Mojo - April 2012

3 Things to Know About the Challenge to Arizona's Immigration Law

| Tue Apr. 24, 2012 3:20 PM EDT

Rachel Maddow/Flickr

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on SB 1070, Arizona's controversial immigration law, on Wednesday. Here are three tidbits to keep in mind:

There are four separate provisions at issue. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals prevented four parts of Arizona's SB 1070 immigration law from taking effect:

  • A provision compelling police to question the immigration status of individuals they suspect are undocumented
  • A provision allowing police to arrest such individuals without a warrant
  • A provision making it a state crime to work without authorization
  • A provision making it a state crime for immigrants to walk around without their federal papers (hence why detractors refer to SB 1070 as Arizona's "papers please" law)

"It's conceivable that the court could rule for the federal government on some sections and for Arizona on others," says Omar Jadwat, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's Immigrant Rights Project. "We believe all four sections are unconstitutional."

Only eight justices will be ruling on the case. Justice Elena Kagan has recused herself from the SB 1070 case because she worked on it during her time as solicitor general. That means that if the Democratic appointees vote to strike down the law and manage to peel off one conservative, the high court will be left with a 4-4 tie. If that happens, the lower court ruling will stand, but it will only have "persuasive," rather than "binding" authority over courts in other jurisdictions. Other courts have to consider the lower court's "persuasive authority" ruling but won't have to reach decisions that fit with its conclusion.

In the case of a tie, "the court won't issue an opinion—it'll affirm the provision below, which means all four provisions will continue to be suspended," Jadwat says. "There won't be an opinion like you usually get in a case, because there won't be a majority for any particular view." But if this case ends in a tie, there's no guarantee a sequel will: Kagan probably won't have to recuse herself from future challenges to state laws that have used SB 1070 as a model. 

The government's argument has nothing to do with racial profiling.  Despite some rhetorical acknowledgements of the law's problematic racial context, the Obama administration declined to include racial profiling in its challenge of the law, relying instead on the argument that Arizona has unconstitutionally usurped the federal government's authority on immigration. (Organizations have filed friend-of-the-court briefs arguing that the law will lead to racial profiling.) Article I of the US Constitution says Congress has the authority to "establish a uniform rule of naturalization." In previous rulings, the court has held that "Congress' power over immigration is plenary, meaning complete, as long as it doesn't violate any other constitutional principles," explains Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA. Arizona is arguing that SB 1070 actually complements federal law, rather than interfering with it.

"The federal government's policy on immigration is to focus on serious crimes, in part because of a lack of resources," Winkler says. "Arizona's policy will force the federal government to expend resources enforcing the immigration law in ways the federal government does not wish to do."

 

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott Slashes Rape Counseling During Sexual Assault Awareness Month

| Tue Apr. 24, 2012 12:05 PM EDT
Gov. Rick Scott

With a flick of his pen, Florida's tea party Republican governor, Rick Scott, used a line-item veto to cut funding to the state's rape crisis centers last week—in the middle of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

The centers in all of Florida's 67 counties, coordinated by the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, are supported by a trust fund made up of fines levied on sexual offenders. But the fund, established in 2003, isn't yet large enough. "Fewer than 10% of sexual violence programs are able with current resources to provide the standard services identified as those most needed by rape victims," the group's site states. "As a result, many programs have waiting lists." 

The state legislature had approved $1.5 million to help close the gap so the centers could keep serving the approximately 700,000 women in Florida who've been victims of rape. But in reviewing the state's $70 billion budget, Scott decided last Tuesday that the .002 percent slated for the crisis centers was just too much. He used his line-item power to veto the funds, alongside $141 million in other cuts targeting a wide range of projects, including an indigent psychiatric medicine program, Girls Incorporated of Sarasota County, the Alzheimer's Family Care Center of Broward County, and a state settlement for child welfare case managers who were owed overtime. The entire list of vetoed programs is available here (PDF).

Poll: Super-PACs Will Hurt Voter Turnout in 2012

| Tue Apr. 24, 2012 11:08 AM EDT

The post has been updated.

The ultra-rich may be psyched that super-PACs give them more power to influence elections, but average voters aren't wild about the new election spending groups, according to a new poll commissioned by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

One in four respondents in the poll said they're less likely to vote in elections this year because of the growing influence of super-PACs. That percentage climbs among those earning less than $35,000 a year (34 percent) and those with only a high school education (34 percent). "The perception that super-PACs are corrupting government is making Americans disillusioned, and an alarming number say they are less likely to vote this year," Adam Skaggs, senior counsel for the Brennan Center's democracy program, said in a statement. (The poll's margin of error is ±3.1 percentage points.)

The Brennan poll also found that 73 percent of respondents agreed with that statement that "there would be less corruption if there were limits on how much could be given to super-PACs." Nearly 70 percent concurred that "new rules that let corporations, unions, and people give unlimited money to super PACs will lead to corruption." And the majority of those polled disagreed that regular voters enjoy equal access to candidates as big super-PAC donors. (One in five said they had access was the same.)

Brad Smith, chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics, which supports deregulating the campaign system, wrote in an email that the Brennan poll's result were "utterly predictable" but said there was no hard evidence proving that a spike in political spending depresses voter turnout. He also noted that Gallup's tracking of public trust in government had ticked upward since the advent of super-PACs. "Given the hysteria over super-PACs and the well-documented errors in media coverage of them, it is not surprising that people feel negatively about them," he added. "But the facts don't square with conventional wisdom."

Read the full results of the poll here.

Corn on MSNBC: Growing Divisions Within The GOP

Tue Apr. 24, 2012 11:06 AM EDT

Mother Jones Washington bureau chief David Corn joined host Al Sharpton on MSNBC's Politics Nation on Monday to discuss the growing rift between moderate Republicans and conservatives who just want to "smash things, not cut deals."

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. Follow him on Twitter.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 24, 2012

Tue Apr. 24, 2012 10:44 AM EDT

Spc. Quentin Bradford, an air traffic control specialist for 3rd Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, Task Force Corsair, guides two CH-47 Chinooks as they descend onto his flight line on Forward Operating Base Shank on April 11, 2012. The air traffic controllers at FOB Shank oversee the movement of hundreds of aircraft every day without the benefit of much of the advanced technology available to their civilian counterparts in the States. Photo by Sgt. Ken Scar, 7th MPAD.

Could a Union Strike Ground the Pentagon's New Jet?

| Mon Apr. 23, 2012 4:13 PM EDT

The union builders of one of the Pentagon's priciest pieces of equipment are going on strike, threatening the beleaguered trillion-dollar program and the Beltway contractors who are counting on it.

Last Sunday, workers at Lockheed Martin's Fort Worth, Texas, construction plant voted by more than a 9-to-1 margins to strike for better conditions. The plant's 3,600 union machinists handle most of the parts and assembly for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, an over-budget, under-performing, behind-schedule fighter jet that's on record as one of the biggest wastes of money in Pentagon history.

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Warren Buffett Will Host Obama Campaign Fundraiser in Omaha

| Mon Apr. 23, 2012 3:38 PM EDT

Warren Buffett and President Obama.: Flickr/White HouseWarren Buffett and President Obama.: Flickr/White House

Warren Buffett, the billionaire investor and philanthropist who lent his name to President Barack Obama's proposal to raise the tax rate on the wealthy, will host a fundraiser for the president on Tuesday at the Omaha Hilton. First Lady Michelle Obama is scheduled to attend, as is Susie Buffett, Warren's daughter and a prominent philanthropist.

A Obama campaign official told Mother Jones that approximately 200 people are slated to attend the event. Despite Buffett's standing as one of the world's richest persons, the event is not for only the top 1-percenters. Tickets start at $250 a person. The money raised will go to the Obama Victory Fund, the president's main re-election war chest.

This isn't the first time Warren Buffett is participating in Obama's 2012 fundraising cause. Last September, the "Oracle of Omaha" headlined an Obama fundraiser at the Four Seasons restaurant in midtown Manhattan. To be a "host" for that event—billed as an "economic forum" with Buffett and Austan Goolsbee, the former chair of Obama's Council of Economic Advisers—a donor had to part with $38,500. To get in as a non-host, contributors had to pony up at least $10,000 a head. The most generous donors enjoyed a "VIP reception" with Buffett himself.

Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and other Democratic allies have recently made good use of the Buffett name on the re-election fundraising circuit, touting the Buffett Rule as Obama's latest effort to take on the congressional Republicans. At a February 23 fundraiser, where 100 people attended at a cost of $15,000 per person, the president said, "When it comes to paying for our government and making sure the investments are there so that future generations can succeed, everybody's got to do their part. That's why I put forward the Buffett Rule."

Obama has pushed the Buffett Rule—which was blocked by Senate Republicans this month—as a way to raise revenues for government to help tame the deficit and to promote tax fairness. Now the Obama campaign is using Buffett to raise some revenue of its own.

Progressives: Yank ALEC's Nonprofit Status!

| Mon Apr. 23, 2012 12:50 PM EDT

After pressuring dues-paying corporations to ditch the American Legislative Exchange Council, the good-government group Common Cause has launched a new attack on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) by challenging its status as a tax-exempt nonprofit.

Late last week, lawyers representing Common Cause filed a lawsuit under the Tax Whistleblower Act with the Internal Revenue Service accusing ALEC of violating its status as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit by "massive[ly] underreporting" its lobbying activities. The suit alleges that ALEC exists primarily to give corporate members the ability to "lobby state legislators and to deduct the costs of such efforts as charitable contributions." Non-profits like ALEC can't make lobbying a majority of their activities. (For a primer on ALEC, check out this 2002 Mother Jones story, "Ghostwriting the Law.")

Pew: Liberal Media Not So Hot On Obama in 2012

| Mon Apr. 23, 2012 11:55 AM EDT

The Liberal Media has consistently given more positive coverage to likely Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney compared to President Barack Obama, according to a new survey of media coverage from the Pew Research Center's Excellence in Journalism Project.

During the early weeks of 2012, Romney's media coverage was slightly negative—between January 2 and February 26, 33 percent of the stories about the ex-Massachusetts governor were positive and 37 percent were negative, according to Pew's analysis. But Romney has received mostly positive coverage since then (47 percent positive to 24 percent negative). By contrast, according to the report, President Barack Obama "did not have a single week in 2012 when positive coverage exceeded negative coverage."

One could argue that the media's tone on Obama was consistently negative for objective reasons—the state of the economy, for example, or Americans' disagreement with the president's foreign policy. But the negative coverage of Obama hasn't been particularly substantive—only 18 percent of coverage of Obama has been on domestic issues, with two percent on foreign issues. The vast majority of coverage, sixty-three percent, has been focused on "strategy," often the journalistic equivalent of empty calories. It's not as though the negative coverage has been driven by say, drone strikes in Yemen or inadequate responses to foreclosure fraud. Coverage of Romney, while more positive overall, was even more (74 percent) focused on "strategy." This is actually an improvement over 2008, since according to Pew, the media was even more preoccupied with horse-race coverage during that campaign.

The notion that Obama is getting a free ride, long a staple of right-wing media criticism since 2008, doesn't seem to be abating. If anything, it's spreading. Last Sunday, New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane wrote, "The Times needs to offer an aggressive look at the president’s record, policy promises and campaign operation to answer the question: Who is the real Barack Obama?" Either two autobiographies and three years in office have left Brisbane confused, or he's echoing the right-wing narrative that the president has a closet full of black berets and leather jackets the librul media has helped him cover up. (It was Brisbane who in January beclowned himself and the institution he represents by asking whether the New York Times should be a "truth vigilante," in particular whether "news reporters should challenge 'facts' that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.") 

Brisbane's columns offer an obvious example of the distorting impact of internalizing right-wing complaints about the media. The media's overwhelming focus on "strategy" and Obama's consistently negative coverage indicate that a preoccupation with public policy and an unwillingness to criticize the president are two afflictions the mainstream press is not suffering from.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 23, 2012

Mon Apr. 23, 2012 10:33 AM EDT

Spc. Justin Vnenchak, an infantryman with the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team, maintains security in his sector while fellow paratroopers and Afghan policemen search a compound on April 8, 2012, in southern Ghazni province, Afghanistan. US Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod.