NRA More Powerful Than the Public?

04/21/2013 § 7 Comments

Last week the senate rejected a background check bill backed by almost 90% of the American public.  In the wake of the Newtown shooting that took the lives of 26 people—including 20 innocent children—President Obama and Congress have been pushing for new gun laws to prevent gun violence in the country.   After much deliberations the senate reached a compromise led by Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA), both gun rights advocates with NRA “A” ratings.  But their efforts fell short in the United States Senate when the minority rejected the bill.  This begs the question: does the NRA have more influence over the senate than the American public on this particular issue?  Lets see!

The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), administered by the FBI was put in place to keep firearms out of the hands criminals and those with mental illness.  Currently, only guns bought through gun dealerships (Federal Firearm Licensees) go through the background check system.  This means that guns purchased at gun shows or through the internet do not have to go through the background check system.  This is the so called gun loopholes.  The amendment proposed by Manchin and Toomey would have somewhat eliminated some of the gun loopholes so that all commercial sales of gun—through the internet or gun shows—would go through the background check system.  It is common sense and saves lives.

According to the United States Justice Department, since the inception of the Brady Act (1994) through 2009, about 108 million applications for firearms were subject to background checks. Of those 108 million, 1.9 million applications were denied.  In 2009 alone, about 1.4% of the applications for firearm were denied by the FBI (U.S Department of Justice.)  The Justice Department report also shows that most of the FBI denials derive from convicted felons attempting to purchase firearms.  This group alone made up about 64.5% of those denied from 1999 through 2009.  In 2009 alone, this group made up about 48.5% of the FBI denial.  Those with mental illness made up about 1.4% of the total group denied by the FBI.  So it makes sense to expand the background check systems.  There is no reason to oppose such a bill that aims to save lives.

Besides the aforementioned that background checks save lives, polls show an overwhelming support for expanded background checks.  A poll released by CBS News shows 90% of the American public support background checks on guns bought online or at gunshows.  Another poll by Quinnipiac University in that same time period shows that 91% of the American public support expanded background checks to include those bought online and at gun shows. Further an ABC News/Washington Post poll and a CNN poll showz 86% and 83%, respectively, of the American public support such a bill to expand background checks.  With such overwhelming support, you’d think such a bill would easily pass the United States Senate.  Not with the powerful influence of the NRA who unleashed numerous ads about the bill, and threatened senators ratings if they voted for such a bill.

So, yes, on the issue of guns, the NRA may have more influence than the public.


Indoctrination in College Classrooms?

04/14/2013 § 5 Comments

In the wake of the secretly taped video of a professor bashing Republicans in a classroom that surfaced on every conservative media outlet, many have alleged that liberal professors indoctrinate college students with their liberal spills.  If the fact-checkers were to assess this claim, they would simply label it “pants on fire!”  Not only is their claim misleading, but those making the allegation also underestimate the intelligence of college students to think for themselves.  Further, they also lack the understanding of why there are more liberal professors in American colleges

Why are there more liberal professors in American colleges?  Research by professor Neil Gross at the University of British Columbia and Ethan Fosse at Harvard University show that the reason seems to be typecast.  For example, as they show in their research, less than 6 percent of nurses in America are women.  This is because most people perceive nursing to be a female profession.  Likewise, most liberal are more likely to aspire to be professors than conservatives.  As they write, the academic profession “has acquired such a strong reputation for liberalism and secularism that over the last 35 years few politically or religiously conservative students, but many liberal and secular ones, have formed the aspiration to become professors.”  Perhaps, more conservatives should look into academia to keep a balance.

Does the liberal spill influence college students? I will assume—and hope—no. Most college students think for themselves.  That is why they are in college in the first place. Theirs is to take the information the professors feed to them, and assess the merits of those information through researches of their won.  This has been the task of  college students.  College students do not regard the mere opinion of a professor as the final truth.  I will even go further, not even high school students will take every information their teachers feed to them as the outright truth, and hence the belief they ultimately subject to.  In fact, not even elementary students!  So the idea that college students are being indoctrinated by liberal professors is insulting.

