06/27/2011 archive

SCOTUS Strikes Down AZ Campaign Finance

Once again the corporate owned, conservative Supreme Court has struck down the 1998 Arizona Campaign Finance Law provided escalating matching funds to candidates who accept public financing. How the Roberts’ court decided that law violates the First Amendment rights of these corporation is truly a backbreaking twist if logic and the constitution.

The vote was again 5-to-4, with the same five justices in the majority as in the Citizens United decision. The majority’s rationale was that the law violated the First Amendment rights of candidates who raise private money. Such candidates, the majority said, may be reluctant to spend money to speak if they know that it will give rise to counter-speech paid for by the government.

“Laws like Arizona’s matching funds provision that inhibit robust and wide-open political debate without sufficient justification cannot stand,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. Justice Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined the majority opinion.

What about the under funded candidate’s right to be heard under the First amendment? The reason for the law, which  was written after a corruption scandals rocked the state’s election financing during the 90’s, was to foster free speech:

The idea was to encourage candidates to forgo the scramble for money, with all its inherent invitations to corruption — to spend more time speaking to the electorate, and less time speaking to potential funders.

In that sense, its goal was very much to increase genuine political speech. But to the Roberts court, money as speech takes precedence over speech as speech.

The court’s majority clearly telegraphed its antipathy to the Arizona provision during oral arguments in March. The only real suspense was whether they would go further, and use the case to cast doubt on public financing generally.

So there was a sense of relief in the good-government community Monday.

“This is not the death knell of public financing. This ruling affects only one mechanism of public financing, and there are numerous ways to fix it,” said Common Cause president Bob Edgar in a statement. “Today, in the wake of Citizens United, it is more critical than ever that we change the way we pay for our elections by moving to a small donor system that gives the public a voice back in our government. Nothing short of our democracy is at stake.”

Well, thank these corporate shill justice for that.

The dissent written by Justice Elena Kagan, which was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, said that the Arizona law protected the First Amendment by promoting more speech and less corruption. It is not just a scorching criticism of the majority but an indictment of their own corruption:

Justice Elena Kagan on Monday began her blistering minority dissent with a morality play comparing two states. One of them limits itself to what is essentially current federal campaign finance law — and “remains afflicted with corruption.” The other tries to create a robust public-financing regime — and rids itself of corruption. The majority, Kagan writes, has taken the side of corruption.:

A person familiar with our country’s core values — our devotion to democratic self-governance, as well as to “uninhibited, robust, and wide-open” debate, New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U. S. 254, 270 (1964) — might expect this Court to celebrate, or at least not to interfere with, the second State’s success. But today, the majority holds that the second State’s system — the system that produces honest government, working on behalf of all the people — clashes with our Constitution. The First Amendment, the majority insists, requires us all to rely on the measures employed in the first State, even when they have failed to break the stranglehold of special interests on elected officials.

I disagree. The First Amendment’s core purpose is to foster a healthy, vibrant political system full of robust discussion and debate. Nothing in Arizona’s anticorruption statute, the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Act, violates this constitutional protection. To the contrary, the Act promotes the values underlying both the First Amendment and our entire Constitution by enhancing the “opportunity for free political discussion to the end that government may be responsive to the will of the people.” I therefore respectfully dissent.

After the recent rulings that have sided with corporations this ruling comes as no surprise.

h/t to David Dayen for further reading on this decision at The Brennan Center for Justice

Monday Business Edition

Due to playing in the mud (don’t ask, trust me it’s messy), the Monday Business Edition will brought to you by c’est moi.

Consumer spending set to restrain second-quarter growth

(Reuters) – Consumer spending was flat in May, breaking a string of 10 straight months of gains, as households struggled with rising prices and automakers failed to deliver the models Americans wanted.

When adjusted for inflation, spending slipped 0.1 percent, the Commerce Department said on Monday, falling for a second straight month.

Los Angeles Dodgers file for bankruptcy

(Reuters) – The Los Angeles Dodgers filed for bankruptcy protection, blaming Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig for rejecting a television deal that would have given the financially strapped baseball team a quick injection of cash.

Monday’s filing marks a dramatic attempt by Dodgers owner Frank McCourt to keep the league from seizing the storied team, which he has owned since 2004.

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Robert Reich: Why the Republican War on Workers Rights Undermines the American Economy

The battle has resumed in Wisconsin. The state supreme court has allowed Governor Scott Walker to strip bargaining rights from state workers. . . . .

