Mojo - January 2010

Cindy McCain, Gay Marriage Advocate

| Fri Jan. 22, 2010 2:19 PM EST

When I first saw Cindy McCain's striking Prop 8 ad, I assumed it was in favor of the legislation banning gay marriage in California. This is a woman who exudes upper-crust traditionalism. Of course she would be against gay marriage.

So I was shocked when I found out the ad is for gay marriage

I'm not the only one who's surprised. The website for NOH8, the group the ad is for, notes:

In the year since we've started the…campaign, we've often been surprised at some of the different individuals who have approached us showing their support. Few, though, have surprised us more than Cindy McCain.

The decision has partly been chalked up to the influence of Cindy's daughter Meghan, a vocal gay marriage proponent who's stirred up her own controversy this week by agreeing to speak at George Washington University's upcoming "Gay Marriage Equality Week." (This actually isn't the first time Meghan has recruited her mom in the gay rights cause).

In fact, Meghan's influence may be the most telling part of the whole thing. As Stephanie Mencimer reports in the current issue of Mother Jones, the GOP is increasingly coming up against its young contingent of gay marriage supporters. Cindy may well be the product of a larger generational and cultural shift, whether Republicans want to admit it or not.

As the NOH8 website puts it: 

Cindy McCain wanted to participate in the campaign to show people that party doesn’t matter—marriage equality isn’t a Republican issue any more than it is a Democratic issue. It’s about human rights, and everybody being treated equally in the eyes of the law that runs and protects this country.

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SCOTUS: Foreign Corporations Have Rights, Too!

| Fri Jan. 22, 2010 12:51 PM EST

Politico's Josh Gerstein has a great story today pointing out that, in the wake of yesterday's Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections, there's really nothing to stop foreign companies from supporting or opposing US candidates. It would be as easy as setting up a US subsidiary and having the subsidiary spend the money. Some of Gerstein's sources argue that foreign corporations would be reluctant to interfere in US politics because it could bring bad press. But that doesn't seem like much of a deterrent to the worst corporations. Do foreign corporations like Gazprom that are largely state-owned really care what the US press writes about them? Law professor Mark Kleiman has more

One aspect of the ruling that hasn’t gathered much attention: as far as I can tell, the analysis doesn’t distinguish between domestic and foreign corporations.  Not that it would matter much, since a foreign corporation can always establish a domestic subsidiary, or buy an American company:   Cities Service, for example, is a unit of PDVSA, the Venezuelan state oil company.  So the ruling allows Hugo Chavez to spend as much money as he wants to helping and harming American politicians.   If the Russian, Saudi, and Chinese governments don’t currently have appropriate vehicles for doing so, you can count on it:  they soon will.

Nor is this a problem that can be handled by "disclosure."  The ad on TV praising the opponent of the congressman who did something to annoy Hugo Chavez won’t say "Paid for by Hugo Chavez."  It will say "Paid for by Citizens for Truth, Justice, and the American Way," which in turn will have gotten a contribution from "Americans for Niceness," which in turn will have gotten a contribution from a lobbyist for a subsidiary of Cities Service that no one has ever heard of.

This week just keeps getting better.

What If You Were Indefinitely Detained?

| Fri Jan. 22, 2010 12:50 PM EST

Flickr/localsurfer (Creative Commons).Flickr/localsurfer (Creative Commons).The Obama administration has officially decided that it will continue to detain around 50 terrorist suspects without trial. And if the administration is taking this position with respect to people who have already been held for as long as eight years, "they will almost certainly take the same position with respect to people picked up in the future," says Jameel Jaffer, the director of the ACLU's National Security Project.

Pretty much everyone agrees with the idea that real terrorists should be in jail. The problem is that the government sometimes makes mistakes about who is a terrorist, or who committed terrorist acts. It's made them before, and it will make them again. The Obama administration is just as capable as the Bush administration was of mistakenly imprisoning an Afghani goatherder or two dope-smoking tourists.

Thanks to the Supreme Court, these folks can now challenge their detention by filing a habeas corpus petition in federal court. But as Glenn Greenwald explains, "mere habeas corpus review does not come close to a real trial, which the Bill of Rights guarantees to all "persons" (not only 'Americans') before the State can keep them locked in a cage." Shouldn't the government have to have evidence before it can imprison someone forever? So the problem the Obama administration now faces is, as Jaffer says, "wanting to close Guantanamo without ending the policies"—namely indefinite detention without trial—"that Gitmo represents." That's a "purely cosmetic change," Jaffer says. And as Spencer Ackerman demonstrates in his excellent one-act play, "Indefinite Detention Of The Soul," there's simply no reason for Democratic senators to support moving Gitmo if the change is purely cosmetic.

