Mojo - June 2011

Obama: No Friend of Small Business?

| Tue Jun. 28, 2011 12:29 PM PDT
President Obama at a small business roundtable for youth in February.

In his 2010 State of the Union address, President Obama called small business growth key to the economic recovery. "We should start where most new jobs do—in small businesses, companies that begin when an entrepreneur takes a chance on a dream, or a worker decides it's time she became her own boss," he said then.

Now the US Small Business Administration says that in fiscal year 2010 it doled out $98 billion in federal contract work to small businesses, just shy of its 23 percent of total federal contract funding goal (PDF).

Not so, counters the non-profit American Small Business League, which has hammered the SBA on this issue for years: It claims that 61 of the top 100 companies that received government small business contracts are actually big corporations, including subsidiaries of defense contractors Lockheed Martin and Rockwell Collins (PDF). In a statement, the group's president Lloyd Chapman called the government numbers "misleading smoke and mirrors" and said small business awards were closer to five percent of total funds.

Federal investigations dating back to 2003 suggest that billions of dollars in small business contracts have landed in the hands of big firms. In the 2010 fiscal year, according to the ASBL, those included AT&T, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, and John Deere, among many others. (Remember when Bechtel-Bettis got an $128 million "small business" contract for managing the Department of Energy's Pittsburgh Naval Reactors Office?)

Last year, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), who heads the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, predicted that increasing legitimate small business contracts by a single percent would create more than 100,000 new jobs for the fiscal year. The ASBL used her prediction to make one of its own: It believes that halting the flow of small business contracts to big businesses would create nearly 2 million jobs.

"Ending this abuse would be a more effective economic stimulus than anything proposed by the Obama Administration to date," Chapman said in the statement.

UPDATE: Part of the difference between the SBA's calculation of the percentage of contracts going to small businesses and the ASBL's calculation is the fact that the two groups are using different baselines. The ASBL says "the Obama Administration has dramatically inflated the percentage of contracts awarded to small businesses by under-reporting the actual federal acquisition budget," and argues that "the actual federal acquisition budget for foreign, domestic, classified and unclassified projects is roughly $1 trillion." The Obama Administration uses a number that is closer to $430 billion and is based on other agencies' self-reported acquisition budgets, which the SBA checks for anomalies.

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Tom Petty Against the Machine

| Tue Jun. 28, 2011 12:21 PM PDT

It's been over a decade since classic rocker Tom Petty sent a polite cease-and-desist to George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign, asking the Texas governor to quit playing the 1989 tune "I Won’t Back Down" at rallies and events. The musician believed his song's inclusion created, "either intentionally or unintentionally, the impression [that the Bush campaign had been] endorsed by Tom Petty, which is not true."

As they gear up for the 2012 fray, right-wingers still haven't gotten the message that the left-leaning singer/songwriter is just not that into them.

This time, the offending politico is tea party sweetheart Michele Bachmann, who played Petty's song "American Girl" at her official campaign kick-off in Waterloo, Iowa. Petty will ask the Bachmann campaign "not to use that song," NBC News' Kelly O'Donnell reported on Monday.

Gun Control Survives The Supreme Court

| Tue Jun. 28, 2011 10:19 AM PDT

In 2008, the US Supreme Court overturned a DC law banning city residents from owning handguns. The decision in District of Columbia v Heller was unprecedented because the sharply divided court found—for the first time—that Americans have an individual right to own guns outside of the "well regulated militia" described in the Second Amendment.

Critics warned that the decision amounted to a death blow for all sorts of reasonable laws regulating gun ownership, and the National Rifle Association seemed to agree with them. The gun group's vice president, Wayne LaPierre, said at the time that the Heller ruling would be "the opening salvo in a step-by-step process" to kill off most of the nation's gun control laws.

Well, three years later, gun control is alive and well despite more than 400 legal challenges based on Heller, according to a new report (PDF) by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The NRA as well as dozens of criminals have attempted to invoke Heller in court to challenge everything from bans on carrying concealed weapons in public to restrictions on gun ownership by people involved in domestic violence. Almost all of those challenges have failed, according to the Brady Center, including a second lawsuit filed by Dick Heller, the plaintiff in the original Supreme Court case, who sued again to try to invalidate restrictions on semi-automatic weapons in the nation's capital.

