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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Video of Health Care Misreporting

A previous post described the errors that resulted from TV journalists who reported on the health care decision before they knew what they were talking about. Now, the video. From The Daily Beast:


 Jon Stewart's take:

Political Reaction to Health Care Decision

The Internet has greatly increased the velocity of politics.  Years ago, it would take days or weeks for a news story to have an effect on fundraising and other forms of campaign activity.  Now, reactions are swift.  The Daily reports:
President Obama scored a big victory when the Supreme Court upheld his health care law, but Mitt Romney may be the real winner online.

The Romney campaign said yesterday it raised $4.6 million on the Internet from more than 47,000 donations in the first 24 hours after the Supreme Court decision.
The Republican’s campaign also calculated that it signed up three times more members on its Facebook page than Obama’s page did, with 30,000 more instances of Facebook engagement (likes, comments, and shares).
Romney campaign digital director Zac Moffatt said that between the health care decision and the Hilary Rosen flap back in April — when the Romney campaign raked in cash after the Democratic strategist disparaged Ann Romney for being a stay-at-home mom — it has proven it can hold its own against Team Obama.
“I think we have always believed that the Obama campaign is not this insurmountable force you can’t take on,” Moffatt told The Daily yesterday. “I think they are much better at digital PR than they are [at] actual digital.”
He said yesterday’s numbers represented an online “breakthrough” for the Romney campaign.
The Daily Beast reports:
Voters are reacting in broadly negative ways to the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the legislation known as Obamacare, a new Newsweek/Daily Beast poll finds, with a majority disapproving of the ruling, fearing health-care costs and taxes will rise, and preferring Mitt Romney to President Obama on the issue.

At the same time, voters scored the ruling a short-term political win for the president by a huge margin.

Overall, 50 percent of those polled said they disapprove of the court’s 5–4 decision, while 45 percent said they support it. Consistently, a majority of voters said that they oppose the individual mandate (53 percent); believe taxes will increase (52 percent); believe their personal health-care costs will increase (56 percent); and disapprove of Obama’s handling of health care in general (58 percent). Only 24 percent of those polled said that they believe the ruling will make the country better off.

Stolen Valor

The attention to the health care case has eclipsed another important decision from the Supreme Court.  The Los Angeles Times reports:
The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down the federal Stolen Valor Act, which made it a crime to falsely claim to have received certain military medals.
In a 6-3 decision, the high court said lying about medals and military service, while "contemptible" and worthy of public outrage and ridicule, is protected by the 1st Amendment.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, said the 1st Amendment "protects the speech we detest as well as the speech we embrace."
The decision came in the case of Xavier Alvarez, a former member of the Three Valleys Municipal Water District governing board in eastern Los Angeles County.
At his first meeting, Alvarez said he was a former Marine and recipient of the Medal of Honor; in fact, he had never served in the military. After being charged, he resigned from the board.
Alvarez's lies "were but a pathetic attempt to gain respect that eluded him," Kennedy said. "The statements do not seem to have been made to secure employment or financial benefits or admission to privileges reserved for those who had earned the medal."
Via AEI:
Justice Alito, writing in a dissent jointed by Justices Scalia and Thomas, disagreed with Kennedy’s assessment:
Only the bravest of the brave are awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, but the Court today holds that every American has a constitutional right to claim to have received this singular award. The Court strikes down the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, which was enacted to stem an epidemic of false claims about military decorations. These lies, Congress reasonably concluded, were undermining our country’s system of military honors and inflicting real harm on actual medal recipients and their families.
Building on earlier efforts to protect the military awards system, Congress responded to this problem by crafting a narrow statute that presents no threat to the freedom of speech. The statute reaches only knowingly false statements about hard facts directly within a speaker’s personal knowledge. These lies have no value in and of themselves, and proscribing them does not chill any valuable speech.
Read the rest of ABC’s summary here, and read the Court’s opinion here.
The San Jose Mercury News reports that many veterans disagree:
Alamo's Bill Green, an Army veteran awarded two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts for his service during the Vietnam War, has strong feelings about military honors.
As Green sees it, Thursday's U.S. Supreme Court decision that invalidated the Stolen Valor Act devalued the sanctity of those medals, which have long been regarded in military circles as currency of character.
"Medals are awarded," Green said Friday. "They're not won. It's not a contest. People who receive them aren't out there trying to win a medal. They're doing their job.
"I understand freedom of speech," said Green, an Alamo resident, "but I do not understand somebody getting away with what (Alvarez) is getting away with. He ought to be happy about one thing -- that I'm not his neighbor."

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Health Care Decision in Plain English

Previous posts dealt with the health care case before the US Supreme Court. Amy Howe writes at SCOTUSblog:
The most important part of the Court’s opinion on the mandate came from the Chief Justice, John Roberts. He acknowledged that Congress has a broad power under the Commerce Clause, but he emphasized that Congress’s power to regulate commerce assumes that there is commerce to regulate. In his view, the mandate creates commerce, rather than regulating it. If the Court were to interpret the Commerce Clause the way that the government does, he contended, it would allow Congress to regulate all kinds of new things – including forcing people to buy vegetables (with no specific reference to broccoli, however). “That is not the country” the Founding Fathers envisioned, he proclaimed.
Although the Chief Justice rejected the government’s Commerce Clause argument, he agreed with one of the government’s alternative arguments: the mandate imposes a tax on people who do not buy health insurance, and that tax is something that Congress can impose using its constitutional taxing power. He acknowledged that the mandate (and its accompanying penalty) is primarily intended to get people to buy insurance, rather than to raise money, but it is, he explained, still a tax. If someone who does not want to buy health insurance is willing to pay the tax, that’s the end of the matter; the government cannot do anything else.
Justice Ginsburg (joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) agreed with the Chief Justice’s bottom line – that the mandate is constitutional under Congress’s ability to tax – even while disagreeing with his Commerce Clause conclusion; those four Justices would have also held that Congress could use its power to regulate commerce to pass the mandate.
The Court acknowledged that Congress can put strings on the money that it gives to the states. However, it explained that this was not the kind of “relatively mild encouragement” that the Court had approved in earlier cases involving this “coercion” theory – for example, in a 1987 case in which it had held that Congress could threaten to withhold five percent of federal highway funds from states that did not raise their drinking age to twenty-one. Instead, the Medicaid provision goes too far and is more like a “gun to the head.” Having said that, however, the Court made clear that Congress could still attach some strings to the Medicaid funds. Specifically, even if it can’t take away all of the funding for states that don’t comply with the new eligibility requirements, it can still withhold the new Medicaid funds if states don’t comply. So although the Obama Administration lost on this issue, it’s probably a loss that it is willing to live with for now, as few states (if any) are ultimately expected to turn down the new Medicaid money, even with the strings.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

"First Reports Are Always Wrong" -- Health Care Edition

As noted before, our mass media chapter explains that the news media often err when they report breaking news stories.The complex decision in the health care case provides a fresh example.  A tweet from On The Media:

