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Monday, April 30, 2012

A Gaffe at EPA

Social media are part of yet another controversy.  CNN reports on what can happen when a bureaucrat makes a politically toxic remark:
The head of the Environmental Protection Agency's office in Dallas has resigned over comments he made in 2010 that became the focus of political condemnation last week.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said Monday that she accepted a letter of resignation from Al Armendariz.
"I respect the difficult decision he made and his wish to avoid distracting from the important work of the agency," Jackson said in a written statement.
In the letter dated Sunday, Armendariz said he regrets his comments, adding that they did not reflect on his work or the work of the EPA.
The controversy erupted last week when a video surfaced showing Armendariz saying in 2010 that his methods for dealing with non-compliant oil and gas companies were "like when the Romans conquered the villages in the Mediterranean. They'd go into little villages in Turkish towns and they'd find the first five guys they saw and crucify them."
Sen. James Inhofe's office told CNN it uncovered the video while preparing for a blistering half-hour Senate floor speech that Inhofe delivered Wednesday. In the speech, the Republican from Oklahoma criticized the Obama administration's energy policies and cited Armendariz in particular.
"His comments give us a rare glimpse into the Obama administration's true agenda," Inofe said.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Town Hall Dearth Continues


Next week’s congressional recess is formally called a “constituent work week” by the House. That name implies the traditional recess activity of hosting town-hall meetings and fielding questions from constituents.
But now, more and more lawmakers are ditching face-to-face meetings in favor of “virtual” ones held over the telephone or Internet. Whether this is an achievement for participatory democracy or a way for lawmakers to avoid potentially unpleasant interaction with angry voters is debatable.
“Let’s just say I know of a number of members who eagerly avoid real town halls and substitute them with tele-town halls,” offered Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., who says he holds about 30 live events annually. He also does some gatherings by phone.
He is not the only one to notice a trend, although detailed data is somewhat elusive. No House official claims to track such information.
Virtual town halls have a couple of advantages:

  • They avoid the disruptions and security risks that may come with live town halls.
  • They potentially allow more people to participate. 
But there are disadvantages.  In a real town hall, voters can see how their elected officials handle pressure and whether they actually know their stuff.  In a virtual town hall, staffers can screen out challenging questions and ply unprepared lawmakers with talking points.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Leading Lobbies

Our chapter on interest groups emphasizes that far more money goes into lobbying than into campaign contributions. Open Secrets reports:
Pharmaceuticals, utilities and big agriculture have led the lobbying charge so far this year, according to preliminary figures from latest lobbying disclosures. The pharmaceutical industry as a whole spent $69.6 million on lobbying in the first three months alone, while electrical utilities spent $43.3 million. The agricultural services industry - which includes heavy hitters like Monsanto, the American Farm Bureau and Archer Daniels Midland - spent far less, only about $12.9 million, but that represented a 48 percent increase over its lobbying in the final three months of 2011.

Overall, the ebb and flow of industries on our list of top lobbyists was dictated by the legislative calendar. While all these groups regularly rank highly in terms of their spending, they all had particular battles early in 2012.
...
To see a full list of the top industries and how they've lobbied Washington in the first three months of 2012, explore our industry lobbying page. Or, check out our top spenders page, to see a list of top organizations and how much they spent on lobbying so far in 2012 (spoiler: once again, the No. 1 organization, by far, is the Chamber of Commerce).
Also at Open Secrets:
According to an OpenSecrets.org analysis of the most recent lobbying disclosure information, five of the top ten bills that have been lobbied the most intensely so far this year are Internet-related, and most have bipartisan and industry backing. Major cash is being laid out to push their passage.

The most recent bill to stir things up is the Cyber Intelligence and Sharing Protection Act(CISPA), which would allow private companies to share far more data on users with the federal government in what backers say is an effort to improve cybersecurity. Opponents claim it would severely undermine the privacy rights of many Americans. The bill was passed by the House last night and now faces a tougher battle in the Senate (and the threat of a veto by President Obama).

A list of companies and organizations that have sent letters of support for the bill to the House Intelligence Committee, where the legislation was created, meshes closely with the list of top lobbying groups so far this year -- not to mention groups that lobbied on SOPA and PIPA.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Many Americans Flunk Civic Literacy

As previous posts have indicated, many Americans struggle with basic knowledge of their government. One writer even offered a thought experiment of having birthright citizens pass the citizenship test that immigrants must take.  USA Today reports:
Immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship have to pass a 10-question civics test asking basic questions about American history and government, and about 93% succeed.

But only 65% of native-born Americans could get the required six out of 10 right answers when asked the same questions in a telephone poll.
That's the finding from the Center for the Study of the American Dream at Xavier University in Cincinnati, which commissioned the telephone survey of 1,023 native-born Americans last month. Michael Ford, the director of the center, said the results are particularly troubling in an election year featuring competing visions of a Constitution that many citizens may not understand.
"If we are civic illiterates, the chances of losing our freedom is greater than being invaded by aliens or a foreign country," he said.
Most Americans agree. In a separate survey, 77% said all Americans ought to be able to pass the citizenship test, and 60% said it should be a requirement for high school graduation.
See the survey and other materials here.

Public Opinion on Federal, State, and Local Governments

Our chapter on federalism discusses public opinion on the various levels of government. Pew reports:
The gap between favorable ratings of the federal government and state and local governments is wider than ever. Just a third of Americans have a favorable opinion of the federal government, the lowest positive rating in 15 years. Yet opinions about state and local governments, on balance, remain favorable.
The favorable rating for the federal government has fallen to just 33%; while nearly twice as many (62%) have an unfavorable view, according to the latest survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, conducted April 4-15. By contrast, ratings of state governments remain in positive territory, with 52% offering a favorable and 42% and unfavorable opinion of their state government. Local governments are viewed positively by roughly a two-to-one margin.
Ten years ago, roughly two thirds of Americans offered favorable assessments of all three levels of government: federal, state and local.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Federalism and the Arizona Law

(Revised, 4/27 am)

The case of Arizona v. US  involves the state's controversial law on illegal immigration. The New York Times reports on this week's oral argument:
Justices across the ideological spectrum appeared inclined on Wednesday to uphold a controversial part of Arizona’s aggressive 2010 immigration law, based on their questions at a Supreme Court argument.

“You can see it’s not selling very well,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a member of the court’s liberal wing and its first Hispanic justice, told Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., referring to a central part of his argument against the measure.
...
 Verrilli, whose performance in the health care case was sometimes halting and unfocused, seemed on Wednesday occasionally to frustrate justices who might have seemed likely allies. At one point Justice Sotomayor, addressing Mr. Verrilli by his title, said: “General, I’m terribly confused by your answer. O.K.? And I don’t know that you’re focusing in on what I believe my colleagues are trying to get to.”
Oral argument also touched on issues of federalism. The Constitutional Law Prof Blog reports:
Arguing for the United States, Solicitor General Verrilli had barely finished "may it please the Court," when Chief Justice Roberts posed this query:

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Before you get into what the case is about, I'd like to clear up at the outset what it's not about. No part of your argument has to do with racial or ethnic profiling, does it? I saw none of that in your brief.
When Verrilli answered "That's correct," Roberts again repeated his statement:
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Okay. So this is not a case about ethnic profiling.
Justice Scalia quickly articulated a states rights perspective. Responding to the federal government's position that "the Constitution vests exclusive authority over immigration matters with the national government," Scalia asked:

JUSTICE SCALIA: All that means, it gives authority over naturalization, which we've expanded to immigration. But all that means is that the Government can set forth the rules concerning who belongs in this country. But if, in fact, somebody who does not belong in this country is in Arizona, Arizona has no power? What does sovereignty mean if it does not include the ability to defend your borders?
Chief Justice Roberts explicitly stated "I don't see the problem with section 2(B)," perhaps explaining his earlier effort to clarify that the case was not about "racial profiling."
...

The discussions of preemption were often less focused on Congressional intent than on generalized federalism concerns, although at one point Chief Justice Roberts seemed to highlight the only precedent that mattered. Attempting to engage in an analogy, Verrilli argued:


. . . . if you ask one of your law clerks to bring you the most important preemption cases from the last years, and they rolled in the last -- the last hundred volumes of the U.S. Reports and said, well, they are in there. That -- that doesn't make it --
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: What if they just rolled in Whiting?
(Laughter)
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: That's a pretty good one.
The analogy was never completed.

But if Arizona v. United States mimics Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting, decided last May and upholding the Legal Arizona Workers Act, we can expect a fractured opinion ultimately finding in favor of Arizona.

See blog post on Whiting. 

The 2012 Election: What Will Matter, What Won't Matter, What Might Matter

(Revised 4/27/12)


What Will Matter
What Won't Matter
What Might Matter
Congressional Elections

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Madison Project

A new project invokes James Madison's name.  What would he have thought of participatory legislating?

KeepTheWebOpen.com explains:
The OPEN Act is built to protect creative ownership in America while securing the open, accessible Internet you deserve. We're going further by actually opening up the legislative process with a new tool named Madison.

You met Madison on the home page. It let you read, share and mash up the OPEN Act, helping us deliver more efficient, effective solutions to the problem of online copyright infringement.

Madison is a work in progress, just like the OPEN Act. We can't make it better without users like you. Push it to the limits and tell us what we missed, or what we could do better.

We're committed to an open Internet that works for both American artists and their fans. Let's get there with Madison.

"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." - James Madison
Rep. Darrell Issa spoke about the idea at Stanford:

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Immigration from Mexico on Hold

The largest wave of immigration in history from a single country to the United States has come
to a standstill. After four decades that brought 12 million current immigrants—most of whom came illegally—the net migration flow from Mexico to the United States has stopped and may have reversed, according to a new analysis of government data from both countries by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center.
The standstill appears to be the result of many factors, including the weakened U.S. job and housing construction markets, heightened border enforcement, a rise in deportations, the growing dangers associated with illegal border crossings, the long-term decline in Mexico’s birth rates and broader economic conditions in Mexico.
It is possible that the Mexican immigration wave will resume as the U.S. economy recovers. Even if it doesn’t, it has already secured a place in the record books. The U.S. today has more immigrants from Mexico alone—12.0 million—than any other country in the world has from all countries of the world.* [emphasis added] Some 30% of all current U.S. immigrants were born in Mexico. The next largest sending country—China (including Hong Kong and Taiwan)—accounts for just 5% of the nation’s current stock of about 40 million immigrants.
* Russia has 12.3 million residents who are classified by the United Nations as immigrants, but the vast majority were born in countries that had been a part of the Soviet Union prior to its breakup in 1991.




 

Monday, April 23, 2012

President Obama and the Separation of Powers

Our chapters on Congress and the presidency describe the longstanding conflicts between these institutions.  Previous posts have dealt with President Obama's exercise of power in the field of national security. Charlie Savage writes at The New York Times:
One Saturday last fall, President Obama interrupted a White House strategy meeting to raise an issue not on the agenda. He declared, aides recalled, that the administration needed to more aggressively use executive power to govern in the face of Congressional obstructionism.

“We had been attempting to highlight the inability of Congress to do anything,” recalled William M. Daley, who was the White House chief of staff at the time. “The president expressed frustration, saying we have got to scour everything and push the envelope in finding things we can do on our own.”
For Mr. Obama, that meeting was a turning point. As a senator and presidential candidate, he had criticized George W. Bush for flouting the role of Congress. And during his first two years in the White House, when Democrats controlled Congress, Mr. Obama largely worked through the legislative process to achieve his domestic policy goals.
But increasingly in recent months, the administration has been seeking ways to act without Congress. Branding its unilateral efforts “We Can’t Wait,” a slogan that aides said Mr. Obama coined at that strategy meeting, the White House has rolled out dozens of new policies — on creating jobs for veterans, preventing drug shortages, raising fuel economy standards, curbing domestic violence and more.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Bad Job Market for Grads

Our chapter on economic policy describes how the issue affects people, including readers of the book. AP reports:
The college class of 2012 is in for a rude welcome to the world of work.
A weak labor market already has left half of young college graduates either jobless or underemployed in positions that don't fully use their skills and knowledge.
Young adults with bachelor's degrees are increasingly scraping by in lower-wage jobs - waiter or waitress, bartender, retail clerk or receptionist, for example - and that's confounding their hopes a degree would pay off despite higher tuition and mounting student loans.
An analysis of government data conducted for The Associated Press lays bare the highly uneven prospects for holders of bachelor's degrees.

