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Cracker Squire


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Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Russian Parliament Approves New Law Restricting the Internet - Sweeping Controls on the Internet and Blogging Will Tighten the Kremlin's Grip on the Media

From The Wall Street Journal:

Russia's parliament approved a package of sweeping new restrictions on the Internet and blogging. The bills drew wide criticism from local technology companies and pro-democracy activists.

The bill would require bloggers with 3,000 or more page-views a day to reveal their identities, fact-check their content, not disseminate extremist information or information violating privacy of citizens, and abide by the rules of pre-election silence. Human-rights activists say bloggers are ill-equipped to fulfill such demands. Failure to comply would be punished by fines and possibly blocking.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

In Poorest States, Political Stigma Is Depressing Participation in Health Law

From The New York Times:

Inside the sleek hillside headquarters of Valley Health Systems, built with a grant from the health care law, two employees played an advertisement they had helped produce to promote the law’s insurance coverage for young, working-class West Virginians.

The ads ran just over 100 times during the recent six-month enrollment period. But three conservative groups ran 12 times as many, to oppose the law and the local Democratic congressman who voted for it.

This is a disparity with consequences. Health professionals, state officials, social workers, insurance agents and others trying to make the law work for uninsured Americans say the partisan divisions and attack ads have depressed participation in some places. They say the law has been stigmatized for many who could benefit from it, especially in conservative states like West Virginia that have the poorest, most medically underserved populations but where President Obama and his signature initiative are hugely unpopular.
In the past week, 22 new television ads against the health care law and for Republican federal candidates ran in 14 states. Since last spring, 76 percent of the more than 38,000 Republican-sponsored television ads nationally, and 79 percent in West Virginia, have attacked the law, according to Kantar Media/CMAG, which tracks political advertising.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Consensus in Washington, but No Action - The $652 million Savannah port project has become the latest emblem of Washington’s struggle to accomplish much of anything, even when all sides agree.

From The New York Times:

The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project has friends in all the right places.

Republicans and Democrats from Georgia’s often divided congressional delegation agree that it is essential and overdue. The Senate and House have separately approved it. President Obama supports it, and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. traveled to the state last year to vow that “come hell or high water,” the work would get done.
It has not even started. Instead, the $652 million project has become the latest emblem of Washington’s struggle to accomplish much of anything, even when all sides agree, and a vivid
illustration of how the toxic political climate has made inertia the most powerful force in town.
As Congress prepares to return from a two-week spring break on Monday, the capital is frozen in the shadow of the midterm elections, with large tasks such as revising the tax code dismissed with hardly a hearing. Major changes in immigration policy — approved by the Senate, embraced by the White House and endorsed in concept by House leaders — are going nowhere. Pressing subjects like climate change and a crumbling infrastructure are not being addressed.
“It really speaks about the dysfunction of the process and the politicization of the process,” said former Representative Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican who left Congress in 2008, partly out of frustration with a broken system. “It’s a shame.”
For a project all sides say they fervently want done, the port work in Savannah has prompted a lot of finger-pointing.
Furious Georgia Republicans say the White House is slow-walking its authority to start the dredging work, and speculate not so subtly that the administration may be trying to deny Republicans a home-state accomplishment in the run-up to Georgia’s crucial Senate election.
Not so fast, White House officials say, arguing that Republicans would normally want the administration to practice fiscal restraint by declining to commit money before Congress has acted definitively. If Congress would just do what it is supposed to do and pass a water projects bill, they say, the problem would be solved.
Advocates of the port work had expected no problem, given the administration’s strong backing and the project’s obvious benefits: jobs, trade and overall economic stimulus. They said they were blindsided when the work was not included in the president’s budget.

“We gave him the authority in the omnibus bill, specific language that was to be used to allow the Corps of Engineers to sign agreements,” said Senator Johnny Isakson, Republican of Georgia.
In a recent letter, the head of the Army Corps of Engineers told a Georgia lawmaker that while the provision in the omnibus bill was sufficient “as a legal matter” to allow the project to begin, administration policy prevented it because the project had grown in cost and scope since it was first considered in 1999.
The administration says it is following well-established precedents in waiting for final congressional action on a project that has grown substantially in price. It says moving ahead prematurely could open the door to a flood of requests for special treatment.
“This isn’t about politics,” said Steve Posner, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget. “It is about being fiscally responsible and ensuring that taxpayer resources only go to projects that have been fully reviewed and authorized by Congress. The administration fully supports the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project and urges Congress to pass a Water Resources Development Act that includes authorization for the project.”
It is not lost on Democrats that Republicans, who often decry what they see as abuse of executive authority and have complained loudly when the administration has acted unilaterally in other cases, are now demanding that the president use his power to advance the project.
Still, the White House’s decision to hold back prompted Representative Tom Graves, Republican of Georgia, to tell a Pentagon official at a recent hearing that “some would say the administration’s playing politics with this project.”
One theory among Republicans is that the administration is retaliating for the decision by Georgia’s Republican governor, Nathan Deal, who skipped Mr. Biden’s appearance at the port, to block Georgia from participating in the health care law’s expansion of Medicaid and its state insurance exchanges.

