Political MoJo

Supreme Court Rules Against NY Times; Press Freedom Continues to Die a Slow Death

| Tue Nov. 28, 2006 2:46 PM EST

The Supreme Court ruled against the New York Times yesterday, refusing to block the government from reviewing telephone records of two reporters in a leak investigation concerning a terrorism-funding probe.

In a series of stories in 2001, the Times revealed the government's plans to freeze the assets of two Islamic charities, the Holy Land Foundation and the Global Relief Foundation. The cast of characters here are old and familiar: the reporters are Judy Miller and Philip Shenon and the U.S. Attorney trying to track down the reporters' confidential sources is Patrick Fitzgerald. (For the record, the Fitzgerald fetishizing that was so abundant during the Plamegate scandal may have missed an important point: Fitzgerald is still an agent of a hyper-aggressive government that frequently targets reporters in an effort to curtail their ability to do their jobs. Sometimes his duties put in him the right, sometimes in the wrong.)

Just yesterday, Mother Jones blogged about the Hearst Co. lawyer who is trying (and, unfortunately, frequently failing) to protect the rights of reporters in her company who find themselves under subpoena more and more these days.

And on Sunday, the San Francisco Chronicle demonstrated their concern on the subject with a very good and very thorough piece entitled "ASSAULT ON PRESS FREEDOM." No mucking around there.

Put it all together and there's little wonder we're tied with Botswana, Croatia and Tonga for 53rd in the 2006 Press Rankings.

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Chris Carney, the Fighting Dem With Intel Creds. How Will He Use Them?

| Tue Nov. 28, 2006 2:34 PM EST

Newly elected Democrat Chris Carney of Pennsylvania is the only member of Congress with a background doing pre-war intelligence on Iraq. A New York Times profile today looks at whether he'll aide congressional investigations into the flawed intel that led to war. Not likely:

Mr. Carney is not enthusiastic about the possibility of a new Congressional investigation of prewar intelligence, which he said would be a major distraction. For Mr. Carney, there is an element of been there, done that to looking back at the now-familiar cast of prewar characters, including Mr. Feith; Mr. Tenet; Paul D. Wolfowitz, the former deputy defense secretary; and Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi opposition leader who was a prewar favorite of many in the Defense Department to take the reins of a future Iraqi government.

"Let's win the war first, then maybe look at how we got into it," Mr. Carney said. "The more energy spent on answering Congressional investigations, the less time will be spent on winning the war."

The Times story makes passing mention of Republican efforts during the campaign to smear Carney for his intelligence work, which, ironically, had been part of a pre-war intel review led by high ranking members of the GOP (a group first covered by Mother Jones). Also, for an early rundown on the swift boating of Carney, and his response at the time, see my MJ story, Swift Boating the Fighting Dems.

Homeland Security's Legal Loophole

| Tue Nov. 28, 2006 1:15 PM EST

Cross-posted from The Tortellini:

The Washington Post reported last week that the Department of Homeland Security has shown complete ineptness in contracting for a host of anti-terrorism services and devices. These include everything from airport screening machines to radiation detectors. The Post notes that DHS has wasted billions of dollars on security stuff, much of which doesn't work.

I find these stories especially disturbing because in creating the department, Congress allowed DHS to grant legal immunity to the manufacturers of anti-terrorism products. That means victims of a terrorist attack would not be able to sue a manufacturer if, say, its gas mask failed to filter out anthrax spores as promised.

More of Democracy's Downside in the Middle East

| Tue Nov. 28, 2006 2:13 AM EST

As in Egypt, the Palestinian territories and Iraq, so in Bahrain. Given the chance to vote more or less freely, even for a Parliament with limited powers, voters in the island kingdom overwhelmingly threw their support behind Islamist parties. Their secular liberal opponents were stomped flat.

Death Sentences Dropping

| Tue Nov. 28, 2006 2:00 AM EST

Hurray for DNA! Thanks in large part to all those guys who keep getting exonerated from death row, the number of death sentences juries have handed down in execution-happy Texas has dropped by more than half in the last ten years, from 40 in 1996 to just 14 this year. That fits the pattern nationwide, where death sentences have fallen from about 300 per year in the 1990s to 125 in 2005. Even Texas' Harris County, which has sent more residents to Death Row than any other jurisdiction in America in recent decades, only sentenced three people to be executed this year.

Brownback May Block Bush's Nominee For U.S. District Court Judgeship

| Mon Nov. 27, 2006 9:15 PM EST

Judge Janet T. Neff, a member of the Michigan Court of Appeals, is George W. Bush's nominee for a spot on the U.S. District Court. Neff has a long-time neighbor who is a lesbian, and in 2002, she attended her friend's commitment ceremony in Massachusetts. According to Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Neff's attendance gave the appearance that she "betrayed her legal views on gay marriage."

Apparently, whether Neff favors gay marriage or not, Brownback thinks it would be perfectly fine for her to betray her friendship and hurt her friend's feelings. Such is the complexity of "family values."

The senator says he does not believe Neff should automatically be disqualified because she attended the ceremony. "I'm still looking at the Neff situation, and I will in the future," he said.