French Learn Voter Mobilization from Americans

At Slate, Sasha Issenberg writes about how French operatives learned voter mobilization from the Obama campaign.
The three young men monitoring the volunteer sign-up table outside François Hollande’s rally at a large arena here on Monday all hail from Strasbourg but trace their political awakening to Cambridge, Mass. In early 2008, while studying at Kennedy’s Harvard School, Guillaume Liegey learned the rudiments of voter contact through a class with Democratic operative Steve Jarding and encounters with Marshall Ganz, the legendary labor organizer whose protégés included some of Barack Obama’s top field staffers. Another Harvard student, Arthur Muller, saw their tactics at work during regular treks to New Hampshire in the final weeks of the 2008 general election to knock on doors for Obama’s campaign, masking his native accent (out of concern for Bush-era sensitivities) and pretending he was Dutch. Muller was a childhood friend of Vincent Pons, a graduate student at MIT under the tutelage of Esther Duflo, the international development economist and specialist in randomized field experiments that, when applied to electioneering, had quantified the ability of a single door knock to deliver a vote. After the election the three Frenchmen realized where their new curiosities converged. “We got interested in all the voter-mobilization stuff,” says Liegey.

It was an unlikely area of fascination for three foreigners in their first encounter with American politics. Most of the foreigners who made a trans-Atlantic pilgrimage to examine Obama’s campaign up close fixated on the cosmopolitan candidate or the avant-garde trappings of his communication strategy, and reduced it to a series of easily mimicked gestures, like the Israeli website whose design was filched nearly entirely from Obama’s despite the fact that the candidate deployed the American as a foil. Such slavish copying eventually exhausted itself and the marketing slogan “Obama-style campaign” lost its novelty, in large part because few of the copycats actually understood the complex infrastructure that made Obama’s innovations possible. “A lot of people look at the U.S. and see the poli-optics of it but never look at what’s behind it,” says Julius van de Laar, a German national who served as Obama’s Missouri youth-vote director in 2008 and has since opened a Berlin new-media consulting firm.

...
“Campaigns take a different shape in Europe,” says Marietje Schaake, who observed the Obama campaign as a consultant working in the United States and was inspired by his victory to run for the European Parliament, where she has served since 2009. “The money is not there in Europe—on the scale people are doing it in the US would be considered corruption in the EU.”

No members of the Obama diaspora, however, have been moved to reimagine their country’s politics as boldly as the three Frenchmen who met in Cambridge. By latching on to that “voter-mobilization stuff,” they stumbled into the most enduring recent shift in American electioneering, one not exclusive to Obama but exemplified by his campaign: a renaissance of individual voter contact, boosted by new tools that allow it to be keenly targeted and its effects clearly measured.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Destination: America

As we explain in our textbook, international migration involves issues of citizenship and foreign policy. The United States has a unique position among the nations, as Gallup explains:
About 13% of the world's adults -- or more than 640 million people -- say they would like to leave their country permanently. Roughly 150 million of them say they would like to move to the U.S. -- giving it the undisputed title as the world's most desired destination for potential migrants since Gallup started tracking these patterns in 2007.

In addition to the nearly one in 30 adults worldwide who would like to permanently relocate to the U.S., large numbers are attracted to the United Kingdom (45 million), Canada (42 million), France (32 million), and Saudi Arabia (31 million).
Gallup's latest findings on adults' desire to move to other countries are based on a rolling average of interviews with 452,199 adults in 151 countries between 2009 and 2011. The 151 countries represent more than 97% of the world's adult population.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Taxes, Tuition, and Inequality

Our chapter on economic policy describes various tax deductions and credits, and presents data on how the tax burden falls on various income groups. Inside Higher Ed reports:
A report by Education Sector shows how rapidly the federal government has increased its spending on tax credits and deductions for college tuition -- tax breaks that disproportionately help upper-income taxpayers. Financial aid experts have noted that amid many complaints about the exploding costs of the Pell Grant Program, which mostly assists low-income students, relatively little attention has been paid to tuition tax breaks. In addition to documenting the growth of the tax breaks, the Education Sector report urges their elimination.
Overall, however, the tax system does not contribute to income inequality, as William Galston explains at The New Republic:
Last December, the Federal Reserve published a working paper by four researchers—one university-based, one from Treasury, two from the Fed—based on a large, confidential file of tax returns: a one-in-5000 random sample of the population of U.S. taxpayers, comprising 30,000 households. They found that the rise in income inequality mostly reflects permanent as opposed to transitory changes in household income.
But the federal tax system didn’t contribute to that rise. From the beginning of the period studied to the end, our moderately progressive tax system reduced pre-tax inequality by roughly the same amount. Overall, the authors conclude, the tax system “does not seem to have altered the trend toward rising inequality.”
The authors are aware that their conclusion is counterintuitive: “The finding of little change in the effect of the federal tax system on the evolution of inequality in recent years might appear surprising in light of the well-publicized reductions in marginal tax rates, especially at the high end of the income distribution, in 2001 and 2003.” Here’s how they explain their finding: “Changes in top marginal rates were accompanied by (smaller) reductions in marginal rates for other income groups as well as by significant expansions of the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit.” The net effect of all this, they conclude, was “small.”
I don’t expect readers to take my word for it. So go to federalreserve.gov/pubs to find the paper by Jason DeBacker, Bradley Heim, Vasia Panousi, and Ivan Vidangos, called “Rising Inequality: Transitory or Permanent? New Evidence from a Panel of U. S. Tax Returns 1987-2006.” You can judge for yourselves. (My economist colleagues at Brookings, who discussed this paper in their seminar series, consider it to represent high-quality research.)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

International Views of the United States

Previous posts have discussed international views of U.S. global leadershipGallup reports:
Although the image of U.S. leadership is showing some cracks in the third year of President Barack Obama's presidency, it remains more positive worldwide than during the last years of the Bush administration. Across 136 countries, median approval of U.S. leadership in 2011 stood at 46% -- relatively unchanged from the 47% median across 116 countries in 2010.