More, though, have suggested that the administration and congressional Democrats want to deny a victory to Georgia Republicans in the campaign for the state’s open Senate seat, which Democrats see as a rare pickup opportunity this year.
“It is just remarkable,” Representative Jack Kingston, Republican of Georgia and a longtime advocate of the port expansion, said of the impasse. “You have the vice president 10 feet from the water saying, ‘Let’s do it,’ the president saying, ‘Let’s do it.’ And we have made it pretty dang clear this thing is a priority and needs to be done.”
Mr. Kingston, who represents Savannah and helped push through the special omnibus bill language as a member of the Appropriations Committee, is among the candidates in the crowded Republican Senate primary. Beginning the dredging would be a victory for him and for other Republicans in Congress who have supported the project.
“It’s possible,” Mr. Kingston said when asked if he saw a political calculation behind the administration’s stance.
The future of the project now seems to rest on the fate of the Water Resources Development Act, which has moved slowly through Congress despite overwhelming support in both chambers.
The Senate approved its version almost a year ago by a vote of 83-14, and the House voted 417-13 in October. In the past, public works bills with that kind of backing would have been quickly meshed, returned for a final approval and sent to the president’s desk for a signature, followed by a round of self-congratulatory news releases.
But with the current focus on spending and the unwillingness of some Republicans in the House majority to support expensive bills, particularly in an election year, negotiators have moved deliberately, working to identify and eliminate any potential bombshells before returning a final bill for a vote.
It is quite a change from a time, not so long ago, when both sides understood that bringing home federal largess was a ticket to re-election rather than an invitation to a primary challenge — a notion that now seems quaint.
House and Senate negotiators hope to reach a final deal after lawmakers return next week and start advancing the agreement toward passage. Given the current state of legislative affairs, it could become one of the most significant measures passed this year by a Congress characterized by low productivity and lower expectations.
Even Speaker John A. Boehner could not refrain on Thursday from chastising his colleagues for lacking the grit to take on difficult issues such as immigration.
“We get elected to make choices,” Mr. Boehner told a Rotary club back home in Ohio. “We get elected to solve problems, and it’s remarkable to me how many of my colleagues just don’t want to.”

Friday, April 25, 2014

Ladies' Home Journal to End Monthly Publication - One of Nation's Oldest Magazines Is Victim of Declining Ad Revenue

From The Wall Street Journal:

Meredith Corp.'s Ladies' Home Journal, one of the country's oldest women's magazines, will end regular monthly publication this July, the victim of declining ad revenue and changing consumer habits.

Currently published 10 times a year, the magazine will be converted to a quarterly newsstand-only title this fall, with its July issue its last subscription issue. Meredith will continue to offer an active magazine website at www.lhj.com.
First published in 1883, the Ladies' Home Journal was part of a broader wave of influential women's publications in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that shaped how women made the American home, said Robert Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University.
"You can't overestimate the importance of those magazines," said Professor Thompson. "They were a connection to a larger culture that explained how to decorate, how to raise children, and all the rest of it."
Nowadays, however, the magazine is competing with websites such as Facebook and Pinterest for women's attention, as well as many other newer magazines. The Ladies' Home Journal's paid circulation totaled 3.2 million for the six months ended Dec. 31, 2013, down 22% from the second half of 2004, according to the Alliance for Audited Media, which tracks magazine circulation.
Edward Atorino, an analyst with Benchmark Co., suggested that Ladies' Home Journal may hold less appeal to a new generation of readers. "Are you going to read Ladies' Home Journal if you are in your 20s?" he asked.
Advertising is also down. During the first three months of the year, the magazine's ad pages declined 22%, outpacing a net decline in industrywide magazine pages of 4%, according to the Publishers Information Bureau.
"Magazine print advertising dollars are moving to digital," said Ken Doctor, an analyst with Outsell Inc. "That's what leading to the decline in advertising pages. It gives marketers a more focused, targeted approach. It lets them know how things are working at the moment, gauge results, and make immediate changes."
Samir Husni, the director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi, said advertisers prefer more focused magazines, rather than broader interest titles like Ladies' Home Journal, which covers such subjects as food, child-rearing, crafts, health, pets and relationships and inspiring stories.
A Meredith spokesman noted that the company continues to publish women's lifestyle titles Better Homes and Gardens and Family Circle, and had recently launched food-related magazine Allrecipes and acquired Every Day with Rachael Ray and EatingWell.
The media company disclosed the decision as it reported its March 31 quarterly earnings on Thursday. Meredith said it would take a charge of $8.5 million for severance costs primarily related to Ladies' Home Journal and the unrelated closing of a sales force training company, plus a $9.3 million write-down related to the trademark of Ladies' Home Journal.
A spokesman for Meredith said that the 35 New York-staffers who work on Ladies' Home Journal will lose their jobs. New issues will be produced in Des Moines, Iowa, where Meredith is based.

Obama Easing on Immigrant Deportations Expected to Be Modest - Obama Easing on Immigrant Deportations Expected to Be Modest

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Obama administration's review of deportation policy is considering questions such as whether people without serious criminal records should continue to be removed from the U.S. and how to assure that immigration field officers curtail deportations of low-priority illegal immigrants, people familiar with the review say.

The result could be fewer deportations among the small slice of illegal immigrants who are settled in the U.S. and have minor or no criminal records but get snagged by law enforcement.

The union representing more than 7,000 ICE agents has opposed the administration's decision to prioritize the deportation of certain people, such as those with criminal records, and to provide safe harbor to other illegal immigrants. The union filed a lawsuit to try to stop the policy, and argued the agency had "abandoned the…core mission of enforcing United States immigration laws and providing for public safety."

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Supreme Court Decisions Involving Affirmative Action: A Timeline

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Supreme Court ruling Tuesday upholding Michigan's ban on affirmative action represents the latest in a line of decisions addressing policies that take race into account. Here is a timeline of the high court's affirmative-action rulings, beginning with Tuesday's.
Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action (2014): The high court, in a 6-2 decision, upheld a Michigan voter initiative that banned affirmative action in public education and in state employment and contracting. It didn't re-examine the constitutionality of affirmative action, but six justices agreed that states may end racial preferences without violating the U.S. Constitution.
Fisher v. University of Texas (2013): The Supreme Court sidestepped a sweeping ruling on affirmative action in a 7-1 decision, directing lower courts to re-examine whether a race-conscious admissions program at the University of Texas at Austin should survive constitutional scrutiny. The upshot: the court seemed to ask the lower courts to scrutinize more closely admissions formulas that include race.
Gratz v. Bollinger (2003):The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, struck down a system used by the University of Michigan's undergraduate program that assigned points for minority status because it made race a decisive factor in admissions, rather than just one of many.
Grutter v. Bollinger (2003): The high court approved a University of Michigan Law School system that gave minority applicants an edge in the admissions decision-making process. Sandra Day O'Connor, writing for the 5-4 majority, said that the Constitution "does not prohibit the law school's narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body."
Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978): The high court, in a 5-4 ruling, struck down the use of racial quotas in the admission policy of the University of California at Davis's medical school. But the court ruled that the goal of achieving a diverse student body was sufficiently compelling to justify consideration of race in admissions decisions in some circumstances.

