Welcome to Wonkbook, Wonkblog’s morning policy news primer by Puneet Kollipara. To subscribe by e-mail, click here. Send comments, criticism or ideas to Wonkbook at Washpost dot com. To read more by the Wonkblog team, click here.
Wonkbook’s Number of the Day: 4 in 10. That's the fraction of Americans who don't believe or aren't confident that Earth is warming, mostly as a result of man-emitted greenhouse gases.
Wonkbook’s Chart of the Day: By one measure, inequality seems to be dropping.
Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) The Supreme Court's supremely busy day; (2) Washington moves on criminal penalties reform; (3) Obama's immigration conundrum; (4) is the recovery for real?; and (5) the public's views of science are huge in policymaking.
1. Top story: What you need to know about a big day in Supreme Court news.
Supreme Court to decide on Aereo, an obscure start-up that could reshape the TV industry. "An obscure Internet start-up is roiling the television industry with an old-school technology: the antenna. The start-up, Aereo, uses thousands of tiny antennas to capture broadcast television programs, then converts the shows into online video streams for subscribers in 11 cities. What Aereo does not do is pay licensing fees to the broadcast networks that produce the programs. And that has put Aereo at the center of a debate over the reach of copyright laws, the accessibility of public airwaves and the future of television. The Supreme Court on Tuesday will hear arguments in a civil case filed against the two-year-old private firm by ABC, CBS, NBC and other major broadcasters alleging that Aereo is no different from cable and satellite firms that are required to pay hefty fees to rebroadcast their shows." Cecilia Kang and Robert Barnes in The Washington Post.
Argument preview: Free TV, at a bargain price? Lyle Denniston in SCOTUSblog.
Why it's too close to call in Aereo case. Joan E. Solsman in CNET.
Aereo's day in court won't end TV as we know it. "The legal issue at play is whether Aereo is violating broadcasters’ copyrights by setting up farms of tiny antennas and then renting access to each one to its subscribers. The business model itself is a fun thought experiment (if you like semantics), and you can read about the legal arguments here and here. The economic issue is that Aereo doesn’t pay broadcasters the retransmission fees they get elsewhere. These fees are a relatively new revenue stream for broadcasters...but they’ve become increasingly important. Broadcasters’ revenue from the fees will reach $4 billion this year....It explains why the broadcast industry has been fighting so hard to persuade the courts to drive Aereo out of business. But the claim that the company poses a more fundamental threat to the pay-TV industry is flawed in several ways." Joshua Brustein in Bloomberg Businessweek.
The case does have cloud computing companies worried. "In the copyright fight between broadcasters and Internet TV startup Aereo, cloud computing companies like Dropbox and Google are stuck uncomfortably in the middle. Tech companies will be watching closely on Tuesday as the Supreme Court hears arguments in the Aereo case because they’re worried that a loss for the startup could cause them legal problems in the future." Amy Schatz in Re/code.
Another case: Does State Dept. have final say on whether passports can acknowledge Jerusalem is part of Israel? "After years of litigation, the Supreme Court on Monday said it would decide if Congress or the State Department has the final say in whether U.S. passports acknowledge Jerusalem as part of Israel. This touches on one of the most sensitive issues in decades of Middle East conflict, and the case also presents a major separation-of-power conflict between the legislative and executive branches." Robert Barnes in The Washington Post.
Do police have probable cause in traffic stops where officer was mistaken? "The Supreme Court will decide whether police have probable cause to make a traffic stop if it turns out the officer was mistaken in thinking the driver violated the law....To make a traffic stop, the Fourth Amendment typically requires police to have a reasonable suspicion that a traffic law has been violated. But some courts have held that as long as a police officer has a reasonable basis to believe a traffic violation was committed, a stop is constitutionally permissible even if it is later discovered there was no actual breach of the law. Other courts have held that no matter how reasonable or understandable the mistake was, it can't justify a traffic stop." Sam Hananel in the Associated Press.
An anti-Obamacare ad found its way into the Supreme Court, too. "The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments Tuesday over the First Amendment and false campaign attacks -- and it all started with an anti-Obamacare billboard. The billboard never went up, and the candidate it would have attacked lost anyway. But the election-year spat has mushroomed into an argument about freedom of speech that could have serious long-term implications. A ruling is expected in June, just in time for midterm elections that have already seen a flood of anti-Obamacare ads -- including several that may not be entirely accurate." Sam Baker in National Journal.
Juicy: The Supreme Court also seems inclined to bolster truth-in-labeling laws. "In a case that could strengthen truth-in-labeling laws, Supreme Court justices on Monday voiced deep skepticism about Coca-Cola's Pomegranate Blueberry juice that is 99.4% apple and grape juice, saying the name would probably fool most consumers, including themselves. The high court is hearing an appeal from Stewart and Lynda Resnick of Los Angeles, makers of a rival pomegranate juice called Pom Wonderful, who complained that the name of the Coca-Cola product, sold under the Minute Maid brand, is false and misleading." David G. Savage in the Los Angeles Times.
Quotable headline: Court to determine what constitutes pomegranate juice. Robert Barnes in The Washington Post.
And a quotable exchange: "Kathleen M. Sullivan, a lawyer for Coca-Cola, said consumers were not misled. 'We don’t think that consumers are quite as unintelligent as Pom must think they are,' she said. 'They know when something is a flavored blend of five juices and the nonpredominant juices are just a flavor.' Justice Kennedy frowned. 'Don’t make me feel bad,' he said, 'because I thought that this was pomegranate juice.'" Adam Liptak in The New York Times.
The court also sought a middle ground in key Argentina debt case. "The U.S. Supreme Court appeared to be searching for a middle ground Monday in the decade-long battle between Argentina and holders of its defaulted bonds. The justices heard arguments on a relatively narrow aspect of the issue, the question of whether a sovereign nation can be forced to reveal assets around the world so plaintiffs can collect on U.S. court judgments." Mark Sherman in the Associated Press.
But the court won't consider reviving stricken part of Arizona's immigration law. "The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear an appeal of a blocked provision of Arizona's 2010 immigration enforcement law, dealing another blow to Gov. Jan Brewer in her effort to defend the law. The court declined to review the ruling that barred police from arresting people who harbor those living in the United States illegally. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked police from enforcing the prohibition, concluding last year that it was vague and trumped by federal law, which already forbids harboring people in the country unlawfully. The harboring ban is among a handful of provisions in the law known as Senate Bill 1070 that the courts have struck down." Jacques Billeaud in the Associated Press.
Here's what else didn't make the cut at the Supreme Court.
Court rejects new Guantánamo appeal. Associated Press.
Court stays out of Florida drug-testing challenge. Michael Doyle in McClatchy Newspapers.
Other legal reads:
U.S. must release memo in al-Awlaki drone killing. Larry Neumeister in the Associated Press.
Netflix opposes Comcast-Time Warner merger, calling it "anticompetitive." Cecilia Kang in The Washington Post.
Justice Stevens: Make 6 changes to Constitution. Mark Sherman in the Associated Press.
HEALEY: Crucial distinctions in Aereo case. "If broadcasters are beaming their programs for free to antennas in my community, and someone offers to rent me a better antenna than the one I might buy at the local electronics store, why should I have to pay broadcasters for that? Is it because the antenna is connected to me electronically, not by a wire? If so, does that mean I couldn't set up an antenna at a neighbor's house and have it transmit programs to my home via the Internet?...In other words, this case could ultimately affect how flexible business models will be, as well as companies' ability to build online services around consumers' fair use of copyrighted material." Jon Healey in the Los Angeles Times.
WEGMAN: Justice Stevens's refreshing comments. "But a comment by Justice Stevens yesterday on ABC’s 'This Week' has briefly supplanted the book’s main topic with a perennial favorite among court-watchers: the role politics plays, or should play, in the timing of a justice’s retirement. Justice Stevens said it was 'natural' and 'appropriate' to consider who one’s successor might be, although he denied that he engaged in such consideration when he retired in 2010 after nearly 35 years on the bench....Justice Stevens’s comments were refreshing." Jesse Wegman in The New York Times.
RAMPELL: Americans still think owning a home is better for them than it is. "The fact that Americans still financially fetishize homeownership baffles me. Never mind that so many people lost their shirts (among other possessions) in the recent housing bust. Over an even longer horizon, owning a home has not proved to be a terribly lucrative investment either....Over the past century, housing prices have grown at a compound annual rate of just 0.3 percent once one adjusts for inflation, according to my calculations using Shiller’s historical housing data. Over the same period, the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index has had comparable annual returns of about 6.5 percent. Yet Americans still think it’s financially savvy to dump all their savings into a single, large, highly illiquid asset." Catherine Rampell in The Washington Post.
COWEN: Why a global tax on wealth won't end inequality. "Although he stops short of embracing Marx’s baleful vision, Piketty ultimately lands on the pessimistic end of the spectrum. He believes that in capitalist systems, powerful forces can push at various times toward either equality or inequality and that, therefore, 'one should be wary of any economic determinism.' But in the end, he concludes that, contrary to the arguments of Kuznets and other mainstream thinkers, 'there is no natural, spontaneous process to prevent destabilizing, inegalitarian forces from prevailing permanently.' To forestall such an outcome, Piketty proposes, among other things, a far-fetched plan for the global taxation of wealth -- a call to radically redistribute the fruits of capitalism to ensure the system’s survival. This is an unsatisfying conclusion to a groundbreaking work of analysis that is frequently brilliant -- but flawed, as well." Tyler Cowen in Foreign Affairs.
HEIMARK AND SMITH: The real problem with high-frequency trading. "The media firestorm over high frequency trading has flagged some legitimate concerns but misses the real issues. While Michael Lewis’ book Flash Boys is sensationalistic and simplistic, it may goad regulators into action, particular since many knowledgeable observers have been making similar arguments for years. At its foundation, high frequency trading is time-based arbitrage (which is different that statistical arbitrage which involves the real assumption of risk) and that is simply front running. It has become popular to demonize the high frequency trading crowd, but they aren’t the proper targets. The fact that high frequency trading exists at all is the result of poor regulation." Craig Heimark and Yves Smith in Naked Capitalism.
McARDLE: Are Obamacare's latest numbers good or bad? "We were off for Good Friday, so you missed my thoughts on the health exchange enrollment numbers that the White House released last week. They were surprising numbers, in both good ways and bad. I’d hoped that over the weekend, I’d be able to tease out threads that made them more understandable, in an 'obvious in retrospect' kind of way. But it’s three days later, and, well, I’m still surprised." Megan McArdle in Bloomberg View.
WEISSMANN: The weak case for asking taxpayers to subsidize advanced degrees. "Suffice to say, I got a few angry responses after my last piece on student debt. Which is understandable: When you argue that it’s perfectly fine for the government to make billions in profits off loans to graduate students, a few people -- namely, indebted graduate students -- are going to take umbrage. And since I plan to write about education finance pretty frequently in this space, I wanted to spell out my point in a little more detail....It’s nearly impossible to imagine a functioning student-loan market open to all undergraduates without some kind of government intervention. For graduate students, it doesn’t need to play as large a role. Making loans on terms that earn a profit, but don’t risk losing the best borrowers to the private sector, seems like a decent compromise to me." Jordan Weissmann in Slate.
SAHM: The incredibly stupid war on Common Core. "Like Rocky in the early rounds, the new Common Core math and reading standards are being pummeled left and right. From the left: Education icon Diane Ravitch says the Common Core represents a 'utilitarian view of education' that is too focused on testing, data, and accountability. From the right, 'ObamaCore' is denounced as federal intrusion....From the further right, the always understated Glenn Beck says, 'This is a progressive bonanza, and if it’s allowed to be in our schools in any form and become the Common Core of America’s next generation, it will destroy America and the system of freedom as we know it… This is evil stuff'... All the Common Core bashing is having an effect....Unfortunately, the debate over the Common Core is now more about politics than education." Charles Upton Sahm in The Daily Beast.