The allegation of liberal indoctrination in colleges is simply bogus

Hillary For 2016

04/07/2013 § 2 Comments

2016 is Hillary’s time.  No question.

It’s been only five months since the last presidential election and everyone—from pundits, to commentators, to bloggers, to political junkies—is speculating about the potential candidates for the 2016 election.  On the right side we hear names ranging from Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, and Bobby Jindal.  On the left side though, there has mainly been one dominant name: Hillary Clinton!  The speculation about Hillary is simply if she will run after years of public service and a previous attempt to win the Democratic nomination for the presidency against President Barack Obama.  Besides she will be 68 by the time of the next presidential election.  Regardless, should she choose to run she will likely end up being the first woman president of the United States of America.

In 2008, Hillary came very close to winning the Democratic nomination until a charismatic and charming, young looking, community organizer from Chicago surprised everyone in the nation by winning the Iowa caucus.  Before that, most people thought she had the nomination in the bag.  The primary then dragged on till very later in the summer, heading into the Democratic convention before she dropped out.  As a result this caused some tension between the Clintons and the Obama campaign.

When Hillary run for the Democratic nomination in 2008, one of the main criticisms leveled at her was that she was running for president because somehow she felt being the First Lady qualified her to be president.  Much like her contender, Barack Obama, many suggested she lacked experience even though she had served a full term in the senate prior to her candidacy.  The experience and excitement Hillary brings heading into 2016 now is unimaginable.  Lets starts with her experience

In 2000, months before President Clinton left office, Hillary was elected to the United States Senate from the state of New York.  While in the senate, she sat on several committees including the budget committee and the Committee on Armed Services.   At the time Hillary entered the senate, there were only thirteen women in the United States Senate including herself, amongst the 100 total senators in the United States.  While there, she was no doubt a strong advocate for women.  Today there about twenty women in the United States senate.

In 2009, after the presidential election, and while the wounds of the Democratic primary was still healing, President Obama nominated Hillary to be the Secretary of State.  She served in that position until the new Obama administration began.  The Secretary of State of position is one that gives any potential presidential candidate a tremendous advantage, especially in the areas of foreign affairs.  During this time as the Secretary of State, Hillary, of course, had face to face time with world leaders.  This position and her role in shaping America’s foreign policy—in the middle of two wars—will be critical if she chooses to run in 2016.  There will be praises and the will be criticism.  But the power of the position and the influence that comes with it can never be underestimated.

Some may say, well, America may not be ready for a woman president.  As already mentioned, Hillary almost came close to winning the nomination in 2008.  As also pointed out, there were only thirteen women in the United State senate when Hillary was elected as a United State senator in 2008. Today there are twenty!  There is no doubt America is increasingly progressing.  While, the gender issue may persist for some, for more than a majority of Americans, it won’t even be a bit of a concern—especially with a woman with this extensive experience, both nationally and internationally.  As Cass Sunstein points out in a recent blog post in respect to evolving laws, “some of our most important rights, as we understand and live them, are a product of changing social values.”  Likewise, the changing attitudes and behavior towards certain groups are a result of a changing society.  Who would have thought an African American would ever be president of the United States.  It is the greatness of the greatest country: America!

There is no doubt Hillary has her flaws. The public will find out about those flaws should she choose to run in the 2016 election.  One criticism that is likely to emerge is her role in response to the Benghazi attack as Secretary of State.  While these criticisms may be inevitable, they will not stop her.  Further, Hillary will like face some primary challengers (some may even prove to be tough along the way), but she will likely prevail.  Even though it is early, a recent poll by the Public Polling Policy (PPP) shows Hillary pulling about 64% of support in the Democratic primary against potential primary challengers.

Some are asking if America is ready for a woman president.  I will posit that America is yearning for one.  And that person will likely be Hillary Rodham Clinton should she choose to run.  The experience is there. The excitement is unstoppable.  Its likely Hillary all the way in 2016.  2016 is, indeed, Hillary’s time.

Choices: More or Less?

03/31/2013 § Leave a comment

Overwhelmed by the amount of choices you face each day? Take a quick look at a very short article I wrote about a year ago.

We all love choices. Sometimes limited choices cause us anger and fury.  We envy those around us who have more choices than we do.  Lovers of freedom believe that choices lie at the very core of freedom itself.  It’s amazing the amount of choices available to us today.  You walk into a store to pick one product, a shirt, or even a tube of toothpaste and you are faced with endless choices.  We face choices about which schools to go to, what cable news to watch for our daily news and even which stores to go grocery shopping.  Given these endless choices available to us today, we are presumed to be happy. So, do more choices bring us happiness?  When we are faced with choices, we become indecisive, and we take time making a decision. As a student, imagine being accepted into every school you have always dreamed of attending.  While we love choices, we sometimes hate being faced with too many choices. In this paper, I use scientific evidence to argue that we tend to prefer limited choices.  Increased choices bring us less happiness, and ultimately creates room for regret. This could be even truer for those who intend to make the best decision anytime they are faced with a choice, compared to those who merely care about the good enough. The former we call maximizers, and the latter satisficers (Schwartz, 2004)

Imagine going into Macy’s to buy a shirt. You walk in there knowing exactly what you want.    Upon your arrival, you ask for a long sleeved, white, collared shirt. The store attendant walks you to the shirt section, and you immediately notice several different white, long sleeved, collared shirts. They all cost about the same.  At this point, what could have been an easier decision has now turned into a more complicated decision. You try to make the best decision given the choices available to you, so you start to look for qualities, and other elements that would best satisfy your needs. In situations like this, we will prefer limited choices. Consider a study by Sheena Iyengar of Columbia University and Mark Lepper at Stanford University. In this study, students were given an opportunity to write a two page essay as an extra credit assignment. The students were given either six or thirty potential essay topics on which they could choose from. After the study, they found that 74% of the students chose from the six essay topics compared to the 60% who chose from the 30 essay topics. This shows that when we are faced with limited choices and an extensive one, most people usually prefer limited choices.

I remember when my mentor and his family visited me about a month ago. We had decided to have lunch upon their arrival. When we finished touring the apartment where I live, then came the hour to have lunch. It was a moment faced with several choices, and one that entailed quite a dilemma.  This is not to say we were not happy with our ultimate choice. The point here is making a decision would have been much easier and quicker had there been fewer choices. Consider another study by Iyengar and Lepper at a supermarket. In this study with exotic jams for tasting, they had two booths at the supermarket. One booth had 6 options (the limited choice condition) and the other booth had 24 options (the extensive choice condition). While more people stopped at the extensive choice booth (60% in the extensive choice booth compared to 40% in the limited choice booth), most people ended up purchasing at the limited choice booth than in the extensive choice booth—30% in the limited choice set compared to 3% in the extensive choice set.

While we may assert that increased choices in some parts of the world may be desirable, it is not always the case as people in some countries rarely notice the increased choices. In another research by Iyengar and Lepper, they interviewed people from former communist countries in Eastern Europe who were transitioning to a Democratic society. In this research, they offered participants a set of drinks to choose from: Coke, Pepsi, Sprite, etc. When this variety of choices were presented to them, again and again, the participants saw them as just one choice: Soda. When asked what word they would associate with choices, one of the participants said, “fear.”  So as we see from this study, some individuals in some parts of the world do not desire too many choices as we presume. Iyengar concluded that too many choices often “confuses and frustrates us.”

What these studies demonstrate is that extensive choices do not make us happier as we may presume. In fact, we usually prefer limited choices to extensive choices. If you picked a shirt at the store when you were faced with extensive choices, even though you tried to make the best decision, you are more than likely to feel some sort of regret in your decision given the greatness of the other choices—especially if something slightly goes wrong with your choice. So while we do love choices, increased choices tend make us less happy. As Barry Schwartz puts it in his book The Paradox of Choices, “When people have no choice, life is unbearable…. As the number of choices increases, the autonomy, control, and liberation this variety brings are powerful and positive….. As the number of choices grow further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded. At this point choice no longer liberates, but debilitates. It might even be said to tyrannize. (Schwartz, 2004). Too many choices can lead to brain overload and less satisfaction.

Political Court?

03/24/2013 § Leave a comment

Political Court?

Judicial behavior: Sunstein provides a detailed analysis of Professor Epstein, Judge Posner, and Professor Landes book, The Behavior of Behavior of Federal Judges.  The underlying assertion in Epstein, Posner, and Landes book is that the law is more involved in judicial decision making at the district level, while politics is more involved in judicial decision making at the Supreme Court.

Long, but a great read!

Is The Court Too Powerful?

03/17/2013 § 1 Comment

The separation of powers theory of American government dictates that each branch of the federal government is designated certain powers.  The Legislative role is to make laws, the Executive branch is to execute those laws, and the Judiciary is to interpret the Constitution—the supreme law of the land—to make sure the laws passed by Congress aligns with the Constitution.  The power of the Court cannot be underestimated.

The Court has become so powerful that it has caused some of its own members who run it to question its role.  As Justice Anthony Kennedy recently said during a speech in Sacramento, “democracy should not depend on what nine unelected people from a narrow legal background have to say.”  This has been the main critique of the role of the Court by the so called proponents of judicial restraints.  On the other hand, there are also those who argue that the court should always intervene—the so called judicial activists.  Part of the reason judicial activists urge the necessity of the Court’s intervention is because Congress could fail to act where it should because of political reasons.  And since the justices do not have to face the prospects of reelection, they are at the liberty to do what is best.  Fair enough.  Then there is also another theory we rarely hear about: judicial minimalism.  This idea, espoused by the legal scholar Cass Sunstein dictates that the court should only decide cases that come before them: one at a time.  Amongst the three theories of the role of the Court, a bridge between judicial activism and judicial minimalism seems more fit for the Court

For the most part, the Court has shaped this country for the better.  For example, were it not for the court could segregation still be legal? May be not.  But who knows how much longer Congress would have taken to take action on segregation.  With its landmark decision in Brown v Board of Education, the Court shaped America for the better.  At a time when many Southern politician had their political life on the line, there was no doubt Congress would not have have enacted any legislations making segregation illegal at the time.  Much like the Brown case, there are many other cases where the Court has intervened to right a wrong.  And those must be applauded.

The United States Supreme Court will soon hear arguments in the California Proposition 8 case.  Proposition 8 is ballot initiative that limits marriage between only a man and a woman as legally recognized by the state of California.  In this case, judicial minimalist would argue that the Court should rule on the constitutionality of prop 8 as only pertaining to the State of California and not all other states.  This means that if Prop 8 is ruled unconstitutional, per the judicial minimalist theory, it will be unconstitutional in only the state of California and not all other states that have laws banning gay marriage or limiting marriage between a man and a woman.  The judicial activist on the other hand, will argue that since the banning of gay marriage is unconstitutional in one state, it should be unconstitutional in the rest of the states.  The judicial restraint will likely say, the Court should stay out of it.  In this situation, judicial minimalism should prevail since the every state could be different.  But when the case involves an individual right inherent in the constitution, judicial activism should prevail.

It makes sense for the Court to intervene when Congress fail to.  As seen in Brown, sometimes Congress’ failure to act may be due political reasons.  And since justices do not have to face public in reelection, there’s no better institution to use as a vehicle to right a wrong.  But sometimes it must do so one at a time.  The Court should find a bridge between judicial activism and judicial minimalism.

Can The Court Change Public Opinion?

03/10/2013 § 1 Comment

A new study by Katerine Linos and Kim Twist show that, “even when ruling on highly controversial and politicized issues – such as the health care and immigration rulings we considered – the Supreme Court can change public opinion.  For example, among people who received no reminder from us, aggregate support for the individual mandate increased by 6 percentage points, from 31% before the Court’s decision to 37% after. “