Student-Debt Forgiveness Plans Skyrocket, Raising Fears Over Costs, Higher Tuition - Some Law Schools Advertise Their Own Plans to Cover Loan Repayments

From The Wall Street Journal:

Government officials are trying to rein in increasingly popular federal programs that forgive some student debt, amid rising concerns over the plans' costs and the possibility they could encourage colleges to push tuition even higher.
Enrollment in the plans—which allow students to rack up big debts and then forgive the unpaid balance after a set period—has surged nearly 40% in just six months, to include at least 1.3 million Americans owing around $72 billion, U.S. Education Department records show.
The popularity of the programs comes as top law schools are now advertising their own plans that offer to cover a graduate's federal loan repayments until outstanding debt is forgiven. The school aid opens the way for free or greatly subsidized degrees at taxpayer expense.
At issue are two federal loan repayment plans created by Congress, originally to help students with big debt loads and to promote work in lower-paying jobs outside the private sector.

The fastest-growing plan, revamped by President Barack Obama in 2011, requires borrowers to pay 10% a year of their discretionary income—annual income above 150% of the poverty level—in monthly installments. Under the plan, the unpaid balances for those working in the public sector or for nonprofits are then forgiven after 10 years.
Private-sector workers also see their debts wiped clean—after a longer period of 20 years—reflecting a government aim to have no one, wherever they work, paying down student debt their entire working life.
An independent study estimates the future cost of the 2011 program, known as Pay As You Earn, could hit $14 billion a year.
The Obama administration has proposed in its latest budget released last month to cap debt eligible for forgiveness at $57,500 per student. There is currently no limit on such debt.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Hispanics Gain at California Colleges - University System Admits More Latinos Than Whites for First Time

From The Wall Street Journal:

The University of California has admitted more Hispanics than whites for the first time, reflecting demographic shifts in the country's largest state. The state university system also admitted more students from other states and abroad, who pay higher tuition, a national trend at state universities.

Latinos account for 28.8% of the 61,120 Californians admitted for this fall's freshman class at the UC system's nine undergraduate campuses, up from 27.6% last year and topping the 26.8% share of whites, preliminary data show.

Both trail the 36.2% share for Asians, the largest freshman group for the past few years. Blacks represented 4.2% of those admitted, the same as in 2013.

Hispanics represent California's largest ethnic group. According to the California Department of Finance, among 15- to 19-year-olds in California, 49.4% are Hispanic, 29.2% are white, 10.9% are Asian and 6% are black.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Obama aims to reinvigorate Asia strategy - President Obama’s bid to focus U.S. attention on Asia has failed to meet the lofty expectations he set three years ago in a grand pronouncement that the new emphasis would become a pillar of his foreign policy.

From The Washington Post:

President Obama’s bid to focus U.S. attention on Asia has failed to meet the lofty expectations he set three years ago in a grand pronouncement that the new emphasis would become a pillar of his foreign policy.

The result, as Obama prepares to travel to the region next week, has been a loss of confidence among some U.S. allies about the administration’s commitment at a time of escalating regional tensions. Relations between Japan and South Korea are at one of the lowest points since World War II, and China has provoked both with aggressive actions at sea despite a personal plea to Beijing from Vice President Biden in December.

“Relations have gone from being generally positive at the strategic level among the great powers to extremely difficult,” said Kurt M. Campbell, a former assistant secretary of state who helped conceive the Asia strategy. “It’s a much more challenging strategic landscape.”

In a glitzy rollout in the fall of 2011, Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that the United States would “pivot” away from long, costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and ramp up engagement to meet China’s rise.

Instead, over the past year, the administration has been drawn deeper into crises in traditional hot spots in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Congressional Democrats blocked Obama’s bid to speed up talks on a 12-nation Pacific free-trade pact at the core of a policy that aims to balance military realignment with economic initiatives.

And Obama canceled participation in two Asian summits because of the government shutdown last fall.

White House aides say they are confident that the president will reenergize his Asia strategy by visiting seven countries this year — Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines next week and China, Burma and Australia in the fall. Obama met with the leader of China and, in a separate meeting, with the leaders of Japan and South Korea on the sidelines of a nuclear summit in Europe last month.

“Showing up matters a lot in Asia. The good news is that it’s pretty easily fixable,” said Benjamin Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser. “We have the benefit of knowing what success will look like — and if we achieve it, people will think it was worth it.”

Despite that optimism, there is a feeling outside the administration that the energy and enthusiasm that marked the launch of the policy has been lost with the departures early last year of Clinton and national security adviser Thomas E. Donilon. Their successors, John F. Kerry and Susan Rice, respectively, have been focused foremost on conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, a Middle East peace pact, and Iran’s nuclear program.

“For a lot of reasons, none egregiously negligent, it adds up to us not being there,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution. “Perceptions are everything, and now the whole idea of the rebalance is at risk.”

A new emphasis

A few days into her tenure as the nation’s top diplomat, Clinton held a dinner for her closest advisers on the ornate eighth floor of the State Department with some longtime Asia policy hands, including author Orville Schell.

The message was clear: After a decade of war, there would be a new emphasis. It was a view in sync with Obama’s thinking. The president had already instructed his national security staff to conduct a review of the military’s global footprint.

The conclusion of the review, Donilon recalled in an interview, was that “at the very same time that Asia was undergoing the most dramatic social and economic development in the history of the world, the United States was overwhelmingly focused on military efforts in the Middle East.”

For a president with roots in Hawaii and Indonesia, a turn to Asia made sense. In February 2009, Clinton’s first trip as secretary of state was to Asia, and Obama welcomed Japan’s Taro Aso as his first foreign leader to visit the White House.

Underpinning the renewed focus on Asia was the realization that China was moving to fill the vacuum of U.S. inattention to the region. China’s view in 2008 and 2009 was that an “arrogant” United States had been knocked down by the recession and “there’s a new sheriff in town and it’s China,” said Campbell, Clinton’s top Asia strategist.

On Obama’s first Asia trip, in November 2009, Chinese President Hu Jintao embarrassed the White House by rejecting the administration’s demands on China’s currency manipulation and refusing to allow questions at a joint news conference.

“It turned into a metaphor for us supposedly kowtowing to the Chinese,” recalled Jeffrey Bader, director of Asia affairs for the National Security Council from 2009 to 2011. “The White House was not going to let that narrative recur.”

Clinton laid the groundwork for a more confrontational U.S. stance with China when, on a trip to Vietnam in July 2010, she declared that resolving a territorial dispute between Southeast Asian nations and China in the South China Sea was a “leading diplomatic priority.”

By the following year, administration officials agreed it was time for a bold recalibration of their Asia policy.

Administration’s ‘pivot’

As White House staffers plotted a presidential trip to Asia in the fall of 2011, Campbell arranged for Clinton to pen a cover story in Foreign Policy magazine.

Clinton’s 5,600-word treatise, titled “America’s Pacific Century,” was published in October, a month before Obama’s nine-day trip, and it was the first public signal of the administration’s “pivot” — a word Clinton used three times — to the region.

A chief aim, aides said, was to enlist Beijing as a partner on the global stage by demanding that it live up to its responsibilities as a rising world power.

Clinton also reaffirmed traditional alliances, pledged greater U.S. economic investment, emphasized democratic values and vowed to pursue new multilateral organizations, especially in Southeast Asia, to mitigate conflicts.

The essay, followed by Obama’s trip, aimed to “grab people by the lapels” and “communicate to them, ‘This is what we really care about; this is what you should judge us on,’ ” Rhodes said.

Several Asia initiatives were ripening in different government agencies, and the White House packaged them together for the president to unveil.

Obama pledged in Hawaii that the U.S. would play a lead role in negotiations over the Trans-
Pacific Partnership, a large-scale, multi-nation free-trade pact. In Australia, he announced plans for a rotating contingent of 2,500 Marines to be based in Darwin.

“The United States has been, and always will be, a Pacific nation,” Obama said in an address to the Australian Parliament.

On his final stop, at the East Asia Summit in Bali, Indonesia, Obama made the biggest splash — announcing that Clinton would become the first U.S. secretary of state to visit the long-isolated nation of Burma in 50 years. The dramatic gesture was given the green light only after Obama called democratic opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from Air Force One en route to Bali to win her blessing.

“This was a high-wire act,” said Campbell, who helped negotiate with Burma’s ruling military leaders. “It required real, hard behind-the-scenes diplomacy.”

A year later, in November 2012, Clinton made a second trip there, this time aboard Air Force One with Obama.

High stakes

Since then, China has become convinced that the U.S. strategy is aimed primarily at containing its rising influence.

Obama, hoping for a fresh start with China’s Xi Jinping, who succeeded Hu last year, invited him to the Sunnylands Estate in Rancho Mirage, Calif., in June — a setting picked for its relaxed atmosphere.

But in the fall, Beijing declared an air defense zone above contested waters in the East China Sea, provoking angry responses from Japan and South Korea. Last week, during a visit to Beijing, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel traded barbs with his Chinese counterpart, who declared that China’s military “can never be contained.”

The Pentagon announced in 2012 that it intended to have 60 percent of its naval and Air Force assets in the Asia-Pacific region by 2020. And with Democrats slowing the trade pact amid election-year pushback from labor unions, a critical Senate Foreign Relations Committee report this week concluded that the administration’s Asia strategy has become viewed in the region as military-focused.

The State Department devotes just 8 percent of its diplomatic engagement budget to its Asia-
Pacific bureaus and 4 percent of aid money to a region which accounts for 33 percent of the world’s population, the report found.

“Sweeping speeches and policy pronouncements unsupported by hard deliverables create a large gap between expectations and reality,” according to the analysis, overseen by the committee chairman, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).

Administration officials point to new strategic partnerships with Indonesia and Vietnam and a deal with Japan on the contentious issue of relocating a Marine air base.

But Bader, now at the Brookings Institution, said the administration still must make clear whether its strategy is “about containing China, hedging against China, or is it about participating in and benefiting from the most dynamic area of the world? The administration says the latter, but many continue to argue for the former.”

The stakes are perhaps as high for Clinton as Obama. As she weighs a White House bid in 2016, her supporters have cited the Asia strategy as one of her most significant accomplishments.

On the wall of his office, Campbell keeps a framed photo of Obama and Clinton posing with their aides on Air Force One as they descend into Burma. The inscription, from the president, reads: “Thanks for years of outstanding work on our pivot to Asia.”

Court Deportations Drop 43 Percent in Past Five Years

From The New York Times:

New deportation cases brought by the Obama administration in the nation’s immigration courts have been declining steadily since 2009, and judges have increasingly ruled against deportations, leading to a 43 percent drop in the number of deportations through the courts in the last five years, according to Justice Department statistics released on Wednesday.

The figures show that the administration opened 26 percent fewer deportation cases in the courts last year than in 2009. In 2013, immigration judges ordered deportations in 105,064 cases nationwide.

The statistics present a different picture of President Obama’s enforcement policies than the one painted by many immigrant advocates, who have assailed the president as the “deporter in chief” and accused him of rushing to reach a record of two million deportations. While Mr. Obama has deported more foreigners than any other president, the pace of deportations has recently declined.
The steepest drop in deportations filed in the courts came after 2011, when the administration began to apply more aggressively a policy of prosecutorial discretion that officials said would lead to fewer deportations of illegal immigrants who had no criminal record. Last year the Department of Homeland Security opened 187,678 deportation cases, nearly 50,000 fewer than in 2011. 

At the same time, the share of cases in which judges decided against deportation and for allowing foreigners to remain in the United States has consistently increased, to about one-third last year from about one-fifth in 2009. 

The court figures do not suggest there has been any wholesale retreat from enforcement by the administration, as many Republican lawmakers have contended in the polarized debate over immigration. Rather, more immigrants are seeking lawyers and fighting deportations, leading to longer and more complex cases for immigration judges to weigh.
The number of deportations ordered by immigration courts is only a portion of total deportations in a given year. But the lower numbers from the courts contributed to a drop in overall deportations last year, when enforcement agents made 368,644 removals, a 10 percent decrease from 2012. Also, some deportations that judges order — for example, if the foreigner becomes a fugitive — may not be carried out. 

In addition, since 2011 the administration made a major shift in enforcement geography, sending more agents and resources to the Southwest border to quickly remove immigrants caught crossing illegally. Many deportations at the border do not go through the immigration courts.

The figures are from the latest yearbook, through fiscal 2013, of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the branch of the Justice Department that runs the immigration court system. By a peculiarity of American law, the immigration courts are in the executive branch, not the judiciary. But court officials are not responsible for enforcement policy or for bringing immigration prosecutions, which are handled by the Department of Homeland Security.
The substantial drop in new deportation cases has contributed to an overall 20 percent decline since 2011 in new matters coming before the long-overburdened immigration courts, the figures show. Deportations, known in legal language as removals, accounted for about 97 percent of the new cases received by the courts last year.
But the slowdown in new cases has not eased the vast backlog in the courts, which increased to 350,330 cases at the end of fiscal 2013, up from 298,063 cases at the end of fiscal 2011.
Court officials said the apparent paradox of a shrinking new caseload coinciding with a swelling backlog was primarily a result of the severe budget cuts, known as the sequester, imposed by Congress last year, which prevented the courts from hiring judges and support staff. The reduced corps of judges could not keep up with the new cases, much less dig into the backlog, court officials said.
“Sometimes the bleeding was quite profuse,” said Juan Osuna, director of the office that runs the immigration court system. “Not only were we not able to hire new judges, we were not able to hire to backfill for those who retired.”

The number of judges in the nation’s 58 immigration courts fell to 251 at the end of last year from a peak of 272 three years earlier.

Homeland Security officials said the court statistics reflected their efforts to focus on deporting convicted criminals, foreigners posing security threats and recent illegal border crossers.

“The administration has taken a number of steps to focus our resources on those priorities,” said Peter Boogaard, a department spokesman. He said “the exercise of prosecutorial discretion” had led enforcement agents and visa officials to file fewer deportation charges.
Deportations were further reduced by a big increase since 2011 in cases that were suspended, often by agreement between Homeland Security prosecutors and judges. Under the prosecutorial discretion policy, administration officials said they would offer suspensions to clear the court docket of low-priority cases involving immigrants with no criminal records who had families in the United States.

The number of case suspensions rose to 32,454 last year from 6360 in 2011, an increase of more than 400 percent.

Mr. Obama has asked the Homeland Security secretary, Jeh C. Johnson, to review the enforcement strategy to come up with what he called a more humane policy. Mr. Johnson has been meeting with lawmakers, advocates and religious groups to hear their often impassioned criticism of the current approach.

The new court statistics do not include any description of foreigners facing deportation, such as their criminal histories.

The figures do reveal that more of them are battling their cases and going to court with lawyers versed in the intricacies of immigration law, which Mr. Osuna hailed as a positive trend for the system. In 2013, 59 percent of cases involved lawyers, compared with 35 percent in 2009.
But Mr. Osuna said the workload for judges had become overwhelming. “Many courts are bailing water as quickly as it’s coming in,” he said.

Court backlogs can discourage foreigners living in the country illegally from trying to fix their status through the legal system, and encourage migrants in deportation proceedings to vanish during long waits.

For the new yearbook, officials said they used a different method to analyze their data on the courts’ performance, intended to make it easier for the public to track the numbers of individual cases moving through the system. The new statistics cannot be compared with past yearbooks, officials said, but they went back to apply the new method to all data since 2009.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It was partly sold as something that would save us money, remember: Budget Office Lowers Estimate for the Cost of Expanding Health Coverage

From The New York Times:

The insurance expansion under the Affordable Care Act will cost $1.383 trillion over the next decade, more than $100 billion less than previous forecasts, the Congressional Budget Office said Monday.

The nonpartisan budget office’s report, an update to projections from February, shows the law costing less than in previous estimates in part because of the broad and persistent slowdown in the growth of health care costs. The news might come as welcome to Democrats on Capitol Hill and in the White House who are struggling to defend the law in an election year.

“Today’s C.B.O. update shows once again that the Affordable Care Act will help reduce our deficits while offering more Americans access to quality, affordable health care,” said Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington and the head of the Senate Budget Committee. “We need to keep building on this progress rather than turning back the clock on the millions of people who have now signed up for coverage.”

The reduced estimate is attributable mostly to the budget office’s cutting its projections of federal spending for subsidies for insurance premiums, with estimates falling by $3 billion for spending in 2014 and $164 billion over 10 years.

The budget office also issued projections that 12 million more nonelderly people would have insurance in 2014 than would have otherwise, rising to 26 million in 2017. The budget office, making projections along with the Joint Committee on Taxation, said the number of uninsured people would drop to 30 million in 2017 from 42 million in 2014.

The budget office and tax committee estimate that “the insurance coverage provision of the A.C.A. will increase the proportion of the nonelderly population with insurance from roughly 80 percent in the absence of the health care law to about 84 percent in 2014 and to about 89 percent in 2016 and beyond,” the report said.

In addition, the C.B.O. trimmed its estimates of the penalties that individuals would pay for failing to purchase coverage and that businesses would pay for refusing to cover their employees. It estimates that individuals will make $46 billion in payments over a decade, and employers $139 billion.

Despite the significant costs of the insurance expansion, the budget office said that over all, the Affordable Care Act should reduce deficits.

In a separate report, the budget office also trimmed its estimate of this year’s fiscal deficit. In the 2014 budget year, it forecasts the government’s shortfall to be $492 billion, or about 2.8 percent of economic output. In February, the budget office had estimated that the deficit would be about $23 billion higher.

The smaller deficit projection is a product of lower outlays for discretionary programs and net interest payments, the budget office said. It also cut its estimate of the cumulative deficit from 2015 through 2024 by $286 billion.