Hispanic Americans

The Pew Hispanic Center reports:
Among the 50.7 million Hispanics in the United States, nearly two-thirds (65%), or 33 million, self-identify as being of Mexican origin, according to tabulations of the 2010 American Community Survey (ACS) by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center. No other Hispanic subgroup rivals the size of the Mexican-origin population. Puerto Ricans, the nation’s second largest Hispanic origin group, make up just 9% of the total Hispanic population in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
  • Nearly three-in-four (74%) Hispanics are U.S. citizens, compared with 93% of the entire U.S. population.
  • Those born in Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens by birth, and fully 99% of Puerto Ricans hold citizenship. Cubans (74%) and Mexicans (73%) have the next highest shares of U.S. citizens.
  • Hondurans (47%) and Guatemalans (49%) are the only groups among the 10 most populous Hispanic origin groups in which less than half of their populations are U.S. citizens. Hispanics of Salvadoran origin (55%) are the third least likely group to be U.S. citizens.
A datum relevant to Marco Rubio's vice presidential prospects:
Cubans are the third-largest population of Hispanic origin living in the United States, accounting for 3.7% of the U.S. Hispanic population in 2010.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Presidents v. Space Aliens

An actual press release:
According to a new U.S. extraterrestrial survey from National Geographic Channel (NGC), more than 80 million Americans are certain that UFOs exist. In fact, many believe in tangible proof that aliens have landed on Earth and think that government officials are involved in covering up paranormal activities. Moreover, most citizens would not mind a minor alien invasion, because they expect these space-age visitors to be friendly—like the lovable character depicted in Steven Spielberg's popular film "E.T."
- In regards to national security, nearly two-thirds (65%) of Americans think Barack Obama would be better suited than fellow presidential candidate Mitt Romney to handle an alien invasion. In fact, more than two in three (68%) women say that Obama would be more adept at dealing with an alien invasion than Romney, vs. 61 percent of men. And more younger citizens, ages 18 to 64 years, than those aged 65+ (68% vs. 50%) think Romney would not be as well-suited as Obama to handle an alien invasion.
Source: PR Newswire (  )

How have presidents dealt with aliens in the movies?

Bill Pullman in Independence Day:

Jack Nicholson in Mars Attacks:


Obama Mobilization

At The New York Times, Jackie Calmes writes how the Obama campaign is using technology in voter mobilization:
These are the hubs connecting Mr. Obama’s grass-roots army and his field marshals in state and national headquarters, who constantly process the raw data to map their next moves. For all of the attention to television advertising, the Obama campaign has made an investment likely to reach hundreds of millions of dollars — a gamble, really — in its ground game, with state-of-the-art technology for demographic data mining, consumer marketing, video production and social media, including the campaign’s own Dashboard social network to link, motivate and expand the ranks of volunteers.

The aim is to “break through the clutter,” as advisers say, of the hundreds of millions of dollars in negative television ads expected from Mitt Romney and the “super PACs” supporting him. The Obama campaign is trying to reconnect with the voters who turned out for him in 2008, find new supporters in groups likely to back him, target messages to them based on the issues that concern them and get them to volunteer and to vote, preferably during early-voting periods before Election Day.

On paper, the idea is simple. Voters get a call, a visit or both from a volunteer who lives in their neighborhood. An unregistered resident gets help in signing up to vote. If the voter is undecided and cares most about, say, education, the campaign will make sure that voter gets e-mails about Mr. Obama’s education policies, a heads-up the next time the president is going to be addressing the topic, and maybe even a ticket to his next event in the state. If the voter begins leaning toward Mr. Obama, the campaign will encourage early voting to lock up the support.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Knowledge of Gaffes

As previous posts have noted, most Americans are not paying attention to politics most of the time. Last week, John Sides wrote at The Monkey Cage:
After Obama made his comment that the “private sector was doing fine” at that press conference, Chris Cillizza defended the notion that “political gaffes matter” and wrote:
Is there anyone paying even passing attention to politics who hasn’t seen the Obama clip five times at this point — which, by the way, is less than 96 hours after he said it? Answer: no.
Jon Bernstein was dubious. I was too. So in a June 16-18 YouGov poll—about a week after the press conference—we asked this question:
In a press conference last week, President Obama was asked about the state of the economy. How did he describe economic growth in the private sector?

The private sector is doing fine.
The private sector is struggling.
The private sector is mostly the same as it was.
I didn’t hear what he said.
In total, 47% of respondents gave the correct answer (“doing fine”). Nine percent said “struggling” and 4% said “mostly the same.” About 39% said that they had not heard. So, in total, 53% of Americans were apparently not paying even “passing attention to politics” and thereby did not learn—much less 5 different times—what Obama had said.

Who Owns the News Media?

In May, 2012 Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Company announced the purchase of 63 newspapers, including 23 dailies, from the debt-ridden Media General Company. The transaction was a course reversal for Buffett, who earlier had said he wouldn't buy newspapers, and created a major new player in the industry. It also left Media General-whose history with newspapers dates back to the mid-1800's-with only one remaining daily, the Tampa Tribune, which many predict it will still try to sell.
The purchase, seen as a rare vote of confidence in a struggling industry, also capped a period of intense change in U.S. newspaper ownership. In the last 18 months many better known newspaper companies divested most or all of their holdings while a number of new entities, including hedge funds and private equity firms, jumped in.
According to the investment banking firm of Dirks, Van Essen & Murray, which monitors newspaper transactions, a total of 71 daily newspapers were sold as part of 11 different transactions during 2011, the busiest year for sales since 2007.
And newspapers were not the only media to undergo major changes. The last 18 months also saw local television sales reach new heights, the merging of Newsweek and the Daily Beast, Comcast's acquisition of NBC Universal, the Huffington Post's movement into web TV and further reach among U.S. broadcast companies into the Hispanic market.

The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism has compiled a new interactive database to help users make sense of the changes at the highest levels.
Who Owns the News Media provides detailed statistics on the companies that now own our nation's news media outlets, from newspapers to local television news stations to radio to digital, and the accompanying report highlights the major changes of the year.

ATM v. Bullock

Previous posts have discussed Citizens United. Wendy Kaminer writes at The Atlantic:
Advocates of campaign finance restrictions are not necessarily displeased by the Supreme Court's unsurprising, summary disposal of Montana's ban on independent corporate campaign expenditures. The brief unsigned order in ATM v Bullock, reversing a Montana Supreme Court decision that upheld the ban, will "further fuel" the drive for a constitutional amendment repealingCitizens United, according to, where hyperbole reigns:
"In the face of overwhelming evidence that the basic premise of the Citizens United ruling was wrong, five justices of the United States Supreme Court today said they do not care. They do not care about the facts."
But, as I've stressed repeatedly, attacks on Citizens United have routinely misrepresented the facts, using that much maligned decision as a catch-all for whatever democrats and progressives don't like about campaign finance. (Monica Youn of the Brennan Center practically acknowledged as much at the recent American Constitution Society convention, as she praised the political uses of the Citizens United meme.)
In fact, Citizens United struck down a ban on independent expenditures by unions and corporations. It did not address expenditures by super-rich individuals, which have dominated in 2012. Instead, it confirmed that "political speech does not lose First Amendment protection simply because its source is a corporation."