2. Washington is getting serious about reforming criminal penalties
Obama to dramatically expand drug clemency. "President Barack Obama is preparing to make much broader use of his power to grant commutations to non-violent drug convicts who have served long sentences, Attorney General Eric Holder said....Holder said the new effort will focus on prisoners serving longer sentences than they would if they were facing justice now, but he did not say it was limited to that circumstance....Holder said the Justice Department is setting new criteria that will allow its Office of the Pardon Attorney to consider applications from a wider variety of convicts. In addition, the attorney general said that office’s staff would be bolstered, 'potentially' with dozens of new attorneys to deal with the expected wave of applications. So far, Obama has been extremely restrained in his use of the clemency powers." Josh Gerstein in Politico.
Context: It's one part of a larger push by the Obama administration. "Holder has announced a series of initiatives to tackle disparities in criminal penalties....Underlying the initiatives is the belief by top Justice Department officials that the most severe penalties should be reserved for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers....In the meantime, however, thousands of inmates are still serving federally mandated sentences that imposed strict penalties for the possession of crack cocaine." Sari Horwitz in The Washington Post.
Long read: Barbara Scrivner's long quest for mercy tests a president's will — and her own faith. Liz Goodwin in Yahoo News.
Why some prosecutors oppose the move. "Some federal prosecutors have pushed back on efforts to change mandatory sentencing laws, arguing that they believe they are an effective tool in wringing out information involving important drug kingpin cases or major murders. Other prosecutors were also wary of the proposed changes." Liz Halloran in NPR.
A move toward drug legalization? "Almost no one is talking now about changes to make the existing drug laws actually work to control drugs. The new discourse is a tacit acknowledgement that the Controlled Substances Act is beyond repair as a mechanism to control the supply of drugs. This subtle change in the popular conversation about the drug problem, seen in conjunction with the evaporation of public support for marijuana prohibition, and a popular and official response to the opioid overdose crisis calling for treatment and the use of naloxone to save the lives, indicates that elected officials can re-focus our resources on treatment and prevention in a way that is sympathetic to drug users, and not fearful or hate-filled." Eric E. Sterling in The Huffington Post.
Bids to reform sentencing guidelines get bipartisan support -- and opposition. "For decades the Republican Party prided itself for being tough on crime, often putting Democrats on the defensive by pushing for longer, mandatory sentences for convicts....But now, as the U.S. Senate prepares to take up the most far-reaching changes in years to federal sentencing and parole guidelines, some conservative Republicans are flipping sides, driven by concerns about the rising cost of caring for prisoners and calls for compassion from conservative religious groups seeking to rehabilitate convicts. A surprising number of high-profile Republicans are working arm in arm with Democrats on legislation to shorten jail terms and hasten prisoner releases. At the same time, in their own reversal of sorts, key Democrats are arguing against the legislation in its current form." Timothy M. Phelps in the Los Angeles Times.
How one Republican is trying to turn sentencing reform into political winner. "For more than a year, GOP Sen. Rand Paul has been staking out positions on issues that resonate in the black community, including school choice and prison sentencing reform. And he's been showing up in some unexpected -- for a Republican -- venues, including historically black colleges. It's stirred an unusual degree of curiosity about the freshman Kentucky senator -- and 2016 GOP presidential prospect -- among the Democratic Party's most reliable voting bloc." Liz Halloran in NPR.
Other drug policy reads:
"Palcohol" isn't hitting store shelves anytime soon. Candice Choi in the Associated Press.
Astronomical economics interlude: These satellites could shed light on poverty.
3. So far, the administration's actions on deportations may not be enough
Homeland Security chief weighs limiting deportations for certain immigrants. "Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is weighing limiting deportations of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally who don't have serious criminal records, according to two people with knowledge of his deliberations. The change, if adopted following an ongoing review ordered by President Barack Obama, could shield tens of thousands of immigrants now removed each year solely because they committed repeat immigration violations, such as re-entering the country illegally after having been deported, failing to comply with a deportation order or missing an immigration court date. However, it would fall short of the sweeping changes sought by activists." Erica Werner in the Associated Press.
What will it take for the administration to satisfy advocates? "Immigration advocates are focusing on deportations because they break up families or uproot people who have lived here for years, as productive workers. At the same time, groups like the AFL-CIO hope the kind of work authorization proposed in the memo can do more than lift the threat of removal -- it can free immigrants to fight for safer workplaces, higher pay, and better living conditions....The memo is not just a wishlist. It’s also a barometer of the current political climate for immigration." Nora Caplan-Bricker in The New Republic.
Primary source: The AFL-CIO's memo.
Why undocumented immigrants are lawyering up. "The majority of immigration court cases in 2013 involved immigrants who had legal representation, a reversal from five years ago, according to new data from the federal government. In 2013, 59 percent of those in immigration proceedings had legal representation -- that's a big jump from 2009, when just 39 percent had lawyers. In 2012, a very slim majority of cases had clients with no legal representation....Nearly all new cases that came to immigration courts last year were deportation cases....So, what happened? A number of factors are at play." Elahe Izadi in National Journal.
Mark Zuckerberg has become a lightning rod in the U.S. immigration debate. "The latest initiative by a pro-immigration reform lobbying group supported by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is arousing the ire of hard-line conservatives, who are firing back online. Last week, FWD.us launched an expensive advertising blitz against Iowa’s outspoken conservative Congressman Steve King, questioning his patriotism. One of the TV ads, which began running in Iowa this week, targeted King’s comments that undocumented immigrants who want to serve in the U.S. armed forces should instead be put on a bus 'to Tijuana.'" Angelo Young in International Business Times.
Party paranoia could destroy hope of immigration reform. "The bottom line is that while Republicans will probably do very well this November, with better than an even-money chance of winning a Senate majority and a lock on holding the House, the GOP will still emerge with a demographic and political millstone that they will have to contend with in 2016." Charlie Cook in National Journal.
Magic interlude: Confuse your body with these tricks.
4. Is this recovery for real now?
Leading economic indicators, including hiring, were up in March. "An improving job market and increasing factory production in March contributed to a jump in the U.S. index of leading indicators that signals the pace of economic growth is poised to snap back. The Conference Board’s index, a gauge of the outlook for the next three to six months, rose 0.8 percent, the most since November, after a 0.5 percent gain in February, the New York-based group said today. The measure’s 6.1 percent advance over the past year is the biggest since July 2011....The fewest firings since before the last recession are helping lift consumer confidence this month, which probably means recent gains in spending can be sustained." Victoria Stilwell in Bloomberg.
Economists' views on the hiring situation are brightening, too. "Business economists’ outlook for near-term hiring strengthened this spring to the highest mark in nearly three years, a new survey found. The poll by the National Association for Business Economics said 43% of corporate economists expect hiring within their firm or industry to increase during the next six months. That was the most optimistic forecast since July 2011." Eric Morath in The Wall Street Journal.
New paper: Maybe jobless rate is good indicator of slack after all? Reuters.
Another good sign? Property tax collections up, helping local governments hire, raise salaries. "Property-tax collections are rising at the fastest pace since the U.S. housing market crash sent government revenue plunging, helping end an era of local budget cuts. In cities including San Jose, California, Nashville, Tennessee, Houston and Washington, revenue from real-estate levies has set records, or is poised to. Local governments are using the money to hire police, increase salaries and pave roads after the decline in property values and 18-month recession that ended in 2009 forced them to eliminate about 600,000 workers and pushed Detroit, Central Falls, Rhode Island, and three California cities into bankruptcy." William Selway in Bloomberg.
But a new report suggests economic growth moderated in March. Justin Loiseau in the Motley Fool.
And businesses feel pressure of rising costs. Associated Press.
Survey shows why economic recovery has been weak: You're saving too much. "Economists will tell you that the economic recovery is nearly five years old. But 57 percent of Americans still think we’re in recession and it’s not hard to see why. The unemployment rate is still 6.7 percent. Millions of American workers have dropped out of the labor force, too discouraged to continue looking for work. So why isn’t the economy recovering more quickly? Technically speaking, the explanation is very simple. And you can see it in a poll that Gallup released on Monday morning." Danny Vinik in The New Republic.
Primary source: Americans continue to enjoy saving more than spending. Gallup.
Other economic/financial reads:
The feds just made it easier to secure a small business loan. J.D. Harrison in The Washington Post.
Long- and short-term unemployment have similar inflation impact: Fed paper. Pedro Nicolaci da Costa in The Wall Street Journal.
The potential bubble the Fed cares most about. Andrew Flowers in FiveThirtyEight.
Another animal interlude: Cat fishes for another cat.
5. Why public opinion on science matters in policymaking
Americans still skeptical of climate change, many wary of vaccines. "Rather than quizzing scientific knowledge, the survey asked people to rate their confidence in several statements about science and medicine. On some, there's broad acceptance. Just 4 percent doubt that smoking causes cancer, 6 percent question whether mental illness is a medical condition that affects the brain and 8 percent are skeptical there's a genetic code inside our cells. More -- 15 percent -- have doubts about the safety and efficacy of childhood vaccines. About 4 in 10 say they are not too confident or outright disbelieve that the earth is warming, mostly a result of man-made heat-trapping gases." Seth Borenstein and Jennifer Agiesta in the Associated Press.
Can climate change become a bipartisan issue again? "Democrats are getting serious about global warming again. But even when Democrats have managed to close ranks behind previous legislative efforts like Waxman-Markey, Republicans have stymied them. Can the left forge a coalition to tackle the problem? The environment was once a bipartisan issue. The 1970 Clean Air Act, the 1972 Clean Water Act, and the 1973 Endangered Species Act were all passed with bipartisan support, as was legislation strengthening those acts in the 1980s and 1990s. Since then, the environment has become increasingly divisive. Data from the Pew Research Center show that the decrease in support for environmental protection is not only very recent but also one-sided. Despite that decline, Republican support for environmental causes is stronger than it might appear." Sean McElwee in The Atlantic.
Long read: How the world failed on 2 degrees Celsius. Brad Plumer in Vox.
Don't forget about the role of science in the genetically engineered crops debate. "Today, about 90 percent of all corn grown in the U.S. is genetically engineered and has been developed partially in Hawaii in this way. The discontent, however, has been simmering. There has been little scientific evidence to prove that foods grown from engineered seeds are less safe than their conventional counterparts, but consumer concerns and fears persist -- not just in the islands but around the country and rest of the world." Audrey McAvoy in the Associated Press.
Other science-y reads:
Explainer: Jenny McCarthy says she isn’t anti-vaccine. Here are some other things she has said about vaccinations. Mark Berman in The Washington Post
Food interlude: It's raining food.
Medicare wants to better coordinate care. Here’s why that could be difficult. Jason Millman.
What happens when public-school students are promised a college education. Emily Badger.
Why a government agency won’t lower mortgage fees for borrowers. Dina ElBoghdady.
Congressional Republicans are winning at Twitter in 2014. Christopher Ingraham.
Following Sebelius phone call, foundation donated $13M to Obamacare outreach group, report says. Jason Millman.
Obama's Asia trip stirs emotions over trade pact. Doug Palmer in Politico.
U.S. agency urges private lenders to ease automatic default rules on student loans. Danielle Douglas in The Washington Post.
BP manager allegedly learned scale of spill, dumped stock. Greg Gordon in McClatchy Newspapers.
Millions slip into Obamacare coverage "gap." Jordan Malter in CNN.
U.S. emissions would far outweigh impact of the Keystone XL pipeline. Coral Davenport in The New York Times.
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Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.