Mojo - June 2009

Is SCOTUS Gearing Up To Allow Unlimited Corporate Campaign Donations?

| Mon Jun. 29, 2009 12:46 PM PDT

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

| Mon Jun. 29, 2009 12:17 PM PDT

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.

Time Of The Preacher: Obama's New Spiritual Guide

| Mon Jun. 29, 2009 10:49 AM PDT

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 10:16 AM PDT | Scheduled to publish Mon Jun. 29, 2009 11:13 AM PDT

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. 

What Real Telecom Regulation Looks Like

| Mon Jun. 29, 2009 10:07 AM PDT

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 8:55 AM PDT

Good riddance.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 29, 2009

Mon Jun. 29, 2009 7:45 AM PDT

U.S. Army Spc. Stephen Highberger, left, and Pvt. Charles Joiner from Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, U.S. Army Europe, sit in a patrol base on an overnight mission near Forward Operation Base Lane, Zabul Province, Afghanistan, March 13, 2009. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Adam Mancini/Released)

SCOTUS Rules for White Firefighters

| Mon Jun. 29, 2009 7:23 AM PDT

In a 5-4 decision that split along ideological lines, with Justice Anthony Kennedy siding with Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in the majority, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that a group of white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., were unfairly denied promotions based on their race. The ruling overturns Sonia Sotomayor's appellate court decision.

The firefighters who brought the suit, Ricci v. DeStefano, claimed reverse-discrimination when the city threw out results of a promotion exam because no black and only two Hispanic firefighters would have been promoted. 

The city scrapped the test because it feared promoting a disproportionate number of white firefighters would leave them in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits workplace discrimination. Blacks and Hispanics account for nearly 60 percent of New Haven's population.

New Haven officials claimed they feared a lawsuit from the minority firefighters on those grounds if they let the test results stand, but the court ruled that "fear of litigation cannot justify an employer's reliance on race to the detriment of individuals who passed the examinations and qualified for promotions." However, the court held the city cannot be sued for throwing out the test results.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, reading her dissent form the bench, said the white firefighters had "had no vested right to promotion...The Court today holds that New Haven has not demonstrated 'a strong basis in evidence' for its plea. In so holding, the Court pretends that '[t]he City rejected the test results solely because the higher scoring candidates were white.'"

Read the entire ruling here (PDF).

Climate Bill Passes the House

| Fri Jun. 26, 2009 5:07 PM PDT

The Waxman-Markey climate bill narrowly passed the House today. The vote was  219 to 212.

As we've noted, the bill's cap and trade approach is promising in many respects but might create a dangerous market in carbon derivatives (or not). Even before it was watered down and porked-up with gifts to biofuels industry, it never achieved the kind of emissions cuts that scientists and European governments say are needed to avert catastrophic climate change. Recent polls had shown that most people believe in the need to regulate emissions, yet the Obama administration framed the issue as a jobs bill, apparently believing the environmental message wouldn't stand up to attack. Environmental groups were deeply divided over the bill, and Greenpeace ultimately opposed it.

It now heads to the Senate, where it is likely to find more support from moderate Republicans than in the polarized House. Even so, I've been told by some environmental campaigners that the Senate isn't any more likely to strengthen the bill.

Elsewhere at the Washington Post...

| Fri Jun. 26, 2009 11:31 AM PDT

Reading Nick's quote of the day below, I was struck by the, um, incredibly jarring contrast in tone between Dan Froomkin's sober final column about the harrowing legacy of Bush and Cheney's tenure in office, and a competition the Post launched yesterday challenging readers to write the first paragraph for Cheney's forthcoming book. When I saw the contest I was thinking of a parody in the vein of, say, The Trial, or 1984, but the Post appears to be aiming more for a PG Wodehouse kind of thing, perhaps—it's hard to tell. Here's their sample opener:

"Undisclosed Location, Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2009: Well, the baton is passed. Our work is finally done. Eight years, one devastating terrorist attack, two wars and one recession later, it's finally time to relax. It's been an amazing ride. George and I can certainly say, 'We did it our way!' Or really, if you want to get technical about it, my way. Well, best of luck to this new crew. They're going to need all the help they can get. Or as I was saying to Lynne the other night, it's going to take an 'extraordinary rendition' to get us out of this mess. And with this bunch coming into office, you can bet it's going to be torture. Ha-ha!"

Torture: so droll. Let's hope the Post's readers can do a little better.