That's a principle members of incorporated, progressive advocacy groups should applaud, just as they should vigorously oppose the constitutional amendment promoted by, which would deny for profit and non-profit corporations fundamental First and Fourth Amendment protections. (I've critiqued the amendment strategy here.)
Montana law had denied corporations their First Amendment rights, and Montana's high court had defied the Citizens United ruling by upholding the law, which is why the Supreme Court slapped it down summarily, without hearing arguments. "The question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law. There can be no serious doubt that it does," ATM v Bullock rightly declares.
Bullock has another point of view:
“It is a sad day for our democracy and for those of us who still want to believe that the United States Supreme Court is anything more than another political body in Washington, D.C.
“I am very disappointed in what the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision means for state and local elections in Montana – and for our entire nation. One hundred years ago, Montanans passed an initiative to protect democracy, to give everyday people a voice that would no longer be silenced by a sea of corporate money. Their wisdom and the Corrupt Practices Act of 1912 have served Montana well for over a century, and could have provided the Court with the opportunity to revisit some of the fundamental fallacies underlying the Citizens United decision.
“I am proud to have led this fight for Montana and honored that 22 other states and Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) stood shoulder to shoulder with Montana. Despite this disappointing decision, the last word has not been spoken on the issue of how we preserve a viable democracy in which everyday people have a meaningful voice. History will show that it was Montanans and the Montana Supreme Court that understood the heart of this issue and stood on the side of ‘We the people.’”
While five of the Court’s justices voted to reverse the Montana Supreme Court’s decision, four justices – led by Justice Breyer – voted to deny ATP’s petition to rehear the case and instead uphold the Montana court’s decision. In the dissent, Justice Breyer wrote:
“Montana’s experience, like considerable ex­perience elsewhere since the Court’s decision in Citizens United, casts grave doubt on the Court’s supposition that independent expenditures do not corrupt or appear to do so.”

Arizona v. United States

Previous posts have dealt with Arizona's controversial law on illegal immigration.  The New York Times reports:
The Supreme Court on Monday delivered a split decision on Arizona’s tough 2010 immigration law, upholding its most hotly debated provision but blocking others on the grounds that they interfered with the federal government’s role in setting immigration policy.

The court unanimously sustained the law’s centerpiece, the one critics have called its “show me your papers” provision, though they left the door open to further challenges. The provision requires state law enforcement officials to determine the immigration status of anyone they stop or arrest if they have reason to suspect that the individual might be in the country illegally.
The justices parted ways on three other provisions, with the majority rejecting measures that would have subjected illegal immigrants to criminal penalties for activities like seeking work.
From the case syllabus:
1. The Federal Government’s broad, undoubted power over immigration and alien status rests, in part, on its constitutional power to“establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization,” Art. I, §8, cl. 4, and onits inherent sovereign power to control and conduct foreign relations, see Toll v. Moreno, 458 U. S. 1, 10. Federal governance is extensive and complex. Among other things, federal law specifies categories ofaliens who are ineligible to be admitted to the United States, 8 U. S. C. §1182; requires aliens to register with the Federal Government and to carry proof of status, §§1304(e), 1306(a); imposes sanctions on employers who hire unauthorized workers, §1324a; and specifies which aliens may be removed and the procedures for doing so, see §1227. Removal is a civil matter, and one of its principal features is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials, who must decide whether to pursue removal at all. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency within the Department of Homeland Security, is responsible for identifying, apprehending, and removing illegal aliens. It also operates the Law Enforcement Support Center,which provides immigration status information to federal, state, andlocal officials around the clock. Pp. 2–7.

2. The Supremacy Clause gives Congress the power to preempt state law. A statute may contain an express preemption provision, see, e.g., Chamber of Commerce of United States of America v. Whiting, 563 U. S. ___, ___, but state law must also give way to federal law in at least two other circumstances. First, States are precluded from regulating conduct in a field that Congress has determinedmust be regulated by its exclusive governance. See Gade v. National Solid Wastes Management Assn., 505 U. S. 88, 115. Intent can be inferred from a framework of regulation “so pervasive . . . that Congress left no room for the States to supplement it” or where a “federalinterest is so dominant that the federal system will be assumed topreclude enforcement of state laws on the same subject.” Rice v. Santa Fe Elevator Corp., 331 U. S. 218, 230. Second, state laws are preempted when they conflict with federal law, including when theystand “as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress.” Hines v. Davidowitz, 312 U. S. 52, 67. Pp. 7–8.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Dealing with the Media

Our chapter on mass media analyzes how public figures try to reach the public.  Here are some practical tips:

  • What do you want to say? 
  • Whom do you want to reach? 
  • How do you want them to react? 
  • What resources are available to you? 
What is newsworthy?
  • Niche story or general interest? 
  • What geographic area would have an interest? 
  • What beats and bureaus would cover? 
  • Print story or TV story? 
Qualities of an effective message: SUCCES
  • Simplicity
  • Unexpectedness
  • Concreteness
  • Credibility
  • Emotions
  • Stories

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Student-Teacher Ratios

At Reason, Nick Gillespie writes:
When it comes to teachers, in 2008 (the last year for which the federal government lists actual data), there were 15.3 pupils per teacher in public K-12 schools. That's the lowest recorded number. In 1998, the number was 16.4 and in 1978, it was 19.3. Over this same time period, the amount of money per student has increased tremendously and scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have stayed flat at best. Since 1970, the number of public-school students has increased by about 9 percent while the number of public-school employees (teachers plus everyone else) has increased by 96 percent. Something ain't right there. It seems quite plausible that states and local school districts can lose a good chunk of teachers without significantly impairing the quality (that may not be the right word) of K-12 public education.

The Un-Leaky Supreme Court

Despite the prevalance of leaks in Washington, the Supreme Court is famous for maintaining a lid on information. Each of the justices has four clerks, who all know the content of decisions in advance because they do the research and much of the drafting. But they do not talk out of turn. Associated Press reports:
Those 36 clerks, who have inside knowledge of the court's deliberations, are just as mum as their bosses despite growing up in the Internet age of bloggers, camera-phones, social media and instantly free-flowing information. Clerks are warned from day one not to reveal anything about their work, said lawyer Stephen Miller, who clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia. Miller remembered Chief Justice William Rehnquist warning all of the clerks in his year of the perils of leaking information from the court. "Leaks were unacceptable," Miller remembers the chief justice sternly telling all of them. In addition to losing their job, one of the most highly sought positions for up-and-coming lawyers in the nation because it usually leads to a six-figure salary upon completion, any clerk caught revealing information would immediately be ostracized in the legal profession, Miller said. No law firm would be willing to take a chance on a lawyer who talks or leaks information to outsiders without permission. If the leaking clerk isn't caught, the entire class would have that stigma, leading to strong peer pressure to stay silent, he said. "So what's in it for a clerk to leak?" Miller said.

