Chief Justice Roberts Accidentally Reveals Everything That’s Wrong With Citizens United In Four Sentences by Ian Millhiser Posted on April 30, 2015 at 10:08 am



On Wednesday, a 5-4 Supreme Court held in Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar that states may “prohibit judges and judicial candidates from personally soliciting funds for their campaigns.” It was a small but symbolically important victory for supporters of campaign finance laws, as it showed that there was actually some limit on the Roberts Court’s willingness to strike down laws limiting the influence of money in politics.

Chief Justice John Roberts’s opinion for the Court in Williams-Yulee is certainly better for campaign finance regulation than a decision striking down this limit on judicial candidates — had the case gone the other way, judges could have been given the right to solicit money from the very lawyers who practice before them. Yet Roberts also describes judges as if they are special snowflakes who must behave in a neutral and unbiased way that would simply be inappropriate for legislators, governors and presidents:

States may regulate judicial elections differently than they regulate political elections, because the role of judges differs from the role of politicians. Politicians are expected to be appropriately responsive to the preferences of their supporters. Indeed, such “responsiveness is key to the very concept of self-governance through elected officials.” The same is not true of judges. In deciding cases, a judge is not to follow the preferences of his supporters, or provide any special consideration to his campaign donors. A judge instead must “observe the utmost fairness,” striving to be “perfectly and completely independent, with nothing to influence or controul [sic] him but God and his conscience.” As in White, therefore, our precedents applying the First Amendment to political elections have little bearing on the issues here.

Most Americans would undoubtedly agree that judges should not “follow the preferences” of their political supporters, as they would agree that judges should not “provide any special consideration to his campaign donors.” But the implication of the passage quoted above is that members of Congress, state lawmakers, governors and presidents should provide such consideration to their supporters and to their donors. The President of the United States is the president of the entire United States. A member of Congress represents their entire constituency. Yet Roberts appears to believe that they should “follow the preferences” of their supporters and give “special consideration” to the disproportionately wealthy individuals who fund their election.

This view of lawmakers obedient to a narrow segment of the nation is not new. To the contrary, it drove much of the Court’s widely maligned campaign finance decision in Citizens United v. FEC. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in Citizens United does not simply argue that “[f]avoritism and influence” are unavoidable in a representative democracy, it appears to suggest that they are a positive good. “It is well understood that a substantial and legitimate reason, if not the only reason, to cast a vote for, or to make a contribution to, one candidate over another is that the candidate will respond by producing those political outcomes the supporter favors,” Kennedy wrote in Citizens United. “Democracy,” he added “is premised on responsiveness.”

Iran nuclear deal: US there for Israel, warns Obama – BBC News April 7 2015

US President Barack Obama (3 April 15)

Mr Obama said Israelis “have every right to be concerned about Iran”

President Barack Obama has moved to reassure Israel that the US remains its staunchest supporter, amid Israeli fears over last week’s outline agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme.

He said Iran and the rest of the region should know that “if anybody messes with Israel, America will be there”.

But he rejected a call by Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu that any deal be conditional on Iran recognising Israel.

Mr Obama said such a condition would be “a fundamental misjudgement”.

The president, speaking in an interview with National Public Radio, said that it would be akin to saying the US would not seal a deal unless the Iranian regime completely transformed.

“We want Iran not to have nuclear weapons precisely because we can’t bank on the nature of the regime changing. That’s exactly why we don’t want to have nuclear weapons,” he said.

“If suddenly Iran transformed itself to Germany or Sweden or France, then there would be a different set of conversations about their nuclear infrastructure.”

On Monday, President Obama also sought to reassure Oman about the effects of a nuclear deal with Iran.

In a phone call, he told Sultan Qaboos that the US would work “with Oman and other regional partners to address Iran’s destabilising activities in the region”.

‘Right to be concerned’

Critics have accused President Obama of conceding too much ground to Iran and endangering Israel’s security.

But in an interview with the New York Times, Mr Obama firmly denied this.

“I would consider it a failure on my part, a fundamental failure of my presidency, if on my watch, or as a consequence of work that I had done, Israel was rendered more vulnerable,” he said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is also Iran's top nuclear negotiator, waves to his well wishers upon arrival at the Mehrabad airport in Tehran, Iran
Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, was given a hero’s welcome on his return from the talks

Mr Obama said he recognised the concerns raised by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a fierce critic of the deal along with the president’s Republican opponents in the US Congress.

He said Israelis “have every right to be concerned about Iran”, a country that had threatened “to destroy Israel, that has denied the Holocaust, that has expressed venomous anti-Semitic ideas”.

But he insisted that the preliminary agreement with Iran – a forerunner of a comprehensive deal, due to be agreed before 30 June – was a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to curb the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

Under the terms reached last Thursday, Iran must slash its stockpile of enriched uranium that could be used in a nuclear weapon, and cut by more than two-thirds the number of centrifuges that could be used to make more.