Yet, U.S. leadership ratings in 2011 failed to regain the momentum they lost in 2010, and instead remained static or retreated even more in some places. Gallup surveyed more countries in 2011 than in 2010, but looking at approval in just the countries surveyed in both 2010 and 2011, the median is slightly lower at 43%, suggesting the U.S. has lost some of its status.
Last month, Pew reported:
Nearly a year ago, as Japan struggled with the devastation wrought by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the United States military launched “Operation Tomodachi,” a major humanitarian aid mission, to help the Japanese government respond to the crisis. The effort made a strong impression on the Japanese people – ratings for the U.S. reached sky-high levels following the American mission. And it was not the first time that relief to those in need has enhanced America’s reputation. In recent years, both Indonesians and Pakistanis have expressed more positive views about the U.S. after receiving significant levels of disaster relief. However, the Indonesian and Pakistani examples also suggest that the impact of humanitarian efforts has its limits.

Publishing Grisly Photos

Our chapter on foreign policy and national security notes that photos of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison intensified opposition to the Iraq War.  A comparable incident has come of the war in Afghanistan, as The New York Times reports:
The grisly photographs of American soldiers posing with the body parts of Afghan insurgents during a 2010 deployment in Afghanistan were the source of a dispute between The Los Angeles Times and the Pentagon lasting weeks.
Two of the 18 photographs given to the paper were published Wednesday by The Times over fierce objections by military officials who said that the photographs could incite violence. The officials had asked The Times not to publish any of the photographs, a fact that the defense secretary, Leon E. Panetta, reiterated on Wednesday as the images spread across the Internet.
“The reason for that is those kinds of photos are used by the enemy to incite violence, and lives have been lost as the result of the publication of similar photos,” Mr. Panetta said at a news conference.

But the newspaper’s editors said that the photographs were newsworthy. “We considered this very carefully,” the newspaper’s editor, Davan Maharaj, said in a Web chat with readers. “At the end of the day, our job is to publish information that our readers need to make informed decisions. We have a particular duty to report vigorously and impartially on all aspects of the American mission in Afghanistan. On balance, in this case, we felt that the public interest here was served by publishing a limited, but representative sample of these photos, along with a story explaining the circumstances under which they were taken.”
Here is LA Times online discussion, along with Twitter responses.

The LA Times adds:
There were no immediate reports of violence in Afghanistan in response to the photos. ManyAfghans, especially those in rural areas, do not have Internet access or electricity. The country's main evening news broadcasts did not show the photos.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Kardashian for Mayor?

Our chapter on elections and campaigns explains that different states and communities differ greatly in their electoral rules and in the number and duties of their elected offices.  These differences sometimes surprise political novices.  One California example comes from The Glendale News-Press:
Kim Kardashian apparently wants more than just her regular table at the Carousel restaurant in Glendale.

In a clip for an upcoming episode for her sister’s show “Khloe & Lamar,” Kardashian reveals her newfound political ambitions: “I decided I’m going to run for the mayor of Glendale.”

Representatives for the reality TV star did not immediately respond to requests for comment on her latest musings, published Tuesday by Radaronline.com.

In the clip, Kardashian tells sister Khloe that her candidacy would be a perfect fit, given that Glendale is “like Armenian town.”

Problem: Glendale does not elect its mayor. The largely ceremonial post is decided among the five City Council members on an annual basis — an indication that the Kardashian famous for her curves, pop drama and occasional visit to Carousel restaurant in downtown Glendale may need to brush up on the city she says she wants to represent.

“It’s going to require a little bit of homework and not simply relying on a perceived base of support,” said the city’s elected clerk, Ardy Kassakhian, who runs municipal elections.

Live-Streaming Committee Hearings


Social media and other forms of communication technology have enabled Congress to become much more transparent.  But there are gaps, as Rachel Leven writes at The Hill:
Almost a quarter of all House hearings are not live-streamed online, according to a new study.
The Sunlight Foundation found that 49 out of 200 hearings over 20 days were not live-streamed, while 91 hearings since Jan. 17 were not archived on committee websites.
This is despite a January 2011 House rule “requiring that video coverage of hearings be available online.”The foundation took Congress to task for failing to stream the hearings.
“The privately-run cable network C-SPAN cannot cover every hearing, and it’s unreasonable to expect people to travel to D.C. to be in attendance,” study authors Daniel Schuman and
Cassandra LaRussa wrote. “Combined with cutbacks in newsroom staffs around the country, less prominent issues are unlikely to be covered by local media.”
Most of the hearings that were not live-streamed were hearings of the House Appropriations Committee.
Forty-seven out of 49 hearings that were not live-streamed were associated with that committee and 74 of the 91 hearings not archived were by the spending panel.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Renouncing Citizenship for Tax Purposes

A year ago, in Action Comics, Superman declared plans to renounce his U.S. citizenship.

"'Truth, justice, and the American way' - it's not enough anymore," the comic book superhero said, after both the Iranian and American governments criticized him for joining a peaceful anti-government protest in Tehran.

Last year, almost 1,800 people followed Superman's lead, renouncing their U.S. citizenship or handing in their Green Cards. That's a record number since the Internal Revenue Service began publishing a list of those who renounced in 1998. It's also almost eight times more than the number of citizens who renounced in 2008, and more than the total for 2007, 2008 and 2009 combined.

But not everyone's motivations are as lofty as Superman's. Many say they parted ways with America for tax reasons.

The United States is one of the only countries to tax its citizens on income earned while they're living abroad. And just as Americans stateside must file tax returns each April - this year, the deadline is Tuesday - an estimated 6.3 million U.S. citizens living abroad brace for what they describe as an even tougher process of reporting their income and foreign accounts to the IRS. For them, the deadline is June.

The National Taxpayer Advocate's Office, part of the IRS, released a report in December that details the difficulties of filing taxes from overseas. It cites heavy paperwork, a lack of online filing options and a dearth of local and foreign-language resources.

For those wishing to legally escape the filing requirements, the only way is to formally renounce their U.S. citizenship. Last year, IRS records show that at least 1,788 people did, and that's likely an underestimate. The IRS publishes in the Federal Register the names of those who give up their citizenship, and some who renounced say they haven't seen their name on the list yet.