This war on workers’ rights is an assault on the middle class, and it is undermining the American economy.

The American economy can’t get out of neutral until American workers have more money in their pockets to buy what they produce. And unions are the best way to give them the bargaining power to get better pay.

Robert Dreyfuss: Reality Check: Budget Cuts Inevitable at the Department of Defense

There’s an inevitability to the coming decline of U.S. power and influence worldwide, as the American economy shrinks relative to the economic power of other countries, as America’s allies in places like Egypt strike out on their own, and as the size of the US military declines because the United States can no longer afford to spend upwards of $700 billion on defense.

Still, there are those who believe that the United States must maintain, and even increase its spending at the Pentagon, even as more and more Republicans are prepared to throw the military under the bus to save money. Take, for instance, Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post, who pens an op-ed in today’s paper entitled: “What’s happened to America’s leadership role?” Hiatt, a reliable hawk who’s helped steer the Post into indefensibly pro-defense positions, including support for the wars in Afghanistan and Libya, accuses President Obama of surrendering the US leadership role by refusing to take the lead in battling Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi and by backing a modest drawdown in Afghanistan:

John Nichols: Bernie Sanders to Obama: ‘Do Not Yield to Outrageous Republican Demands’ on Taxes, Cuts, Deficit Policy

Bernie Sanders went to the floor of the Senate last December to deliver the most important congressional address of 2010, a nine-hour long, filibuster-style condemnation of economic policies that favored the rich while burdening working Americans. The independent senator from Vermont electrified the nation with a call for economic justice that challenged Obama administration compromises with Republicans on issues of tax policy and declared: “There is a war going on in this country, and I am not referring to the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. I am talking about a war being waged by some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in this country against the working families of the United States of America, against the disappearing and shrinking middle class of our country.”

Now, as Republicans pressure the president to embrace an approach to deficit reduction that will further widen the gap between rich and working Americans-with tax breaks for the wealthy and the slashing of benefits for the what remains of the middle class-Sanders is preparing to return to the Senate floor Monday for another epic challenge to the failed economic policies of Wall Street and its political amen corner.

Geoffrey R. Stone:Our Untransparent President

AS a longtime supporter and colleague of Barack Obama at the University of Chicago, as well as an informal adviser to his 2008 campaign, I had high hopes that he would restore the balance between government secrecy and government transparency that had been lost under George W. Bush, and that he would follow through on his promise, as a candidate, to promote openness and public accountability in government policy making.

It has not quite worked out that way. While Mr. Obama has taken certain steps, notably early in his administration, to scale back some of the Bush-era excesses, in other respects he has shown a disappointing willingness to continue in his predecessor’s footsteps.

New York Times Editorial: Gay Marriage: A Milestone

New York State has made a powerful and principled choice by giving all couples the right to wed and enjoy the legal rights of marriage. It is a proud moment for New Yorkers, thousands of whom took to the streets on Sunday to celebrate this step forward. But this moment does not erase the bigotry against gays and lesbians enshrined in the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal recognition of same-sex marriages and allows any state to refuse to recognize another state’s unions.

Though there was unnecessary secrecy in the negotiations, Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a determined effort to achieve marriage equality in New York. He shares credit with the four Republican state senators who bucked their party and threats from conservatives to do what they knew was right. State Senators James Alesi, Roy McDonald, Mark Grisanti and Stephen Saland, all from upstate districts, deserve the support of their communities. They showed the kind of strength that is extremely hard to find in today’s politics.

Joe Conason: The Ruinous Rant of John McCain

The decline of the Grand Old Party into an angry mob is gaining momentum, with crackpot rage displacing common sense on every major issue from public finance to marriage rights.

An ominous signal of this transformation emanated last week from John McCain, who has been a sometime voice of rationality on such sensitive partisan matters as torture, climate change and immigration. Now he, too, has descended into demagoguery by falsely claiming that illegal immigrants are behind the spread of destructive wildfires in Arizona.

On This Day In History June 27

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on images to enlarge.

June 27 is the 178th day of the year (179th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 187 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1950, Truman orders U.S. forces to Korea.

On June 27, 1950, President Harry S. Truman announces that he is ordering U.S. air and naval forces to South Korea to aid the democratic nation in repulsing an invasion by communist North Korea. The United States was undertaking the major military operation, he explained, to enforce a United Nations resolution calling for an end to hostilities, and to stem the spread of communism in Asia. In addition to ordering U.S. forces to Korea, Truman also deployed the U.S. 7th Fleet to Formosa (Taiwan) to guard against invasion by communist China and ordered an acceleration of military aid to French forces fighting communist guerrillas in Vietnam.