In return, UN sanctions and separate measures imposed unilaterally by the US and EU will be gradually suspended as the global nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), confirms Iranian compliance.

Speaking on Sunday on CNN, Mr Netanyahu said: “Not a single centrifuge is destroyed. Not a single nuclear facility is shut down, including the underground facilities that they build illicitly. Thousands of centrifuges will keep spinning, enriching uranium. That’s a very bad deal.”

But Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a possible Republican presidential candidate, said it was “probably the best deal that Barack Obama could get with the Iranians” and that he would wait to see how the final agreement looked before passing judgement.

“I don’t mind giving the administration the time between now and June to put this deal together,” he told CBS.


Iran’s key nuclear sites

Analysis: A deal which buys time

The Harsh Reality of Oil Spill Cleanups (Excerpt from ‘Pipeline Nation’) – Vice News Published on Mar 26, 2015

A pipeline network more than 2.5 million miles long transports oil and natural gas throughout the United States — but a top official in the federal government’s pipeline safety oversight agency admits that the regulatory process is overstretched and “kind of dying.” A recent spike in the number of spills illustrates the problem: the Department of Transportation recorded 73 pipeline-related accidents in 2014, an 87 percent increase over 2009.

Despite calls for stricter regulations over the last few years, the rules governing the infrastructure have largely remained the same. Critics say that this is because of the oil industry’s cozy relationship with regulators, and argue that violations for penalties are too low to compel compliance.

VICE News traveled to Glendive, Montana, to visit the site of a pipeline spill that dumped more than 50,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River, to find out why the industry has such weak regulatory oversight.

In this excerpt, VICE News heads to the site of the Yellowstone River pipeline spill where the EPA’s Onsite Coordinator talks about the difficulties of recovering oil once it’s polluted the water, and whether pipe degradation has contributed to the increase in pipeline spills across the United States.

Watch the full documentary:

Special Report: When it comes to e-cigs, Big Tobacco is concerned for your health – BY MARTINNE GELLER ` Mon Mar 23, 2015 3:14am EDT

1 OF 3. An employee 'Vapologist' (R) stands behind the bar as he puffs on an e-cigarette with customers at the Henley Vaporium in New York City in this December 18, 2013 file photo. CREDIT: REUTERS/MIKE SEGAR/FILES

1 OF 3. An employee ‘Vapologist’ (R) stands behind the bar as he puffs on an e-cigarette with customers at the Henley Vaporium in New York City in this December 18, 2013 file photo.

(Reuters) – The health warning on a MarkTen electronic cigarette package is 116 words long.

That’s much longer than the warnings on traditional cigarette packs in the United States. Nicotine, the e-cigarette warning says, is “addictive and habit-forming, and it is very toxic by inhalation, in contact with the skin, or if swallowed.” It is not intended for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, or people … who take medicine for depression or asthma. “Nicotine can increase your heart rate and blood pressure and cause dizziness, nausea and stomach pain,” says MarkTen, a leading brand in the United States. The ingredients can be “poisonous.”

MarkTen’s parent company Altria, maker of Marlboro cigarettes, said the language seemed appropriate. There is no required health warning on electronic cigarettes in the United States, so “we had to do what we thought was right,” said a spokesman for Altria Client Services.

The company’s frankness about the perils of nicotine dates back to the late 1990s, when it led a campaign for cigarettes to be regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Small tobacco companies at the time said the big guys would use regulation to seal their dominance. Today, small e-cigarette makers are saying the same thing. Many argue that firms like Altria and Reynolds American want hefty rules to help neutralize the threat that e-cigarettes pose to their businesses. By accentuating the risks of ‘vaping,’ they say, big firms may deter smokers from trying the new devices, even though most scientists agree they are safer.

“If you read that (warning) as a smoker, you might think ‘Oh, I’ll just stick with a cigarette,'” said Oliver Kershaw, a former 15-a-day-smoker who quit through e-cigarettes and founded websites that advocate them.

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N.S.A. Tapped Into North Korean Networks Before Sony Attack, Officials Say – By DAVID E. SANGER and MARTIN FACKLER JAN. 18, 2015

WASHINGTON — The trail that led American officials to blame North Korea for the destructive cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment in November winds back to 2010, when the National Security Agency scrambled to break into the computer systems of a country considered one of the most impenetrable targets on earth.

Kim Heung-kwang, a defector, said that in the early 1990s, North Korean computer experts had an idea: Use the Internet to attack the nation’s foes. Credit Jean Chung for The New York Times 

Spurred by growing concern about North Korea’s maturing capabilities, the American spy agency drilled into the Chinese networks that connect North Korea to the outside world, picked through connections in Malaysia favored by North Korean hackers and penetrated directly into the North with the help of South Korea and other American allies, according to former United States and foreign officials, computer experts later briefed on the operations and a newly disclosed N.S.A. document.

