Demonstrators gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington on Tuesday, October 8, 2013, as the court heard arguments on campaign finance.
The Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (FEC), in a case that could lead to huge changes in campaign financing. Below are some articles that shed light on where the case may be going.
All the Justices were in their assigned roles: Justice Scalia, sarcastic as ever, bemoaning any regulation; Justice Ginsburg complaining about undue influence of big donors; Justice Breyer buried in the facts (and somewhat confused) looking for a way out without seeing campaign finance law further deregulated by the court.
But the Chief Justice was different. He was not predictable. While he has shown great hostility to limits on independent spending, we really did not know much about what he thought about the danger of corruption from large money coming directly to officeholders and candidates. Today his questions suggested nuance and a middle ground — not a Scaliaesque (or Thomasesque) aversion to any limits.
Syria President Bashar al-Assad. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)
Do you find yourself trying to make sense of the dynamics that led up to Syria’s brutal civil war? Are you struggling to understand the geopolitics of it all in a news environment dominated by quick-and-dirty analysis? Here are some essential reads that will help you gain a deeper understanding of what’s happening in Syria, in Washington and in other countries with a stake in the conflict.
A just war?: Humanitarian intervention rests heavily on “just war” theory–specifically the notion, developed in the post-Cold War era as part of the broader “human security movement,” that the international community has a responsibility to protect innocent civilians from being massacred by their own governments. Moral philosophers tend to use a complex mix of criteria to determine whether an armed intervention might rise to the level of a just war, and these standards are often subject to fierce debate. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit friar, rounds up what just war theorists are saying about a possible strike on Syria in The National Catholic Reporter.
Journalist Glenn Greenwald speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, July 14, 2013. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
Edward Snowden’s leaks, the first of which were published in early June, have launched a hearty debate about the oversight of government surveillance programs. The debate has forced the president to announce (what many see as timid) reforms. Meanwhile, journalist Glenn Greenwald has continued to publish new stories based on Snowden’s documents that allege ever-greater levels of domestic spying by government entities. Here are some highlights from the discussion around the extent of government surveillance and the role of whistleblowers and leakers in our democracy.
In interviews with Edward Snowden, documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald, Maass tracks in great detail the events that led up to their meeting in Hong Kong — during which Snowden was interviewed for days by Poitras and Greenwald — and the relationship between the three as Greenwald continued to break stories, Poitras continued work on a documentary about the NSA and Snowden fled to Russia. Maass writes that Greenwald, at first, was skeptical of Snowden and did not reply to his emails. It was Poitras who brought Greenwald to the story. “Their work was organized like an intelligence operation, with Poitras as the mastermind,” Maass writes. “Operational security — she dictated all of that,” Greenwald told Maass. “None of this would have happened with anything near the efficacy and impact it did, had she not been working with me in every sense and really taking the lead in coordinating most of it.” Read more »
The sun sets on Detroit, Thursday, July 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
This roundup pulls together several thought-provoking articles and columns on Detroit’s bankruptcy and what it says about the past and future of America’s cities.
Greg Gardner of the Detroit Free-Press on popular (and mostly right-wing) misconceptions about his city’s decline: “Greedy unions. Decades of neglect. Too much government. Not enough government services. Over-dependence on the auto industry. There’s probably someone who has blamed the bankruptcy on bad pizza,” Gardner writes. “Some of this volunteered wisdom is sprinkled with kernels of truth. A good bit of it is just plain wrong, or certainly strange and out of left field.” Two such myths are that “the domestic auto industry and Detroit are synonymous, and rich city pension benefits have pushed the Detroit budget into ruin.” Both are mostly false. Scott Martelle, author of Detroit: A Biography, does a similar debunking for The Washington Post. MORE
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, left, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the top two Republicans in Congress. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
After forty-some years of expert Washington watching, Norm Ornstein thought he’d seen it all. But the political scientist, American Enterprise Institute scholar and recent Moyers & Company guest writes in National Journal that the obstructionism exhibited by the GOP around all things Obamacare takes the proverbial cake. Their focus on “sabotaging the implementation of Obamacare,” he says, is “monomaniacal.”
Ornstein looks back at other controversial legislation advanced by presidents in the last decade that were ripe for obstruction by the opposing party, including President George W. Bush’s Medicare prescription drug plan. The bill, in its final form, gave Democrats many reasons to be upset — Senator Ted Kennedy worked with Bush to form a bill that both parties were happy with, then Republicans removed all of Kennedy’s provisions and passed the stripped-down version. Ornstein writes:
Almost certainly, Democrats could have tarnished one of George W. Bush’s signature achievements, causing Republicans major heartburn in the 2004 presidential and congressional elections —and in the process hurting millions of Medicare recipients and their families. Instead, Democrats worked with Republicans, and with Mark McClellan, the Bush administration official in charge of implementation, to smooth out the process and make it work—and it has been a smashing success. MORE
A new study shows that your potential for climbing the income ladder in the United States is largely dependent on your hometown. “Where you grow up matters,” Harvard economist and study author Nathaniel Hendren told The New York Times. “There is tremendous variation across the U.S. in the extent to which kids can rise out of poverty.” MORE
It’s been over a week since the new revelations about NSA surveillance programs started rolling in. Since then, there’s been a non-stop storm of reporting and opinions in the media. Here are a few articles we didn’t want you to miss. We’ll continue to keep you updated with tweets and links to interesting perspectives on this important story.
In the closing years of the last century, newspapers and broadcasters reported extensively on a program known as Echelon, under which the N.S.A. and allied intelligence agencies used satellite receivers, underseas-cable taps, and powerful computers to download and search a hefty proportion of the world’s electronic traffic. (“If you made a phone call today or sent an e-mail to a friend,” Steve Kroft began a “60 Minutes” report, in February of 2000, “there’s a good chance what you said or wrote was captured and screened by the country’s largest intelligence agency.”) After 9/11, when such activities expanded exponentially, the press did its best to keep up….This month’s leaks to the Post and the Guardian add rich texture to the picture, but what is genuinely new is that, confronted with unmistakably authentic N.S.A. documents, the government, up to and including the President, has begun to feel compelled to come clean—or, at least, less dirty.
Last month, President Obama made a speech in Chicago, a city that has been ravaged by gun violence in the past few years, in which he lamented that “too many of our children are being taken away from us.”
One of the places bearing the brunt of that loss is Harper High School in Chicago’s South Side. Last year, a total of 29 current and recent students of the school were shot. Eight of them died. Last month, NPR’s This American Life did a two-part series on the school to find out “how teens and adults navigate a world of funerals and Homecoming dances.” They spent five months at the school, talking with teachers, students and parents about what it’s like to live amidst persistent gun violence. MORE
Anthony Lewis in the documentary Defending Gideon.
Anthony Lewis, The New York Times journalist whose masterwork chronicled the Supreme Court’s landmark Gideon v. Wainwright decision, died earlier this week at the age of 85. The court’s ruling, handed down 50 years ago last week, established a criminal defendant’s right to an attorney, even if that defendant cannot afford one. On our next episode of Moyers & Company, Bill and Bryan Stevenson, the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, discuss how despite decisions like Gideon, economic and racial inequality continue to plague our justice system — in many cases, running more rampant than ever.
Here are some resources on Anthony Lewis and the legacy of Gideon v. Wainwright.
1. Gideon’s Trumpet
In 1964, Lewis, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, published his book Gideon’s Trumpet. In it, he described Clarence Earl Gideon as a wrongly convicted Florida man convinced that he was entitled to legal representation even though the state of Florida said otherwise. He wrote:
“Gideon was a fifty-one-year-old white man who had been in and out of prisons much of his life. He had served time for four previous felonies, and he bore the physical marks of a destitute life: a wrinkled, prematurely aged face, a voice and hands that trembled, a frail body, white hair. He had never been a professional criminal or man of violence; he just could not seem to settle down to work, and so he had made his way by gambling and occasional thefts. Those who had known him, even the men who had arrested him and those who were now his jailers, considered Gideon a perfectly harmless human being, rather likeable, but one tossed aside by life. Anyone meeting him for the first time would be likely to regard him as the most wretched of men. MORE
Inequality is Holding Back the Recovery: “[T]he hollowing out of the middle class since the 1970s, a phenomenon interrupted only briefly in the 1990s, means that they are unable to invest in their future, by educating themselves and their children and by starting or improving businesses.” [Joseph E. Stiglitz in The New York Times]
Clinic owner Diane Derzis stands outside the Jackson Women's Health Organization Inc., Mississippis only commercial abortion clinic in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. Activists pro-and anti-abortion marked 40 years since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling established a nationwide right to abortion, with protests at the Capitol and at the clinic. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Chipping Away at Roe v. Wade: “Over the past 40 years, state legislatures across the country have managed to place a slew of impediments, inconveniences and indignities between women and their right to choose.” [Katrina vanden Heuvel in The Washington Post]
Visit the Tiny Town Where Big Coal Will Meet Its Fate: “The Port of Morrow, where coal would be transferred from inland trains onto outbound river barges in the small town of Boardman, is just one of five proposed new coal export terminals now under consideration in Oregon and Washington. If built, the terminals could more than double the amount of coal the US ships overseas, most of it bound for insatiable markets in China, India, South Korea, and a suite of other Asian nations.” [Mother Jones]
Prancing on a Volcano: “Today we know almost everything, but can’t seem to act on the knowledge or even take it seriously. As George Orwell famously observed, ‘To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.’ Geospatial satellites can tell us—literally—where we are at any moment, but they can’t ensure that we move in a sensible direction.” [Vanity Fair]
For Second-Term Presidents, a Shorter Honeymoon: “[I]t used to be that presidents enjoyed a “honeymoon period” at the beginning of their second term, with a large number of Americans who had failed to vote for them nevertheless expressing their best wishes.” [Nate Silver in The New York Times]
Political War Profiteers: 20 Consulting Firms Churn 80 Percent of Super PAC Cash: “Of the $620 million that super PACs doled out during the 2012 campaign cycle, records filed with the Federal Election Commission as of Dec. 6 reveal that 80 percent was spent through just 20 consulting firms. As the graphic above illustrates, a tightly interwoven network of Washington insiders reaped the biggest benefits of Citizens United and subsequent decisions that gave rise to a new class of outsider-insiders who have become a new political establishment.” [Sunlight Foundation]
Democratic candidate for North Dakota's U.S. Senate seat Heidi Heitkamp speaks to supporters early Wednesday morning Nov. 7, 2012, in Bismarck, N.D.. As votes continue to be counted, Heitkamp has a slim lead over Republican challenger Rick Berg. Berg has not conceded. (AP Photo/Will Kincaid)
Meet the NRA-Backed Senate Democrats Who Oppose Obama’s Gun Violence Prevention Plan: “[A] group of Senate Democrats, all of them highly rated by the National Rifle Association, are refusing to say if they support the President’s reform package.” [ThinkProgress]
Can These New Federal Rules Rein in Foreclosure-Frenzied Banks?: “Servicers, which collect mortgage payments from borrowers and work out terms of a loan, are supposed to explore all alternatives to foreclosure before reclaiming a home, and to give homeowners a fair and clear evaluation process. But as millions of borrowers fell behind on payments in the wake of the financial meltdown, loan servicers got slammed by tons of added legwork and administration, and many more got perverse incentives to fast-track borrowers into default.” [Mother Jones]
The United States Needs to See the Doctor: “The study enumerates other key, if unsurprising, factors in our shortness of life. ‘Americans are more likely to find their health care inaccessible or unaffordable,’ it concludes. ‘Americans benefit less from safety net programs that can buffer the negative health effects of poverty and other social disadvantages.’” [The Washington Post] MORE
Can Obama Speak to History?: “He’s never given himself a phrase or sentence to wield in the crunch, conveying an idea that’s simple and yet profound enough to embed itself in the public’s mind, and that truly defines his political vision.” [The New Yorker]
President Obama, accompanied by Vice President Biden, and children who wrote the president about gun violence following last month's shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., signs executive orders to reduce gun violence on Wednesday. From left are: Biden Hinna Zeejah, 8, and Nadia Zeejah, Hinna’s mother, Taejah Goode, 10, and Kimberly Graves, Taejah’s mother, Julia Stokes, 11, and Dr. Theophil Stokes, Julia’s father, and Grant Fritz, 8, (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Obama’s Far-Reaching Gun-Proposals Face Uncertain Fate in Divided Congress: “Within hours of Obama’s formal policy rollout at the White House, Republicans who had previously said they were open to a discussion about gun violence condemned his agenda as violating the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms.” [Washington Post] MORE
GOP Debt Limit Bluff Exposed: “House and Senate Republicans, as well as influential conservative advocates and media figures, have joined Newt Gingrich, Wall Street Journal editors and others pressing Republicans to give up the ghost.” [Talking Points Memo]
Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., left, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., center, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., right, finish a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, where they and other lawmakers announced their plan to introduce new legislation to eliminate the federal debt ceiling. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Public Option Resurfaced by House Democrats as Deficit Reduction Measure: “According to a Tuesday statement from Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s (D-Ill.) office, Schakowsky, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), and 43 other House members have introduced the Public Option Deficit Reduction Act, which would “would offer the choice of a publicly-run health insurance plan, an option that would save more than $100 billion over 10 years.” [Huffington Post]
For ‘Party of Business,’ Allegiances are Shifting: “Corporate chiefs in recent months have pleaded publicly with Republicans to raise their taxes for the sake of deficit reduction, and to raise the nation’s debt limit without a fight lest another confrontation like that in 2011 wallop the economy. But the lobbying has been to no avail. This is not their parents’ Republican Party.” [The New York Times]
Unmasking the NRA’s Inner Circle: “Today’s NRA, widely considered to be disproportionately influential in politics, operates more like a corporation or politburo than a typical nonprofit or lobbying organization. Its 76 board directors and 10 executive officers keep a grip on power through elections in which ordinary grassroots members appear to have little say.” [Mother Jones]
NRA Unleashes Lobbyists: “The NRA kept its dozen in-house lobbyists on lockdown in the first month after the Newtown massacre, but no more. The group is moving back onto Capitol Hill in force, not shying away from its take-no-prisoners message: no new gun laws.” [Politico]
Rigging Democracy — Why the People Won’t Pick the Next President or Congress — Unless We Act Now: “Obama’s victory overshadowed the fact that Republicans maintain control of the House of Representatives and won dramatic victories at the state level that seem almost mathematically miraculous in how they flout majority rule.” [In These Times]
When Public Outperforms Private in Services: “The pursuit of financial rewards, by private companies or even nonprofit organizations, can directly undermine public policy goals.” [The New York Times] MORE
In this new feature, we’ll share stories from around the Internet that we’re passing around here at Moyers HQ. Share your own “must reads” from today below in the comments section. We’d love to hear what you’d recommend!
Newspapers and magazines carrying pictures of President-elect Francois Hollande are seen in a bookshop in Paris Monday. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
Bloomberg Businessweek: How Europe’s Austerity Backlash Might Change U.S. Politics “The U.S. Congress is hardly a bastion of Europhiles — remember all that nonsense about ‘Freedom Fries’? When politicians here do cite the Continent, it tends to be in the form of a derogatory political attack, e.g., Mitt Romney’s frequently invoked line about how President Obama wants to ‘Europeanize’ America. So the idea that U.S. lawmakers might learn something from their foreign counterparts and adjust their views accordingly after the anti-austerity wave sweeping through France and Greece isn’t necessarily an obvious one.”
The New York Review of Books: How to End This Depression by Paul Krugman “The depression we’re in is essentially gratuitous: we don’t need to be suffering so much pain and destroying so many lives. We could end it both more easily and more quickly than anyone imagines — anyone, that is, except those who have actually studied the economics of depressed economies and the historical evidence on how policies work in such economies.”