2012 - %3, May

Lobbyists Make It Rain for Romney

| Mon May 21, 2012 9:21 AM EDT
Mitt Romney.

Mitt Romney, the GOP's presumptive presidential nominee, won't give out the names of his bundlers, the super-fundraisers who individually rake in anywhere from tens of thousands to millions of dollars for the campaign from an array of donors. But from election records, you can learn that among Romney's biggest rainmakers is a cadre of lobbyists representing some of the biggest industries in America.

A new analysis by the Public Campaign Action Fund finds that at least 25 lobbyists have bundled $3,088,151 for Romney's campaign. Those lobbyists including Patrick Durkin of Barclay's Financial who's bundled $927,160, Ignacio Sanchez of the powerful law firm DLA Piper ($86,700), and Bruce Gates of tobacco company Altria Client Services ($27,500). (Campaigns are required by law to disclose their lobbyist-bundlers.)

As Public Campaign's Adam Smith notes, two of Romney's bundlers—Wayne Berman of Ogilvy Government Relations and Tom Fiorentino of the Fiorentino Group—have reached the campaign's "Stars" level ($250,000 minimum) and one, Barclay's Durkin, has reached the "Stripes" level (minimum $500,000). That's Romney campaign lingo (PDF) for the two most elite levels for fundraisers, each of which give the fundraiser inside access to the campaign with weekly briefings, invitations to exclusive Romney finance committee retreats, and VIP access at this summer's GOP convention.

Of course, we don't know all of Romney's bundlers because, unlike the Obama campaign, Romney's team won't disclose them. None of Obama's bundlers is registered as a lobbyist, though, as the New York Times reported last year, at least 15 of them engage in lobbying without officially registering.

Here's the full list of the Romney campaign's lobbyist-bundlers we know of and the amount they've raised so far:

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Could Citizens United Be Toast in Just Two Months?

| Mon May 21, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
The 11th Amendment: The key to stymieing super-PACs?

Last December, the Montana Supreme Court defied Citizens United by upholding the state's century-old campaign finance laws. That decision could well be overturned when it comes before the Supreme Court, which stayed the Montana high court's decision in February. But never fear, reformers: The Eleventh Amendment Movement (TEAM), an obscure group based in Hawaii, claims that Citizens United could be effectively overturned within the next two months.

Here's part of TEAM's argument, as laid out in an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court: Because the plaintiff in the Montana case made a "technical error" by naming state Attorney General Steve Bullock in his official capacity, the 11th Amendment bars the Supreme Court from touching the Montana decision. The amendment affirms the principal of sovereign immunity, which prevents federal courts from interfering with lawsuits brought by individuals against state governments.

The group is represented by Carl Mayer, a New York lawyer who's won cases against the likes of Nike and has been working on behalf of journalist Chris Hedges to strike down the indefinite detention provision of the National Defense Authorization Act. Last Wednesday, a federal judge sided with Hedges. (Mayer also unsucessfully sued the New England Patriots and NFL for $185 million on behalf of New York Jets fans, claiming that Patriots coach Bill Belichick rigged games by secretly taping opponents' signals.)

Obama's Plan to Stick It to Poultry Workers

| Mon May 21, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
Poultry workers already have to work perilously fast—and now the USDA wants them to speed it up.

As I reported a while back, the USDA is pushing a new regime for industrial-scale poultry slaughterhouses: The agency wants to fire its own inspectors and let the poultry companies oversee their own kill lines. And that's not all. The proposed new rules would allow the companies dramatically speed up  those company-inspected kill lines.

In my previous post, I focused on the food-safety implications of the new rules. I pointed to this Food & Water Watch report, which analyzed the USDA's own data on pilot programs testing the new rules, obtained under the Open Record Act. FWW found that in plants that had participated in the pilot program for the new rules, company-paid inspectors had done a less-than-stellar job at picking out feces-contaminated birds whizzing past at rates of up to 200 birds per minute, or 3 per second.

But what's even more egregious is the human cost to the people working with their hands on those kill lines. As Mother Jones co-editors Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery put it (citing Webster's) in their piece on the economy-wide trend toward workplace acceleration, speedups are all about "an employer's demand for accelerated output without increased pay." But poultry workers stand to get more than just a wage squeeze from this particular government-proposed speedup. Celeste Monforton of the occupational-health blog The Pump Handle points to this "action alert" released by the National Council of La Raza, a civil rights and advocacy group for US Latinos, urging the USDA not to put the new rules in place. As the NCLR appeal shows, line workers are subject to all manner of repetitive-motion injuries at current rates—a situation that would only be worsened by the USDA's plan.