Miller noted that all the lampposts at the entrances and exits of the Supreme Court building are supported by turtle sculptures, which can also be found elsewhere in the building. It's an apt symbol for the court. "They like information to move slowly and deliberately," Miller said.

Health Law's Supporters Failed to See Legal Danger

The New York Times reports that supporters of the president's health care law were slow to grasp the gravity of the legal challenge.
Looking back, Democrats said they had had every reason for confidence, given decades of Supreme Court precedents affirming Congress’s authority to regulate interstate commerce, and lawyers who defended the law said they had always taken the challenge seriously even if politicians had not. But they underestimated the chances that conservative judges might, in this view, radically reinterpret or discard those precedents.
Adversaries said the law’s proponents had been too attentive to liberal academics who shaped public discussion. “There’s very little diversity in the legal academy among law professors,” said Randy E. Barnett, a Georgetown University law professor and a leading thinker behind the challenge. “So they’re in an echo chamber listening to people who agree with them.”
David B. Rivkin Jr., who filed a challenge joined by 26 states, said that extended across party lines. “Nobody in Congress is interested in constitutional issues,” he said. “The Republicans on the Hill were no better than the Democrats. It really was very late in the game when Republicans realized there would be no policy deal and began to look at the constitutional issues.”

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Religion and the Candidates

Gallup reports: Our textbook places a great deal of emphasis on religion. It also has a boxed feature, "Myths and Misinformation." The two items converge when it comes to the question of the president's faith.the president's faith. Gallup reports:
Just 34% of Americans correctly say U.S. President Barack Obama is a Christian, while 44% say they don't know Obama's religion and 11% say he is a Muslim.
Americans are indeed more likely to say Obama is a Christian -- mostly a generic "Christian" or "Protestant" -- than to say he identifies with any other religion. In addition to those who name a specific religion or don't offer a guess, 8% say he does not have a religious affiliation. Americans are more likely to know Mitt Romney's religion than Obama's religion, with most Americans correctly saying Romney is a Mormon and a smaller 33% saying they don't know.
Prejudice against Mormons remains a problem in American society. Gallup also reports:
NJ -- Eighteen percent of Americans say they would not vote for a well-qualified presidential candidate who happens to be a Mormon, virtually the same as the 17% who held this attitude in 1967.
The exact percentage of Americans who resist the idea of voting for a Mormon has varied slightly over the eight times Gallup has asked the question, typically when a Mormon was running for president, including George Romney (1968 campaign), Orrin Hatch (2000 campaign), and Mitt Romney (2008 and 2012 campaigns). The percentage opposed to a Mormon president has averaged 19% since 1967 -- from a low of 17% at several points to a high of 24% in 2007. The current 18% is down from 22% a year ago. Gallup originally asked the question in April 1967, after Mitt Romney's father, Michigan Gov. George Romney, announced the formation of an exploratory committee for the 1968 Republican nomination. At that point, George Romney was one of the two top contenders for the GOP nomination, along with the eventual winner, Richard Nixon. Now, some 45 years later, George Romney's son Mitt will be the Republican nominee -- and the pattern of resistance to his Mormon religion has essentially not changed.

Decision on Unions and Politics

The Los Angeles Times reports:
TheU.S. Supreme Court sharply criticized public-sector unions for using money from nonmembers to fund special political campaigns, stepping into the intense political debate about such unions and signaling that new constitutional limits may be coming.

The justices ruled Thursday that the Service Employees International Union in California violated the 1st Amendment rights of its dissident members by taking extra fees from their paychecks in 2005. The money was used to fight two anti-union ballot measures sponsored by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"This aggressive use of power by the SEIU to collect fees from nonmembers is indefensible," said JusticeSamuel A. Alito Jr., speaking for the court's conservative majority. "When a public-sector union imposes a special assessment or dues increase, the union … may not exact any funds from nonmembers without their affirmative consent."
The case is Knox v. SEIU.

"The Republicans Who Run Congress"

In 1948, President Truman ran for reelection by criticizing the Republican-controlled Congress. President Obama is taking up the same theme. One problem is that his party has a majority in the Senate. He is getting around this problem by ignoring it. In recent speeches, he has taken to asserting that Republicans control Congress.

At the University of North Carolina on April 24:
So this shouldn't be a partisan issue. And yet the Republicans who run Congress right now have not yet said whether or not they'll stop your rates from doubling.
At Cleveland's Cuyahoga Community College, June 14:
Governor Romney and the Republicans who run Congress believe that if you simply take away regulations and cut taxes by trillions of dollars, the market will solve all of our problems on its own. If you agree with that, you should vote for them. And I promise you they will take us in that direction.
At the NALEO annual conference, June 22:
The Republicans who run Congress, the man at the top of their ticket, they don’t agree with any of the proposals I just talked about. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Census Report on Education Spending

The Census Bureau has a new report on education spending:
The nation's elementary-secondary public school systems spent an average of $10,615 per pupil in fiscal year 2010, up 1.1 percent from the previous year, according to statistics released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. District of Columbia public schools spent $18,667 per student in 2010, which is the most of any state or state equivalent. States that spent the most per pupil were New York ($18,618), New Jersey ($16,841), Alaska ($15,783), Vermont ($15,274) and Wyoming ($15,169). (See table 11. Excel | PDF).

A Death in the Desert

Our chapter on bureaucracy discusses the sacrifices that public employees often make. Amid all the political controversy about Fast and Furious (see yesterday's post ), it is important to remember the death that started it all. CNN reports:
A possible U.S. House vote next week on whether to hold U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for withholding certain documents from lawmakers relates to a months-long investigation into a controversial gun sting that allowed hundreds of weapons to reach violent Mexican drug cartels. The controversial Operation Fast and Furious, which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives began in 2009, came to the public's attention after guns linked to the program were found at the site where a U.S. Border Patrol agent was killed. Brian A. Terry was fatally shot in the Arizona desert, just north of the Mexico border, on December 14, 2010, after he confronted a group of bandits believed to be preying on illegal immigrants. Nearly three months later, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, announced that two weapons found near the scene were traced to an ATF gun-running operation, later identified as Fast and Furious.
A year after Terry's murder, his family issued a statement:
"December 15th will mark the one year anniversary of the murder of Brian A. Terry. On that day in 2010, our family lost an amazing son, brother, uncle, and friend. Our country lost an incredible young American who was fully committed to his job in keeping our Nation safe and its borders secure. Brian's life was dedicated to public service as a U.S. Marine, police officer, U.S. Border Patrol agent and finally as a member of the Border Patrol's elite tactical unit known as BORTAC. Throughout his life, Brian maintained an incredible work ethic that made his many successes possible. We believe that these are the traits that so many people have since recognized. He is remembered as an extremely proud American and a symbol for all that is good.
Brian's death has been extremely difficult to accept. As most know, we had to learn from the news media that two assault rifles carried by the men that killed Brian and found at the murder scene were linked to Operation Fast and Furious, a failed gun trafficking operation run by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Department of Justice. We find it incomprehensible that members of ATF and DOJ would embark on such an egregious operation and then try to conceal the link between this failed investigation and Brian's murder. Much to our dismay, no one in ATF or DOJ has come forward to accept responsibility for Operation Fast and Furious.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Contempt of Congress

CNN reports on a dispute between the House and Attorney General Eric Holder:
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee recommended Wednesday that Holder be cited for contempt of Congress for failing to turn over documents relating to the botched Fast and Furious weapons sting operation. The committee measure now goes to the full House for consideration. The vote ended an extraordinary daylong hearing that took place after President Barack Obama asserted executive privilege over some documents sought by the panel investigating Fast and Furious. The White House move means the Department of Justice can withhold some of the documents.
The Congressional Research Service provides background on contempt of Congress:
Congress has three formal methods by which it can combat non-compliance with a duly issued subpoena. Each of these methods invokes the authority of a separate branch of government. First, the long dormant inherent contempt power permits Congress to rely on its own constitutional authority to detain and imprison a contemnor until the individual complies with congressional demands. Second, the criminal contempt statute permits Congress to certify a contempt citation to the executive branch for the criminal prosecution of the contemnor. Finally, Congress may rely on the judicial branch to enforce a congressional subpoena. Under this procedure, Congress may seek a civil judgment from a federal court declaring that the individual in question is legally obligated to comply with the congressional subpoena.
A number of obstacles face Congress in any attempt to enforce a subpoena issued against an executive branch official. Although the courts have reaffirmed Congress’s constitutional authority to issue and enforce subpoenas, efforts to punish an executive branch official for non-compliance with a subpoena through criminal contempt will likely prove unavailing in many, if not most, circumstances. Where the official refuses to disclose information pursuant to the President’s decision that such information is protected under executive privilege, past practice suggests that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will not pursue a prosecution for criminal contempt. In addition, although it appears that Congress may be able to enforce its own subpoenas through a declaratory civil action, relying on this mechanism to enforce a subpoena directed at an executive official may prove an inadequate means of protecting congressional prerogatives due to the time required to achieve a final, enforceable ruling in the case. Although subject to practical limitations, Congress retains the ability to exercise its own constitutionally based authorities to enforce a subpoena through inherent contempt.
CRS also provides background on executive privilege:
Presidential claims of a right to preserve the confidentiality of information and documents in the face of legislative demands have figured prominently, though intermittently, in executive-congressional relations since at least 1792. Few such interbranch disputes over access to information have reached the courts for substantive resolution, the vast majority achieving resolution through political negotiation and accommodation. In fact, it was not until the Watergate-related lawsuits in the 1970’s seeking access to President Nixon’s tapes that the existence of a presidential confidentiality privilege was judicially established as a necessary derivative of the President’s status in our constitutional scheme of separated powers. Of the nine court decisions involving interbranch or private information access disputes, four have involved Congress and the Executive. Two of these resulted in decisions on the merits. The Nixon and post-Watergate cases established the broad contours of the presidential communications privilege. Under those precedents, the privilege, which is constitutionally rooted, could be invoked by the President when asked to produce documents or other materials or information that reflect presidential decisionmaking and deliberations that he believes should remain confidential. If the President does so, the materials become presumptively privileged. The privilege, however, is qualified, not absolute, and can be overcome by an adequate showing of need. Finally, while reviewing courts have expressed reluctance to balance executive privilege claims against a congressional demand for information, they have acknowledged they will do so if the political branches have tried in good faith but failed to reach an accommodation.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Confidence in Institutions

Previous posts have discussed confidence in institutions.Today, Gallup reports:
Americans' confidence in public schools is down five percentage points from last year, with 29% expressing "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in them. That establishes a new low in public school confidence from the 33% measured in Gallup's 2007 and 2008 Confidence in Institutions polls. The high was 58% the first time Gallup included public schools, in 1973.
In addition to public schools, this year's Confidence in Institutions survey finds record lows, all by one percentage point, in Americans' confidence in the church or organized religion (44%), banks (21%), and television news (21%). Gallup has asked Americans to say how much confidence they have in a variety of U.S. institutions since 1973, including annually since 1993. Once again, Americans are most confident in the military (75%), which has finished first each year since 1989 except 1997, when small business edged it out. Small business, at 63%, is second this year. The police, at 56%, is third, and the only other institution of the 16 tested in which a majority of Americans express confidence. At the other end of the spectrum, Congress ranks last with 13% confidence, followed by Health Maintenance Organizations at 19%.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Turnover in State Legislatures

At The National Conference of State Legislatures, Karl Kurtz and Tim Storey write:
The combination of unusually high turnover in the membership of state legislatures after the 2010 election and anticipated high rates of churn after the redistricting election of 2012 makes it likely that approximately half of all state legislators will have served for two years or less at the start of 2013 legislaitve sessions. The 2010-12 cycle almost certainly will result in the highest rate of turnover in state legislatures over two elections in the last 50 years.
In a more recent post, they add more data about states with and without term limits:
As term limits began to take effect and force legislators out of office in the mid-1990s, the gap between the two types of legislatures began to grow. By 2000, when term limit provisions had been enacted in 15 states, the gap was 19 percentage points (36 percent in TL states and 17 percent in NTL states), and the difference has remained consistently in the range of 15-20 points ever since.

Pew on Asian Americans

The Pew Research Center reports:
Asian Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States. They are more satisfied than the general public with their lives, finances and the direction of the country, and they place more value than other Americans do on marriage, parenthood, hard work and career success, according to a comprehensive new nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center.
Compared with the general public, Asian Americans are more likely to support an activist government and less likely to identify as Republicans. Half are Democrats or lean Democratic, while only 28% identify with or lean toward the GOP. Among all American adults, 49% fall in the Democratic camp and 39% identify with or lean toward the Republican Party. Indian Americans are the most heavily Democratic Asian subgroup (65%), while Filipino Americans and Vietnamese Americans are the most evenly split between the two parties.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Myth of EPA Drones

The Environmental Protection Agency uses airplanes to watch for pollution risks. Recently, several House members wrote the agency a letter about the potential privacy implications of this practice. What started as a legitimate inquiry soon turned into an urban legend, as The Washington Post reports:
First a couple of Twitter users got it wrong. Then, at 2:51 p.m. June 1, the Web site posted a blog item with the title, “EPA Using Spy Drones to Fly Over Midwestern Farms.” It provided a link to a report on the Fox News Web site — which discussed the lawmakers’ letter but didn’t actually mention drones.
That same afternoon, the falsehood spread to television. On a Fox News Channel “ensemble opinion show” called “The Five,” Fox contributor Bob Beckel said, “They are drones, they are flying overhead.” “No, they’re not,” said fellow panelist Dana Perino, who served as White House press secretary under President George W. Bush. “They’re taking pictures.”
“No, no, no. They’re drones,” Beckel said. Over the next three days, the story appeared on blogs, was tweeted and re-tweeted. It had all the makings of a great rumor. It combined two ideas that many people already believed to be true: that domestic use of drone aircraft was soon to increase, and that President Obama has used environmentalism as a cover for government overreach.

Deliberative Democracy, Direct Democracy, and Hungary

In The Budapest Times, Adam Paar writes of deliberative democracy and direct democracy in Hungary:
As we have outlined above, direct democracy serves to ensure citizens’ liberty. That can include the holder of power turning to citizens. However, such government initiatives need to fulfil two minimal requirements: the questions should be directed at those groups that are competent to answer on the given subject, and sufficient information should be available about the likely advantages and disadvantages of the decision made. The current National Consultation meets neither criterion. When putting together the questions, competence of the respondents clearly was not at the front of the drafters’ minds: the questions cover everything from flat-rate taxation, housing support for families with children, and assistance for foreign-currency borrowers through to the purchasing power of pensions. Pensioners are competent to answer one question while foreign-currency borrowers are competent to answer another.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Nixon, the Unexpected

Allen Barra writes at The New York Times:
In rankings of presidents, based on surveys of scholars, he has not fared well: No. 36 in a 1996 poll by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., No. 35 in a 1982 survey by the historians Robert K. Murray and Tim H. Blessing and, in his best showing, No. 33, in a 2005 survey by The Wall Street Journal. And yet, Nixon did leave some legacies that may outlast the memory of Watergate. Historians have argued that he did a great deal to desegregate Southern schools; that he defied the conservatives in his party to open relations with China; and that he had a good record on the environment. Significantly, he brought women into the world of sports, through the portion of the 1972 Education Amendments better known as Title IX, whose 40th anniversary is celebrated on June 23.

What Americans Think of the Supreme Court

AEI offers some historical background on public opinion and the Supreme Court:
*Trust in the Supreme Court is down slightly for the major organizations with long trends. Harris found a seven-point drop in high trust between 1966 and 2011. Gallup shows a six-point drop between 1973 and 2011, and the National Opinion Research Center reports a two-point drop between 1973 and 2010.
* In a late May/early June CBS News/New York Times poll, 44 percent approved of the way the court is handling its job. In 2000, the first time Gallup asked the identical question about the court’s job performance, 62 percent approved.
The Pew Research Center’s measure of favorability for 2012 is the lowest in 25 years.
*People view the judicial branch more positively than the executive of legislative branches.
 *Strong pluralities usually tell pollsters that the court’s ideological balance is “about right.” A Fox News question from 2012, for example, found that 45 percent thought the court was “about right” in its decisions, while 26 percent said it was “too liberal” and 21 percent “too conservative.”
*Americans believe that the justices bring their personal views to their decisions. In 1946, 43 percent said the court decided many questions based on politics. In a late May/early June 2012 CBS News/New York Times poll, 76 percent said the court decides cases based on personal and political views, not legal analysis. When asked specifically about the health care case, around 50 percent believe the justices will let their partisan or ideological views enter into their decisions.
* Most Americans are not familiar with individual justices. In a 2010 Pew poll, only 28 percent could identify John Roberts as the chief justice. During Roberts’s confirmation hearing in September 2005, 53 percent told Pew he was “generally considered” a conservative, and 25 percent didn’t know. Two years later, 37 percent said he was generally considered a conservative and 48 percent didn’t know. It is unlikely that the health care ruling will shape Roberts’s legacy in the public consciousness.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Opinion on Immigration

Gallup reports:
PRINCETON, NJ -- President Barack Obama's decision not to deport young people who came to the U.S. illegally as children comes at a time when Americans' views toward immigration are much more positive than they have been in recent years. Currently, 66% say immigration is a "good thing" for the U.S. today, up from 59% last year and one percentage point off the high of 67% in 2006. The findings reflect a June 7-10 Gallup poll, conducted just days before the Obama administration put U.S. immigration back into the headlines by announcing that it would bypass Congress and stop deporting undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children -- a change that would affect hundreds of thousands of people.

New Policy on Deportation

An earlier post described the administration's new policy on deportationIn the Rose Garden, the president said:
In the absence of any immigration action from Congress to fix our broken immigration system, what we’ve tried to do is focus our immigration enforcement resources in the right places. So we prioritized border security, putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history -- today, there are fewer illegal crossings than at any time in the past 40 years. We focused and used discretion about whom to prosecute, focusing on criminals who endanger our communities rather than students who are earning their education. And today, deportation of criminals is up 80 percent. We've improved on that discretion carefully and thoughtfully. Well, today, we're improving it again.

Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security is taking steps to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people. Over the next few months, eligible individuals who do not present a risk to national security or public safety will be able to request temporary relief from deportation proceedings and apply for work authorization. 
Now, let's be clear -- this is not amnesty, this is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It's not a permanent fix. This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) responded:
The decision is not just a breach of faith with the American people. It blatantly ignores the rule of law that is the foundation of our democracy.
In an interview with Univision television earlier this year, President Obama said that he can’t just “waive away the laws that Congress put in place” and that “the president doesn’t have the authority to simply ignore Congress and say, ‘We’re not going to enforce the laws that you’ve passed.’”
But ignore Congress and the Constitution is exactly what the president has done – and this isn’t the first time. Throughout the past three years of his administration, Mr. Obama has waived applying several of our immigration rules and has refused to enforce other immigration laws.
Earlier this year, administration officials at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) outlined their plan to ignore a rule that requires illegal immigrants to leave the US before they can then ask the federal government to waive a law that bans them from legally returning here for several years.
While the waiver of this rule is sometimes allowed under current law, it is only applied on a case-by-case basis, not to entire categories of illegal immigrants. But Obama and his administration have bent these established rules by applying them to potentially millions of illegal immigrants.

Friday, June 15, 2012

POTUS on Deportation

In light of our textbook's emphasis on citizenship, previous posts have dealt with deportationABC reports:
President Obama is relaxing rules for younger illegal immigrants who haven't broken the law since coming into the country as children, a move certain to rile Republicans.
The Homeland Security Department will no longer deport such immigrants, and work permits will be given to them, administration officials confirmed to ABC News.
The more lenient treatment is similar to the proposals in the DREAM Act, legislation supported by Obama but blocked in Congress. Obama is scheduled to speak about the change this afternoon, effectively bringing the issue of immigration back into the 2012 race today.
"Our nation's immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement. "But they are not designed to be blindly enforced without consideration given to the individual circumstances of each case. Nor are they designed to remove productive young people to countries where they may not have lived or even speak the language. Discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified here."
Last August, Hans von Spakovsky took a different view of discretion:
When President Obama was inaugurated, he swore an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Article II, Section 3 directs the President to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” Unfortunately, in what has become an all too common occurrence in this administration, Obama is once again bending that oath to the breaking point by specifically not taking care that immigration laws passed by Congress are faithfully executed.
The Department of Homeland Security announced on Thursday that it would halt all deportation proceedings against illegal immigrants who are attending school, have family in the military or are primarily responsible for other family members’ care, and allow them to apply for work permits. Apparently, the only illegal aliens that the Obama administration will detain and deport are those who have committed additional serious criminal offenses in the United States – the fact that they committed a crime under federal law by entering the United States illegally (8 U.S.C. § 1325) is apparently of no concern to this administration.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Texting for Dollars

Technology is shaping this campaign, including the realm of campaign finance. Open Secrets reports:
Don't be surprised if President Barack Obama or Mitt Romney ask you to send them a text message this summer.