Factors in US intervention

The Truman Administration was caught at a crossroads. Before the invasion, Korea was not included in the strategic Asian Defense Perimeter outlined by Secretary of State Acheson. Military strategists were more concerned with the security of Europe against the Soviet Union than East Asia. At the same time, the Administration was worried that a war in Korea could quickly widen into another world war should the Chinese or Soviets decide to get involved as well.

One facet of the changing attitude toward Korea and whether to get involved was Japan. Especially after the fall of China to the Communists, “…Japan itself increasingly appeared as the major East Asian prize to be protected”. US East Asian experts saw Japan as the critical counterweight to the Soviet Union and China in the region. While there was no United States policy that dealt with South Korea directly as a national interest, its proximity to Japan pushed South Korea to the fore. “The recognition that the security of Japan required a non-hostile Korea led directly to President Truman’s decision to intervene… The essential point… is that the American response to the North Korean attack stemmed from considerations of US policy toward Japan.” The United States wanted to shore up Japan to make it a viable counterweight against the Soviet Union and China, and Korea was seen as integral to that end.

The other important part of committing to intervention lay in speculation about Soviet action in the event that the United States intervene. The Truman administration was fretful that a war in Korea was a diversionary assault that would escalate to a general war in Europe once the US committed in Korea. At the same time, “[t]here was no suggestion from anyone that the United Nations or the United States could back away from (the conflict)”. In Truman’s mind, this aggression, if left unchecked, would start a chain reaction that would destroy the United Nations and give the go ahead to further Communist aggression elsewhere. Korea was where a stand had to be made, the difficult part was how. The UN Security council approved the use of force to help the South Koreans and the US immediately began using air and naval forces in the area to that end. The Administration still refrained from committing on the ground because some advisors believed the North Koreans could be stopped by air and naval power alone. Also, it was still uncertain if this was a clever ploy by the Soviet Union to catch the US unawares or just a test of US resolve. The decision to commit ground troops and to intervene eventually became viable when a communiqué was received on June 27 from the Soviet Union that alluded it would not move against US forces in Korea. “This opened the way for the sending of American ground forces, for it now seemed less likely that a general war-with Korea as a preliminary diversion-was imminent”. With the Soviet Union’s tacit agreement that this would not cause an escalation, the United States now could intervene with confidence that other commitments would not be jeopardized.

Six In The Morning

Europe Stifles Drivers in Favor of Alternatives


Published: June 26, 2011

ZURICH – While American cities are synchronizing green lights to improve traffic flow and offering apps to help drivers find parking, many European cities are doing the opposite: creating environments openly hostile to cars. The methods vary, but the mission is clear – to make car use expensive and just plain miserable enough to tilt drivers toward more environmentally friendly modes of transportation.

Cities including Vienna to Munich and Copenhagen have closed vast swaths of streets to car traffic. Barcelona and Paris have had car lanes eroded by popular bike-sharing programs. Drivers in London and Stockholm pay hefty congestion charges just for entering the heart of the city. And over the past two years, dozens of German cities have joined a national network of “environmental zones” where only cars with low carbon dioxide emissions may enter.

Monday’s Headlines:

Philip Morris sues over Australian plans to ban logos from cigarette packets

Khmer Rouge trial begins despite ‘political pressure’

Libya: Fierce fighting south-west of Tripoli

Eternal triangle fuels Uganda tension

Women’s World Cup kicks off in Germany

Pique the Geek 20110626: Sulfur

Sulfur is one of the few chemical elements found in its pure state in nature.  Consequently, it was known and used by the ancients.  Many of those uses are still employed to this day, so it is a good thing that sulfur is rather common, at least locally.  Historically, sulfur was mined near volcanic activity and thermal springs where it often occurs.  In a few third world countries that is still a source of income for a significant number of people.

As the use of sulfur (mostly as sulfuric acid) increased in the 19th century, mining sulfur near volcanic regions could not keep up with demand, so new sources had to be developed.  It was known that vast amounts of sulfur occur in association with salt domes in and near the Gulf of Mexico, but there was no way to mine it due to water and shifting sand.  Thus, in 1894 a brilliant process was devised by German-American engineer Herman Frasch to solve the problem.