2012 - %3, January

Apple's Mind-Bogglingly Greedy and Evil License Agreement

| Mon Jan. 23, 2012 12:53 PM EST

Most news articles about a company or a person include a rote disclaimer somewhere in the text: "_____ declined to comment on the matter." This is often a pro forma statement, since the writer knew perfectly well she was never going to get a comment in the first place.

Ed Bott is tired of the game. After reading Apple's end-user license for its eBook authoring program with mounting outrage, and then writing a blistering column about it, he ended with this:

Oh, and let’s just stipulate that I could send an e-mail to Apple asking for comment, or I could hand-write my request on a sheet of paper and then put it in a shredder. Both actions would produce the same response from Cupertino. But if anyone from Apple would care to comment, you know where to find me.

Atta boy! I view Apple as much like China: overseers of a huge market that's irresistible, and well aware that they can use their market power in any way they like without having to answer to anyone. In most ways that I can think of, they're really far more of an evil empire than Microsoft ever was. They're just not as big.

(On the merits of this particular case, though, I suspect that Bott is overreacting. The core problem is that Apple insists that if you write a book using its program, you can sell it only through Apple. But I'd be surprised if someone didn't very quickly create a translator that converts Apple's almost-ePub files into genuine, clean ePub files that can be used anywhere. In practical terms, Apple's EULA may not really amount to much.)

Via Ryan Cooper.

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Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown Agree to Third-Party Ad Ban

| Mon Jan. 23, 2012 12:06 PM EST
Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown have pledged to ban third-party ads from their Massachusetts Senate race.

On Monday morning, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and his likely Democratic opponent, Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren, agreed to a pledge banning third-party advertisements in the run-up to November's election. Groups like the League of Conservation Voters and Rethink PAC (attacking Brown) and Crossroads GPS (attacking Warren) had been waging a proxy war on the airwaves in Massachusetts since last fall, and with the inclusion of third-party ads, the race was expected to wind up in the $100 million range. Last week, Warren and Brown began hashing out a dark-money pledge (while hammering each other on the disagreements in public), and now, the Globe's Glen Johnson reports, they've reached a compromise.

The pledge for both candidates to denounce third-party ads run by supporters, ask TV stations not to air them (which TV stations don't have to do), and—if the problem persists—Brown proposed that the candidate who benefits from the ads donate 50-percent of the total cost of the ad buy to charity (501(c)(3) political groups, presumably, don't count).

Both sides obviously think they have something to gain from the agreement; Anti-Brown third-party groups have outspent the other side by a 3 to 1 margin so far, so you could see why he might want Warren's outside groups to call off the dogs. Warren, likewise, is sick of being tarred—simultaneously—as a Wall Street shill and a radical occupier, and has to think that, this being deep-blue Massachusetts, she can win the race on her own if she runs close to a competent campaign. Besides, she raised $5.7 million in the last three months; money's no issue.

Both campaigns are declaring victory, but will it really make a difference? In a statement, LCV Senior Vice President of Campaigns Navin Nayak said: "While we cannot take directions from any candidate on our independent activities, we are inclined to respect the People's Pledge agreed to by Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown and we hope that Scott Brown will honor his end of the deal when Crossroads and the Koch Brothers inevitably break it."

Meanwhile, here's the statement American Crossroads president Steven Law just blasted out on the agreement: "Because the agreement allows union phone banks, direct mail, and get-out-the-vote drives—all union core specialties—Warren's latest agreement has loopholes the Teamsters could drive a truck through, the longshoremen could steer a ship through, the machinists could fly a plan through, and government unions could drive forklifts of paperwork through."

America in the 21st Century

| Mon Jan. 23, 2012 12:04 PM EST

Are we doomed to a future in which we are mere vassals to a burgeoning and aggressive Chinese hegemony? If you vote for Barack Obama, yes! In fact, according to Mitt Romney, he's actively working toward such a future.

But seriously. Are we? I don't think so. Sure, China is going to grow and there will inevitably be some shifts in influence as that happens, but if I had to make a 50-year bet on any region of the world, I'd pick the United States. Europe has demographic and growth problems; Russia is doomed once their energy resources run out; Africa will remain a basket case for the foreseeable future; India is starting from a poor base and I'm not convinced they have the governance or institutions to maintain rapid growth over the long term; and China — well, China has its problems, as I've noted multiple times in this space.1 I don't think they're going to collapse or anything like that, but I do think their growth will inevitably slow down long before their per-capita income is anywhere close to ours. It will likely take them at least a century to catch up.

Meanwhile, the United States is really in pretty good shape if we can just get our political affairs in orders.2 Compared to the rest of the world, our economy is pretty solid, our demographics look good, and we have more energy resources than most other rich countries. Dan Drezner has more here. It's worth a read if you want to see the optimistic case for American influence and wealth in the 21st century.

1And what about South America? I'm not sure. That's why I didn't include them in my list.

2Yes, yes, I know.

Occupy's Latest Target: Citizens United

| Mon Jan. 23, 2012 11:25 AM EST
An anti-Citizens United protester at Bank of America.

From Tennessee to DC, New York City to Seattle, Saturday marked one of the biggest days of protest around the issue of money in politics and corporate power in America. Pegged to the second anniversary of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, there were more than 300 events, flying under the #J21 and "Occupy the Corporations" banners, at courthouses, banks, and corporate offices nationwide. The protesters have two main demands: get corporate money out of American politics and demolish the doctrine that corporations deserve the same free speech rights as real people—what's known as "corporate personhood."

Here's a video the group Public Citizen put together recapping the weekend's events:

The campaign to roll back Citizens United and end corporate personhood is slowly gaining traction around the country. The aims of the organizations involved—Public Citizen, Move to AmendPeople for the American Way, and others—range from demanding a constitutional amendment ending corporate personhood to giving Congress more power to regulate money in politics. So far, the city governments of Los Angeles, New York City, Boulder, Colo., Madison, Wis., and Missoula, Mont., have passed resolutions demanding a constitutional amendment to end corporate personhood. Move to Amend wants anti-Citizens United measures on the ballot in 50 cities around the country.

There are also at least six proposed amendments targeting corporate personhood and Citizens United in the House and Senate, all introduced by liberal lawmakers.

For the anti-Citizens United effort, 2012 is a make-or-break year. Organizers say they hope to ride the wave of enthusiasm surrounding the Occupy movement, and to make corporate money in politics a hot-button issue in an election projected to be the most expensive in American history. Lawmakers and activists say they've settled on the constitutional amendment strategy, as opposed to new legislation, because there are no other options left. The Citizens United decision, Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) said last month, "has made it so we need a constitutional amendment. I don't see how we tackle this any other way."

Supreme Court Rules Warrant Needed for GPS Tracking

| Mon Jan. 23, 2012 11:19 AM EST

Let's start off the week with some good news. We now have a ruling in the case of Antoine Jones, who was convicted on drug charges after police attached a GPS tracking device to his car:

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that police must get a search warrant before using GPS technology to track criminal suspects....Associate Justice Antonin Scalia said that the government’s installation of a GPS device, and its use to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a search, meaning that a warrant is required.

“By attaching the device to the Jeep” that Jones was using, “officers encroached on a protected area,” Scalia wrote.

....Justice Samuel Alito also wrote a concurring opinion in which he said the court should have gone further and dealt with GPS tracking of wireless devices, like mobile phones. He was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.

Count me with Alito, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan. If police want to track your cell phone, they should get a warrant. End of story.

Newt's Florida Suicide Strategy

| Mon Jan. 23, 2012 6:30 AM EST

With three candidates each boasting one primary victory, Florida is partying like it's 2000: another pivotal ballot with presidential implications and the whole nation watching. The winner of next Tuesday's Sunshine State ballot has the clearest path to the Republican nomination. So if you're Newt Gingrich, high off your South Carolina comeback, how do you win with Republicans in a super-state where Mitt Romney's better-organized, better-funded, and (maybe) still ahead? One hail-mary idea is to connect Romney to the state's most famous GOP defector. Rick Tyler, the ex-Gingrich spokesman who now advises Newt's super PAC, Winning Our Future, plans to do just that.

On MSNBC Sunday morning, Tyler "laid out a simple plan for the week ahead: tie Romney to Charlie Crist, the one-time beloved Florida governor who lost both his popularity and chances of serving in the Senate seat when he chose to be the moderate alternative to Tea Partier-turned-senator Marco Rubio," as the Huffington Post summarized it . Tyler went on: "All we have to do is remind people that Mitt Romney is Charlie Crist. If you voted for Charlie Crist, then you should vote for Mitt. If you didn't vote for Charlie Crist, then you should vote for Newt."

On one level, it's a sound red-meat strategy: Romney's ground team in Florida includes a trio of political insiders who worked for Crist's unsuccessful independent Senate campaign in 2010. But while Gingrich might score some quick primary points by associating Romney with a moderate pol, it's likely to screw him in a general election. That's because in the past two years, Charlie Crist has returned from the dead to become one of the state's most popular politicians.

Back during the 2010 tea party revolution, Rubio crushed Crist in the GOP primary for Florida's open seat. Rubio's strategem was to paint Crist as a moderate Republican-in-name-only. In response, Crist fled the party and ran against Rubio in the general election as an independent, only to be crushed by 20 percent. But as they say in Florida, the rules are different here. Two years on, Rubio's ditched his tea party cred to vote regularly as a moderate; he's even cooperated with Sen. Bill Nelson, his senior colleague and a stolid Democrat, on a host of bills.

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Happy 2nd Birthday, Citizens United!

| Mon Jan. 23, 2012 6:00 AM EST

On Sunday, Citizens United turned two. In case you're not familiar with the birthday kid, it's the 2010 Supreme Court decision that ruled that corporations can pour unlimited money into groups supporting or opposing candidates. The result has been the rise of a parallel world of super-PACs and shadowy nonprofits dumping millions into the 2012 election, kind of like a giddy toddler dumping Cheerios all over the floor. But far less adorable. 

As Citizens United enters its Terrible Twos, we're throwing a birthday party with some selections from MoJo's ongoing dark-money coverage. Won't you join us? 

Directions to the bash: Want to party like a politically connected millionaire? Let this handy flowchart show you how to make Citizens United work for you.   

Who's invited? Check out our list of the 2012 race's 20 top donors (so far), as well as our exclusive list of the superrich donors who have pledged to contribute $1 millon to the Koch Brothers' efforts to defeat Barack Obama. And meet the mystery man behind Mitt Romney's super-PAC.

RSVP not required: There may be some unexpected guests—finding out who's pouring money into elections is now harder than ever.

Meet the proud papa: Read Stephanie Mencimer's profile of James Bopp, the mastermind behind the Citizens United case (who's got more tricks up his sleeve).

No cake for you: Wonder how Citizens United boosts the 1 percent and weakens the majority of Americans' political influence? MoJo editors Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery explain.

There will be fun and games…: Trying to find out who's behind 501(c)4s, supershadowy fundraising groups that don't have to say where they get their money, is kind of like playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donor.

…and a clown: Join comedian Stephen Colbert for a surreal civics lesson about how super-PACs totally don't collude with candidates (wink, wink). Plus: Some of his most bizarro political ads.

"And many more!": Not if anti-Citizens United reformers get their way. Read up on their plans to roll back the ruling.

Review: "The Rushing Dark," by Laura Gibson

| Mon Jan. 23, 2012 6:00 AM EST

TRACK 5

"The Rushing Dark"

From Laura Gibson's La Grande

Liner notes: Her voice filtered through layers of distortion and noise to simulate the effect of an antique recording, Laura Gibson murmurs, "For all the wandering I have done/I could not repent enough," on this eerie track from her death-obsessed fourth solo album.

Behind the music: Starting small, the Portland, Oregon-based folkie self-released her 2004 debut and played gigs at kindergartens, AIDS hospices, and prisons. Her more recent credits include vocals on Colin Meloy Sings Sam Cooke—an unlikely EP from the Decemberists' leader—and an equally unlikely contribution to a Led Zeppelin tribute album.

Check it out if you like: Women who revitalize familiar styles, such as Alela Diane, Madeleine Peyroux, and Eilen Jewell.

Image: Vince Kmeron/Flickr

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 23, 2012

Mon Jan. 23, 2012 5:57 AM EST

Soldiers from the 2nd Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment, 504th Battlefield Brigade, lean against a mud wall during a break from combat operations in Kandahar province's southern Spin Boldak district. Photo by the US Army.

Punt Punt Punt Punt Punt

| Sun Jan. 22, 2012 11:20 PM EST

As I was watching the NFL playoffs tonight, it occurred to me to wonder where the word "punt" comes from. Several places, it turns out:

  • The Irish punt, their currency prior to the euro, is derived from the English pound.
  • The kind of punt that you pole down the Thames gets its name from the Latin ponto, or pontoon.
  • The verb punt, meaning to gamble, derives from the Spanish punto, or point.
  • The football version of punt derives from.....something. No one knows what, but apparently it originated with rugby. Several sources suggest it's an alteration of the Midlands dialect bunt, "to push, butt with the head," which is itself of obscure origin.

So the internet has failed me. In fact, it even forced me to refer to my dead tree dictionary, which also has no idea where the football form of the word originated. Isn't that great? We know where all the ancient versions came from, but the only modern usage has its origins lost in the mists of time.

Still, it's a great sounding word, isn't it? Personally, I think it derives from the fact that when you kick a football (or a rugby ball, I suppose), the sound it makes is a lot like punt. Go ahead. Say it five times fast. It's kind of soothing.