In the past five years, the deficit has fallen precipitously because of the economic recovery, spending cuts and tax increases. The budget office projects the deficit to fall by a third between last fiscal year and this fiscal year alone.

For years during the recession and sluggish recovery, the federal government racked up trillion-dollar deficits, and in the 2009 fiscal year — during the worst of the downturn — the deficit was equivalent to nearly 10 percent of economic output.

But the budget office said deficits would soon start rising again as an aging population required more health care and Social Security spending and as the government paid out more interest on the national debt. The budget office forecasts deficits to swell by the mid-2020s to about 4 percent of economic output, with the federal debt climbing to 78 percent of economic output, up from 72 percent today.

All politics and no play makes Johnny a dull boy: Why Boston Marathon Runners Can Expect Quadriceps and Calf Muscle Pain - Running downhill makes it worse, and other tips for coping: Pickle juice or cherry juice?

From The Wall Street Journal:

One experience unites all long-distance runners: At some point a marathon becomes an experiment in discomfort and pain management.

Don't fret if you are the sort of marathoner who plans to drag yourself across the finish line at the Boston Marathon next Monday in five-plus hours, your thighs feeling as if knives are jabbing with every step. There are very likely races when last year's winners, Lelisa Desisa and Rita Jeptoo, experience their share of misery, too. Last month, Mo Farah, the Olympic champion in the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races, collapsed after crossing a finish line—of the New York City Half Marathon.

"I doubt anyone has ever run a marathon without feeling some degree of aches, pains or tightness in leg muscles and joints," said Amby Burfoot, winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon.

Few long-distance runners, even those with years of experience, understand how to react or exactly what is happening in their quadriceps and calf muscles when pain begins to crest, usually somewhere between the 16th and 23rd miles.

"Unfortunately, that 'dead' feeling is probably not going to go away, even by slowing down," said Jack Daniels, the renowned long-distance coach and exercise scientist who leads the Run SMART Project, a top coaching service for runners.
Here's the good news: That type of pain is perfectly normal, even somewhat inevitable, most experts say. There is actually some micro-tearing going on inside the muscles, which can't work the way they want to under that level of stress.
"A muscle gets sore and goes into spasm when it gets pissed off, and the causes of that are nutritional and functional," says Jordan Metzl, a sports medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, who has completed more than 30 marathons and is a 10-time Ironman finisher.
The trickier question is what to do about the pain and soreness. The best midrace treatments ("remedies" would be the ultimate misnomer) include counterintuitive alternatives ranging from don't slow down to drinks that don't sound particularly thirst-quenching.
Slowing down too much just extends the period of pain, whose causes involve real damage to microfibers within the affected muscles.
Running the downhill segments of a really long-distance race—Boston's rolling course has plenty of these—is one of the best ways to injure a muscle, according to Kerry Kuehl, a physician and expert in exercise science at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland.
The act of striding, landing on the foot and then bounding into the next stride is what sports-medicine physicians refer to as "eccentric contraction."
"You're lengthening the muscle and then loading on it," Dr. Kuehl said. That causes a disruption or tearing of the "myofibrils," which are the thousands of tiny strands within the muscles, as well as damage to the muscle-cell membranes. The membranes and myofibrils become inflamed, and that hurts, Dr. Kuehl said.
The pain can't be totally prevented, but Dr. Metzl said it can be delayed until later in the race through strength training, so the muscles don't break down so quickly.
A big problem with long-distance runners, according to Dr. Metzl, is that many of them do plenty of running but not much else. (I'm running Boston, and I plead guilty as charged.) That puts a limit on how far they can run pain-free.
Dr. Metzl recommends a strength workout that involves quick explosive repetitions, including squats, planks, sit-ups, push-ups and leg lifts but comparatively little weight work.
Of course, it's probably too late for anyone running Boston to gain much strength before Monday. For them, the focus has to be on dealing with muscles that are careening toward spasm.
This is where the pickle and bitter cherry juice come in.
Muscles, in addition to hurting because of micro-tears, also stop functioning well and start hurting when they no longer have the proper fuel, experts say.
Running a marathon burns a lot of fuel, especially fluids and salts, which the body loses when it perspires. A dehydrated muscle doesn't contract well, which is what it needs to do with every step, and it starts to hurt.
Muscles also don't function well when they don't have the necessary amount of electrolytes, which conduct electrical impulses that enable muscle cells to contract. Electrolytes are formed from sodium, calcium, chloride, magnesium and potassium.
Gatorade and other sports drinks have electrolytes, but pickle juice has about as much concentrated sodium as any liquid on the planet that athletes have been able to stomach during intense exercise.
Pickle juice isn't widely available at most marathon water stations, though drinking it isn't a new strategy. The Philadelphia Eagles drank it during a 2000 game against the Dallas Cowboys when temperatures climbed to 109 degrees Fahrenheit. The Eagles won.
Still in pain and want to reach for the ibuprofen? Consider the juice from Montmorency cherries instead.
About five years ago, Dr. Kuehl, the Oregon physician, studied the effects of the tart, bitter juice on inflammation.
He and a team of researchers conducted a double-blind test of 54 runners participating in the Hood to Coast relay race that covers 200 miles up and down steep terrain from Mount Hood to the Pacific Ocean.
"It's a really good race to test muscle soreness," Dr. Kuehl said.
Runners who drank the juice equivalent of 45 to 50 cherries before, during and after the race reported significantly less pain than those who drank a placebo. Medical examinations corroborated those reports.
Cherry juice is rich in antioxidants, which combat some of the muscle inflammation from the micro-tears that cause pain. And cherry juice isn't a drug that could cause ulcers or kidney damage, Dr. Kuehl said.
Still hurting? Probably—which might mean the only option left is to try thinking about something else. "Concentrate on another part that is not feeling bad," said Dr. Daniels, the Run SMART coach.
"Be optimistic and don't be thinking, 'Wow, I still have 5 or 6 miles to go.' Better to concentrate on the task at hand, what you are doing, how much of your body is relaxed and quit thinking how far you still have to go."

