Mojo - June 2010

"41-to-Angle": Reid's Outsider Opponent

| Fri Jun. 11, 2010 2:13 PM EDT

41 to Angle.

That's how Nevadan legislators often referred to votes in the state's 42-member assembly during the years Sharron Angle was an assemblywoman. Angle, who on Tuesday won the state's Republican senatorial primary and is now challenging Democratic Senator Harry Reid, served in the assembly from 1999 to 2005 and became known for often casting the sole nay vote. She voted 'no' so frequently that lawmakers would routinely describe vote tallies as "41-to-Angle," according to state Senator Michael Schneider, a Democrat who served in the legislature during that period. "That's what we always called it," he says.

Schneider recalls one notable example of Angle's nay-saying. Several years ago, real estate values were skyrocketing in Nevada, and this was driving up property taxes. Angle, expressing populist anger, called for a cap on property taxes. Legislators from both parties agreed that something had to be done. They proposed a measure to cap property taxes. But Angle wanted a ballot proposition that would create a constitutional amendment capping these taxes. She opposed the legislative remedy. The final vote? Forty-one to Angle. "We were giving her what she wanted," Schneider says. But not quite. Angle yearned for a permanent limit on property taxes. Her fellow legislators—spooked by the infamous Proposition 13 of California—wanted to preserve an element of flexibility. She said no.

Schneider describes Angle as personable, saying "she'd make a good neighbor." But he considers her a hypocrite. She voted against all taxes, he notes, but always voted for the state budget, even when it included spending increases. She did, he recall, advocate for more funding for Christian charter schools. "She wants to eliminate the Department of Education at the state and federal level," Schneider remarks. "She wants all regulations to go away. She wants a total free market. Everything should be competitive—except Christian schools."

Angle's conservative positions—such as calling for abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, for yanking the United States out of the United Nations, and for privatizing Social Security—have received much attention in recent days. She's drawn scrutiny for suggesting she doesn't fancy the legalization of alcohol, for supporting a Scientology-related drug rehab prison program (which included providing saunas and massages to convicts), and for expressing support for the Oath Keepers, a conservative militia-like outfit. There's no doubt that Nevada Democrats who worked with Angle will do what they can to provide Reid ammo to use against her. But that's not such a hard task. Angle has not been shy about expressing and voting her opinions. She's been an outsider eagerly voicing her heartfelt but extreme stances for years. Expect Reid to use almost all of his millions in campaign cash to ensure every Nevada voter knows that by Election Day.

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Why ACLU's Head Honcho is "Disgusted" With Obama

| Fri Jun. 11, 2010 1:16 PM EDT

Anthony Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, is "disgusted" with President Obama," he told a conference of progressive activists on Wednesday. Politico's Josh Gerstein has a short piece on the quote, but it shouldn't come as a surprise. The ACLU has been the central bulwark against the relentless weakening of civil liberties protections since 9/11. Civil liberties activists fervently hoped that Obama, a former constitutional law professor, would be different. I talk to people in this community often, and there is definitely a sense of despair now. Think about some of the things Obama has done (or not done) that affect civil liberties:

  1. He hasn't closed Guantanamo.
  2. More important, he hasn't ended the indefinite detention without trial that makes Guantanamo so controversial.
  3. He's still using military commissions instead of the federal court system, and has backed away from plans to try the 9/11 suspects in New York.
  4. He seems to believe he can order the "targeted killing" of American citizens, without trial or other due process.
  5. His Justice Department has mounted a wide-ranging investigation of the Guantanamo defense bar. That investigation is reportedly led by Patrick Fitzgerald, the US attorney that some civil liberties activists wanted to investigate the Bush administration's torture and detention policies.
  6. He hasn't authorized a full, independent investigation of torture, let alone a criminal probe of the people who supposedly authorized it.
  7. He has embraced the use of the state secrets privilege in order to shield the government from inconvenient lawsuits.
  8. He has launched an all-out war on national security whistleblowers and leakers.
  9. He's pursued the right to detain anyone indefinitely, without formal review, in Afghanistan—even if they weren't captured there.
  10. He's reauthorized controversial Patriot Act wiretapping provisions.
  11. He pushed for and signed a new law allowing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to block the release of photos of detainee abuse.

People can disagree on civil liberties. But given their positions on these issues, no one should expect Romero and the ACLU to be anything but disillusioned.

An Inconvenient Office

| Fri Jun. 11, 2010 12:36 PM EDT

Most politicians like to talk about returning honesty and ethics to Washington. But they're not too hot on actually being investigated themselves. For decades, the House and Senate ethics committees were the main place where potential violations of Congressional ethics were investigated. More often than not, they were also where such investigations went to die. 

In 2008, two years after they took back Congress, the Democrats passed ethics reforms that established an independent Office of Congressional Ethics. OCE has generally been a tough, independent watchdog, and it infuriated some members of Congress when it referred information about the PMA lobbying scandal to the Justice Department for potential prosecution. (PMA was a lobbying shop that specialized in obtaining earmarks for its clients.) Now, Politico reports, many members are regretting the decision to establish the OCE in the first place:

The Office of Congressional Ethics, a powerful symbol of Democrats' promise to "drain the swamp" in Washington, is in danger of having its power stripped after the midterm elections.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have led the charge, airing complaints about the aggressive, independent panel in a private session with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last month, and they’ve drafted a resolution that, if approved, would severely curtail the panel’s power.

But there’s hot competition between the CBC and the official House ethics committee over who has less regard for the Office of Congressional Ethics, also known as the OCE. And the rest of the House doesn’t appear to be far behind in its disdain. Privately, Democratic and Republican lawmakers, and even some congressional leaders, acknowledge that there’s a strong sentiment to change rules that empower the office to publicize investigations and wreak havoc on lawmakers’ political lives.

This is reprehensible stuff. The lawmakers in question are considering weakening the OCE in 2011, after the midterms, presumably because they think it will make them more likely to get away with it. Politico catches a lot of flak for its obsession with the day-to-day minutiae of politics, but this is exactly the sort of thing that should get more attention. If either party even tries doing this after the election, they should get hammered for it.

For Sale: Florida Gov, Senate Seats

| Fri Jun. 11, 2010 10:51 AM EDT

Weeks ago, political aspirants Rick Scott and Jeff Greene were long shots, outsiders, no-names. Scott is a Florida Republican running for governor, Greene a Florida Democrat running for US Senate. But Scott and Greene have something in common, a shared trait that's propelling both men toward success in the Sunshine State: They're stinking rich, and spending freely to boost their candidacies.

Their strategy looks to be working. A new Quinnipiac University poll shows both Scott and Greene leapfrogging their opponents in public support. After entering the race two months ago with meager public support and little name recognition, Scott now boasts 44 percent of support among Republican voters. That's a 13-point lead over his challenger, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum. (24 percent of Republican voters are undecided, the poll shows.) McCollum has the backing of the GOP establishment, and was considered the frontrunner until today's poll. How, you ask, has the underdog surged so fast? So far, Scott, a former hospital CEO, has spent more than $12.5 million on his campaign, including a wave of ads plugging his support for an Arizona-like immigration law in Florida. McCollum has spent just $805,000.

White Newborns Soon the Minority

| Fri Jun. 11, 2010 9:08 AM EDT

The day when the majority of newborns in the US are nonwhite minorities is almost here. The Wall Street Journal reports today that, between July 2008 and July 2009, the percentage of minority newborns in this country jumped from 46.8 percent to 48.6 percent. That likely means the point at which minority newborns are 50 percent or more of all US-born kids is almost here, if it hasn't occurred already.

It's also a reminder of the major demographic shift in this country, in which all whites cease to be the majority, replaced instead by a "majority minority." Here's the Journal on this:

"The question is just when," said Kenneth Johnson, senior demographer at the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire. He guesses the milestone will be crossed in the next few years, and could happen as early as 2011...

A number of forces are pushing the US toward a "majority minority" future. The median age of the white population is older than that of nonwhites, and thus a larger share of minority women are in prime child-bearing years. In addition, white women are having fewer children than nonwhites, while the growth in mixed marriages has led to more multiracial births.

Right now, minorities in toto comprise around 35 percent of the US population, up from 30 percent in 2000, according to Census data, which means the white majority will remain for a few decades more. (In 2008, the Census predicted a nationwide majority-minority by 2050.) Already, though, four states—Hawaii, Texas, California, and New Mexico—have majority-minority populations. This, of course, is the context for the nation's increasingly fraught immigration debate, with states like Arizona pitted against the Obama administration and more left-leaning immigration reformers. The battle will only grow more feverish, as other states like Michigan try to pass Arizona-like immigration bills of their own.

For future political candidates, this demographic shift is a stark reminder of who they'll need to court if they want to be elected. With that in mind, you've got to wonder if immigration crackdowns like Arizona's law won't soon be a political suicide for the politicians backing them.

Alvin Greene: Republican Plant or... North Korean Spy?

| Fri Jun. 11, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

Is Alvin Greene a Communist plant from North Korea?  That’s at least what one casual observer believes, according to an email I received on Wednesday drawing attention to Greene's previous military service on the Korean peninsula. "All US Servicemen there are controlled by the 'crazy' people!" read the message. "It's a communist plot, soiled with the Greene plant!" This may sound loopy—but it's not that much more far-fetched than some of the theories flying around regarding Greene's improbable victory in South Carolina's Democratic Senate primary on Tuesday night.

There are at least two key mysteries that state officials are trying to unravel. How did the unemployed Greene come up with the $10,400 filing fee required to run for office? And why did 100,000 voters cast a ballot for a total unknown who had no website, no party support and no visible campaign? Some are convinced that shadowy forces are pulling the strings. But hard proof of any foul play or outside manipulation remains elusive. And others who have met with Greene have come away convinced that he is the beneficiary—or victim—of circumstance.

Greene is also facing felony obscenity charges brought against him in November. Former state Democratic Party chair Dick Harpootlian points out that he's being represented in this matter by a public defender—meaning he would have had to state that he didn’t have the funds to pay for his own defense. Yet four months later, Greene had somehow come up with the election filing fee, which he told me he paid out of his own savings. “He represented himself as indigent, at the same time that he’s paid a $10,400 charge for Senate,” said Harpootlian, a former prosecutor in Richland County, where Greene is being tried. The discrepancy raises two questions, Harpootlian said. Did Greene get the funds from an undisclosed source? Or did he misrepresent his financial status to the state during his arraignment in order to receive a free lawyer?

Harpootlian himself is quite familiar with his state’s history of dirty political tricks. More than a decade ago, he successfully prosecuted Rod Shealy, a Republican operative, for paying the filing fee for an unemployed black fisherman to run in a congressional race against Shealy’s sister. But there’s no obvious motive for such a ploy in the Democratic Senate primary, as incumbent Republican Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) is heavily favored to win re-election.

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How the Oil Spill is Killing the Tea Party

| Fri Jun. 11, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

President Obama may be the most visible political casualty of the BP oil spill, but there is another big loser: the Tea Party. A mainstay of cable news programming for much of the last year, Tea Party coverage all but vanished during the month of May, according to the media-monitoring service TVEyes, as the spill dominated the headlines. There are still people in funny hats shouting about bailouts and vowing to "take back the government." But suddenly they're a lot less prominent.

It's seldom a good idea to think of cable news programming as a gauge of anything other than the decline of civic discourse. Yet it's hard not to see a connection between the story that is captivating cable viewers and a recent shift in the national mood.

The Tea Party movement, animated by intense disapproval of government activism, has smacked up against an unprecedented environmental disaster that is providing a vivid daily illustration of why an activist government is sometimes necessary. There is little doubt about which force is prevailing. According to a recent CBS News poll, a majority of Americans now oppose offshore drilling, and nearly two-thirds say Obama should be doing more to stop the spill. This desire for more aggressive government action is the antithesis of the Tea Party ethos, and poses a problem for a movement that had recently been gaining steam.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 11, 2010

Fri Jun. 11, 2010 4:00 AM EDT

 

LAGHMAN PROVINCE - U.S. Army Soldiers with Company B, 1st Battalion, 102nd Infantry Regiment, Task Force Iron Gray, move through the mountains on a patrol to Kusuk village in eastern Afghanistan's Laghman province, on May 24. Photo via the US Army by Staff Sgt. Gary A. Witte, 300th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.

Subway Fires Good Samaritan

| Thu Jun. 10, 2010 7:49 PM EDT

Sure, they got socialized medicine and cheap prescriptions, but there ain't no free lunches in Nova Scotia—at least not when you work for America's largest fast-food chain. Heide Heise, a full-time "sandwich artist" for a Subway in the Canadian city of Dartmouth, was fired this week when supervisors reviewed the store's closed-circuit TV and discovered that she gave two six-inch subs last week to a pair of patrons without collecting any money from them.

Of course she did: They were residents of her apartment building, which last Thursday was ravaged by a massive fire. The two men lost their home, and Heise was putting them up at her place. When they came in to thank her, she fed them, too.

"They showed up. I knew they had no food, no money and no where to live so I gave them each a six-inch sub I was supposed to write down as my employee meal," Heise told a Canadian news service. (Subway employees are entitled to one discounted foot-long sub as a shift meal.) "Because of all the stuff that was going on it totally slipped my mind to even write it down...Yeah, I just forgot to write it down and they fired me for it...

Is Georgia the New Arizona?

| Thu Jun. 10, 2010 6:12 PM EDT

Georgia's Board of Regents joined the national debate on illegal immigration this week by announcing plans for its public colleges to review every student's immigration status and identify those who are undocumented, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports. While illegal immigrants are allowed to attend Georgia's public colleges, they aren't allowed to enroll at the less expensive in-state tuition rate. And because undocumented students can't work legally, the higher out-of-state tuition rate is something most can't afford.

The Regents began discussing a policy change last month when authorities learned of Jessica Colotl, an undocumented Kennesaw State University student paying in-state tuition. Like many undocumented college students, Colotl entered the US illegally when she was just a child, a 10-year-old who arguably had no control over her ability to come or to stay. There are currently nine states that allow students like Colotl to pay in-state tuition rates lawfully.

(Ultimately, Colotl's school status may be the least of her worries: There's a groundswell of support in Georgia to kick her out of the country. "If I were to be deported, I'd have to start all over again," she told CNN. "I'm hoping for the best.")

Though the board's new policy is "well within the law," says Burns Newsome, the state college system's vice chancellor of legal affairs, it raises questions about what the colleges will do once they've identified an undocumented student paying in-state tuition. Will they force that student to pay the higher rate, or turn the student over to authorities for deportation? The regents have not yet answered this question, but if the latter becomes their prerogative, Georgia's policy will be no more equitable than Arizona's hotly-contested immigration law.

Another question the Georgia regents seem uninterested in answering is the cost associated with the new citizenship inspections, according to Errol Davis, the University of Georgia system's chancellor:

Davis said such checks would be impractical and expensive. The system's 35 campuses enroll more than 300,000 students and would cost between $25 to $50 conduct each check, he estimated. That money could also be spent to hire about 20 professors, he said.

"If you ask this University System, 'Is it worth 20 professors to check the backgrounds of students?' I don't think you'll get too many yeses," Davis said.

Jessica Colotl's case and Georgia's policy dilemma highlight the need for passage of the DREAM Act, a bill that would grant temporary legal status for undocumented high school students that complete a degree or certificate program. The bill has been introduced and voted down numerous times since 2001 and now hinges on the fate of comprehensive immigration reform. But each year, support for the bill grows. This year, undocumented students from Miami Dade College marched the 1,500 miles from Florida to Washington, DC to raise awareness of and show their support for the DREAM Act.

Colotl is hopeful her case will tip the balance. "I really believe that something positive should come out of this," she told the AP. "Probably an immigration reform or at least the DREAM Act."