Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Earthquake Hits Virginia, 5.8 on Richter Scale

An Earthquake has struck, reportedly near Mineral, Virginia, registering 5.8 on the Richter Scale. Your humble blogger felt the quake here at the Law School in Williamsburg, where the building swayed a little. It felt as though a large truck was driving in the roof.


Friends report that the quake was also felt in Arlington, Virginia and Middleburg, Virginia.

Update number 2:

The Wall Street Journal reports that the quake was felt in Manhattan, New York.

Update number 3:

The U.S. Geological Survey reports that the quake registered 5.9, not 5.8 as initially reported. The quake was centered 4 miles SW of Mineral, Virginia, 4 miles SSE of Louisa, Virginia, and 41 miles NW of Richmond.

Update number 4:

CBS News reports that the White House and the Pentagon have been evacuated.

Update number 5:

The Chicago Tribune reports that the earthquake was felt in Toronto and Boston.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Amicus Brief of Antitrust Professors in Hosana Tabor v. Equal Opportunity Commission

This blogger has signed an Amicus Brief in a case pending before the Supreme Court of the United States. The case is Hosana Tabor v. Equal Opportunity Commission, (For a summary of the case, including a link to the various briefs, including amicus briefs, in the case, go here. The opinion in the 6th Circuit that the petitioner is asking the Supreme Court to reverse, can be found here.) Professors Barak Richman of Duke Law School and Harry First of NYU, both leading scholars of antitrust law, co-authored the brief.

The petitioner in the case is a Lutheran church and elementary school that dismissed an employee who taught music and other secular subjects but who also taught daily religion classes, was a commissioned minister and also regularly led her class in prayer. The dismissed teacher claimed that the dismissal violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the EEOC intervened in support of the teacher. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the so-called ministerial exception did not apply, with the result that the plaintiff's suit could go forward on the merits. In particular, the court found it noteworthy that the teacher spent most of her workday teaching secular subjects from secular materials and could not recall bringing religious themes into her secular classes more than twice during her tenure. The court remanded the case to the district court for a determination of whether, in fact, the school had violated the ADA., and the petitioner sought review in the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari to answer following question:

"Whether the ministerial exception, which prohibits most employment-related lawsuits against religious organizations by employees performing religious functions, applies to a teacher at a religious elementary school who teaches the full secular curriculum, but also teaches daily religion classes, is a commissioned minister, and regularly leads student in prayer and worship."

The amicus brief advises the Court not to expand the scope of the ministerial exception in a way that would provide immunity to professional associations of clergy who engage in concerted action of the sort that produces monopoly or its consequences and is thus unreasonable and unlawful under Section 1 of the Sherman Act. Indeed, at least one professional association of clergy has claimed that horizontal concerted action by the association's members falls within the ministerial exception and is exempt from the Sherman Act. (Professor Richman summarizes the policies of this association, the Rabbinical Assembly, and why they are problematic under the Sherman Act here.) As the brief explains, such concerted action among rivals can reduce competition among clergy for particular positions and also limit the number of clergy whom individual congregations can interview and offer positions, thereby increasing the bargaining leverage of such clergy. Moreover, such conduct does not fall within the contours or rationale of the ministerial exception, which applies in the context of employer-employee relationships between, say, a church or synagogue and its minister or rabbi. Indeed, as the brief explains, limiting the exception to cases involving the employer/employee relationship would not prejudice the petitioner's case at all and would instead protect the ability of other congregations to search for and hire clergy of their choice without interference from unlawful concerted action.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

William and Mary 2011 Football Schedule and Game Times

William and Mary has announced the game times for the upcoming football season here. The full schedule, including game times and locations, appears at the bottom of this post. Note that September 23-25 is "Family Weekend" at William and Mary. Moreover, the November 19 match-up with Richmond will be the 121st meeting between the two teams, the first having occured in 1896. The teams play for the Capital Cup. The game was once known as the "I-64 Bowl," after Interstate 64, which links Richmond and Williamsburg. (Williamsburg was the capital of Virginia before the capital moved to Richmond.) The William and Mary v. Richmond match-up is the oldest rivalry in the South, and only three other rivalries have resulted in more games. (Lehigh v. Lafayette, Yale v. Princeton, and Yale v. Harvard).

The Tribe, ranked 3rd in the "FCS Preseason Poll" is looking to build on last year's strong season. Returning starters include running back Jonathan Grimes, who is on the pre-season Payton award watch list, as well as Dante Cook (LB) and Alex Gottlieb (TE), who, with Grimes, made the The Sports Network's pre-season First Team FCS All America Team.

Finally, note that the first game will take place against the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville. Your humble blogger was in attendance at the last meeting of the two teams, which resulting in a convincing 26-14 victory for the Tribe. Go here for a post about that game. Tribe fans are hoping for another upset!

Here is the schedule:

September 4, 6:00 PM @ University of Virginia

Septmber 10, 1:30 PM @ VMI

September 17, 7:00 vs New Haven

September 24, 7:00 PM vs James Madison

October 1, 6:00 PM vs Delaware

October 15 12:00 PM vs New Hampshire

October 22 3:30 PM vs Towson

November 5 1:00 PM @ Rhode Island

November 12 12:00 PM vs Old Dominion

November 19 12:00 PM @ Richmond

Go Tribe!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Should Misleading Charts Accompany All Discussions of the Debt Ceiling?

Probably Not "Incoherent"

Useless Visual Aid

In a recent blog post, James Fallows, national correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, asserts that one cannot both be concerned with structural budget deficits and simultaneously support the across the board tax cuts that President Bush convinced Congress to adopt early in his Administration. Fallows' main argument is a picture --- a chart, reproduced above, which originated in a recent opinion piece in the New York Times. The chart purports to quantify how various policy changes supported by Presidents Bush and Obama, respectively, have increased spending by the National Government and/or deprived the National Government of revenue it supposedly would have received. Among other things, Fallows claims that the chart "demonstrates the utter incoherence of being very concerned about the structural federal deficit but ruling out of consideration the policy that was the single largest contributor to that deficit, namely the Bush-era tax cuts." (emphasis in the original).

Fallows' assertion is unconvincing, to say the least. Here's why.

1. The chart inexplicably omits over $500 Billion --- the forgone revenue attributable to the two year extension of the Bush tax cuts to which President Obama agreed after the 2008 mid-term elections. (See this story.) Indeed, President Obama's own former director of the Office and Management and Budget, Peter Orzag, advocated such an extension shortly after he left the Administration. Fallows does not explain why we should ignore this forgone revenue.

2. The chart is also misleading in a more fundamental sense. In short, the chart is a gerrymandered portrayal of factors that drive spending, revenue and thus the deficit and resulting debt. In particular, the chart focuses exclusively on the fiscal impact of new programs adopted during the Bush and Obama administrations, respectively. Thus, the chart entirely ignores the cost of existing programs, adopted during previous administrations which, taken together, cost far more than the various programs and tax cuts portrayed in the chart. Indeed, according to one source, the National Government spent $28 Trillion in 2002-2010 alone. During 2002-2009, Fallows claims, the Bush tax cuts deprived the National Government of $1.8 Trillion in revenue, a figure that rises to about $2 Trillion if one includes the forgone revenue attributable to the cuts which Congress extended, with President Obama's agreement, after the 2010 mid-term elections. Thus, the Bush tax cuts equal a whopping 7.1 percent of the expenditures by the National Government during the period in question and are hardly the driving force in the current budget deficit, projected to reach $1.5 Trillion, or 10 percent of GDP, in 2011.

3. The chart ignores all sorts of tax deductions and loopholes, adopted before 2002, that, like the Bush-era tax cuts, deprive the National Government of revenue. Examples include the home mortgage interest deduction (including the deduction for second homes) and the tax exemption for employer-provided health insurance. (The former reduces annual tax revenue by $100 Billion per year.) Inclusion of these potential sources of revenue in the Fallows/New York Times Chart would reduce even further the apparent contribution of the Bush-era tax cuts to the deficit.

4. Finally, the chart and any arguments based upon it ignore entirely the long run link between structural deficits and economic growth (or lack thereof), a link emphasized by John F. Kennedy in his 1962 speech to the Economic Club of New York. As explained in an earlier post on this blog, JFK argued that across the board tax cuts during an economic downturn were the best way to encourage investment, work effort and economic growth and thereby, in the longer run, reduce the budget deficit. In JFK's own words:

"The purpose of cutting taxes now is not to incur a budget deficit, but to achieve the more prosperous, expanding economy which can bring about a budget surplus."

Of course, JFK did not believe that tax cuts alone would ultimately lead to a budget surplus. He also advocated spending restraint, arguing that reliance on government expenditures to stimulate the economy would "demoralize our government and the economy" and that government should not "spend more than can be justified on grounds of national need or spent with maximum efficiency."

In short, like Ronald Reagan two decades later, JFK believed that low tax rates were a precondition for economic growth and that tax cuts and spending increases had quite different impacts on the deficit over the longer run. Moreover, both Presidents advocated policies that helped innaugurate lengthy economic expansions and economic growth. Most Americans would gladly embrace the sort of "incoherence" that resulted in such strong and sustained economic growth and resulting job creation and economic opportunity.