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Noonan: A Catastrophe Like No Other

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal (4-5-2014):

Put aside the numbers for a moment, and the daily argument.

"Seven point one million people have signed up!"

"But six million people lost their coverage and were forced onto the exchanges! That's no triumph, it's a manipulation. And how many of the 7.1 million have paid?"

"We can't say, but 7.1 million is a big number and redeems the program."

"Is it a real number?"

"Your lack of trust betrays a dark and conspiratorial right-wing mindset."

As I say, put aside the argument, step back and view the thing at a distance. Support it or not, you cannot look at ObamaCare and call it anything but a huge, historic mess. It is also utterly unique in the annals of American lawmaking and government administration.

Its biggest proponent in Congress, the Democratic speaker of the House, literally said—blithely, mindlessly, but in a way forthcomingly—that we have to pass the bill to find out what's in it. It is a cliché to note this. But really, Nancy Pelosi's statement was a historic admission that she was fighting hard for something she herself didn't understand, but she had every confidence regulators and bureaucratic interpreters would tell her in time what she'd done. This is how we make laws now.

Her comments alarmed congressional Republicans but inspired Democrats, who for the next three years would carry on like blithering idiots making believe they'd read the bill and understood its implications. They were later taken aback by complaints from their constituents. The White House, on the other hand, seems to have understood what the bill would do, and lied in a way so specific it showed they knew exactly what to spin and how. "If you like your health-care plan, you can keep your health-care plan, period." "If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor, period." That of course was the president, misrepresenting the facts of his signature legislative effort. That was historic, too. If you liked your doctor, your plan, your network, your coverage, your deductible you could not keep it. Your existing policy had to pass muster with the administration, which would fight to the death to ensure that 60-year-old women have pediatric dental coverage.
The leaders of our government have not felt, throughout the process, that they had any responsibility to be honest and forthcoming about the major aspects of the program, from its exact nature to its exact cost. We are not being told the cost of anything—all those ads, all the consultants and computer work, even the cost of the essential program itself.
What the bill declared it would do—insure tens of millions of uninsured Americans—it has not done. There are still tens of millions uninsured Americans. On the other hand, it has terrorized millions who did have insurance and lost it, or who still have insurance and may lose it.
The program is unique in that it touches on an intimate and very human part of life, the health of one's body, and yet normal people have been almost wholly excluded from the debate. This surely was not a bug but a feature. Given a program whose complexity is so utter and defeating that it defies any normal human attempt at comprehension, two things will happen. Those inclined to like the spirit of the thing will support it on the assumption the government knows what it's doing. And the opposition will find it difficult to effectively oppose—or repeal the thing—because of the program's bureaucratic density and complexity. It's like wrestling a manic, many-armed squid in ink-darkened water.
Social Security was simple. You'd pay into the system quite honestly and up front, and you'd receive from the system once you were of retirement age. If you supported or opposed the program you knew exactly what you were supporting or opposing. The hidden, secretive nature of ObamaCare is a major reason for the opposition it has engendered.
The program is unique in that the bill that was signed four years ago, on March 23, 2010, is not the law, or rather program, that now exists. Parts of it have been changed or delayed 30 times. It is telling that the president rebuffed Congress when it asked to work with him on alterations, but had no qualms about doing them by executive fiat. The program today, which affects a sixth of the U.S. economy, is not what was passed by the U.S. Congress. On Wednesday Robert Gibbs, who helped elect the president in 2008 and served as his first press secretary, predicted more changes to come. He told a business group in Colorado that the employer mandate would likely be scrapped entirely. He added that the program needed an "additional layer" or "cheaper" coverage and admitted he wasn't sure the individual mandate had been the right way to go.
Finally, the program's supporters have gone on quite a rhetorical journey, from "This is an excellent bill, and opponents hate the needy" to "People will love it once they have it" to "We may need some changes" to "I've co-sponsored a bill to make needed alternations" to "This will be seen by posterity as an advance in human freedom."
That was the president's approach on Tuesday, when he announced the purported 7.1 million enrollees. "The debate over repealing this law is over. The Affordable Care Act is here to stay. . . . In the end, history is not kind to those who would deny Americans their basic economic security. Nobody remembers well those who stand in the way of America's progress or our people. And that's what the Affordable Care Act represents. As messy as it's been sometimes, as contentious as it's been sometimes, it is progress."
Someone said it lacked everything but a "Mission Accomplished" banner. It was political showbiz of a particular sort, asking whether the picture given of a thing will counter theexperience of the thing.
There's a brute test of a policy: If you knew then what you know now, would you do it? I will never forget a conversation in 2006 or thereabouts with a passionate and eloquent supporter of the decision to go into Iraq. We had been having this conversation for years, he a stalwart who would highlight every optimistic sign, every good glimmering. He argued always for the rightness of the administration's decision. I would share my disquiet, my doubts, finally my skepticism. One night over dinner I asked him, in passing, "If we had it to do over again, should we have gone in? would you support it?"
And he said, "Of course not!"
Which told me everything.
There are very, very few Democrats who would do ObamaCare over again. Some would do something different, but they wouldn't do this. The cost of the blunder has been too high in terms of policy and politics.
They, and the president, are trying to put a good face on it.
Republicans of all people should not go for the happy face. They cannot run only on ObamaCare this year and later, because it's not the only problem in America. But it's a problem, a big one, and needs to be hard and shrewdly fought.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Sebelius Exits, but Health-Care War Endures - HHS Secretary's Departure Won't Do Much to Close Bitter Partisan Divide Over Health Law

From The Wall Street Journal:

The resignation of Kathleen Sebelius signals the departure of the official who, fairly or not, had become the face of the deep and bitter partisan divide over Obamacare. But the Health and Human Services secretary's departure won't do much to close that divide.
Instead, the Affordable Care Act now is entrenched as the most deeply divisive social program in recent memory, and it figures to stay that way through the November election and beyond.
That means there simply won't be any serious attempt to fine-tune the law until the political situation sorts out. Until then, Obamacare will have to rise or fall as it is, with the White House doing what it can unilaterally to adjust the health-care law.
Meanwhile, the two parties will roll out dueling Obamacare anecdotes—horror stories about consumers with lost or unaffordable coverage from Republicans, good-news stories about Americans newly healed through their new coverage from Democrats—until voters have their say in November's midterm election.
Virtually every Republican will run pledging to wipe the law off the books. Just hours before news of the Sebelius resignation broke, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who helps oversee the Republicans' Senate campaign committee, was asked what position he would advise GOP candidates to take on Obamacare this year. He replied: "I would advise all of them to run on repeal and replace."

Most Democrats, conversely, are digging in behind the law, regardless of misgivings. They are taking the fact that 7.5 million Americans now have signed up for health insurance under Obamacare—a figure that seemed impossible just two months ago—as a sign of a corner turned.

Thus, November's national election figures to be the third straight in which the health-care overhaul plays a central role in the debate. And there is only a slim chance that this year's vote will produce anything like a consensus on whether Obamacare is accepted or rejected as a permanent part of American life. More likely, that question won't be settled until the 2016 presidential contest.

For her part, Mrs. Sebelius appears to have taken advantage of that recent upturn in the law's fortunes to resign, having made good on the pledge she made months ago to see the program through its shockingly tattered and troubled rollout last fall.

In retrospect, she and President Barack Obama made a key strategic error in overseeing the program's launch, as they both now acknowledge. They believed the key to initial success lay with the nation's insurance companies, and whether they provided a sufficiently robust menu of health-care plans, so their attention was focused there. They didn't imagine that the relatively more mundane question of whether Americans could actually get on a website and sign up for the policies would become the far bigger issue.

Now that the sign-up question has been resolved, more or less, attention will turn back to the original question of whether the insurance offerings are sufficient to do the good works promised: provide coverage for most, bend down the curve of health-care costs, and do it all without adding to the federal deficit.
The jury will be out for a while. Mr. Portman, for example, argues that if the new system merely reduces the number of uninsured Americans to 30 million from the 45 million or so at the time the law was implemented, it won't have done any more than Republican proposals to expand insurance pools for high-risk patients, make insurance more portable and implement tax credits to buy coverage could have done.
Amid the conflicting claims, Americans are watching warily from deep partisan trenches. In the most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 70% of Republicans said that they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who pledged to repeal the health-care law; 77% of Democrats said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who pledged to keep the measure in place and fix it.
On Obamacare, Americans really are from either Mars or Venus, and the departure of Kathleen Sebelius will do little to bring them together on the same planet.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

States Raise Gas Taxes to Pay for Infrastructure - As Congress Only Takes Short-Term Steps, Governors Seek More Funds for Roads

From The Wall Street Journal:

States and cities desperate to build and repair roads and other infrastructure—but frustrated by inertia in Congress—are raising their own levies and turning to private companies for funding.

Six states and the nation's capital have raised gasoline taxes in the past year to pay for highway construction. A handful of other states, including this small coastal state [Delaware] looking to kick-start its dormant economy, are weighing similar moves.

Before this burst, no state had raised its gas tax for nearly four years, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a nonprofit research group.

The local efforts come after years of failed lobbying by local lawmakers for Congress to raise the 18.4 cent-a-gallon federal gasoline tax, long the country's biggest source of revenue for highway and transit construction. Congress hasn't boosted the tax in 21 years due to partisan differences and public opposition. As a result, gas-tax revenues have far lagged behind prices for highway-construction materials and labor.

Health-Care Law Helps Add 3 Million to Medicaid - More Americans Accessing Program Since Start of Open Enrollment Period

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Obama administration said Friday that three million additional Americans were enrolled in Medicaid as of the end of February than were in the program before the start of the health law's open enrollment period Oct. 1, suggesting the law allowed more people to gain Medicaid coverage.

Medicaid and Chip are federal-state health-insurance programs for low-income Americans. Under the health law, states had the option of expanding Medicaid to people less than 65 years old with incomes up to 133% of the federal poverty level, or about $15,521 for an individual and $31,721 for a family of four. About half of the states expanded Medicaid while the rest kept to prior state income guidelines.

Earlier this week, the Obama administration said about 7.1 million people have signed up for private health-insurance plans as of March through federal and state marketplaces, beating original expectations that the law would provide coverage to six million or seven million Americans in 2014. Those figures didn't include Medicaid enrollment. Open enrollment under the health law technically ended March 31, but the federal HealthCare.gov insurance exchange and states with their own exchanges are continuing to process applications for health coverage.

Young Workers Fail to Flock to Employer Health Plans - Take-Up Rates Among Those Under 30 Show Unexpected Decline

From The Wall Street Journal:

Young workers in the U.S. signed up for employer-sponsored health plans at a lower rate than last year, a surprising result that helped keep overall workplace enrollment rates flat.

Companies had been bracing for a big bump in the number of workers signing up for workplace plans because of the new government mandate that most American adults buy health insurance or pay a penalty.

But new data on worker behavior for the 2014 coverage year from payroll-services company Automatic Data Processing Inc. suggest that surge of enrollment never happened, at least broadly across large companies.
A separate analysis by benefits consultant Aon Hewitt also found little overall growth in enrollment among those eligible for workplace health coverage.
Instead, enrollment as a percentage of those eligible for coverage was largely unchanged, ADP found.
Continuing a longer-term trend, younger workers' take-up of company health plans declined, meaning participation fell as a percentage of those eligible to enroll.
One possible culprit: Rules that kicked in during 2010 allowing parents to keep children on their own health plans through age 26. That likely explains much of the longer-term decline in workplace coverage among younger workers, health-care analysts say.
Alternatively, younger workers may have decided to skip coverage altogether, gambling that they would remain healthy and preferring to conserve cash, instead of paying insurance premiums.
That scenario is especially likely given that employers continue to shift a greater proportion of health-care costs to employees, Dr. Ho said. The ADP data indicate that trend continued into this year.
Lower participation by younger people, who are assumed to be healthier and therefore cheaper to insure, has been a significant concern with the public health-insurance exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act. The same assumptions hold true for workplace plans, ADP's Mr. Ryan said.