as Alexander Hamilton puts it in Federalist 73, “to increase the chances in favor of the community against the passing of bad laws through haste, inadvertence, or design.”
That such a system is far from populist should be obvious. In Federalist 63, James Madison says that the constitutional architecture involves “the total exclusion of the people in their collective capacity” from directly governing. The more democratic elements of the Constitution are intended to be checks on the power of government, not expressions of trust in the wisdom of the public as a whole. And the more aristocratic elements are checks as well — on the tendency of representative institutions to shamelessly curry favor with the electorate at the expense of responsible government.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Russia v. FBI

Zach Dorfman, Jenna McLaughlin and Sean D. Naylor at Yahoo News:
On Dec. 29, 2016, the Obama administration announced that it was giving nearly three dozen Russian diplomats just 72 hours to leave the United States and was seizing two rural East Coast estates owned by the Russian government.
Both compounds, and at least some of the expelled diplomats, played key roles in a brazen Russian counterintelligence operation that stretched from the Bay Area to the heart of the nation’s capital, according to former U.S. officials. The operation, which targeted FBI communications, hampered the bureau’s ability to track Russian spies on U.S. soil at a time of increasing tension with Moscow, forced the FBI and CIA to cease contact with some of their Russian assets, and prompted tighter security procedures at key U.S. national security facilities in the Washington area and elsewhere, according to former U.S. officials. It even raised concerns among some U.S. officials about a Russian mole within the U.S. intelligence community.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Paying for Local News

Mason Walker at Pew:
Local newsrooms across the country are struggling financially amid declines in revenue and staffing, but the public is broadly unaware of these challenges. A majority of U.S. adults believe their local news media are doing well financially, even as only 14% say they have paid for local news themselves in the past year, either through subscribing, donating or becoming a member, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted last fall.
U.S. adults who are more civically engaged – those who have participated in a political event in the past year or are currently active in or a member of a local group or organization in their community – are far more likely to pay for local news than those who are less engaged. Roughly three-in-ten (29%) of those who are highly active in their local community say they have paid for local news in the past year. That is almost twice the rate of those who are somewhat active (14%) and about five times the rate of those who are inactive in their community (6%).