Tax Rates

Federal taxes are usually due on April 15. But that day fell on a Sunday this year. Monday, April 16, is Emancipation Day, a holiday in Washington, DC. So returns are due today. At Reason, Veronique de Rugy addresses a myth about the tax system:
Contrary to common belief, the American tax system is more progressive than those of most industrialized democracies. A 2008 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), titled “Growing Unequal,” gave two different estimates of the progressivity of tax systems in 24 industrialized countries. One ranking found that the U.S. has the most progressive tax structure; in the other Ireland beat America by a nose. France, which has a notoriously generous welfare state, ranked 10th out of 24 in both of the OECD progressivity indexes.
Other countries have higher tax rates than the U.S. but manage to be less progressive overall. How can this be? The answer is that the rate structure alone doesn’t necessarily tell you much about the progressivity of a country’s tax system. The top rates kick in at much lower income levels in Europe than in the United States, making E.U. tax codes more regressive than ours.
In his new book The Benefit and the Burden (Simon & Schuster), economics columnist Bruce Bartlett presents a chart (reproduced here) that shows the top statutory personal income tax rate and an “all-in rate” that includes payroll taxes in selected countries as measured by the OECD. Bartlett calculated that the “average [European] worker making an annual income in the $40,000 to $50,000 range is in the top marginal tax bracket.” A comparison of France and the U.S. is revealing: The top marginal income tax rate in the U.S. is 35 percent and kicks in at $379,000. In France the top rate is 41 percent and kicks in at $96,000.
The U.S. federal government also relies much more heavily on the income tax, rather than the regressive consumption taxes—such as the value-added tax (VAT), retail sales taxes, and gasoline and tobacco taxes—favored by most OECD nations. European countries generally have lighter taxes on capital as well, another regressive feature.
Finally, the U.S. tax code allows large deductions and personal exemptions for low-income households, distributing social benefits in the form of policies such as the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit. These adjustments increase progressivity


 "Growing Unequal? Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD Countries," Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2008. p. 112.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Internet Adoption and Digital Differences

The Pew Internet and American Life Project reports on a newly published (though taken in July-August of last year) survey about the use of digital technology.  Among its major findings:
  • One in five American adults does not use the internet. Senior citizens, those who prefer to take our interviews in Spanish rather than English, adults with less than a high school education, and those living in households earning less than $30,000 per year are the least likely adults to have internet access.
  • Among adults who do not use the internet, almost half have told us that the main reason they don’t go online is because they don’t think the internet is relevant to them. Most have never used the internet before, and don’t have anyone in their household who does. About one in five say that they do know enough about technology to start using the internet on their own, and only one in ten told us that they were interested in using the internet or email in the future.
  • The 27% of adults living with disability in the U.S. today are significantly less likely than adults without a disability to go online (54% vs. 81%). Furthermore, 2% of adults have a disability or illness that makes it more difficult or impossible for them to use the internet at all.
  • Though overall internet adoption rates have leveled off, adults who are already online are doing more. And even for many of the “core” internet activities we studied, significant differences in use remain, generally related to age, household income, and educational attainment.
  • Currently, 88% of American adults have a cell phone, 57% have a laptop, 19% own an e-book reader, and 19% have a tablet computer; about six in ten adults (63%) go online wirelessly with one of those devices. Gadget ownership is generally correlated with age, education, and household income, although some devices—notably e-book readers and tablets—are as popular or even more popular with adults in their thirties and forties than young adults ages 18-29.

Citizen Advocacy on Disabilities

As we note in our chapter on interest groups, grassroots lobbying can be effective.  By writing legislators and visiting offices, citizens have an impact.  The disability community, for instance, has secured passage of key legislation at the state and federal levels.

As part of its "Autism Inside and Out" series, North Metro TV offers a video guide to legislative advocacy, featuring Sherri Radoux of Minnesota:

 

(Cross-posted from Autism Policy and Politics)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Contributions and Access

Campaign contributions do not necessarily buy policy decisions, but they do help contributors gain access to polilcymakers.  At The New York Times Mike McIntire and Michael Luo report:
Although Mr. Obama has made a point of not accepting contributions from registered lobbyists, a review of campaign donations and White House visitor logs shows that special interests have had little trouble making themselves heard. Many of the president’s biggest donors, while not lobbyists, took lobbyists with them to the White House, while others performed essentially the same function on their visits.
More broadly, the review showed that those who donated the most to Mr. Obama and the Democratic Party since he started running for president were far more likely to visit the White House than others. Among donors who gave $30,000 or less, about 20 percent visited the White House, according to a New York Times analysis that matched names in the visitor logs with donor records. But among those who donated $100,000 or more, the figure rises to about 75 percent. Approximately two-thirds of the president’s top fund-raisers in the 2008 campaign visited the White House at least once, some of them numerous times.
Most donors declined to talk about their motivations for giving. The reporters did find one candid contributor:
But Patrick J. Kennedy, the former representative from Rhode Island, who donated $35,800 to an Obama re-election fund last fall while seeking administration support for a nonprofit venture, said contributions were simply a part of “how this business works.”
“If you want to call it ‘quid pro quo,’ fine,” he said. “At the end of the day, I want to make sure I do my part.”
Mr. Kennedy visited the White House several times to win support for One Mind for Research, his initiative to help develop new treatments for brain disorders. While his family name and connections are clearly influential, he said, he knows White House officials are busy. And as a former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, he said he was keenly aware of the political realities they face.
“I know that they look at the reports,” he said, referring to records of campaign donations. “They’re my friends anyway, but it won’t hurt when I ask them for a favor if they don’t see me as a slouch.”

Kony Fades in American Media

Previous posts mentioned the upswell of attention to Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony.  The upswell, like so many in the contemporary media, was brief:  Brian Stelter writes at The New York Times:
Today, this is what our news culture looks like to consumers: individual bursts of light that appear out of nowhere and disappear just as fast.
What else can we call a story that generates 100 million views on YouTube in a matter of days, garners outrage among young people across the country and spurs several resolutions in Congress — and then practically vanishes?
The YouTube views were for a video produced by Invisible Children, a small nonprofit group that was trying to draw attention to Joseph Kony, the head of the Lord’s Resistance Army, an African guerrilla group that has mounted attacks against civilians for more than 20 years. But his name probably needs no explanation now. “KONY 2012,” as the video was dubbed, became an international news sensation in early March, “rocketing across Twitter and Facebook at a pace rarely seen for any video, let alone a half-hour film about a distant conflict in Central Africa,” as
The New York Times put it in a front-page article on March 9.
The video succeeded in making Mr. Kony famous, which was the first of the group’s stated goals. Maybe a year from now he’ll be arrested, as the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, has vowed. “Now we have the citizens of the world pushing for that, and that is helping a lot,” he told The Associated Press earlier this month. “It will be the end of the Joseph Kony crimes.” But in the United States, at least, Mr. Kony is no longer in the news or on Twitter’s ever-refreshing list of trending topics.
...
Of the 7.1 million page views of Wikipedia’s article on Mr. Kony so far this year, 5 million were racked up in the three days when the video was a hot topic online. Now it’s viewed fewer than 15,000 times a day.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Lobbying: Going Postal