Grayson: Court's Campaign Finance Decision "Worst Since Dred Scott"

| Fri Jan. 22, 2010 7:00 AM EST

Alan Grayson, the first-term Democratic congressman from central Florida, really didn't like Thursday's Supreme Court decision legalizing unlimited corporate spending in election campaigns. "It's the worst Supreme Court decision since the Dred Scott case," he told me last night. In Dred Scott, Grayson explained, the Supreme Court decided that neither slaves nor the children of slaves could ever be US citizens. In Citizens United v. FEC, decided Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled "that only huge corporations have any constitutional rights," Grayson said. "They have the right to bribe, the right to buy elections, the right to reward their elected toadies, and the right to punish the elected representatives who take a stab at doing what's right."

I wrote a profile of Grayson for the most recent issue of Mother Jones. You can read the whole thing here.

Like independent campaign finance reform groups, Grayson saw this decision coming. Last week, he filed five bills that he hopes will help counteract the effects of the Court's decision. On Wednesday night, he launched a website, savedemocracy.net, to rally support for these measures. On Thursday morning, he delivered over 10,000 signatures from a web-based petition to the Supreme Court. After the court issued its decision, he introduced a sixth campaign finance reform bill.

The Court's decision creates serious problems for the Fair Elections Now Act (FENA), a bill that Grayson co-sponsored that would institute publicly financed elections. "The funding from FENA is a drop in the bucket compared to what the oil companies might spend to defeat representatives who don't want to drill everywhere," Grayson warned. "It's a drop in the bucket compared to what Wall Street's prepared to spend to reward those who vote for bailouts and punish those who won't." The Supreme Court has "created a whole new problem.... that really isn't addressed by that bill," Grayson said, while emphasizing that he still supported FENA because it is "a step in the right direction, but not sufficient."

Via Grayson's website, here are the six bills "and what they aim to accomplish,":

  1. The Business Should Mind Its Own Business Act (H.R. 4431): Implements a 500% excise tax on corporate contributions to political committees, and on corporate expenditures on political advocacy campaigns.
  2. The Public Company Responsibility Act (H.R. 4435): Prevents companies making political contributions and expenditures from trading their stock on national exchanges.
  3. The End Political Kickbacks Act (H.R. 4434): Prevents for-profit corporations that receive money from the government from making political contributions, and limits the amount that employees of those companies can contribute.
  4. The Corporate Propaganda Sunshine Act (H.R. 4432): Requires publicly-traded companies to disclose in SEC filings money used for the purpose of influencing public opinion, rather than to promoting their products and services.
  5. The Ending Corporate Collusion Act (H.R. 4433): Applies antitrust law to industry PACs.
  6. The End the Hijacking of Shareholder Funds Act (H.R. 4487): This bill requires the approval of a majority of a public company’s shareholders for any expenditure by that company to influence public opinion on matters not related to the company’s products or services.

The fifth measure has already gained the support of Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the chair of the House Judiciary committee, Grayson said. Grayson hopes the committee might hold a hearing on that bill sometime in the next 30 days. Grayson circulated his proposals among his colleagues on Thursday.  He has a decent record with winning support for populist ideas— last year he signed up over 100 cosponsors for Texas Republican Ron Paul's bill to audit the Federal Reserve.

Still, what Grayson could really use is the support of President Barack Obama, who has slammed the Supreme Court decision and promised a "forceful" legislative response. Grayson's bills would certainly qualify. The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder has reported that the White House and other Hill Democrats are seriously considering three options for responding to the decision, including one that bears a resemblance to Grayson's sixth bill—requiring shareholders to approve of independent political expenditures. When we spoke, Grayson also voiced support to another idea Ambinder says is under consideration—a "Stand by Your Ad" requirement. As Ambinder describes it, "The head of an insurance company would be forced to say, 'I'm Honus Wagner, the CEO of Acme, and I stand by this ad.'" Grayson emphasized that such a move would be consistent with the Supreme Court's decision today, which explicitly allowed Congress to pass tough disclosure requirements.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 22, 2010

Fri Jan. 22, 2010 6:33 AM EST

Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division stack supplies Jan. 16, 2010, that will be delivered to the forward operating bases in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. No room was spared, as the aircraft were packed with troops and supplies. (US Army photo by Fred W. Baker III, American Forces Press Service.)

Need To Read: January 22, 2010

| Fri Jan. 22, 2010 6:30 AM EST

The must read stories from around the web and in today's papers:

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A "Patriot" Hero Goes Down

| Fri Jan. 22, 2010 6:30 AM EST

The arrest of an ex-Marine last week on child-rape and federal weapons charges has sparked a low-grade civil war within the "patriot" movement, with militia members rallying behind the accused while more mainstream groups struggle to distance themselves.

On Thursday, Charles Dyer, 29, was formally charged with child sexual abuse for alleged acts against a 7-year-old girl at his home in Marlow, Oklahoma. Searching Dyer's home, Stephens County Sheriff's deputies found a Colt M-203 grenade launcher, since identified as one that had been stolen from a California military base in 2006. Dyer now stands charged with illegal possession of a destructive device.

Dyer was already a notorious figure. As an active-duty sergeant in the Marine Corps, he posted incendiary videos on YouTube under the handle July4Patriot. Clad in a skull mask, he warned of grave threats to the republic and called for armed resistance against the American government. In one clip, referring to an April 2009 Department of Homeland Security report (pdf) on domestic extremism, Dyer exclaimed, "With DHS blatantly calling patriots, veterans, and constitutionalists a threat, all that I have to say is you’'re damn right we're a threat. We're a threat to anyone that endangers our rights and the Constitution of this republic." He invited viewers to join him at his makeshift training area—"I'm sure the DHS will call it a terrorist training camp."

The First Rule of Fighting Climate Change: Don't Talk About Climate Change

| Fri Jan. 22, 2010 6:00 AM EST

Republican pollster Frank Luntz—the brains behind Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America" and the man who coined politically potent phrases like the "death tax"—wants to help environmentalists in their push for legislation to combat climate change. His advice? Stop talking about climate change.

The environmental community is "fighting the wrong battle," Luntz announced on Thursday at an event to mark the release of a new report by his polling firm, The Word Doctors, outlining strategies to help marshal public support for a climate bill. "The least important component of climate change is climate change."

Luntz's report, "The Language of a Clean Energy Economy," finds that the majority of the public across the political spectrum is convinced that global warming is happening and caused at least in part by humans. But, Luntz says, talking about the problem won't win support for the legislation that would solve it. Among both Democrats and Republicans polled by his firm, addressing climate change was the least important reason to support a cap-and-trade policy.

So what should environmentalists say instead? Luntz suggests less talk of dying polar bears and more emphasis on how legislation will create jobs, make the planet healthier and decrease US dependence on foreign oil. Advocates should emphasize words like "cleaner," "healthier," and "safer";  scrap "green jobs" in favor of "American jobs," and ditch terms like "sustainability" and "carbon neutral" altogether. "It doesn't matter if there is or isn't climate change," he said. "It's still in America's best interest to develop new sources of energy that are clean, reliable, efficient and safe."

Luntz isn't the first public opinion expert to suggest this course of action—but until recently he was better known among environmentalists for furnishing the GOP with sophisticated strategies to kill any prospect of climate action during the Bush years. In 2002 Luntz authored an influential memo advising Republicans to green their public image while sowing public confusion about global warming. Republicans should "continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate" because otherwise, he warned, "[s]hould the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly." Two Bush initiatives that were vintage Luntz: the timber-industry-friendly "Healthy Forests Initiative" and the "Clear Skies Act" that loosened restrictions on polluters.

A 60th Vote... in Texas?

| Thu Jan. 21, 2010 5:51 PM EST

With Scott Brown's Tuesday victory, the Democrats' 60-vote supermajority is over, and with it, likely any chance of meaningful health care reform. Possibly. But there's still one way Democrats could get back up to the magic number before November. It involves winning a statewide race in Texas: Democrats haven't done that in 16 years, so you probably shouldn't wager too many precious Liberty Dollars on it, but as Tuesday's results show, anything can happen in a special election.

Here's how it works: Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is currently locked in a bitter (think Conan v. Leno) Republican gubernatorial primary against incumbent Gov. Rick Perry. Whether she wins or loses on March 2, Hutchison has said she'll resign her Senate seat, although she's been vague about when that would actually happen. Here's Texas Monthly's Paul Burka on what might happen next:

Murkowski's EPA Block Gains More Dem Support

| Thu Jan. 21, 2010 4:38 PM EST

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) announed on the Senate floor on Thurday that she will seek to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases using an obscure parliamentary maneuver called a resolution of disapproval. Last month, the EPA finalized its finding that greenhouse gases threaten public health and welfare, triggering regulation of these emissions under the Clean Air Act. Murkowski's resolution would block the EPA from writing any such rules. Her effort has 35 GOP cosponsors and three Democratic cosponsors: Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. Democrat Jim Webb of Virginia has also expressed support.

In her speech, Murkowski protested what she called "back door climate regulations with no input from Congress." The endangerment finding, she said, "is not merely a finding, it's a floodgate" that would "wash over and further submerge our economy." Lincoln issued a statement Thursday morning expressing concerns about the economic fallout of of EPA regulations, and instead proposed that the US reduce emissions by "bipartisan clean energy legislation produced by the Senate Energy Committee," combined with energy tax incentives.

A resolution of disapproval needs only 51 votes to pass, and the Democratic support moves Murkowski closer to that number. Sill, advocates of climate legislation aren't too concerned that her bill would actually become law—the House and the President would both likely reject it. But environmentalists are worried that if a bloc of Democrats votes to prevent EPA action on carbon emissions, this could damage the political prospects for a climate bill in the Senate later in the year.

Murkowski might not have the support of all Republicans in her effort, however. Maine Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are notably not among the cosponsors. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is a cosponsor, but has also very publically supported passing legislation this year, and is working with John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on a bill.