Archive

May 13th, 2016

History as farce at the Alabama supreme court

    When Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore ordered his state's probate judges in January to ignore a Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage, he put himself in jeopardy of losing his job - for the second time. Now Alabama's Judicial Inquiry Commission has filed formal charges against him for his defiance.

    Moore should lose his job. But as he's shown before, that's a setback he can overcome. Last time he was removed from office, he ran for governor before settling for re-election as chief justice. Who knows? This time he might even win the governorship.

    Moore's shenanigans go back to 2003, when, in his first term as elected chief justice, he commissioned a granite statue of the Ten Commandments to be placed in front of the Alabama Judicial Building where the state Supreme Court is housed. The monument violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment, a federal district court held. But when the court ordered Moore to have the statue removed, he refused.

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An economist explains the cost of loyalty to Trump

    You're a Republican elected official, former official or behind-the-scenes operator. You think Donald Trump is a potential disaster for the party and the nation. So what do you do?

    You could simply exit, throwing your support behind likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton or rallying around a third-party candidate.

    You could exercise your voice, although the options there are limited now that Trump has the nomination in the bag. One possibility is to endorse Trump publicly in hopes that you can influence his behavior behind the scenes. Another is to refuse to endorse him without endorsing anybody else -- a choice that falls just short of an exit.

    Either of these variants may seem somewhat pointless unless you consider the workings of party loyalty. Actively abandoning the GOP might bring long-term consequences -- such as exclusion from future party deliberations -- that behind-the-scenes nudging or even passive abandonment would not.

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5 powerful forces are driving income inequality

    Income inequality is driven by both political and economic forces and it waxes and wanes over time. In my new book, "Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization," I introduce the concept of Kuznets waves to describe this rise and fall. The name comes from the famous American economist Simon Kuznets, who in the 1950s and 1960s argued that as societies underwent the Industrial Revolution they become more unequal, with labor moving from agriculture to industry. This is followed by a period of declining income inequality as highly educated labor becomes more plentiful and social transfers increase. So it seemed that the rich countries were destined to become more egalitarian and stay that way.

    But Kuznets' theory ran into trouble in the past three decades as inequality rose in almost all developed countries, with the technology revolution playing the role of the Industrial Revolution and labor moving from well-paying manufacturing to less-remunerative services. Thus the broad forces pushing up U.S. inequality remain dominant. There are five specific forces to consider:

    - The increasing share of national income that accrues to owners of capital;

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Why Paul Ryan might not be able to avoid a down-ballot disaster

    In an op-ed for The Post back in March, Republican strategist Whit Ayres neatly spelled out the annihilation that could befall his party's chances of retaking the White House if Donald Trump were to become its presidential nominee. " Demographic trends make clear that a Republican nominee who hopes to win a majority of the popular vote in 2016 must gain either 30 percent of the nonwhite vote or 65 percent of the white vote," Ayres wrote. He added, "Trump doesn't stand a chance of doing either one."

    But one other thing Ayres wrote in his opinion piece caught my attention. "A Trump nomination would . . . seriously threaten Republican majorities in Congress," he pointed out. In theory, I get it. Folks go into the voting booth to vote for president and then just keep voting for the president's party in down-ballot races. Also, gerrymandering and incumbent advantage make ousting a majority, particularly in the House, seemingly impossible. Still, there are times when voters split their tickets. That is, they vote for the president of one party and then vote for House and Senate candidates of another party.

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When it comes to politics, corruption is subtler than you think

    In the now infamous case of Citizens United v. FEC , the Supreme Court corrected a 20-year-old mistake that, if allowed to continue, threatened to consume the First Amendment. The mistake was made in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce in 1990, when the Supreme Court upheld a Michigan restriction on corporate spending to independently run ads supporting or opposing a candidates for state office.

    In Austin , the court endorsed a stunningly broad theory of corruption. In the words of Justice Thurgood Marshall, corruption was expanded to include "the corrosive and distorting effects of immense aggregations of wealth that are accumulated with the help of the corporate form and that have little or no correlation to the public's support for the corporation's political ideas."

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Trump has one strategy for defeating Clinton

    There are two ways that Donald Trump can become president. Either he must become significantly more popular among general-election voters. Or his likely opponent, Hillary Clinton, must become significantly more unpopular.

    It won't take long for Trump to figure out which is the more promising path.

    Right now, flush with optimism after a stunning victory over more than a dozen primary foes, Trump's campaign has both goals in sight. Trump is hoping to rally conservatives and independents behind his candidacy. In his victory speech after the Indiana primary last week, Trump magnanimously refrained from calling defeated Sen. Ted Cruz a liar, or implying that Cruz's father aided the assassination of an American president. It was a veritable charm offensive.

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The US and Britain see corruption very differently. Here's why.

    Corruption is a morally charged word. When we say someone is corrupt, we don't just mean that a person broke a rule or failed to meet an expectation. The word implies something is rotten at its core, that something fundamental has been betrayed. The power of the word can get attention, mobilize public opinion and express disapproval in the strongest terms.

    Given the power of the term, it is unsurprising that its meaning is hotly debated in the field of politics, not least when it comes to the impact of money on policymaking. The narrow view of corruption taken in U.S. courts - along with an attitude of distrust of government - has shaped the U.S. campaign finance system into something vastly different from those in other countries, such as Britain.

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The U.S. political system is flawed but not corrupt

    Though our political system is flawed and perhaps even "rigged" in certain important ways, there is very little political corruption in the United States. This claim is typically met with disbelief. How can anyone argue that our political process is not corrupted by the vast amounts of money spent on campaigns and the countless hours elected officials and their challengers spend raising that money?

    One's answer to that question depends, of course, on one's definition of "corruption." The standard definition is that corruption is the use of public position for private gain. From this perspective, the archetypal corrupt act is a bribe. So if we are judging U.S. politics by the number of bribes being taken, we can reach no other conclusion than that there is little political corruption in the United States .

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The corruption continuum: When giving gifts bleeds to bribery

    When we talk about political corruption, what often comes to mind is what the law calls "quid pro quo": I give a politician money and in exchange he or she gets me a government contract or votes in my favor. But there is a continuum of quid pro quo exchanges, some plainly illegal, some not and some ambiguous.

    In the case of former Virginia governor Robert McDonnell, the Supreme Court will decide whether it is constitutional to prosecute a public official for conduct on that continuum, conduct never before determined to be at the illegal end. The issue is not whether we should regulate gifts to public officials; the issue is whether the criminal law can be used as a bludgeon when we have not done so. I think not. As a matter of due process, criminal prosecutions can be brought only when we have clearly defined what is legal and what is not.

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How the Supreme Court gets corruption totally wrong

    Members of Congress spend the majority of their time fundraising from wealthy donors, learning the smallest details about donors' lives - at the expense of learning about the policy details most relevant to their legislative work. When they're not fundraising, members may be anxious about meeting their fundraising quotas set by the national committees, or worried about offending the secret donors to powerful super PACs. This lurking fear undoubtedly shapes policy decisions, lest a wrong move trigger a deluge of attack ads from special interests.

    The Supreme Court has said that none of this is corrupt or corrupting. That defies law, history and logic. In a recent case Chief Justice John Roberts wrote: "Any [campaign finance] regulation must instead target what we have called 'quid pro quo' corruption or its appearance. That Latin phrase captures the notion of a direct exchange of an official act for money."

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