Archive

January 22nd, 2016

Deportation case yet another to ratchet up drama at the high court

    We now have our major Supreme Court story of the year: The justices will review the constitutionality of President Barack Obama's plan to defer deportations, stalled by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. The court's decision to take the case, United States v. Texas, ensures major drama around the oral argument in April, and fevered anticipation in the run-up to the announcement of the court's decision sometime in late June.

    The dramatic pattern produced by the hearing of a hugely significant case is starting to seem normal for the court. The Affordable Care Act, the Voting Rights Act, gay marriage and now immigration have each guaranteed -- and merited -- tremendous public attention.

    As a professor of constitutional law who also writes about the court in this column, I can hardly complain. It's all good for business. But it's worth pausing with a moment's nostalgia for the days when many Supreme Court terms were in fact very boring, with almost no cases decided that would interest the public. (I clerked in one such term, October Term 1998. You could look it up.)

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Why no food, not even kale, is 'healthy'

    Recently I watched a woman set a carton of Land O' Lakes Fat-Free Half-and-Half on the conveyor belt at a supermarket.

    "Can I ask you why you're buying fat-free half-and-half?" I said. Half-and-half is defined by its fat content: about 10 percent, more than milk, less than cream.

    "Because it's fat-free?" she responded.

    "Do you know what they replace the fat with?" I asked.

    "Hmm," she said, then lifted the carton and read the second ingredient on the label after skim milk: "Corn syrup." She frowned at me. Then she set the carton back on the conveyor belt to be scanned along with the rest of her groceries.

    The woman apparently hadn't even thought to ask herself that question but instead accepted the common belief that fat, an essential part of our diet, should be avoided whenever possible.

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The Choice for Democrats: Evolution or Revolution

    Hillary Clinton wrapped herself so tightly in President Obama's mantle at Sunday night's debate that it was a wonder she could walk off the stage.

    She lauded the Affordable Care Act to the heavens, rejecting the notion that it left too many Americans still without health insurance. She defended Obama's initiatives to rein in Wall Street, dismissing contentions that they did not go far enough. She highlighted his success in seizing Syria's chemical weapons. She praised the way he "led us out of the Great Recession."

    And she attacked her chief rival for the Democratic nomination, independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, for allegedly being insufficiently loyal to the president. "Senator Sanders called him weak, disappointing," she said. "He even, in 2011, publicly sought someone to run in a primary against President Obama."

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Bill O'Reilly will flee to Ireland if Sanders is elected. He's in for a shock.

    Bill O'Reilly, host of Fox News's "The O'Reilly Factor," is threatening to flee the country if Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont -- the self-described democratic socialist who is running for the Democratic Party nomination -- is elected president.

    As quoted in the Huffington Post, O'Reilly said: "If Bernie Sanders gets elected president, I'm fleeing . . . I'm going to Ireland. And they already know it. . . . I shouldn't say it publicly because that will get Sanders more votes," he said. "But I'm not going to pay 90 percent of my income to that guy. I'm sorry. I'm not doing it."

    O'Reilly is proud of his Irish ancestry (as a recent emigrant from Ireland and current U.S. citizen, I heartily approve of these sentiments). But he probably doesn't know very much about what Ireland is like these days. From the perspective of its Western European neighbors, Ireland is a small, market-friendly, right-of-center country. But from the perspective of American conservatism, Ireland looks like a hellhole of socialism.

    - Can O'Reilly easily flee to Ireland?

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A Healthy Way to Build Communities

    Mark Winne, an author and anti-hunger activist, often says that the most important word in “community garden” isn’t “garden.” I saw this firsthand not long ago.

    Standing in the sun between several small garden plots all morning, it may not have looked like much was going on. A few people stood in a circle, chatting. Occasionally, one would leave, or another would arrive. Several others were nearby, working in their garden plots.

    Some of the people were black. Some were white. And two — a mother and child — appeared Southeast Asian.

    The garden plots were equally varied. One was filled entirely with sugarcane. Another grew luffa gourds. Still another grew banana trees. That’s one of the perks of gardening in San Diego — you can grow your own bananas if you wish.

    The focal point of the group was Diane, a woman who identifies first and foremost as a community organizer. She isn’t a gardener, but when she found that her community wanted a place to grow healthy, affordable food, she got to work.

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Another election, more phony promises on taxes

    Two certainties, as Benjamin Franklin wrote, are death and taxes. Add a third: On taxes, U.S. presidential candidates will promise more than they can deliver. And, if elected, they pay a price.

    The overpromising may be more egregious than ever in the 2016 presidential race. Yet taxes were glossed over in the debate of Republican candidates last week.

    Donald Trump says that his tax plan, which has huge reductions in rates and on the amount paid on investment income, focuses on working folks and sticking it to billionaires such as himself. A recent analysis by the Tax Policy Center showed just the opposite. The Trump plan would cost the Treasury $9.5 trillion over the first decade, and almost $25 trillion over 20 years. The tax cuts would principally benefit the wealthy, almost 40 percent would be for the top 1 percent. The superrich -- the top one-tenth of 1 percent -- would get an average annual tax cut of $1.3 million.

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2015's alarming preview

    For those still unconvinced about the reality of climate change, the year that just ended should erase any doubt. Climate data from the air, land and water all reveal an indisputable portrait of a warming world.

    On Wednesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA jointly announced that 2015 was the warmest year on record for the planet. The previous record, set just 12 months ago in 2014, wasn't merely broken, it was smashed.

    There's a saying that numbers numb and stories sell, but the latest climate numbers tell a story that is stunning.

    Including 2015, 15 of the 16 warmest years in NOAA's 136-year climate record have occurred since 2000. And 2015 marks the 39th consecutive year, dating to 1977, in which global temperatures have been above the 20th-century average.

    In the past two decades, the Earth's temperature has surged to new highs six times - in 2015, 2014, 2010, 2005, 1998 and 1997 - while the last record-cold year was 1908.

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'Action bias' does little to help public schools

    The first day after the end of the NFL regular season has come to be called Black Monday -- when many a team with a losing record generally fires its coach.

    This suits the urges of the owner who has promised a winner to the fans, though he didn’t produce players who can win. Blame the coach. Don’t blame the owner.

    The Cleveland Browns in the last 25 years have had 13 coaches. It makes no sense that all of them were inept. Indeed, one of them, Bill Belichick, has won four Super Bowls with another employer.

    A study of this knee-jerk practice finds that rather than improving, it’s more likely that a team that fires its top leadership will do worse. Such are the wages of the syndrome called action bias – the “do something” tendency that gets institutions nowhere.

    “Teams talk about the need for ‘fresh energy’ and ‘new leadership’ and a clean slate,” writes Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim in a piece on action bias.

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Why cheap oil is not an economic blessing

    There are two different flavors of "supply side" economics. One that dates to President Ronald Reagan argues that if you cut taxes on the wealthy, they'll work harder and invest more of their larger after-tax income. The benefits will "trickle down" to both the unwashed masses and to the Treasury.

    This version is false.

    The other version, a tenet of growth economics, is that while adequate demand is essential to tapping the economy's full capacity, it is through the expansion of supply-side variables - inputs in the growth process - that we boost that capacity. These include labor supply, technological and productivity gains, capital inputs, and the commodities on which economies run, one of which - an important one - is oil. The theory suggests that cheaper oil should boost growth, and not just cyclically (near-term) but structurally (long-term), and vice versa: Big jumps in the price of oil should be and have been recessionary.

    This version is true.

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Health care in the election: Politics and policy

    When they're running for president, health care politics apparently makes Democratic candidates say strange things. Remember back in 2008 when candidates Obama and Hillary Clinton were fighting over mandates?:

    Enforcing a mandate will require some sort of penalty, such as fines, to ensure compliance, [Obama] said. "And that, I don't think, is helping those without health insurance."

    I suspect the president recognized that mandates with penalties might be needed to ensure a viable risk pool, especially as he made sure they were ultimately built into Obamacare. But Sen. Clinton had a mandate, so he didn't.

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