The failed lawsuits have also produced some surprisingly strong language from judges who don't want to use Heller to implement the NRA's vision of "any gun, any person, anywhere." For instance, in finding that there is no constitutional right to carry a gun in a car or national park, the 4th Circuit court of appeals, one of the most conservative courts in the country, declared: "This is serious business. We do not wish to be even minutely responsible for some unspeakably tragic act of mayhem because in the peace of our judicial chambers we miscalculated as to Second Amendment rights."

The gun lobby's initial failure to use the Supreme Court's ruling to kill off gun control hasn't stopped it from trying. The Brady Center notes that many Heller-based legal challenges are still pending. One, for instance, takes aim at a North Carolina law that would prevent people from carrying weapons into a riot.

Another lawsuit attempts to allow teenagers in Texas to carry concealed weapons in public. The original plaintiff in that case was this kid, who filled his Facebook page with photos of himself dressed up like John Dillinger, holding assault weapons. He posted status updates like "After hunting men, nothing can compare," and "There is no redemption, There is no forgiveness. I will stare into your eyes as I pull the trigger and laugh as you hit the ground with your last, pathetic breath." After his rantings were publicized, he eventually dropped out of the case, but the NRA is still pushing the lawsuit. The Brady Center calls on the courts to make sure that these cases, like the 400 before them, are dead in the water. 

National Review: Legalize Pot!

| Tue Jun. 28, 2011 8:04 AM PDT

This month marks the 40th year of the War on Drugs, but the Republican love affair with pot prohibition certainly isn't experiencing a ruby anniversary. On Monday, the editors of the National Review called the federal drug war a "colossal failure":

It has curtailed personal freedom, created a violent black market, and filled our prisons. It has also trampled on states' rights: Sixteen states have legalized "medical marijuana"—which is, admittedly, often code for legalizing pot in general—only to clash with federal laws that ban weed throughout the land.

That last sin is not the War on Drugs’ greatest, but it is not insignificant, either. A bill introduced by Reps. Barney Frank (D., Mass.) and Ron Paul (R., Texas) would remove the federal roadblock to state marijuana reform, and though the Republican House seems almost certain to reject it, the proposal deserves support from across the political spectrum.

Though the National Review has argued for legalizing marijuana off and on since the 1970s, it has a lot more friends on the Right these days. As I noted last year, pot-friendly Republicans now include everyone from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom Tancredo to Sarah Palin and Rick Perry. There's even a Tea Pot Party informally led by the Red State stoner-in-chief, Willie Nelson. His new pro-legalization video for NORML is below. . .

Afghanistan: Here's a Real Confidence Builder

| Tue Jun. 28, 2011 7:23 AM PDT

That headline is facetious. But here's a question: can the Afghan government function and assume security responsibilities if it can't even run a bank?

From the AfPak Channel's Daily Brief:

The governor of Afghanistan's Central Bank, Abdul Qadeer Fitrat, announced his resignation Monday from the United States, saying that his life "was completely in danger" in Kabul due to his investigation into the Kabul Bank scandal, where nearly $900 million was allegedly given out in bad loans, including to senior officials and relatives of Afghan president Hamid Karzai (NYT, Reuters, WSJ, FT, BBC, AJE, AFP, Tel, Bloomberg). In his resignation letter and comments Fitrat blamed officials for interfering in his investigation into the Kabul Bank, while a presidential spokesman called his departure "treason" and said Fitrat would be prosecuted as part of the investigation (Reuters, Bloomberg).

No matter who's right, this is a situation with much wrong—and another reason for Americans to be rather skeptical of any endeavor that depends on a partnership with Karzai and his crew.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 28, 2011

Tue Jun. 28, 2011 3:00 AM PDT

Spc. Jorge Villanueva, 2nd Battalion, 8th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, peers over the gunner's turret at Checkpoint 507 in the Daman District. The unit had been conducting partnered operations with the Afghan Border Patrol in an effort to reduce illegal smuggling in their immediate area. (Photo By: Capt. Angela Chipman)

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Are Republicans Ready for Pentagon Cuts?

| Tue Jun. 28, 2011 3:00 AM PDT

Eager to avoid being pegged as the party that made America default on its debt, congressional Republicans are hinting that they'll offer a compromise first proposed by the tea partiers in their ranks: deep cuts in military spending. But as Senate leaders meet with President Obama to tackle the debt limit, disagreements among conservatives and a lack of specifics make it unclear just how committed the GOP really is to shrinking the defense budget.

Republicans and Democrats have been at loggerheads over lifting the national debt ceiling and preventing a government default. House Republicans insist they won't approve any settlement that raises taxes, and they've struggled to offer budget cuts that could seal a bipartisan deal. But outspoken conservatives and sympathetic pundits say there's a growing willingness to entertain the idea of cutting the Pentagon's budget. "Would you support dramatic decreases in military spending as a way to cut the deficit, or would you rather support the spending with tax increases?" asked Mackenzie Eaglen, a national security fellow at the Heritage Foundation, as he spoke with Southern California Public Radio host Pat Morrison yesterday.

The Supreme Court Goes to Bat for Violent Video Games

| Mon Jun. 27, 2011 1:16 PM PDT

To the nation's young gamers—

I know you are no longer satisfied by the rantings of Cave Johnson, the eccentric dead billionaire in Portal 2. I'm aware you cannot countenance another 30 levels of Angry Birds. I sense that, just for once, you want to see something hemorrhage like the old days. Well know this: the judicial branch has not forgotten about you.

In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court on Monday put an end to a long-stalled California law that would have prohibited the rental or sale of violent games to minors.

The California law, AB 1179, was introduced by Democratic state senator Leland Yee and signed by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2005. It was vigorously opposed by advocacy groups such as the ACLU and (naturally) the video game industry, which argued that its products should benefit from the same First Amendment safeguards as other media.

Chipping Away at Abortion Access

| Mon Jun. 27, 2011 9:35 AM PDT

Some anti-abortion activists contend that the new class of laws targeting abortion providers with onerous regulations are merely an effort to protect women from "unsafe" clinics. They argue that laws like the one enacted recently in Kansas aren't intended to end abortion. But now that one of the three clinics in Kansas looks likely to survive the new regulations, anti-abortion activists in the state are bemoaning the fact that the current law doesn't go far enough.

The Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park, Kansas expects to be granted a license to continue operating, despite the stricter new laws imposed on a tight time frame. And Personhood Kansas is none too pleased that their backdoor ban failed to succeed in ending safe, legal abortion in the state. From their press release Monday:

"The legislature has passed every abortion regulation imaginable. No baby is safe from the grasp of the abortionists until the personhood of every human being is affirmed by law," explained Committee Chairman, Bruce Garren.

Anti-abortion groups and lawmakers have been busy this year advancing laws that seek to make it difficult, if not impossible, for women to have an abortion. This type of legislation is no exception—it's just another measure they're using to chip away access to a federally affirmed right.

Supreme Court Kills Off AZ Public Financing Law

| Mon Jun. 27, 2011 9:17 AM PDT

Score another one for James Bopp, the veteran conservative lawyer who has helped kill off much of the country's campaign finance regulatory system. On Monday, the US Supreme Court struck down an innovative Arizona public financing law that would have provided extra public money to candidates who were being outspent by privately funded candidates and independent expenditure groups. The drafters of the law had hoped that by using public funds to generate more speech, not less, they might be able to avoid many of the free speech issues that have bedeviled other attempts to level the campaign playing field.

The Roberts Court, though, was having none of that. In a 5-4 ruling (PDF) in Arizona Free Enterprise Club's Freedom PAC v Bennett, the court sided with Bopp, who represented one of the self-financed candidates who were the plaintiffs in the case. The court found that the law would force well-funded candidates to decide between spending more money and thus speaking out more, or spending less to avoid helping their opponents earn more public money for their campaigns. The court found the position untenable with constitutional guarantees of free speech.

The opinion, written by Roberts, draws heavily on its previous ruling in Davis vs FEC, in which the court struck down the "Millionaire's amendment" to the McCain-Feingold law, which had allowed candidates to avoid campaign contribution limits if they were running against a wealthy self-financed candidate. That was partly Bopp's case, too. More significantly, though, one of the only reasons that the court could even hear the Arizona law is because of a case Bopp won back in 1994 in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which invalidated a public financing scheme in Minnesota. That decision created the circuit court split that allowed the high court to step in and decide this case. 

When I talked to Bopp last year about the Arizona case, he was pretty sure he was going to win. He told me:

Public funding, he argues, suppresses speech because it sets spending limits for candidates who accept it. "The problem is, the reformers are hoisting themselves on their own petard," he explains. "Their real goal [with public-financing schemes] is to restrict expenditures."

That, in a nutshell, is what the Supreme Court said today, too.