A massive body of research bears that claim out. Monforton points to no fewer than 10 studies—"here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here"—showing that poultry line workers already suffer from conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome at rates significantly higher than those of the general population. Repetitive-motion ailments like carpal tunnel might sound relatively minor, but they can be crippling—and the big poultry processors scramble to avoid responsibility for them. Anyone who doubts this hasn't read the Charlotte Observer's superb, award-winning 2008 series "The Cruelest Cuts."

The journalist Gabriel Thompson, who spent a year working alongside undocumented Latinos for his book Working in the Shadows, recently described his time as a poultry worker in The Nation:

I was soon tearing through more than 7,000 chicken breasts each night (I worked the graveyard shift), while nearby workers sliced up countless birds with knives and scissors. The massive plant was capable of killing and processing nearly 1.5 million birds a week, and the pace was as relentless as such numbers suggest. We often didn't even have time to wipe bits of chicken flesh from our faces, and I took to popping ibuprofen during breaks to quell the swelling in my hands. (Pilgrim's Pride, the poultry giant that owned the plant, was nice enough to line one wall of the break room with dispensers filled with painkillers; it wasn’t nice enough, however, to provide them free of charge.)

If anything, government regulators should be intervening to improve such harsh conditions. Why is the USDA proposing to make them even harsher? The agency laid out its rationale in its Federal Register notice announcing the new proposal back in January: "This proposed rule is a result of the Agency's 2011 regulatory review efforts conducted under Executive Order 13563 on Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review."

Hole's Drummer's Home Movies

| Mon May 21, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

While on Hole's Live Through This tour in 1995, drummer Patty Schemel bought a Hi8 camera to record the band's offstage escapades. Nearly twenty years later, Schemel found the footage in her closet; worried that it would disintegrate, she took it to a friend, the filmmaker P. David Ebersole, to see how she could protect it. The next thing they knew, says Ebersole, "Patty and I started watching all of the footage together and she hadn't seen it in at least 10 years…the memories began flooding back and we just started talking about what her whole story, her whole journey had been." And with that, a documentary was born.

Hit So Hard traces Schemel's story back to her youth as a gay teen growing up in isolated rural Washington, drumming for local punk bands (Kill Sybil, Doll Squad) and getting up to mischief with her brother, Larry. Eventually, she was recruited by Eric Erlandson and Courtney Love, who'd already gotten buzz for Hole's debut, Pretty on the Inside. Schemel moved to Los Angeles, where she struck up a close friendship with Kurt Cobain, developed a serious heroin habit, and drummed on 1995's Live Through This, the album that famously launched Hole to the status of international sensation just as addiction and overdose were wreaking havoc on its members' personal lives.

Unplugging These 6 Gadgets Will Cut Your Electricity Bill

| Mon May 21, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

We all know we're supposed to unplug our technological gadgets when we're not using them, and back in the days when we only had a few home electronics—a TV here, a stereo there—that wasn't so hard to do. But as our devices proliferate (see chart below), this formerly simple task has become increasingly annoying. Who wants to spend an extra 10 minutes every morning stalking around the house and finding phone chargers and cable boxes to unplug like we're on some kind of weird easter egg hunt? And furthermore, would the energy savings from unplugging really be enough to make it worth the effort? I asked a few experts to weigh in.

Review: Best Coast's "The Only Place"

| Mon May 21, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Best Coast
The Only Place
Mexican Summer

With 2010's Crazy for You, Los Angeles duo Best Coast, consisting of youthful frontwoman Bethany Cosentino and veteran multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno, established itself as a fixture of the burgeoning surf-rock scene with simple garage-pop songs about boys and the beach. The pair cultivated a SoCal-stoner image with songs like "Sun Was High (So Was I)," frequent references to Cosentino's cat, Snacks, and a distorted, hazy vibe; an adjective frequently used to describe the band's guitar sound was "scuzzy."