Legislation on reforming the US Postal Service has become urgent in light of plans to end Saturday delivery and close thousands of post offices.  (The changes could affect elections by slowing delivery of mail ballots.)  Open Secrets reports (emphasis added) that a wide array of interests are in the fight:
They include some of the heaviest hitters OpenSecrets.org keeps track of, like postal unions and FedEx, as well as groups from more obscure corners of the lobbying world, like the Envelope Manufacturers of America (yes, envelopes have lobbyists)
...
Of course, lawmakers have heard from FedEx and UPS, both of whom have a lot riding on the viability of their biggest competitor. Both also qualify as heavy hitters on OpenSecrets.org for their intense Washington presence on the lobbying and campaign finance scene (both companies even own townhouses near the United States Capitol building to host fundraising events for lawmakers).
And, with tens of thousands of public employees affected, the unions and groups that represent those workers have been out in force: there's the National Association of Letter Carriers, and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, both of which are affiliates of union heavyweight AFL-CIO.
There's also the National Rural Letter Carriers Association, which represents mail-carriers far from the big metropolises. The National Association of Postmasters goes to bat for managers, and the National Star Route Mail Contractor Association backs contractors the post office uses to ship mail. The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association had to say something about this, since most suggestions involve changes to the pension fund for postal employees.
And those are just the heaviest of the heavy hitters in the fight. Check out the full spectrum of groups that have lobbied on the two pieces of legislation, including some surprising names.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Foundations as Policy Advocates


Our chapter on interest groups mentions foundations, which have traditionally financed academic research and charitable activity.  Inside Higher Ed reports on the Gates and Lumina Foundations, which are changing the role of such organizations:
But the unmistakable shift that the two foundations have led in higher education grant-making, Hall and Thomas argue, has been away from giving to institutions and toward closely collaborating with state and federal policy makers and a series of “intermediaries” (nonprofit groups created with the foundations’ funds, think tanks, consultants, etc.) who are interested in carrying out the philanthropies’ agenda.
The foundations back consultants who work to enact new state policies on such things as performance-based funding, and there has been significant crossover of Gates officials, particularly, into the Obama administration. They have also provided significant financial support to K-12 and higher education media organizations (individual publications and groups) aimed at encouraging reporting on the issues they care about. (Inside Higher Ed has not engaged in any such partnerships.)
The change has been driven, the paper says, by “an increasing level of distrust that higher education institutions can successfully enact reforms that will result in meaningful changes to our postsecondary system.”
Hoping to drive broader-scale changes than can be accomplished by seeding many ideas at individual institutions, the foundations have turned instead to the “unabashed use of … strategies to influence government action, policy, and legislation -- in their own words, foundations are taking on a leadership role, acting as a catalyst for change, identifying research areas, supporting best practices, engaging in public policy advocacy, enhancing communications power, using convening power, fostering partnerships, building public will, and employing the bully pulpit.”
They add: “This behavior reflects a deviation from the established norms in higher education philanthropy, norms that generally created a distance between foundation activity and politics.”

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Age and Knowledge about Parties

Our chapter on public opinion talks at length about what Americans know of politics. The Pew Research Center reports on a new survey of knowledge about political parties:
Although previous Pew Research surveys of political knowledge have found young people to be less knowledgeable than older people, the pattern in this poll is more mixed.
People younger than 30 are much less likely than older Americans to be able to correctly associate several political leaders with their parties. Fewer than half of those younger than 30 correctly identify Nancy Pelosi and Franklin Roosevelt as Democrats (43% each). By contrast, three quarters of those 65 and older know that Pelosi and Roosevelt are Democrats. The gap between young and old is nearly as large on the item about John F. Kennedy’s party (28 points).
But young people are relatively well informed about the parties’ positions on most issues. In fact, people younger than 30 are more likely than those 65 and older to know that the Democrats are more supportive of expanding gay rights (72% vs. 56%) and creating a way for illegal immigrants to become citizens (74% vs. 59%).

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Arab Spring and Democracy


In Chapter One of the next edition of our textbook we will discuss the “Arab Spring”: the political protests and revolutionary efforts in North Africa and the Middle East that began in December of 2010. In the Wall Street Journal, Matthew Kaminski assesses the prospects that freedom and democracy will take root in this part of the world in the coming years:
In one country after another, mass religious-inspired political movements have outmaneuvered weak liberal parties. Fledgling democracies have been snuffed out. Anti-Semitism and sectarian violence have ensued.

"It may be that the system of parliamentary Government which suits Britain suits few other countries besides," writes the Times of London. "Recent Egyptian governments have tried to conform to the parliamentary type of republican democracy, but with scant success."

The Middle East after the triumph of Islamists in every election of the past half year? Not quite.

The Times editorial ran on Aug. 10, 1936 and was about Spain, not Egypt. In 1930s Spain—as in Austria, Hungary, Portugal, Poland, Slovakia and Croatia in that fateful interwar period—political Catholicism sank fledgling liberal systems after gaining power through coup or ballot box. (The Nazis used race, not religion.)

Parallels to today's Middle East are bracing. Parties and state institutions in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya are weak. As in the 1930s, economies are struggling. Arab liberals are no electoral match for the Muslim Brotherhood and other offshoots of political Islam.

Yet the assumption of inevitable democratic failure requires a leap of belief in cultural determinism about Arabs no different or less patronizing than the Times of London once made about continental Europeans.

The experiment has only begun in the Middle East. . . .


Public Opinion on the Supreme Court and Health Care

More Americans think Supreme Court justices will be acting mainly on their partisan political views than on a neutral reading of the law when they decide the constitutionality of President Obama’s health-care law, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Half of the public expects the justices to rule mainly based on their “partisan political views,” while fewer, 40 percent, expect their decisions to be rooted primarily “on the basis of the law.” The rest say both equally or do not have an opinion.

The court held a historic three days of oral arguments on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act last month, and its ruling probably will come just before the court adjourns at the end of June. The poll shows little enthusiasm for the Obama administration’s position that the law, passed by the Democratic Congress in 2010, should be upheld in full.

Only a quarter of Americans choose that as the desired outcome. Thirty-eight percent would like the entire law thrown out; 29 percent would like the court to strike the requirement that individuals obtain health insurance and to keep the rest of the law.
Only 39 percent of Americans support the health-care overhaul in general, the lowest percentage since the Post-ABC poll began asking the question.

The public’s perception of the court is closely tied to partisan and ideological leanings. Almost twice as many conservative Republicans think the court will decide on the basis of the law rather than politics, 58 to 33 percent. Liberal Democrats are more skeptical, saying by an equally wide margin that the court will put politics first.
A few weeks ago, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported results of its own poll:
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case challenging parts of the ACA later this month, and at this point, most Americans say they are not paying very close attention to the case. Just under four in ten say they are following news about the case “very closely” (9 percent) or “fairly closely” (28 percent), while most report following it “not too closely” (38 percent) or “not at all” (25 percent). It may not be surprising then, that while the majority (58 percent) are aware that the ACA is still the law of the land, more than four in ten either think it has already been overturned by the Supreme Court (14 percent) or are unsure (28 percent).
This confusion and relative lack of attention may be related to the fact that most do not expect the Supreme Court’s decision to have a big impact on their own lives; just under three in ten (28 percent) say the decision will have “a lot of impact” on them and their family, with about a third (36 percent) saying it will have “some” impact. The public is more likely to expect the Court’s decision to have a big impact on the country as a whole (50 percent) and on the future of the U.S. health care system (49 percent).

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Subsidiarity


At Politico, Tim Mak writes:
House Budget Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) says his Catholic faith helped shape the Republican budget plan by stressing local control and concern for the poor, according to an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network released Tuesday.
“A person’s faith is central to how they conduct themselves, in public and in private, so to me, using my Catholic faith, we call it the social magisterium, which is: How do you apply the doctrine of your teaching into your everyday life as a lay person?” he said.
Ryan said that the principle of subsidiarity — a notion, rooted in Catholic social teaching, that decisions are best made at most local level available — guided his thinking on budget planning.
“To me, the principle of subsidiarity, which is really federalism, meaning government closest to the people governs best, having a civil society … where we, through our civic organizations, through our churches, through our charities, through all of our different groups where we interact with people as a community, that’s how we advance the common good,” Ryan said.
The Wisconsin Republican said that he also drew on Catholic teachings regarding concern for the poor, and his interpretation of how that translated into government policy.
“[T]he preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenets of Catholic social teaching, means don’t keep people poor, don’t make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life, help people get out of poverty out onto life of independence,” said Ryan.
Pope John Paul II articulated the idea in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus:
In recent years the range of such intervention has vastly expanded, to the point of creating a new type of State, the so-called "Welfare State". This has happened in some countries in order to respond better to many needs and demands, by remedying forms of poverty and deprivation unworthy of the human person. However, excesses and abuses, especially in recent years, have provoked very harsh criticisms of the Welfare State, dubbed the "Social Assistance State". Malfunctions and defects in the Social Assistance State are the result of an inadequate understanding of the tasks proper to the State. Here again the principle of subsidiarity must be respected: a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.

By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending. In fact, it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbours to those in need. It should be added that certain kinds of demands often call for a response which is not simply material but which is capable of perceiving the deeper human need. One thinks of the condition of refugees, immigrants, the elderly, the sick, and all those in circumstances which call for assistance, such as drug abusers: all these people can be helped effectively only by those who offer them genuine fraternal support, in addition to the necessary care.

Government Employees Make Another Problem Video

As a previous post noted, employees of the US General Services Administration have exposed the agency to political criticism.  At The Hill, Justin Sink writes that another problem has come to light:
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) released a second video from the General Services Administration's (GSA) controversial and ritzy 2010 Las Vegas conference on Monday in which employees of the federal agency joke that their environmentally friendly initiatives were intended to earn President Obama good press.
The clip is the latest in a string of embarrassing moments for the agency, under fire for the event that cost more than $800,000 and led to the resignation of a number of top GSA officials.
Lawmakers have scheduled four hearings on the issues. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

"American Idle"

Be careful when you make gag videos. That's one lesson from the following story. The other is that government employees will be an issue in the 2012 campaigns. Government Executive reports:
As if the story about the lavish conference/party thrown by GSA's Public Buildings Service in October 2010 wasn't bad enough, now comes, via the office of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., an absolutely incredible video that takes the scandal to a whole other level. 
In the video, a person who appears to be a GSA employee begins strumming a ukelele, then launches into a tune that has to be heard to be believed. It concerns what the singer would do if he were commisioner (of PBS, presumably), and is, in the weirdest possible way, prescient about what would result from the conference
 

Religion and Population

Joel Kotkin writes of the social and demographic impact of religion:
Religious people, prepared to be seen as uncool, are more likely to seek to produce more offspring. In the United States 47% of people who attend church regularly see the ideal family size as three or more children compared to barely one quarter of the less observant. [In a 2007 poll, it was 41% for weekly attenders, 25% for non-attenders] Mormons have many more children than non-Mormons; observant Jews more than secular. “Faith,” the demographer Phil Longman concludes, “is increasingly necessary as a motive to have children.”
This pattern is reflected in the geography of childbearing. Where churches are closing down, most particularly in core urban areas such as Boston or Manhattan, as well as their metropolitan regions, singletons and childless couples are increasing. In more religiously oriented metropolitan areas like Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Salt Lake City and Phoenix, the propensity to have children is 15% to nearly 30% higher (as measured by the number of children under the age of 5 per woman of child bearing age– 15-49).
In the future, many high-income societies, whether in East Asia, Europe or North America, may find that religious people’s fecundity is a necessary counterforce to rapid aging and eventual depopulation of the more secular population . The increasingly perilous shape of public finance in almost all advanced countries — largely the result of rapid aging and diminished workforces — can be ascribed at least in part to secularization’s role in falling birthrates.
There may be other positive fiscal effects of religiosity. Religious people donate on average far more to charities than their secular counterparts, including those unaffiliated with a religion. Nearly 15% of the religious volunteer every week compared to just 10% among the secular.
Social networks, much celebrated among the single, might provide people with voices, but religious organizations actually do something about meeting real human needs. Organized religion provides a counterweight to the European notion that we must rely on government for everything. Poor people educated or fed by the charities of mosques, churches, and synagogues relieves some of the burden faced by our variously tottering states and shredding social welfare nets. Aging baby boomers, notes author Ted Fishman, may be forced to rely more on the “kindness of strangers” from religious backgrounds to take care of them in their old age.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Zimmerman Recording