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Foreign Aid Used to Manipulate U.N. Votes

| Mon Nov. 27, 2006 8:46 PM EST

From the Atlantic (sub only):

The occupants of the ten rotating seats on the United Nations Security Council may, in effect, be trading their votes for cash, argues an article in The Journal of Political Economy. When nations begin their two-year terms on the Security Council, the aid they receive directly from the UN jumps 8 percent. Once a country's term expires, aid immediately drops to pre-membership levels, leading the authors to reject the possibility that temporary members receive more aid because they have become more visible. During periods when the Security Council is very active (and when temporary members' votes are more valuable), annual aid for developing countries holding temporary seats rises 166 percent. The authors single out the United States as an especially likely vote buyer: rotating members receive 59 percent more U.S. foreign aid while on the council, and their gains in direct UN aid come primarily via UNICEF, an organization seen as a center of U.S. influence.

For more [pdf]: "How Much Is a Seat on the Security Council Worth? Foreign Aid and Bribery at the United Nations," Ilyana Kuziemko and Eric Werker, The Journal of Political Economy

Did Exxon Nix Showing "An Inconvenient Truth" in Schools?

| Mon Nov. 27, 2006 4:54 PM EST

That's the theory put forth by Laurie David in the Washington Post, describing how the National Science Teachers Association rejected an offer to send 50,000 free copies of Al Gore's shockumentary to schools. The NSTA claimed that it didn't want to distribute materials from "special interests" and besides, the film offered "little, if any, benefit to NSTA or its members." And, oh yeah—it might tick off the global-warming deniers at Exxon:

But there was one more curious argument in the e-mail: Accepting the DVDs, they wrote, would place "unnecessary risk upon the [NSTA] capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters." One of those supporters, it turns out, is the Exxon Mobil Corp.

That's the same Exxon Mobil that for more than a decade has done everything possible to muddle public understanding of global warming and stifle any serious effort to solve it.

While the NSTA won't distribute science-based documentaries like Gore's, it does promote curricula from companies including Exxon:

And it has been doing so for longer than you may think. NSTA says it has received $6 million from the company since 1996, mostly for the association's "Building a Presence for Science" program, an electronic networking initiative intended to "bring standards-based teaching and learning" into schools, according to the NSTA Web site. Exxon Mobil has a representative on the group's corporate advisory board. And in 2003, NSTA gave the company an award for its commitment to science education.

So much for special interests and implicit endorsements.

Exxon may be funding more than just innocuous science materials. Laurie reports that its free lesson plans for teachers include "propaganda challenging global warming."

The Press is Less and Less Protected in America: An Update from the Front Lines

| Mon Nov. 27, 2006 4:28 PM EST

One for the "War on the Press" file. Back when the 2006 Press Freedom Rankings were released -- with the U.S. placing a depressing 53rd -- Mother Jones made mention of the plight of Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, the indicted-and-likely-to-be-jailed San Francisco Chronicle reporters who used leaked grand jury testimony to expose the Balco steroid scandal. Today, the New York Times hangs out with Fainaru-Wada and Williams' lawyer, as she fights on behalf of Hearst employees, usually reporters, who are having their notebooks, phone logs, and personal correspondence forced open by the federal government. She does not see the plight of the press becoming any easier:

In the last 18 months, she says, her company has received 80 newsgathering subpoenas, for broadcast stations, newspapers and magazines. "But that was after the Judy Miller case," she said, mentioning the case in which the former New York Times reporter went to jail to protect a source. "In the two years before that, we had maybe four or five subpoenas. We didn't even keep track."

And as for Fainaru-Wada and Williams, the lawyer says:

"This is the single biggest case I have ever been involved in," she added. "In terms of the public's right to know what the government does and doesn't do, it is huge. If the government wins in this case, every reporter's notebook will be available to the government for the asking....You won't get the Watergate story, you won't get the Pentagon Papers."

In The Good Fight, Peter Beinart argues that America's brightest policymakers in the early Cold War period realized that a strong American foreign policy required a thriving domestic polity. That is to say, in order to spread (or attempt to spread) an American vision abroad, the American public needed to be healthy and whole, with each member given an equal chance to a succeed and a set of rights that were respected and protected. One wonders if the Bush Administration needs a reminder: You make a less convincing argument for democracy to the Iraqis and Afghanis (and Iranians and Syrians) when you go around tossing the fourth estate in prison.

K Street's New 800-lb Gorilla

| Mon Nov. 27, 2006 4:10 PM EST

Just in time to face down Washington's new regulatory mavens, the two major Wall Street lobbying groups, representing securities and bonds traders, have merged this year into a behemoth. Reports the Washington Post:

The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, with a budget of $80 million, is the main mouthpiece for the financial services industry, the biggest corporate player in national politics. Only organized labor donates more to candidates for federal offices.

When added together, SIFMA's political action committees gave more than $1 million during the 2006 election season, putting the organization in the top 25 of all PACs. Its combined $8.5 million in spending on federal lobbying last year placed it in the top 30.

The association will need all that and more. It's already at the center of some of the most heated, high-stakes battles on Capitol Hill. It has begun to question the regulatory requirements under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and wants to extend the temporary, multibillion-dollar tax breaks for profits garnered from stocks and bonds.

Don't expect Democrats to shoot this new K-Street Kong off the ramparts. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's top campaign donors? Securities and investment companies. Her supporters in Silicon Valley have argued Sarbanes-Oxley creates too many roadblocks to taking companies public. The Speaker supports reforming the law. Look for proposed administrative changes to Sarbanes by the SEC in a week or two.