Search This Blog

Sunday, December 21, 2014


From Human Rights Watch:
The government continues to rely on arbitrary detention to harass and intimidate individuals who exercise their fundamental rights. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation—an independent human rights group the government views as illegal—received over 3,600 reports of arbitrary detentions from January through September 2013, compared to approximately 2,100 in 2010.

The detentions are often used preemptively to prevent individuals from participating in events viewed as critical of the government, such as peaceful marches or meetings to discuss politics. Many dissidents are beaten and threatened when detained, even if they do not try to resist.
Security officers virtually never present arrest orders to justify detentions and threaten detainees with criminal sentences if they continue to participate in “counterrevolutionary” activities. In some cases, detainees receive official warnings, which prosecutors may later use in criminal trials to show a pattern of delinquent behavior. Dissidents said these warnings aim to discourage them from participating in activities seen as critical of the government.
Victims of such arrests may be held incommunicado for several hours to several days. Some are held at police stations, while others are driven to remote areas far from their homes where they are interrogated, threatened, and abandoned.
On August 25, 2013, more than 30 women from the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White)—a group founded by the wives, mothers, and daughters of political prisoners and which the government considers illegal—were detained after attending Sunday mass at a church in Santiago, beaten, forced onto a bus, and left at various isolated locations on the city’s outskirts. The same day, eight members of the group in Havana and seven more in Holguín were arbitrarily detained as they marched peacefully to attend mass.
From Freedom House:
The Cuban news media are owned and controlled by the state. The independent press is considered illegal and their publications “enemy propaganda.” Government agents routinely infiltrate the ranks of independent journalists and report on their activities, often accusing them of being mercenaries working at the behest of foreign powers. Independent journalists, particularly those associated with the island’s dozen small independent news agencies or human rights groups, are subject to harassment. Nevertheless, some state media have begun to cover previously taboo topics, such as corruption in the health and education sectors. The national newspaper Granma has begun to publish letters to the editor complaining about economic issues, and state television, while generally a mouthpiece of the PCC, has recently inaugurated a new program, Cuba Dice (Cuba Says), that features “man-on-the-street” interviews. A number of publications associated with the Roman Catholic Church have emerged as key players in debates over the country’s future, including Espacio Laical, Palabra Nueva, and Convivencia. Low-circulation academic journals such as Temas are similarly able to adopt a relatively open and critical posture, given their limited mass appeal.

Access to the internet remains tightly controlled and prohibitively expensive. The estimated effective internet penetration rate is 5 percent, one of the lowest in the world, while nearly 30 percent of the population has occasional access to e-mail and a circumscribed, domestic “intranet.” In June 2013, the government announced the opening of 118 “Nauta” internet cafés across the island, increasing public access. However, one hour of computer time at these cafés costs the equivalent of a week’s average salary, and users are required to show identification and sign a pledge not to engage in “subversive” activities online. Household access to the internet is not currently available to the public, with only a select few permitted to legally connect at home. There are plans to begin enabling access via smartphones, but prices are expected to be prohibitive for the vast majority of the population.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Ronald Reagan in a Movie Against North Korea

In light of cyberhacking and threats that apparently come from North Korea, along with distributor reluctance, Sony Pictures has shelved The Interview.

In 1954, Ronald Reagan starred in a Korean War movie titled Prisoner of War.  The movie depicted atrocities by the North Koreans.  In a trailer for the movie, Reagan said:
Many who read the script said, you don't dare do it. It's too tough, too hard. We were advised to soften it, fake it up a little. But we felt, no, this had to be told with all its shocking, cruel, unpleasant detail. I can't use any of the words normally used in selling a motion picture when I talk about this one. You will see scenes never before shown in a motion picture because no one would have dared do it. We did. We did, because these things did happen. It's probably the toughest picture you will ever see on this theater screen. But MGM is proud to have made it. I'm proud to have had a part in it.


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.)