A previous post noted that NBC once edited the words "under God" from a clip of the Pledge of Allegiance. A far more serious edit came during a March 27 segment of "Today" about the shooting of Trayvon Martin. The segment included the 911 call that George Zimmerman made before he shot Martin. Digital Journal reports:
The producer edited out a question from the 911 operator and then edited together Zimmerman's response to the missing question with a segment of his previous statement. By leaving out the question, Zimmerman was made to appear to be racially profiling Martin. The way it was edited made the conversation more sensationalistic.
Here is how NBC transcribed the conversation in its story: "This guy looks like he's up to no good," they have Zimmerman say. "He looks black."
And this is how the conversation actually occurred: "This guy looks like he's up to no good. Or he's on drugs or something," Zimmerman tells the 911 operator. "It's raining, and he's just walking around, looking about."
"OK, and this guy -- is he black, white or Hispanic?" the operator asks.
"He looks black." Not only did Zimmerman not bring up the issue of race, his response seems to suggest he wasn't even willing to be certain about the race of the person he was watching. 
Reuters reports on an interview with NBC News President Steve Capus, who says that an internal investigation revealed that the edit had been a mistake, and that the company had fired person responsible.
As part of the investigation, the producer who edited the call was questioned extensively about motivation, and it was determined that the person had cut the video clip down to meet a maximum time requirement for the length of the segment - a common pressure in morning television - and inadvertently edited the call in a way that proved misleading.

NBC News has apologized for the incident, saying in a statement to Reuters earlier this week that there was "an editing error in the production process," but insisting the results of the internal investigation would not be announced publicly.

Capus said that the network "takes its responsibility seriously" and has undertaken rigorous efforts to formalize the editorial safeguards in place at the network.

He said that NBC News' broadcast standards department, led by David McCormick, has been holding meetings with various NBC News shows, as well as the network's specialized units, which handle sometimes complicated subjects like medical or legal news. Capus added that he also is holding meetings among the network executives to reinforce the lessons learned from the investigation into the edited call.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The President at Easter

Although the president has often emphasized religious pluralism in the United States, he has not been shy about discussing his own Christian faith.  One example consists of his brief remarks at this year's Easter Prayer Breakfast at the White House
Now, I have to be careful, I am not going to stand up here and give a sermon. It’s always a bad idea to give a sermon in front of professionals. (Laughter.) But in a few short days, all of us will experience the wonder of Easter morning. And we will know, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “Christ Jesus...and Him crucified.”

It’s an opportunity for us to reflect on the triumph of the resurrection, and to give thanks for the all-important gift of grace. And for me, and I’m sure for some of you, it’s also a chance to remember the tremendous sacrifice that led up to that day, and all that Christ endured -- not just as a Son of God, but as a human being.

For like us, Jesus knew doubt. Like us, Jesus knew fear. In the garden of Gethsemane, with attackers closing in around him, Jesus told His disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” He fell to his knees, pleading with His Father, saying, “If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” And yet, in the end, He confronted His fear with words of humble surrender, saying, “If it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

So it is only because Jesus conquered His own anguish, conquered His fear, that we’re able to celebrate the resurrection. It’s only because He endured unimaginable pain that wracked His body and bore the sins of the world that He burdened -- that burdened His soul that we are able to proclaim, “He is Risen!” 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Judiciary and Social Media

An earlier post described how the social media cover the Supreme Court.  But do the justices themselves made use of Twitter and Facebook? The Philadelphia Inquirer reports:
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor gave no indication of the future of the landmark health care law on Thursday during an event at which she said judges cannot interact with the public in the same way politicians do.
Her comments at the University of Pennsylvania came in response to a question about whether the nine justices should do more to educate the public about the court, given popular direct communication tools such as Twitter and Facebook.
"We can't do that as judges," Sotomayor said. "We can't engage the public in a seminar about health law."
...
Sotomayor, who became the 111th justice on the court when she was sworn in on Aug. 8, 2009, said judges can't debate and exchange ideas with the public in the same way politicians engage with their constituents. People would find it "very unsatisfying" to try to interact with justices on social media, she said.
However, Sotomayor noted that she and her Supreme Court colleagues can and do interact with the public in other ways , by teaching constitutional law, presiding over moot courts and giving public lectures.
"We're all participating publicly, just maybe not in the way the public would like us to," she said.
During testimony last year before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, Justices Breyer and Kennedy also talked about social media. Justice Breyer said: "Judges wear black robes so that they will resist the temptation to publicize themselves."

Term Limits for Judges?

At The New Republic, Timothy Noah comes out for judicial term limits:
I’ve never liked the idea of term limits for members of Congress, because if a member outstays his or her welcome voters get the chance every two or six years to hire a replacement. But term limits for judges—not just Supreme Court justices—make a certain amount of sense when those judges are appointed. For all their clairvoyance, the Founders couldn’t possibly have anticipated the impact that longer life spans would have on lifetime judicial appointments. As Northwestern’s Steven Calabresi and James Lindgren have pointed out, between 1789 and 1970 the average tenure of a Supreme Court justice was about 15 years—and that timespan includes the 29-year service of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., a Civil War veteran who didn’t vacate the bench until 1932, at age 90. Since 1970 the average tenure has expanded to about 26 years. By longevity if not by eminence, Holmses are a dime a dozen today. Until John Paul Stevens retired in 2010, fully one-third of the Supreme Court were appointees not merely of presidents who had since died, but of presidents who, before they died, lived longer than any others in history. (That would be Reagan and Ford, who departed this vale of tears at 93. The previous record-holder was John Adams, an 18th-century outlier who lived to 90.) Dead presidents shouldn’t have that much power.