Monday, June 27, 2011

Last Call

In another 5-4 decision where Justice Kennedy sided with the Roberts-Alito-Thomas-Scalia bloc as the deciding vote, SCOTUS struck down Arizona's campaign finance provision designed to even the playing field between privately funded candidates and publicly funded ones.

The law allowed candidates who qualified for public financing to receive a lump sum grant from the government if they refused to accept private contributions. It also allowed participating candidates to qualify for additional matching government funds if their opponents who chose not to participate in public funding spent more than the initial grant.

In its opinion, the majority targeted the so-called "trigger mechanism," which aimed to direct more public money to qualified candidates, and found that it violated the free speech rights of nonparticipating candidates.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for himself and the four other conservatives on the bench, stated that the matching funds provision "substantially burdens the speech of privately financed candidates and independent expenditure groups without serving a compelling state interest."

He said that laws "like Arizona's matching funds provision that inhibit robust and wide-open political debate without sufficient justification cannot stand."

In other words, evening up the playing field between privately funded campaigns and publicly funded ones is a violation of the first amendment rights of the privately-funded candidate, that inhibits their right to use money as free speech.

If that seems counter-intuitive and even downright fishy, it's because it is:  it's the same argument used in Citizens United, that any government limits on private campaign money use is an inhibition of free speech.  Yes, the first amendment absolutely exists to protect free speech from government interference, but this ruling basically says that not only is campaign money equivalent to free speech to the point it garners first amendment protections from the government regulation of it, but that only private campaign money gets this protection.

Chief Justice Roberts completely threw out the argument that the candidate who didn't have the resources was at the disadvantage, rather the candidate with the far greater amount of private money donations was in fact the one needing the protection.

Taking this argument to its endpoint is a rather frightening exercise.  Those who have money have more free speech rights than those who don't, and they have every right to exercise its use as they see fit in order to influence political contests.  The ruling leaves public financing of campaigns intact...for now.  But I'd have to say that we can't be far away from the day where a publicly financed candidate who wins an election is sued over this by their privately funded opponent, claiming that public campaign funding of any type is unconstitutional.

When that happens, the corporations really will own the country.

[UPDATE] In completely non-related news, I'm guest blogging for DougJ this week over at Balloon Juice.  Do behave yourselves over there.


Former Dem Gov. of Illinois and national embarrassment Rod Blagojevich got the hammer dropped on him today in his bribery and extortion retrial: Guilty on 17 of 20 counts.

The jury acquitted Blagojevich on one count of bribery and was unable to reach verdicts on two counts of attempted extortion.
The charges against Blagojevich included trying to peddle the U.S. Senate seat held by Barack Obama before he resigned to become president. Blagojevich has denied any intention of bribery.
Last August, after a two-month trial and 14 days of deliberation, jurors deadlocked on 23 of the 24 charges Blagojevich had faced. They found him guilty on one count of lying to FBI investigators, a conviction that could carry a prison sentence of five years.
The accusation that Blagojevich tried to profit as he considered whom to appoint to succeed Obama, among other allegations, prompted his impeachment by Illinois' House of Representatives and his removal from office by the state Senate in 2009.
Ten of the counts against him in the current trial are wire fraud. The other 10 involve extortion and bribery. Most of the counts have a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

Blago will certainly appeal, but at this point it's up to a judge to see how long he spends in jail.  He's pushing 55 as it is, so he could conceivably get a Madoff special and hundreds of years in jail, or something much shorter.  Dunno.

Either way, I am neither surprised or saddened by this.

Shot In The Dark

Earth suffers a near-miss from an asteroid today.  A near-miss as far as astronomy goes, anyway.

Astronomers have just discovered an asteroid that is expected come close enough to Earth Monday that it will be visible with amateur telescopes.

The Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research centre (LINEAR) spotted Asteroid 2011 MD on June 22. It has an orbit similar to Earth's.

The asteroid will be visible from parts of South Africa and Antarctica when it makes its closest approach at 1:14 p.m. EDT (1714 GMT), passing just 7,500 miles (12,000 kilometers) from the Earth's surface. The rock will be so close that its trajectory will be sharply altered by the Earth's gravity.

"There is no chance that 2011 MD will hit Earth but scientists will use the close pass as opportunity to study it w/ radar observations," NASA's @AsteroidWatch tweeted last week.

Scientists say there is no danger of the bus-sized object striking Earth this time, but an impact is possible when it makes the next pass in 2022.

Hey, maybe we'll have a space program by then too.  That would be nice, in case the thing, you know, is going to plow into a major population center 11 years from now.  If Republicans are in charge, well it'll be your fault for living in an asteroid-prone area without insurance.

In Which Zandar Answers Your Burning Questions

So in the space of 24 hours, FOX News Sunday host Chris Wallace asked if Michele Bachmann was a "flake", Wallace apologized yesterday evening, and Bachmann told him this morning to go to hell.

Via POLITICO's Jennifer Epstein, Michele Bachmann isn't accepting an apology from Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace for asking her yesterday, "Are you a flake?"

ABC News' Jon Karl, who's been getting face-time with Bachmann in Waterloo in advance of her formal campaign announcement, played a clip of the web video in which Wallace said, "I messed up. I'm sorry."

When Karl asked if she accepts the apology, Bachmann brushed aside the question this way: "I think that it's insulting to insinuate that a candidate for president is less than serious."

Trying the question again, Bachmann replied, "Those are the small issues. I'm focused on the big ones."

Steve M. asks today:

The only thing I can't figure out is whether this is all theater -- Wallace and Bachmann creating a phony controversy just to give her hero status. It seems unlikely -- Wallace, if anything, sullied the Fox brand by launching a red-on-red attack, though he sure directed some eyeballs to Fox, which may be the point. And I'm not sure whether Murdoch and Ailes want to pump Bachmann up (because the core audience needs a new hero), or would rather steer the rubes toward someone more electable (even at the expense of not giving the punters someone to cheer for). I'm going to guess that Wallace just went rogue here, and that his bosses like the attention but don't really want this Bachmania to get out of hand (she can't win and she hasn't been on the payroll) -- but I'm really not sure.

... Or maybe the whole sequence -- question, reaction, apology, refusal to accept apology -- is a staged, eyeball-grabbing, pro-wrestling-style scripted feud. You think? Am I being too cynical?

No, old friend, you're not.  The simple fact that this is bouncing off FOX, ABC, and pretty much confirms this is most likely a Village snow job with Ed Rollins's stinky fingerprints all over it.  This is straight out of the Palin Victim playbook, only it's being controlled by FOX.

It's a loud a clear message that red on red violence against Bachmann will not be tolerated and I absolutely see this as scripted as an episode of WWE RAW.  It's not the people that watch MSNBC that Ailes and Rollins are trying to reach here with this little poutrage bomb.  And better yet, FOX can just shift from "Chris Wallace said this" to "the mean old media said this" and get him off the hook too, all in time for her official campaign kickoff.

With all this violin-playing, somebody needs to be looking for the conductor.

On the other hand, it's entirely possible Bachmann is just stupid, petulant, ignorant, and thin-skinned too.

Murder With A Twist

A 13-year-old boy is in custody following the death of a woman in South Lanarkshire, Strathclyde Police have confirmed.
Police and ambulance services were called to a flat in Deveron Crescent, Hamilton, at about 2010 BST on Friday, where 34-year-old Dawn McKenzie was found seriously injured.

Not many details are out, but it is becoming a strange pattern to see kids involved in serious crimes.  I've read about several lately, and it does seem to be happening in a cluster.

Expect a follow-up to clarify as soon as more becomes known. 

And thus, an International Stupidity tag was born.  It's a good day to be a tag.

Billy The Kid Is Laughing

"The" Billy The Kid picture was auctioned for $2.3 million in Denver.  It's the only known picture, and the one used in every documentary, book and film.  He is reported to have paid a quarter for the picture.  He would be thrilled to know the return on his investment.

"When the bidding ended, the whole room erupted in clapping and people leapt to their feet," said Melissa McCracken, spokeswoman for the auction. "I've never experienced anything like this before."
The winning bidder was billionaire William Koch who founded Oxbow Carbon, with reported sales of $4 billion annually. Koch comes from a well-known family whose last name has made headlines in the past year for their political involvement.

Thus, the  Spiffy tag was born.

Another Milepost On The Road To Oblivion

If you're wondering why we can't afford a space program, it's probably because of things like...air conditioning our military in Afghanistan.

No, seriously.

The United States spends $20.2 billion annually on air conditioning for troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan — more than NASA's entire budget, NPR reported.

In fact, the same amount of money that keeps soldiers cool is the amount the G-8 has committed to helping the fledgling democracies in Tunisia and Egypt.

The necessary cooling costs so much because of the remote locations and danger involved in delivery equipment and fuel, Steven Anderson, a retired logistician who served under Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq.

"When you consider the cost to deliver the fuel to some of the most isolated places in the world — escorting, command and control, medevac support — when you throw all that infrastructure in, we're talking over $20 billion," Anderson told NPR. "You've got risks that are associated with moving the fuel almost every mile of the way."

And it's a long way to move the fuel: 800 miles of "improved goat trails" separate Karachi, where the fuel is shipped in, to Afghanistan. The transport takes 18 days. 

That's right, we spend more money on air conditioning in Afghanistan than we do on NASA.  Not "Our military budget is more than NASA" or "Our Afghanistan budget is more than NASA" or "Our vehicle budget is more than NASA" or "Our food bill in Afghanistan is more than NASA" but just the freakin A/C bill.

Makes me mad enough to put my fist through the monitor almost.  Air conditioning for a war of choice where billions and billions are wasted and stolen, not to mention the human cost.  And this is why we've shelved our space program.

Air conditioning.  America the Beautiful.

Exciting New Horizons In Obama Derangement Syndrome

The "Obama's just not like us" meme continues into the realm of dangerous "otherism" as over the weekend now one but two national newspaper op-eds ran full tilt with this nonsense.  I've talked about Obama As The Other before, and David Corn summed it up expertly:

Anti-Obama otherists have wrapped themselves in the flag of American exceptionalism, contending that Obama is different because he doesn't believe that the United States is special and superior to other nations. Last summer, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who at the time was mulling a bid for the GOP's 2012 presidential nomination, told Politico that Obama's "worldview is dramatically different than any president, Republican or Democrat, we've had… He grew up more as a globalist than an American. To deny American exceptionalism is in essence to deny the heart and soul of this nation." (In March, Huckabee, à la Gingrich, claimed, wrongly, that Obama had grown up in Kenya and had thus absorbed an anti-colonialist sentiment that prompted him to have a "very different view" of the British than "the average American.") In November, former GOP Sen. Rick Santorum, another 2012 wannabe, told College Republicans at American University, "America is exceptional, and Americans are concerned that there are a group of people in Washington who don't believe that any more."

Over the weekend both Maureen Dowd and Michael Barone got into the Cult of the Other.  Dowd was especially repugnant:

On the budget, he wants to cut spending and increase spending. On the environment, he wants to increase energy production but is reluctant to drill. On health care, he wants to get everybody covered but will not press for a universal system. On Wall Street, he assails fat cats, but at cocktail parties, he wants to collect some of their fat for his campaign.

On politics, he likes to be friends with the other side but bash ’em at the same time. For others, bipartisanship means transcending their own prior political identities. For President Obama, it means that he participates in all political identities. He does not seem deeply affiliated with any side except his own. 

And lo and behold we're right back to Obama the self-obsessed narcissist again.  Not one of us.  Not American.  Not human.  A mysterious cypher.  Too "other".  Michael Barone isn't much better:

Conservative critics have taken to comparing him, as you might imagine, with Jimmy Carter. The more cruel among them, like the Weekly Standard's Jay Cost, say the comparison is not to Obama's advantage.

But there is another comparison I think more appropriate for a president who, according to one of his foreign-policy staffers, prefers to "lead from behind." The man I have in mind is Chauncey Gardiner, the character played by Peter Sellers in the 1979 movie "Being There." 

As you may remember, Gardiner is a clueless gardener who is mistaken for a Washington eminence and becomes a presidential adviser. Asked if you can stimulate growth through temporary incentives, Gardiner says, "As long as the roots are not severed, all is well and all will be well in the garden." 

"First comes the spring and summer," he explains, "but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again." The president is awed as Gardiner sums up, "There will be growth in the spring."

Kind of reminds you of Obama's approach to the federal budget, doesn't it? 

Clueless.  Stupid.  Aloof.  Arrogant.  Undeserving.  Unqualified.  Not like us.  The "He's only President because of white guilt and affirmative action" is merely implied.  And it's still 17 months to go until the election.

The Siege Of Fort Calhoun

Given my extensive coverage of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and subsequent cover-up by TEPCO and Japan's government, we know the exactly the lengths to which a government will go to -- even a "democracy" will go to -- in order to try to hide a nuclear disaster from the world.

As the disaster in Japan continues to unfold, people here in the US have asked if any American nuclear plants are at the same risk of flooding or earthquakes, with a similar design to the Fukushima Daiichi plant.  The answer unfortunately is yes, there are several nuclear power plants in flood zones and quake zones in the US.  One of them, in a flood zone, is the plant at Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, some twenty miles north of Omaha.

If you've been paying attention to the news, you know that flooding along the Missouri, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers has been devastating this spring and continues into the early summer.  Fort Calhoun is on the Missouri River.

And the Missouri River has flooded the nuclear plant this weekend.

The Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station turned to diesel-powered generators Sunday after disconnecting from the main grid because of rising floodwaters.

That move came after water surrounded several buildings when a water-filled floodwall collapsed.
The plant, about 19 miles north of Omaha, remains safe, Omaha Public Power District officials said Sunday afternoon.

Sunday's event offers even more evidence that the relentlessly rising Missouri River is testing the flood worthiness of an American nuclear power plant like never before. The now-idle plant has become an island. And unlike other plants in the past, Fort Calhoun faces months of flooding.

This can't be a good thing.  Months of flooding?  Is the plant designed to handle that?  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission of course says everything is fine.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is monitoring the Missouri River at the plant, which has been shut down since early April for refueling. The Fort Calhoun plant will remain surrounded at least through August as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues dumping unprecedented amounts of water from upstream dams.

The 2,000-foot berm collapsed about 1:25 a.m. Sunday due to “onsite activities,” OPPD officials said. The Aqua Dam provided supplemental flood protection and was not required under NRC regulations.

“We put up the aqua-berm as additional protection,” said OPPD spokesman Mike Jones. “(The plant) is in the same situation it would have been in if the berm had not been added. We're still within NRC regulations.”

And that's exactly what TEPCO officials said three months ago.   Worth keeping an eye on this story, especially if you have friends or family near Omaha or Lincoln.  The news has gone out of their way to in fact stress that nobody's worried.

Just like Japan.


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