The Federal Election Commission voted unanimously Monday night to allow individuals to make political contributions through text messages, providing yet another potential stream of money for national campaigns and political action committees.

Campaigns will likely follow the method charity organizations have used in the past to collect donations via text message: by texting a word or phrase to a certain number, an individual is able to instantly make a small contribution -- usually $5 or $10 -- that is added to his or her monthly cell phone bill. This gives candidates and political groups the chance to solicit near-immediate donations at live rallies or through traditional broadcast advertisements. The FEC capped text message contributions at $50 a month per cell phone number.

Marijuana, Federalism, and Landlords

Previous posts have noted a problem of federalism:  the conflict between federal law outlawing marijuana and state laws permitting its use for medical purposes.  Reuters reports:
Federal prosecutors are targeting medical marijuana shops in California, seeking forfeiture of the properties in which they do business.

The authorities are pressuring landlords to shut down the shops or face possible loss of the real estate through the unconventional and low-key use of a civil statute designed primarily to seize the assets of drug-trafficking organizations.

While some states, including California, have legalized medical marijuana businesses, the federal government does not recognize their authority to do so and has targeted the shops for violations of the 40-year-old Controlled Substances Act.

The goal of the Justice Department's effort, part of a crackdown announced last October, is to fight the medical marijuana industry, estimated at $1.7 billion annually, without confronting it head-on with costly and potentially embarrassing criminal prosecutions, industry sources and legal experts said.

This indirect strategy is reminiscent of the department's attempts, which have met with only limited success, to sever the medical pot industry's access to banking services. Many businesses have found ways around those restrictions, experts said.

"Filing asset-forfeiture lawsuits against these commercial properties is a very clever way to handle an otherwise horribly difficult and controversial situation," said Greg Baldwin, a partner at the Miami law firm Holland & Knight and a former federal prosecutor.

Flag Day 2012

From the Census Bureau:
This is Flag Day -- marking the date in 1777 when John Adams proposed the stars and stripes as the official flag of the United States. One of many ceremonies will be held at Fort McHenry in Baltimore. It was the sight of the flag still flying there after an overnight battle with the British in the War of 1812 that inspired Francis Scott Key to write a poem, which became the words of the national anthem. Flag Day events often center around reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, written by Francis Bellamy and first recited in public in 1892 by schoolchildren at a Columbus Day ceremony. Making flags, banners, and pennants is a nearly $5 billion annual business in the U.S.
A Middlesex Superior Court judge has rejected a lawsuit by an atheist couple and their children who sued the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District and the Acton schools challenging the use of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Judge S. Jane Haggerty, in a ruling released Friday, said the daily recitation of the pledge with those words did not violate the plaintiffs’ rights under the Massachusetts Constitution, did not violate the school district’s antidiscrimination policy, and did not violate state law.
The plaintiffs, while acknowledging that the children had the right to refuse to participate in the pledge, asserted that the phrase “under God” was a “religious truth” that contradicted their beliefs, Haggerty said.
The defendants argued that the pledge, rather than a religious document or ceremony, is a patriotic exercise and statement of political philosophy, according to the ruling.
The judge observed that the case presents a “familiar dilemma in our pluralistic society — how to balance conflicting interests when one group wants to do something for patriotic reasons that another group finds offensive to its religious (or atheistic) beliefs.”
The judge ruled in her 24-page opinion that the phrase “under God” was not a religious truth.
Citing previous opinions, she said that the daily flag salute and pledge in schools are “clearly designed to inculcate patriotism and to instill a recognition of the blessings conferred by orderly government under the constitutions of the state and nation.”
“The Pledge is a voluntary patriotic exercise, and the inclusion of the phrase ‘under God’ does not convert the exercise into a prayer,” she wrote.
Ten Navy ships, including USS Fort McHenry, are commemorating Flag Day today at the site of the historic War of 1812 battle 200 years ago that inspired the National Anthem.
The War of 1812 centered on maritime disputes between the United States and Great Britain...[W]ith naval battles in North America, off South America and Great Britain, and in the Pacific and Indian oceans, the War of 1812 was predominantly a sea campaign. It served as a defining moment for the fledging U.S. Navy, which fought the British as they tried to blockade the Atlantic coast and support land forces from Lake Erie and Lake Champlain, leading to the birth of America’s modern sea services.
“The War of 1812 is significant because it paved the way for future development of the U.S. Navy,” said U.S. Naval War College Professor Kevin McCranie, author of the soon-to-be-released book, “Utmost Gallantry: The U.S. and Royal Navies at Sea in the War of 1812.”
"Challenging the most dominant naval power of the time, the less powerful U.S. Navy found ways to protract the war and incurred significant costs for Great Britain,” he said. “That’s why the War of 1812 is important for national leaders to study.”

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The World, the United States, and China

The Pew Research Center reports on the 2012 Pew Global Attitudes Survey:
Majorities or pluralities in 12 countries express a favorable opinion of the United States, while the prevailing view is negative in only five nations. In three countries views are closely divided. 
Attitudes toward the U.S. are generally more positive today than in 2008, the final year of the George W. Bush administration. The biggest improvements in America’s image have occurred among Europeans – in France, Spain, and Germany, the percentage of people with a positive view of the U.S. is at least 20 percentage points higher than in 2008.

Across much of the globe, people continue to believe the U.S. acts unilaterally in world affairs. However, three of the four BRIC countries – an acronym applied to these nations because of their emerging economies –are exceptions to this pattern. More than half in Brazil (55%) and China (51%) say the U.S. does take into account their interests when it is making foreign policy decisions. On balance, Indians also hold this view, although the percentage saying the U.S. considers India’s interests has declined from 57% last year to 44% today. In Russia, the fourth BRIC country, only 22% think the U.S. acts multilaterally.
Throughout Europe and the Middle East, majorities say the U.S. does not take into account the interests of countries like theirs.

