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California Tobacco Tax fails by slimmest of margins

California Tobacco Tax Increase Fails By Less Than One Point | ThinkProgress
A measure to increase California’s tobacco tax by $1 failed by 50.3 percent to 49.7 percent. The vote had been too close to call for two weeks, but the measure was losing by 27,000 votes with 150,000 ballots left to be counted. Opponents of the $1-a-pack tax spent $47 million to fight it, cutting support for the law from two-thirds in favor in March to the razor-thin vote margin. California has one of the lowest tobacco taxes in the country, and even with the $1 increase, it would only have had the nation’s 16th highest tax.

Five times when the Supreme Court fundamentally changed America

And their ruling on Obamacare looms large. If the Court went by precedent and norms and all of their past rulings, it's a no-brainer. Everything about Obamacare fits squarely in what they The Supreme Court have said is legal. But will partisan loyalty trump that? Is giving a win to their side more important than actually doing their jobs? We will see soon. Brad DeLong: "Constitutional Moments"
Five times in U.S. history the Supreme Court has eaten its wheaties and said that in the future the law will in a major way be very different--or, rather, that Americans before, including the Supreme Court, had been in error about what the law truly was and had been doing it wrong. Call the first Marbury vs. Madison: the Supreme Court's 1803 assertion of the power that it was going to be the final arbiter--that its decisions about what the Constitution meant would be the ones that stuck. It could have gone another way… Call the second Lochner: the Supreme Court's 1905 assertion that a late eighteenth-century Constitution enacted an early-twentieth century conception that your key liberty interest is the freedom to make whatever contracts you want to make without let or hindrance from the federal government. Call the third the Switch-in-Time-that-Saved-Nine: the Supreme Court's 1937 assertion that Lochner was in error, and that Congress's power to regulate interstate commerce was a trump that gave it the right to regulate everything. The fourth and the fifth are Warren Court actions: (a) in 1954 that legal racial apartheid will no longer be part of America, and (b) in 1966 that the poor will have at least some of the privileges in their interactions--both criminal and civil--with the law that the rich have always had. You can add others: Dred Scott in 1857 as an attempt to turn the entire United States into a slave country, Roe v. Wade in 1973, the forthcoming overturning of the DOMA. The key is that the Supreme Court moves as a political (and moral) entity--and not as a judicial entity developing and extending precedent in an arena of laws set by common-law history and legislation. And, of course, the odd thing is that since Marbury vs. Madison (1803) there is precedent that the Supreme Court can do this.

June 24, 2012

This town in Georgia has privatized nearly aspect of government

When This American Life did their big show about the privatization of local governments, they found that in the end there were no cost savings, it's just that the costs were being paid differently. In the long term, there could be *some* savings but in the short term it was break even. A Georgia Town Takes the People’s Business Private - NYTimes.com
The entire operation is housed in a generic, one-story industrial park, along with a restaurant and a gym. And though the place has a large staff, none are on the public payroll. O.K., seven are, including the city manager. But unless you chance into one of them, the people you meet here work for private companies through a variety of contracts. Applying for a business license? Speak to a woman with Severn Trent, a multinational company based in Coventry, England. Want to build a new deck on your house? Chat with an employee of Collaborative Consulting, based in Burlington, Mass. Need a word with people who oversee trash collection? That would be the URS Corporation, based in San Francisco. Even the city’s court, which is in session on this May afternoon, next to the revenue division, is handled by a private company, the Jacobs Engineering Group of Pasadena, Calif. The company’s staff is in charge of all administrative work, though the judge, Lawrence Young, is essentially a legal temp, paid a flat rate of $100 an hour. “I think of it as being a baby judge,” says Mr. Young, who spends most of his time drafting trusts as a lawyer in a private practice, “because we don’t have to deal with the terrible things that you find in Superior Court.” . . . To grasp how unusual this is, consider what Sandy Springs does not have. It does not have a fleet of vehicles for road repair, or a yard where the fleet is parked. It does not have long-term debt. It has no pension obligations. It does not have a city hall, for that matter, if your idea of a city hall is a building owned by the city. Sandy Springs rents. The town does have a conventional police force and fire department, in part because the insurance premiums for a private company providing those services were deemed prohibitively high. But its 911 dispatch center is operated by a private company, iXP, with headquarters in Cranbury, N.J. . . .