The amount of money flowing into these races is staggering: State judicial candidates raised $83 million in the 1990s. Yet during the two years 2012 election cycle, they raised more than $110 million—and that doesn't include outside spending. Altogether, more than $250 million has been spent on judicial races since 2000.
Judges themselves often hate the process of fundraising and mudslinging, but view it as a necessary evil. Sue Bell Cobb, a career judge and the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, just wrote about her experience for Politico. Her story is worth a full read, but here's a taste:
While I was proud of the work I did for the next 4 1/2 years, I never quite got over the feeling of being trapped inside a system whose very structure left me feeling disgusted. I assure you: I've never made a decision in a case in which I sided with a party because of a campaign donation. But those of us seeking judicial office sometimes find ourselves doing things that feel awfully unsavory.
When a judge asks a lawyer who appears in his or her court for a campaign check, it's about as close as you can get to legalized extortion. Lawyers who appear in your court, whose cases are in your hands, are the ones most interested in giving. It's human nature: Who would want to risk offending the judge presiding over your case by refusing to donate to her campaign? They almost never say no—even when they can't afford it.
The drug war is viewed by many as a 40-year-old waste of resources. But in this beautifully written book, British journo Johann Hari shows that its roots extend as far back as the early 1900s, when young Harry Anslinger heard the shrieks of a neighbor in withdrawal; he grew up to lead the Bureau of Narcotics, the DEA's precursor, pioneering ruthless drug policies that endured for decades. Knowing his work would be scrutinized due to a past plagiarism scandal, Hari spent three years meticulously researching and footnoting the book, which puts a vivid human face on our behemoth and often abstract anti-drug efforts.
Given that Tax Day is right around the corner, the Internal Revenue Service's "Where's My Refund?" page predictably lands at the top of the list of sites with the most current visitors. Next is the National Weather Service's forecast by region page.
But one entry on the top 10 list doesn't fit in with Americans' interest in taxes and weather: A petition calling for the removal of Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro García Padilla that's posted on the White House's We the People site. Its appearance on the list is a testament both to its popularity and just how few people hang out on federal websites.
Whether the Obama Administration could actually remove García Padilla is a complicated question. As a commonwealth, the island and its 4 million residents (most of whom are US citizens) has its own constitution, which includes a provision for impeachment. But the federal government could also theoretically remove the governor under a provision in the US Constitution that says that Congress has the power to "dispose of" laws in US territories.
It's not clear what percentage of the visitors to the anti-García Padilla petition page live in Puerto Rico.
On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that the Pentagon can't say what happened to more than $500 million worth of gear—including "small arms, ammunition, night-vision goggles, patrol boats, vehicles and other supplies"—it had given to the Yemeni government. The news comes as Al Qaeda and Iranian-backed groups vie to control the country following the collapse of the country's US-backed regime in January. The Post noted that the Pentagon has stopped further shipments of aid, but the damage has been done. "We have to assume it's completely compromised and gone," an anonymous legislative aide said.
This isn't the first time US military aid to allies has gone AWOL or wound up in the wrong hands. A few notable examples:
Libya: In late 2012, the New York Times reported that weapons from a US-approved deal had eventually gone to Islamic militants in Libya. The deal, which involved European weapons sent to Qatar as well as US weapons originally supplied to the United Arab Emirates, had been managed from the sidelines by the Obama administration.
Syria: More than once, American arms intended to help bolster the fight against ISIS in Syria and northern Iraq have ended up in the group's control. Last October, an airdrop of small arms was blown off target by the wind, according to the Guardian. ISIS quickly posted a video of its fighters going through crates of weapons attached to a parachute.
Iraq: American weapons supplied to the Iraqi army have also found their way ISIS via theft and capture. And weapons meant for the Iraqi army have also gone to Shiite militias backed by Iran. This isn't a new problem: As much as 30 percent of the weapons the United States distributed to Iraqi forces between 2004 and early 2007 could not be accounted for.
An F-35 Lightning II at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida
Originally slated to cost $233 billion, the Pentagon's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program could end up being costing more than $1.5 trillion. Which might not be so bad if the super-sophisticated next-generation jet fighter lives up to its hype. A recent report from the Defense Department's Director of Operational Test and Evaluation paints a pretty damning picture of the plane's already well documented problems. The report makes for some pretty dense reading, but the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group that's long criticized the F-35 program, has boiled down the major issues.
Here are a few:
Teaching to the test: The blizzard of testing required on the plane's equipment and parts isn't exactly going well, so the program's administrators are moving the goal posts. Test scores are improving because the stats are being "massaged" with tricks like not recounting repeated failures. Some required testing is being consolidated, eliminated, or postponed. "As a result," POGO writes, "the squadron will be flying with an uncertified avionics system."
Unsafe at any airspeed? The high-tech stuff that was supposed to make the F-35 among the most advanced war machines ever built pose serious safety risks. For example: The fuel tank system "is at significant risk of catastrophic fire and explosion in combat," according to POGO. The plane isn't adequately protected against lightning strikes (in the air or on the ground); it's currently prohibited from flying within 25 miles of thunderstorms. That's a major problem for a plane training program based in the Florida panhandle.
Flying blind: The F-35's fancy helmet-mounted display system, which is supposed to show pilots an almost 360-degree view that includes panel controls and threat information, has "high false alarm rates and false target tracks." Its unreliability, combined with the plane's design, make it impossible for pilots to see anything behind or below the cockpit.
Wing drop: The DOD report points out an ongoing problem with "wing drop": When maneuvering at high speeds, the F-35 may drop and roll to one side. This issue has been known to designers for years, and they've tried designing add-on parts to address the problem. The fixes, unfortunately, will "further decreas[e] maneuverability, acceleration, and range," according to POGO.
Engine trouble: For years the F-35s engines have suffered design and performance problems, and these problems have never been fully solved. Last summer these problems resulted in one engine ripping itself apart and destroying one of the planes. At the time, officials said this was a one-time occurrence, but a permanent fix has yet to be determined and the plane may not be airworthy, according to Department of Defense regulations.
Software bugs: The plane's software includes more than 30 million lines of code. Problems with the code are causing navigation system inaccuracies, false alarms from sensors, and false target tracks. The operating system is so cumbersome that it requires the "design and development of a whole new set of…computers."The software glitches also affect the plane's ability to "find targets, detect and survive enemy defenses, deliver weapons accurately, and avoid fratricide."
More cost overruns: Due to all the testing delays, design problems, and maintenance issues, taxpayers could be on the hook for an additional $67 billion to deploy the F-35. That's a lot of money. Even for the US military.