Views about the economic balance of power have shifted dramatically over time among the 14 countries surveyed each year from 2008 to 2012. In 2008, before the onset of the global financial crisis, a median of 45% named the U.S. as the world’s leading economic power, while just 22% said China. Today, only 36% say the U.S., while 42% believe China is in the top position.
Indeed, the US entertainment industry is showing increasing deference to China, as the Los Angeles Times reports:
In "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,"a romantic comedy about building a dam in the Mideast, Chinese hydroelectric engineers showed off their know-how; the original book included no such characters. In Columbia Pictures' disaster movie"2012," the White House chief of staff extolled the Chinese as visionaries after an ark built by the country's scientists saves civilization.
In fact, references to the Middle Kingdom are popping up with remarkable frequency in movies these days. Some are conspicuously flattering or gratuitous additions designed to satisfy Chinese business partners and court audiences in the largest moviegoing market outside the U.S. Others, filmmakers say, are simply organic reflections of the fact thatChina is a rising political, economic and cultural power.
Meanwhile, Chinese bad guys are vanishing — literally. Western studios are increasingly inclined to excise potentially negative references to China in the hope that the films can pass muster with Chinese censors and land one of several dozen coveted annual revenue-sharing import quota slots in Chinese cinemas.
The net effect is a situation that movie-business veterans say is unprecedented: The suppressive tendencies of a foreign nation are altering what is seen not just in one country but around the world.
"It's a clear-cut case — maybe the first I can think of in the history of Hollywood — where a foreign country's censorship board deeply affects what we produce," said a leading Hollywood producer who, like several others interviewed for this story, spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want to offend potential Chinese partners.

Supreme Court Opinions and Opinions About the Court

Our chapter on the Supreme Court discusses how justices deliberate on cases and articulate their views in written opinions. At The New York Times, Adam Liptak writes about unsigned opinions:
Nine times so far this year, the court has issued an unsigned opinion ruling on the merits of a dispute without full briefing or oral argument. Such rulings have been the subject of criticism from practitioners and the legal academy. These critics say it is a mistake to resolve cases without adequate information and deliberation. It is also problematic, they add, to do so anonymously.
The latest critique arrived this month in The Tulane Law Review in an article by Ira P. Robbins, a law professor at American University. It was called “Hiding Behind the Cloak of Invisibility,” and it considered “per curiam” opinions, ones issued “by the court” without indication of authorship. “In the first six years of Chief Justice Roberts’s tenure,” Professor Robbins wrote, “almost 9 percent of the court’s full opinions were per curiams.”
Such opinions suggest that what they have to say is so simple and obvious that no serious judicial effort is needed. Yet not a few unsigned majority opinions have come with dissents. That combination — an unsigned majority decision and a signed dissent — was “an oxymoronic form, one that simultaneously insisted on both institutional consensus and individual disagreement,” Laura Krugman Ray, a law professor at the Widener University School of Law, wrote in 2000 in The Nebraska Law Review.
Two of the current term’s unsigned summary reversals were followed by dissenting opinions, both times from three members of the court’s liberal wing. In one of them, reinstating a California woman’s conviction for shaking her grandson to death, Justice Ginsburg quarreled with both the result and how the court chose to get there.
While serving on a federal appeals court in 1990, Justice Ginsburg wrote that putting a name to an opinion “serves to hold the individual judge accountable” and “puts the judge’s conscience and reputation on the line.” The alternative, Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1822, “is certainly convenient for the lazy, the modest and the incompetent.”
 Previous posts have looked at how Americans regard the judiciary. Liptak and Allison Kopicki write of public opinion about the Court:
Just 44 percent of Americans approve of the job the Supreme Court is doing and three-quarters say the justices’ decisions are sometimes influenced by their personal or political views, according to a poll conducted by The New York Times and CBS News.

Those findings are a fresh indication that the court’s standing with the public has slipped significantly in the past quarter-century, according to surveys conducted by several polling organizations. Approval was as high as 66 percent in the late 1980s, and by 2000 approached 50 percent.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Plunging Net Worth

The Federal Reserve Board's Survey of Consumer Finances for 2010 provides insights into changes in family income and net worth since the 2007 survey. The survey shows that, over the 2007–10 period, the median value of real (inflation-adjusted) family income before taxes fell 7.7 percent, while mean income fell more sharply, an 11.1 percent decline. Both median and mean net worth decreased even more dramatically than income over this period, though the relative movements in the median and the mean are reversed; the median fell 38.8 percent, and the mean fell 14.7 percent. [emphasis added] 
The report indirectly makes an observation about generational divides:
The decline in median income was widespread across demographic groups, with only a few groups experiencing stable or rising incomes.Most noticeably, median incomes moved higher for retirees and other nonworking families. 

"Tear Down This Wall!"

CBS News reports on the 25th anniversary of a key speech:
On June 12, 1987, in a dramatic speech set against the backdrop of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, President Ronald Reagan delivered a challenge to Soviet leader Mikahil Gorbachev: "General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."

The speech, delivered about 100 yards from the Berlin Wall, marked Reagan's most prominent call for the reunification of East and West Berlin, and was considered a bold challenge to Gorbachev to prove he was serious about reforming Soviet governmental policies. Ultimately, it also signaled a hallmark moment in Reagan's presidency.

Peter Robinson, who drafted the speech, recalls that deputy chief of staff Ken Duberstein told President Reagan about objections from the State Department and NSC:
REAGAN: (A twinkle in his eye) I’m the president, aren’t I?
DUBERSTEIN: Yes, sir, Mr. President. We’re clear about that.
REAGAN: So I get to decide whether the line about tearing down the wall stays in?
DUBERSTEIN: That’s right, sir. It’s your decision.
REAGAN: Then it stays in.
In The Ambition and the Power (p. 486) John Barry reports how House Speaker Jim Wright (D., Texas) reacted:
Wright’s face hardened. Reagan’s declaration had destroyed any chance of the wall coming down, since Gorbachev could not appear to bow to him. Wright fumed, “It just makes me have utter contempt for Reagan. He spoiled the chance for a dramatic breakthrough in relations between our two countries It bespeaks his pettiness and self-centeredness. He just couldn’t bear Gorbachev doing it of his own volition.”
Our chapter on the presidency includes this dialogue, and our chapter on national security and foreign policy juxtaposes a photo of Reagan calling on the Soviets to tear down the wall with a 1990 photo of Reagan, chisel in hand, helping do just that.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Polarization, Parties, and Groups

A slideshow from the Pew Research Center's report on partisan polarization:

Partisan Differences in Political Values:  1987 - 2012

In an interview with Jennifer Rubin, Jay Cost talks about polarization and the role of clientele groups:
It’s certainly exacerbated things. The two sides are always going to disagree on big, ideological legislation. But when those proposals also include payoffs to some group that is aligned with one party, the other party is going to go ballistic.
Consider, for instance, that paycheck fairness bill the Senate recently voted down. There are big ideological disagreements there, but political considerations were just as salient, if not more so. There was literally no way the GOP was going to get on board with that — as it was a pretty obvious payoff to the trial lawyers lobby. Why should Republicans vote to change the laws in ways that help Democrats raise more money? This was also a big part of the problem the Democrats had with the stimulus. Why should the GOP vote to borrow money to deliver patronage to Democratic groups?
That’s the trouble with client groups in a two-party system: The other side does not want anything to do with them. Why should they? And so that injects a partisan element into the ideological conflict. It’s not simply about liberalism versus conservatism, but also about favoring one set of groups or not. That makes matters worse.