Americans’ Costly Failure to Refinance

An op-ed by Cass R. Sunstein. Suppose you learned that during the recent recession the national government adopted a policy that cost American homeowners $5.4 billion. Or that the nation’s banks adopted a policy that had exactly the same effect. You’d probably be outraged. Fortunately, that didn’t quite happen, but something similar did. Whether or not it’s outrageous, we should do something about it. For many people, buying a home is the most important financial decision they ever make. Interest rates rise and fall, and when they fall, many homeowners have an opportunity to refinance and to save a lot of money. From 2010 to 2012, rates dropped significantly. In late 2012, they reached an all-time low, falling well below 4 percent. Someone whose original loan came with a rate of 6.5 percent could, by refinancing, save more than $100,000 over the life of the loan. The standard economic assumption is that homeowners consider such benefits and make rational decisions about whether and when to refinance. But behavioral economists suspect this isn’t what really happens — that lots of people fail to refinance even when they stand to save many thousands of dollars.

Scott Brown Threatens Lawsuit Over Being Called a ‘Washington Lobbyist’

The campaign for New Hampshire Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown threatened to sue Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig Sunday over a mailer calling Brown a “former Washington lobbyist.” Lessig’s Super PAC to end Super PACs, Mayday PAC, wrote the mailer in support of one of Brown’s Republican rivals, former state Sen. Jim Rubens, and to decry special interests’ influence in Washington…Lessig responded to the letter quoting the words of Clint Eastwood’s character “Dirty Harry” Callahan — “Go ahead; Make my day” — and offered to openly debate whether Brown was a “lobbyist.” Lessig also asked Brown if it was better to call Brown a former Massachusetts senator “who sold his influence to a DC lobbying firm.”

Treasury’s Lew Says Anti-Inversion Decision Will Come Soon, But Offers No Hints About What Or When

In a speech today at the Tax Policy Center, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said the agency will decide “in the very very near future” how it will respond to the recent wave of tax-motivated corporate inversions…After his presentation, a panel of tax and regulatory experts debated whether Treasury has the authority to act administratively against inversions and, if so, whether it should take such a step. Not surprisingly, the panelists disagreed…Even Steve Shay, who has been an outspoken advocate of Treasury action, acknowledged that regulations could only limit—but not stop—inversions. “Some deals would still go forward,” he said, “to the extent they are good business deals.”

One million Americans want corporations to reveal political spending

A coalition of academics, good-government advocacy groups and shareholder activists announced last week that one million Americans have written the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) asking for a rule to make corporations reveal how they spend money for political purposes…In a blog post, Jackson and fellow petitioner Lucian Bebchuk noted that the issue had attracted far more comments than any other the SEC had ever considered. Asked why, Bebchuk, a widely cited professor of law, economics and finance at Harvard, said, “The case for transparency in this area is clear and compelling to a broad spectrum of people, including individuals who would otherwise not consider expressing a view on SEC matters. The current freedom of public companies to spend money on politics without telling their investors is clearly unacceptable to a large number of people who care enough about it to write to the SEC.”

Want to Reform the NSA? Give Edward Snowden Immunity

An op-ed by Yochai Benkler. But national security is different. There are limited protections for internal whistleblowers, and none at all for those who go to the press. Defenders of that approach argue that the critical nature of national security justifies complete secrecy. But that very critical nature also means that mistakes can have devastating effects, while the secrecy that national-security organizations demand makes them more likely to get stuck in erroneous patterns. Secrecy disables many of the mechanisms that other systems use to correct failure dynamics.

The Alitomayor Effect

An article by Laurence Tribe. At the Supreme Court, the spotlight often jumps from justice to justice…Yet the coverage often passes over two of the court’s more junior members, Justices Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor. Too often we hear only that both justices are predictable partisans, neither idiosyncratic nor unique, representing the new extremes of right and left on the court. But while they do frequently disagree on hot-button issues, neither is so easily reduced to caricature. Closer analysis reveals distinct perspectives that strongly differentiate them from their fellow justices and unexpected commonalities that unite them—and can bend the whole gravitational field of the court in their direction. So ignore them no more: Understanding Alito and Sotomayor, both where they divide and where they converge, is essential to understanding the future of the Supreme Court.

Gay Marriage? ‘Go Figure’

An op-ed by Cass R. Sunstein. The movement for marriage equality yesterday received its greatest legal victory. Judge Richard Posner, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, wrote a powerful opinion ordering Indiana and Wisconsin to recognize same-sex marriages. In the process, he eviscerated the states’ efforts to defend their discriminatory laws. The author matters in this case. Posner was appointed by Ronald Reagan, and he isn’t known for favoring an active judicial role or for thinking that courts should promote social change. He is also widely admired, and probably counts as the most influential lower court judge of the past 50 years. When he speaks, people listen.

The high price of freedom

It was the luckiest of breaks, in a life long overdue for one. Manuel Ordonez-Quino sat in a detention center in El Paso, awaiting deportation to Guatemala. Swept up in the massive raid on a New Bedford factory in 2007, immigration officials said he had agreed to leave the country. But some of his fellow detainees told lawyers that was impossible. Ordonez-Quino was deaf, they said. An indigenous Maya, he spoke only Quiché, not English or Spanish. He could not have understood what was happening to him, let alone agreed to it. So John Willshire-Carrera and Nancy Kelly of Greater Boston Legal Services and the Harvard [Immigration and Refugee [Clinical] Program took on his case. That one stroke of good fortune will change not only Ordonez-Quino’s life, but many others.

Another reason to expand medicaid in NC: Rising cost of treating diabetes

Diabetes is a costly epidemic in North Carolina, and it is rapidly expanding. That’s a disturbing finding headlining a report by Harvard University researchers released earlier this year. While North Carolina is fortunate to be the focus of a diabetes study by the Center for Health Law and Policy at Harvard Law School, the reason for the attention is ominous: North Carolina has a huge problem.

Should Tanks Be More Like iPhones?

When Iraq’s American-equipped army fled their posts in Mosul last June, they left that American equipment in the hands Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the attacking violent insurgent group. Since then, the U.S. Air Force destroyed some of the captured vehicles. Jonathan Zittrain, director of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, wonders if there’s a better way to stop stolen equipment from working. He proposes “kill switches,” like those found in iPhones, as a means for keeping American arms, given to allies, from working in the hands of enemies…Through email, Popular Science spoke with Zittrain about how these proposed killswitches could work, and what they would mean for arming allies in the future.