Two years later, the band is clearly trying to leave those bleary days behind with their new record, The Only Place, produced by industry big name Jon Brion, who's worked with Kanye West and Fiona Apple. Cosentino has talked about wanting to move away from a low-fi sound towards something more grown-up, and the sound here is indeed a major departure—tidied up and slowed down. That's not a problem in and of itself; there's only so far you can take the two-minute-beach-song formula, and it's nice to finally hear Cosentino's voice coming through loud and clear. The problem is that the band seems to be equating "grown-up" with "bland," offering up a set of tunes that sound fine but are largely lacking in the vigor and charm of its earlier work.

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Dance Inspired by Theoretical Physics Not Such a Big Bang

| Sat May 19, 2012 4:50 PM EDT
Armitage Gone! performs Three Theories

They call her the Punk Ballerina. For her 1978 choreographic debut, Karole Armitage, who once danced with the Ballet Theater of Geneva and later with modern dance luminary Merce Cunningham, shocked the classical vocabulary by setting ballet to punk music. Her website says Armitage is still "dedicated to redefining the boundaries and perceptions of contemporary dance." She maintains that "music is her script." 

I was therefore a little mind-boggled by Three Theories, the piece that her company, Armitage Gone!, just performed in San Francisco following shows in Chicago and New York. According to the program notes, the piece "looks at the poetry underlying the pillars of 20th century theoretical physics: Einstein's General Theory of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics and String Theory." It goes on to explain that the choreography is derived from "scientific principles" and creates dance that, I kid you not, "reflect[s] the points of view held by physicists about the fundamental nature of the universe."

While anyone could be forgiven for failing to illuminate the theory of everything with dance, you'd think that at the very least Armitage would push some of those pesky boundaries—or even elevate the music beyond just an arbitrary metronome for the steps.

Corn on "Hardball": The Right-Wing Resurrects Jeremiah Wright

Fri May 18, 2012 6:07 PM EDT

David Corn joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss this week's right-wing attacks on President Obama and how Mitt Romney is handling the controversy.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

2007: The Good Old Days

| Fri May 18, 2012 4:19 PM EDT

While doing some research today, I came across this 2007 blog post from US News & World Reports discussing a Mitt Romney television appearance before he formally announced his intent to run for office:

Romney gave some vague answers regarding his views on dealing with climate change, other than to emphasize that he wanted market-oriented solutions. But Romney, a guy who is trying to portray himself as a follower of Reaganomics, never really contested the underlying science. And probably no major 2008 candidate will either, for fear of being labeled a scientifically illiterate know-nothing.

Oh, 2007. You were so quaint!

Gas Company Goes After Fire-Breathing-Hose Blogger

| Fri May 18, 2012 4:09 PM EDT

Natural gas company Range Resources Corp. is suing a Texas landowner and environmental consultant for $3 million in damages, and may be coming after a blogger as well for damaging its reputation.

In 2010, Texas landowner Steven Lipsky made a video (see below) that showed a garden hose shooting out fire, which he blamed on nearby natural gas extraction. He sent the video to Texas blogger Sharon Wilson, who posted it online, and he hired environmental consultant Alisa Rich to come test the water and send the results to the EPA.

Bloomberg reports that Range is accusing Lipsky and Rich of a "conspiracy to harm its reputation" in the suit, and demanding information from Wilson to prove it:

Range won one round in its fight this week, when a judge ruled that Wilson had to turn over e-mails she exchanged with the EPA and Lipsky, as she is a "central and recurring character in the conspiracy lawsuit."
“This has everything to do with Range trying to shut me up, and further intimidate opponents,” Wilson said in an interview. Wilson, who said she didn’t even receive the video of Lipsky’s flaming hose until after the EPA acted, said she fears she may be added to the suit against Lipsky and Rich.

Lipsky says he sought Rich's help, along with the EPA's, after state regulators didn't respond to his concerns. EPA staff then came out and did its own tests, finding alarming levels of methan that they believe posed an "imminent and substantial risk of explosion or fire." The agency ordered Range to take immediate action to correct the situation. But then state regulators in Texas decided that the Range wasn't responsible. So Lipsky sued Range, and the company countersued the pair for defamation, accusing Lipsky and Rich of conspiring to get the EPA involved.

It's a fairly complicated back story, but it raises some concerns. For one, should a company be able to sue individuals for raising concerns to the EPA? And second, should the company be able to obtain correspondence between those individuals and an outside blogger? To make things more complicated, Wilson now works for the Earthworks Oil & Gas Accountability Project, which the judge used to argue that she should not be afforded any protections as a journalist and thus needs to hand over the emails.

It's certainly a case worth watching. Here's the video that got the whole thing started: