Mojo - July 2010

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 13, 2010

Tue Jul. 13, 2010 4:00 AM EDT

 

US Army Pfc. Robert Parker (2nd from left) provides fire support for his squad members during a live-fire exercise at the Kirkush Military Training Base in the Diyala province of Iraq on June 27, 2010. Photo via the US Army by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ted Green.

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Is Congress' Golf Habit Out of Bounds?

| Mon Jul. 12, 2010 3:35 PM EDT

Each year, two familiar haunts on Washington political circuit—the Capitol Hill Club (GOP) and the National Democratic Club—host popular golf outings where members of Congress, their staffers, and other paying participants hit the links to raise money for the two clubs. The more big-name lawmakers who show up, enjoying for free a round of golf that usually costs $3,000 to $8,000, the better. But by letting lawmakers swing away and dine for free, are the clubs breaking House ethics rules?

That's what one government transparency group, the Sunlight Foundation, is alleging. According to ethics rules, members of Congress and their aides aren't allowed to play in golf fundraisers like the Capitol Hill Club's and the NDC's. (They are, however, cleared to play charity fundraisers, so long as they're not for social and recreation clubs.) The two clubs skirt these rules by obtaining ethics waivers for lawmakers and their staffers, according to Sunlight, even though the House ethics handbook warns against giving out individual waivers.

Here's more from Sunlight on the funny business with lawmakers attending golf tournaments that should be out of bounds for members of Congress:

National Democratic Club operations manager Dana Ehlman declined to say how many members would play in the 32nd Annual Tip O’Neill Golf Tournament at in Potomac Falls, Va.

"Two or three" members and the same number of staffers are expected to attend the Capitol Hill Club outing in Alexandria, fewer than usual, because of the event’s timing, right after the Independence Day recess, according to Lawson...

All year, members pay the clubs to host fundraisers for their campaigns and leadership PACs. This year there are over 500 invitations to Capitol Hill Club fundraisers and over 70 to the NDC and its next door townhouse in Party Time’s database of invitations.

The NDC has members, staffers, and lobbyists on its board of directors, according to its website. As of its 2008 tax return, the same was true for the Capitol Hill Club.

The exemption letter for the NDC is written specifically for the golf tournament, which is the only fundraiser by the club all year, Ehlman said. The Capitol Hill Club puts on three to six fundraisers per year and its exemption allows all of these events, Lawson said.

Omar Khadr vs. the Military Commissions

| Mon Jul. 12, 2010 3:21 PM EDT

Carol Rosenberg, the dean of the Guantanamo Bay reporters, has returned to the prison to cover the military commission hearings of Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen and alleged former child soldier who is charged with the killing of an American soldier in Afghanistan in 2002. (Rosenberg had previously been banned for re-reporting the previously-published name of a commission witness.) There have been rumors of a plea bargain in the case for months, but Khadr fired his lawyers last week. On Monday, he submitted a hand-written filing explaining to the judge why he wouldn't agree to a deal and why he plans to boycott the proceedings. Rosenberg acquired an image of the filing; Marcy Wheeler has a transcription:

Your honor, I’m boycotting this military commission because:

Firstly, the unfairness and unjustice of it. I say this because not one of the lawyers I’ve had, or human right organization or any person say that the commission is fair, or looking for justice, but on the contrary they say it is unfair and unjust and that it has been constructed solely to convict detainees and not to find the truth (so how can I ask for justice from a process that does not have it or offer it?) 

"[T]he unfairness of the rules that will make a person so depressed that he will admit to alligations or take a plea offer that will satisfy the US government and get him the least sentence possible and ligitimize the show process. "

[new color ink—apparently added later] and to accomplish political and public goal and what I mean is when I was offered a plea bargain it was up to 30 years which I was going to spend only 5 years so I asked why the 30 years? I was told it make the US government look good in the public eyes and other political causes.

Secondly, the unfairness of the rules that will make a person so depressed that he will admit to alligations or take a plea offer that will satisfy the US government and get him the least sentence possible and ligitimize the show process. Therefore I will not willingly let the US gov use me to fullfil its goal. I have been used to many times when I was a child and that’s why I’m here taking blame and paying for thing I didn’t have a choice in doing but was told to do by elders.

Lastly I will not take any plea offer or [several words redacted] because it will give excuse for the gov for torturing and abusing me when I was a child.

UPDATE: Jennifer Turner, a human rights researcher with the ACLU, is at Guantánamo observing the proceedings. She issued a statement on the case on Monday afternoon:

The Obama administration should shut down the illegitimate military commissions system that has become a stain on our nation's reputation and prosecute terrorism suspects in the time-tested federal criminal courts. The commissions system is unfit to try any Guantánamo detainee, especially an alleged child soldier who has been held in U.S. custody for over a third of his life and subjected to years of abuse. Omar Khadr, like all Guantánamo terrorism suspects, should be tried in federal courts that guarantee due process. If that isn’t possible, the U.S. must send him home to Canada.

 

Rasmussen: Kasich Leads Strickland By Seven

| Mon Jul. 12, 2010 3:12 PM EDT

A recent Rasmussen poll shows former GOP Congressman (and Lehman Bros. banker) John Kasich leading incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland by seven points in the Ohio governor's race. I write about this race a lot because it's a real bellwether. Strickland was elected with 60 percent of the vote in 2006. He's not quite as unpopular as other Democratic governors in the region—Jennifer Granholm (Mich.), Jim Doyle (Wisc.), Ed Rendell (Pa.), and Chet Culver (Iowa) all have lower average approval ratings than Strickland, who is hovering in the low-to-mid-40s. Kasich, meanwhile, is not a perfect candidate—he has spent time in ever-unpopular Washington and worked at a Wall Street bank. The stakes are high: Both candidates are going to spend huge amounts of money, and the winner will  control a crucial swing state when President Obama runs for reelection in 2012. 

The winner of the election will naturally have a big hand in Congressional redistricting following the 2010 census. In addition, Ohio's legislative redistricting commission is composed of the governor, secretary of state, auditor, and two members of the legislature. Whichever party has two of the three non-legislative seats tends to control the redistricting.*

In any case, if Rasmussen is right, and Kasich (who has lower name recognition than Strickland) is already pulling ahead, this might not turn out to be the blockbuster I imagined it would be. If a former Wall Street banker is going to beat an incumbent governor in a walk, the Dems are in even bigger trouble in 2010 than they realize.

*This paragraph has been edited to clarify the distinction between Congressional and legislative redistricting.

Rick Scott's Abortion Distortion

| Mon Jul. 12, 2010 1:33 PM EDT

Rick Scott, the former health care CEO running as a Republican in the Florida governor's race, likes to tout his pro-life cred by pointing to a multimillion-dollar million lawsuit his company lost in 2003. Scott, the St. Petersburg Times reports, claims his former employer, Columbia/HCO, lost the suit because his hospital saved the life of a child, born prematurely with severe complications, even though the parents didn't want that. As Scott tells it, the story comes across as the ultimate pro-life narrative, an unwavering opposition to abortion even in the face of grave medical complications.

Except Scott's version is far from the whole story. According to the Times, when the mother of the child, Karla Miller, was rushed to hospital, the complications surrounding her 23-week-old were many. The odds the child would live anything resembling a normal life were slim, if the child survived at all. Facing this grave outlook, the Millers chose to terminate the pregnancy. But the hospital ultimately made that choice for them, and began trying to save the fetus' life. In the end, the child, named Sidney, survived—but only after a brain surgery and other drastic medical interventions that led to serious and life-altering complications, both for Sidney and her parents.

Did Meg Whitman Buy Off the Opposition?

| Mon Jul. 12, 2010 10:47 AM EDT

Being a billionaire running for office does have its perks. The New York Times explains how Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman sunk more than $1 million in the nascent film production company of Mike Murphy, a top GOP strategist who was thinking of working for Whitman’s primary opponent. Months later, Murphy became a "senior adviser" for the Whitman campaign, raking in a $665,000 fee for his first six months of work. Michael Luo reports:

In the months before the deal was closed, Mr. Murphy had been flirting with working on the campaign of Ms. Whitman’s future rival in the Republican primary for governor, Steve Poizner, the state’s insurance commissioner. But he had an about-face.

The timing of the investment and its unusual nature — Ms. Whitman lists no other holdings in the world of independent movie production — raise some questions about its ultimate purpose: Was it strictly a business decision, or part of an effort to ensure that a coveted political strategist did not work for the competition? Or perhaps a way to sweeten the pot so he would eventually sign on with the right team?

The Times story is just the latest reminder of the kind of leverage that self-financed, super-wealthy candidates—like Whitman, California Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, and Beverly Hills billionaire and Florida Senate contender Jeff Greene—can wield behind the scenes. Sure, they don’t have to rely on mega-donors and corporate lobbyists to back their campaign efforts. But taking money out of their own pockets makes it that much easier to buy off the opposition.

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Can Big Labor Recover In the 2010 Elections?

| Mon Jul. 12, 2010 10:17 AM EDT

Big labor is on the march.

The AFL-CIO is unveiling the first phase of its on-the-ground operations for the November midterm elections. The nation's largest federation of labor unions is set to distribute 300,000 pieces of campaign fliers at workplaces in 23 different states, from Florida and Michigan to Colorado to New Hampshire, the Washington Post reports. The fliers tackle House races all the way up the gubernatorial elections, taking both positive and negative positions depending on the candidate.

But will any of it matter?

This spring, we saw AFL-CIO and other labor groups throw their full electoral muscle—not to mention $10 million—behind Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, a progressive challenging incumbent Blanche Lincoln for the state's Democratic nomination to the US Senate. Unions had ripped Lincoln for being anti-worker, citing her opposition to card-check legislation, which would've made it easier for workers to unionize and boosted dwindling union membership totals. The unions were so intent on helping Halter topple Lincoln that AFl-CIO and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) were among the first groups to take advantage of the Citizens United ruling, cutting campaign ads that expressly called for Lincoln's ouster—something unions couldn't do before the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling in January.

In the end, Halter forced Lincoln into a runoff, but lost by 4 percentage points in the early June election. Halter's loss dealt a stinging blow to unions and cast doubt on their electoral clout. Conservative pundit Michael Barone wrote, "Lincoln's victory removes the credibility of the unions' threat to end the careers of Democrats who don't do their bidding. The unions rode into Arkansas like Custer rode into Little Big Horn, and unlike Custer they managed to ride out—but without the scalp they were desperately seeking."

Whether the unions' credibility is all but lost, as Barone suggests, is doubtful. After all, it's far easier to influence House races than a blockbuster Senate primary like the Lincoln-Halter race, one on which the eyes of country were trained. (Also, Arkansas has one of the lowest rates of unionization in the country, so the unions had less pull there than they might elsewhere.) But as AFL-CIO rolls out the first stage of its 2010 battle plan, it's worth watching how much of an effect labor really has on what's shaping up to be a tumultuous midterm election.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 12, 2010

Mon Jul. 12, 2010 4:07 AM EDT

 

Dirt gets stirred up as US Army Pfc. Erik Tyson, of 2nd Platoon, Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, US Army Europe, fires an AT-4 anti-tank rocket during a live-fire exercise outside Combat Outpost Sangar in Zabul province, Afghanistan, on July 1, 2010. Photo via the US Army by Spc. Eric Cabral.

Oscar Grant Verdict and Oakland's Bad Rep

| Fri Jul. 9, 2010 2:31 PM EDT

I live in Oakland, Oscar Grant used to sell me meat at my local grocery store, and every time I get off of BART I pass by the spot where he was killed. I've been in Oakland my whole life pretty much; I saw the impact of the Rodney King riots and aftermath here, and I felt the 1989 earthquake and saw the metropolitan devastation it wrought. Basically I've been here long enough to know that Oakland gets the shaft pretty much all the time in the national news. Despite the post-verdict focus on looting (which this article notes was mostly by "outsiders" in "black face paint") and the pictures of young black men busting store windows, yesterday was mostly peaceful. Peaceful like talking peaceful. Like people speaking their minds and saying they felt justice wasn't served and expressing their anger through microphones. Peaceful like community leaders and young people (some community leaders themselves) speaking out for change and nonviolent action. Isn't that what needs to happen? Almost irrespective of the verdict (more on that in a sec) what you want to come out of something so unjust is at least some movement in a positive direction. Will BART police train their officers better? Will transit and city police across the nation do the same? Cities probably have a keen eye on this case and its aftermath enough to shore up their TASER and firearms training.

Nothing will bring Oscar Grant back, and a guilty verdict of any kind against an officer in the line of duty is rare. Yet it was involuntary manslaughter, which seems hard to fathom given the videos and evidence (face down, unarmed, handcuffed, etc.), check out the Prospect's Adam Serwer's solid undressing of the verdict for more. The gun enhancement charge the jury added to their verdict shows that they didn't buy his reaching-for-a-TASER story, as Oakland district attorney Nancy O'Malley pointed out yesterday. So he's going to jail for at least a few years (5 minimum). Would justice be better served if he was going for a very long time? Yes, says his family (and the DA's office). But there are other justice end-games here: better, more responsible policiing, better race relations, and a fair criminal justice system. The community calls for a federal civil rights investigation have been heard, so that's a start. Oakland is doing its part; it's one of the most diverse cities in the nation, low on dollars, but high on productivity. There's more than crazy Raiders fans here, folks, we're a proud, struggling folk, cut us some slack.

Hey, I know what might help: David Simon, once you leave New Orleans want to tell our story?

UPDATE: The SF Chronicle released a letter Johannes Mehserle wrote to the public last week, definitely worth reading. Grant's famly is apparently unimpressed, saying it's too little too late.

Did Obama Sabotage DOMA?

| Fri Jul. 9, 2010 1:29 PM EDT

Did the Obama administration intentionally lose a major lawsuit challenging the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)? That's what gay-marriage foes seem to believe. On Thursday, a federal judge in Boston found that DOMA, which prohibits the federal government from extending pension and other employment benefits to same-sex couples, is unconstitutional. US District Judge Joseph Tauro, a Nixon appointee no less, said that DOMA violates the equal protection rights of those couples and tramples the rights of the states to regulate marriage in violation of the 10th Amendment. Tauro writes:

As irrational prejudice plainly never constitutes a legitimate government interest, this court must hold that Section 3 of DOMA as applied to Plaintiffs violates the equal protection principles embodied in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The case was one of those weird holdover lawsuits filed during the Bush administration, which would have fought for DOMA to the death, but then was limply defended by the Obama administration. Obama's Department of Justice was clearly holding its nose and defending DOMA out of established practice rather than belief in its merits. In its briefs, the DOJ even said that while it believed that DOMA was constitutional, "this Administration does not support DOMA as a matter of policy, believes that it is discriminatory, and supports its repeal." The agency also said it "does not believe that DOMA is rationally related to any legitimate government interests in procreation and child-rearing," gay-marriage foes' primary argument supporting the law.

Those less than passionate arguments didn't escape the folks at the National Organization for Marriage, which accused the Obama administration and Solicitor General Elena Kagan, whose office reviewed the DOJ's DOMA defense briefs, of deliberately sabotaging the Massachusetts lawsuit. In an angry statement yesterday, NOM president Brian Brown said:

With only Obama to defend DOMA, this federal judge has taken the extraordinary step of overturning a law passed by huge bipartisan majorities and signed into law by Pres. Clinton in 1996. A single federal judge in Boston has no moral right to decide the definition of marriage for the people of the United States.

Maggie Gallagher, NOM's chair, threatened a revolution:

Does this federal judge want to start another culture war? Does he really want another Roe. v. Wade? The simple fact is that the right of the federal government to define marriage for the purposes of its federal law and federal territories has been clear since the late 19th century, when Congress banned polygamy. Only an incompetent defense could have lost this case. We expect to win in a higher court.

Thursday's ruling was just the latest in a string of legal setbacks NOM has suffered recently in its attempts to outlaw gay marriage. Despite NOM's big win helping ban same-sex unions in California in 2008, the group has been struggling in the courts elsewhere, including its attempt to defend California's Prop 8 in a lengthy federal court trial this year. Clearly, Brown and Gallagher have some wounds to lick. But they weren't the only ones speaking of sabotage after Thursday's ruling. Ed Whelan over at the National Review concurred with their analysis, and sees the Tauro decision as more evidence that Kagan should be rejected as a Supreme Court justice because of her views on gay rights and refusal to defend DOMA aggressively. He writes, "Her dereliction of duty offers powerful evidence that she would indulge her ideological preferences as a justice and provides ample reason for any senator to oppose her confirmation."

If Obama really wants to sabotage the Massachusetts case, he could ask DOJ not to appeal Tauro's decision. He could simply choose to let the 15,000 Massachusetts residents who are in same-sex marriages have access to the same federal benefits as any other married couples, and then headline the annual Human Rights Campaign dinner without getting booed. Of course, no one seems to think that's what will happen. Lawyers for the plaintiffs told the New York Times yesterday they fully expected the DOJ to fight the decision. It will be years before the case reaches the Supreme Court, but when it does, it's likely that Kagan will be one of the people who decide its final outcome, a fact that Whelan and other gay-marriage foes are obviously dreading.

A side note: Judge Tauro's ruling also creates some interesting political dynamics for a group that isn't a party to the lawsuit: the tea party movement. Tauro based part of his decision on the tea partiers' favorite constitutional amendment: the 10th, which enshrines states' rights into the founding document. Tea Partiers and other die-hard "conservative constitutionalists" frequently insist that the 10th Amendment should be applied rigorously. Tauro's decision will put many of those folks in a bit of a bind, pitting their allegiance to the Constitution against their religious beliefs and distain for gays and lesbians. As Yale law prof Jack Balkin told the New York Times Thursday, Tauro was "attempting to hoist conservatives by their own petard, by saying: 'You like the 10th Amendment? I’ll give you the 10th Amendment! I'll strike down DOMA!'"