2009 - %3, June

Is SCOTUS Gearing Up To Allow Unlimited Corporate Campaign Donations?

| Mon Jun. 29, 2009 3:46 PM EDT

Over at Slate, Richard Hasen claims that the Supreme Court's call for reargument of Citizens United v. FEC is a prelude to the Roberts Court overturning Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the decision that allowed limits on corporate spending in elections.

Some people believe that the influence of money in politics is, in Larry Lessig's words, "not the most important problem, [but] the first problem,"—the problem we have to deal with before we can properly fix any of our other problems, just as an alcoholic needs to fix her alcoholism before she can fix her other, bigger problems. It almost goes without saying that turning a firehose of corporate money towards politicians' campaign coffers would be akin to offering an alcoholic unlimited free drinks.

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Obama Allots $346 Million for Efficiency, Research

| Mon Jun. 29, 2009 3:18 PM EDT

President Obama joined Secretary of Energy Steven Chu Monday in announcing new regulations designed to cut carbon emissions and energy use with efficient technology, along with $346 million from the stimulus bill for efficiency research.

The regulations specifically target lighting, which the Department of Energy says consumes seven percent of all energy we use. While compact-fluorescent bulbs and incandescent lighting aren't the most inherently exciting subjects, the DOE says the new regs will curb 594 million tons of CO2 and eliminate the need for 14 coal-fired power plants—over the next 30 years.

While 594 million tons is a huge chunk of carbon, over the next thirty years it will equate to less than one half of one percent of our total carbon footprint. Americans regularly emit around 15.6 trillion pounds—about 78 billion tons—of carbon every year. In other words, the energy department's plan is a step in the right direction, but it's a minuscule one.

Money Buys Results In Washington, Example 3,446,089

| Mon Jun. 29, 2009 3:17 PM EDT

The Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade energy bill passed the House of Representatives 219-212 on Friday. OpenSecrets notes that the legislators who voted against the bill received, on average, twice as much money from the energy sector than those who voted for it. Just another day on the Hill.

Iran: Election Results Confirmed, Any Protests?

| Mon Jun. 29, 2009 2:30 PM EDT

Kevin is still gone. He'll return tomorrow. Until then, you have me.

Today, Iran's Guardian Council, after a partial recount (that was fast!), declared that--stop the presses!--Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the presidential election. Some Iranians not happy with this decision wanted to express their outrage. But, it seems, there were no organized protests. A contact in Tehran, who opposes the government, emailed me this note:

We went to Valiasr Street, but at this part it was just plain-clothes [security officers] and police. People couldn't stop and we came back home. Valiasr Street is about 12 miles, longest street of Tehran and Iran. People say in north of Valiasr Street, people gathered but police tried to disperse crowed using tear gas. Today many people in the street were showing V with their fingers to each other. I think hope for change spreads among the people.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm at the Personal Democracy Forum conference today. And as I got the above email, I was speaking to John Kelly, chief scientist of Morningside Analytics. He has studied Internet usage in Iran. Kelly was telling me that he's worried that social netowrking could interfere with successful organizing in Iran. How so? After all, such a remark sounded like blasphemy at this gathering, where speakers and attendees routinely speak of the transformative political power of the Internet.

Kelly explained that his concern was not related to a prospect that had been discussed at a panel discussion on social networks and Iran: that a repressive government can easily penetrate and/or block social networks to undermine or disrupt an opposition. Instead, Kelly said, he wondered if social networking--blogging, Twittering, forwarding email--gives people the feeling they are participating in an opposition and leads them to believe they don't have to hit the streets.

Of course, Twitter and the rest can facilliate opposition by spreading the word about protest actions. But does social networking also undercut old-fashioned in-the-street networking? (It seems clear that autocratic governments tend not to yield power without being confronted physically and, often, violently.) I don't know if Kelly is right or not. But it was interesting to hear him note that the sword of Twitter might have two edges.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

Time Of The Preacher: Obama's New Spiritual Guide

| Mon Jun. 29, 2009 1:49 PM EDT

UPDATE: The White House shot down the Time magazine report noted below that President Barack Obama and Michelle have picked the chapel at Camp David as the church for their family. Press secretary Robert Gibbs said, "There have been no formal decisions about joining a church."

Washington has been buzzing for months about where the Obama family will finally lay down some local church roots. Various congregations have been quietly lobbying, but it looks like the president is going to follow in his predecessor's footsteps and make Camp David's Evergreen Church his spiritual home, Time reports today. No doubt DC's black churches are crushed, but Evergreen apparently offered the Obamas a modicum of privacy that the city churches did not. But Evergreen also has another major draw: It's current chaplain is none other than Lt. Carey Cash, the great-nephew of the late, great music star Johnny Cash.

As Time's Amy Sullivan notes, Obama couldn't get much farther from his former controversial minister Jeremiah Wright than he could with Cash. The younger Cash, 38, did a tour of Iraq with a Marine battalion and, like his famous uncle, is a southern Baptist. (Evergreen, though, is a nondenominational church that caters to Camp David's military personnel.) The Navy rotates chaplains through the church every three years, so Cash's arrival in January was just a coincidence. But if he has any of his uncle's charisma, the Obamas are no doubt in for a treat. Johnny Cash was a gospel singer at heart and was considered something of a preacher himself, after all. He was even close to religious icon Billy Graham, who once made a cameo appearance in one Cash's songs. "The Preacher Said "Jesus Said'" anyone?

F-22 Headed for Veto Smackdown?

| Mon Jun. 29, 2009 1:16 PM EDT | Scheduled to publish Mon Jun. 29, 2009 2:13 PM EDT

The Senate Armed Services Committee has approved more funding for the F-22 fighter jet, setting Congress on a collision course with the White House—which, as I reported last week, has threatened to issue its first veto if the F-22 money remains in the legislation that reaches Obama's desk. Both the committee's chairman (Carl Levin) and its ranking Republican (John McCain) opposed buying more planes, but were overruled in a 13-11 vote. 

The Senate did, to its credit, hold the line on Defense Secretary Robert Gates' proposed cuts to the missile defense program, although at $1.2 billion these were one of the smaller reductions on the table. (Missile defense boosters will likely offer amendments to restore the money.) But the F-22 addition is particularly bad, for two reasons. First, while the House squeezed $369 million into the defense authorization bill just to keep the production line open, Senate Armed Services has expanded the defense budget by $1.75 billion. This is ostensibly enough to fund more seven planes in full, although in reality they cost far more. And second, it's become apparent that the few backers of the Gates budget in Congress don't have a whole lot of leverage. Barney Frank failed to get an amendment removing F-22 funds to the House floor. And if McCain and Levin couldn't convince a couple more colleagues on Armed Services to nix the F-22, their chances of winning over the full Senate (where there are already 44 known fans of the plane) seem pretty bleak. 

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What Real Telecom Regulation Looks Like

| Mon Jun. 29, 2009 1:07 PM EDT

You probably hate your cell phone service provider. Most of us do. They do things like require us to buy their plans if we want a specific phone; massively overcharge us for text messages, which cost almost nothing for them to provide; and make us buy a new charger every time we want a new phone. If you're wondering exactly how badly you're being screwed, you might be interested in this report (PDF) from Consumers Union and five other non-profits that are arguing for stricter regulation of telecom companies. You may also be interested to know that the people who live in the socialist dystopia called the European Union no longer have the cell phone charger problem. In that regulation-devastated hellscape, the telecom commissioner is pushing for per-second billing, regulators are working to lower roaming fees, and telecoms have agreed to make a universal charger that will work with all phones. Meanwhile, here in the good old US of A, most people pay over $500/year for cell phone coverage—"much more than users in most other developed nations," according to Consumers Union.

The text messaging situation is especially ridiculous. The money quote from the nonprofits' report:

[C]onsidering how little data is transferred in an SMS message, at 20 cents per message, consumers pay the equivalent of almost $1,500 per megabyte of data transferred, a rate over seventeen times more expensive than receiving data from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Behold the wonders of the unfettered free market!

Madoff Gets 150 Years

| Mon Jun. 29, 2009 11:55 AM EDT

Good riddance.

John Roberts Is Not Michael Jackson's Lover

| Mon Jun. 29, 2009 11:29 AM EDT

Chief Justice John Roberts did not like Michael Jackson. The New York Times' Caucus blog dug up some old memos Roberts wrote while he was working for the White House Counsel's office during the Reagan administration. In a memo criticizing a proposal to invite Michael and his brothers to the White House, Roberts wrote:

I hate to sound like one of Mr. Jackson’s records, constantly repeating the same refrain, but I recommend that we not approve this letter.... In today’s Post there were already reports that some youngsters were turning away from Mr. Jackson in favor of a newcomer who goes by the name "Prince," and is apparently planning a Washington concert. Will he receive a Presidential letter? How will we decide which performers do and which do not?

There's some evidence that Justice Roberts may have been pulling for a different performer. Consider this, from another memo:

Why, for example, was no letter sent to Mr. Bruce Springsteen, whose patriotic tour recently visited the area?

Why, indeed? The music of the future governor of New Jersey was famously embraced by Reagan during the 1984 presidential election campaign. On a related note, President Obama regularly invites musicians to the White House: Stevie Wonder, for example, has already performed there.

That Afghanistan Election

| Mon Jun. 29, 2009 11:20 AM EDT

Kevin is off until Tuesday. I'm blogging for him until then.

As I noted recently, keep your eye on Afghanistan's ongoing presidential election. From AFP:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday criticised the US ambassador's presence at a meeting calling for a decentralisation of his government, adding he would fight such moves "tooth and nail".

Karzai said ambassador Karl Eikenberry's attendance at a press conference this month, where a leading rival to the president in the August 20 elections had called for the change, was deeply sensitive and "raises concerns".

This was especially because of recent US and British media reports of plans laid in "Washington and in London to bring a change into the structure of governance in Afghanistan to weaken the central government of Afghanistan," Karzai said.

There's been plenty of tension between the Obama administration and Karzai. At his first White House press conference, President Obama noted that Karzai's government was "very detached" from the rest of the country. That was quite a slam.

Since then--especially when Obama unveiled his strategic review concerning Afghanistan and Pakistan--the White House has tried to downplay its dissastisfaction with Karzai. But Karzai is accutely aware of it. And now he's making it part of his reelection strategy. This might help him. His government has been plagued by corruption and incompetence. But there's a lot of popular anger at the United States military for its bombing assaults, which kill innocent civilians, and its raids on homes, which humiliate and intimidate Afghans. If Karzai holds on to power by playing the anti-USA card, it will not make Obama's already difficult job in Afghanistan any easier.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.