A classified security agency program expanded into an ambitious effort, officials said, to place malware that could track the internal workings of many of the computers and networks used by the North’s hackers, a force that South Korea’s military recently said numbers roughly 6,000 people. Most are commanded by the country’s main intelligence service, called the Reconnaissance General Bureau, and Bureau 121, its secretive hacking unit, with a large outpost in China.


Gen. James R. Clapper Jr. says he had dinner last fall with the man who later oversaw the Sony attack. Credit Mark Lennihan/Associated Press 

The evidence gathered by the “early warning radar” of software painstakingly hidden to monitor North Korea’s activities proved critical in persuading President Obama to accuse the government of Kim Jong-un of ordering the Sony attack, according to the officials and experts, who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the classified N.S.A. operation.

Mr. Obama’s decision to accuse North Korea of ordering the largest destructive attack against an American target — and to promise retaliation, which has begun in the form of new economic sanctions — was highly unusual: The United States had never explicitly charged another government with mounting a cyberattack on American targets.

Mr. Obama is cautious in drawing stark conclusions from intelligence, aides say. But in this case “he had no doubt,” according to one senior American military official.

“Attributing where attacks come from is incredibly difficult and slow,” said James A. Lewis, a cyberwarfare expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “The speed and certainty with which the United States made its determinations about North Korea told you that something was different here — that they had some kind of inside view.”

For about a decade, the United States has implanted “beacons,” which can map a computer network, along with surveillance software and occasionally even destructive malware in the computer systems of foreign adversaries. The government spends billions of dollars on the technology, which was crucial to the American and Israeli attacks on Iran’s nuclear program, and documents previously disclosed by Edward J. Snowden, the former security agency contractor, demonstrated how widely they have been deployed against China.

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Start-Up Slowdown – Robert Litan | | Foreign Affairs JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2015 ISSUE

How the United States Can Regain Its Entrepreneurial Edge

Upwardly mobile: at a programming conference in San Francisco, June 2014 (Getty images / Bloomberg / David Paul Morris)

Americans like to think of their country as a cradle of innovation. After all, the United States has produced many of the world’s finest entrepreneurs, from Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford to Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. The American obsession with innovation has even invaded popular culture. Shark Tank, a reality television show in which entrepreneurs pitch to potential angel investors, has reached its sixth season and draws more than six million viewers a week. Silicon Valley, a new comedy on HBO, follows the founders of a technology start-up as they attempt to strike it rich. Meanwhile, the near-celebrity status of prominent tech entrepreneurs, such as Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, has spurred interest in the so-called STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering, and math—and in entrepreneurship more generally.

The numbers, however, tell a different story. Over the past 30 years, the rate of start-up formation in the United States has slowed markedly, and the technology industry has come to be dominated by older companies. This presents a risk to innovation, because the most transformative leaps forward tend to come not from established firms but from entrepreneurs with little to lose. Indeed, start-ups commercialized most of the seminal technologies of the past several centuries, including the car, the airplane, the telegraph, the telephone, the computer, and the Internet search engine. If the United States wishes to reclaim its status as an innovation hub, it must reform a wide swath of policies—including those covering immigration, business regulation, health care, and education—to support new businesses.


Data on start-ups in the United States were not regularly compiled until 2008, when the U.S. Census Bureau created the Business Dynamics Statistics database, which tracks firm start-ups and shutdowns across the country. Using the data from 1977 to 2012, my colleague Ian Hathaway and I have published a series of reports for the Brookings Institution highlighting a startling observation: the ratio of new firms to all firms, or the “start-up rate,” has been steadily decreasing. In 1978, start-ups—defined in the database as companies less than a year old—accounted for nearly 15 per­cent of all U.S. firms; by 2011, that figure had slipped to just eight percent. For the first time in three decades, business deaths exceeded business births.

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Ready for War With ISIS? – Foreign Affairs December 2014

Foreign Affairs’ Brain Trust Weighs In

A checkpoint in east Mosul, one day after radical Sunni Muslim insurgents seized control of the city, June 11, 2014.

A checkpoint in east Mosul, one day after radical Sunni Muslim insurgents seized control of the city, June 11, 2014. (Courtesy Reuters)

We at Foreign Affairs have recently published a number of articlesexamining how the United States should respond to theIslamicState of Iraq and al-Sham. Those articles sparked a heated debate, so we decided to ask a broader pool of experts to state whether they agree or disagree with the following statement and to rate their confidence level about that answer.The United States should significantly step up its military campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.


Full Responses (see link below)


How ‘I can’t breathe’ resonates around the world – By Tara Sonenshine December 05, 2014

At Dire Dawa University in Ethiopia, students asked me last year about gun violence in America. I was on a trip to Africa representing the State Department as a public diplomat, explaining the values and policies of the United States to young people. News of violence in America, including the shooting of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., had reached Africa the year before, along with countless other stories of shootings at malls and movie theaters. Students wanted to know if America was becoming a violent nation. I did my best to allay concerns, telling them that America remained a nation based on rule of law, inclusion, diversity and democracy.

It is always difficult to calculate the impact of U.S. domestic events on international audiences. But if experience is any guide, news travels fast, and people from Soweto, South Africa to Seoul are watching events in Ferguson, Mo.; Staten Island, N.Y.; and around the country as protests unfold over police shootings. In short, I would say, “Houston, we have a problem.”

Despite disagreements in many quarters of the world over U.S. foreign policy, America, by and large, remains popular overseas. According to the 2013 Pew Study, pre-Ferguson and pre-Staten Island, overall global attitudes toward our country are upbeat. In 28 of 38 nations, half or more of those surveyed express a favorable opinion of the United States, with the exception of China and Pakistan. As has been the case in previous years, Africans overwhelmingly offer favorable assessments of America. In all of the six sub-Saharan nations polled (Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, Senegal and Nigeria) roughly seven in 10 see America in a positive light.

The question is: To what degree will recent events — including a new wave of protests over grand juries’ decisions not to indict police officers for the deaths of African-American citizens — change those impressions? Sadly, it is likely that, at least in the short run, citizens in some countries, particularly those with repressive regimes, will harbor negative views of American actions.

The first reason is simply that what global citizens like about America, particularly young global citizens, includes our ideas about democracy and inclusiveness. Even when attitudes towards American foreign policy are negative, the United States gets high marks for its democracy and diversity and its “soft power” as expressed through movies, television and culture. (People also love our scientific, technological and business prowess.) What citizens do not like are extensions of American governmental power or use of state violence. (There is widespread opposition, for example, to the use of drones by the U.S. government to target extremists overseas.)

Global citizens understand racial tensions, ethnic divides, religious strife and political gridlock. But they are likely seeing much more of it emanating from America than usual. More important, global audiences understand, through the lens of 24/7 media and the ubiquity of mobile technology, that Americans are questioning themselves. According to a Pew Research Center poll this summer, “Five decades after Martin Luther King’s historic ‘I Have a Dream’ speech … fewer than half (45 [percent]) of all Americans say the country has made substantial progress toward racial equality.”

America is a model for rule of law and democracy. We must reflect our best selves to each other and to the world. Let’s hope that peaceful protests, inclusive politics, and transparent self-reflection will lead others to see the best in us so that we can continue to lead by example. The world is watching us.

Sonenshine is a former under secretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs. She teaches at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs.

Ending America’s Era of Permanent War
 – By Richard K. Betts By Richard K. Betts FROM OUR NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2014 ISSUE

Pick Your Battles

Worn out: a U.S. soldier in eastern Afghanistan, April 2009. (Liu Jin / AFP / Getty)

For more than a decade now, U.S. soldiers have been laboring under a sad paradox: even though the United States enjoys unprecedented global military dominance that should cow enemies mightily, it has found itself in constant combat for longer than ever before in its history, and without much to show for it. Of the U.S. military actions in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, only the first can be counted a success.

Assessing this record is a particularly crucial task now, with U.S. defense policy caught between powerful opposing pressures. Frustration with unending war and with strong fiscal constraints has pushed public opinion sharply toward retrenchment. At the same time, frightening challenges in three critical regions are demanding yet more action: Islamic extremists have seized large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, Russia has intervened in Ukraine, and China is flexing its muscles in East Asia. Washington faces a choice: Should it leave these endangered areas to their own fates, or double down on intervention to set them right?

In deciding when to expend blood and treasure abroad, U.S. policymakers should learn from the United States’ recent experience of war, but they must take care not to learn the lessons too well. Overconfidence from success can breed failure, and becoming gun-shy from failure can cause paralysis. For example, the U.S. military’s stunningly quick, cheap, and sweeping victory in the 1991 Gulf War raised policymakers’ expectations about what force could accomplish at low cost, causing them to underprepare and overreach when the United States invaded Iraq a second time. In a similar way, most American leaders have drawn too firm a lesson from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq: never put boots on the ground. With the deployment of regular army units effectively ruled out, U.S. policymakers who still want to use force have been driven to options that involve airpower alone. That approach may make sense in places where the United States wants only to nudge a conflict in the right direction. But when the goal is to determine its outcome, airpower alone is insufficient.

Risky as pulling any lessons from recent experience may be, policymakers should start with the following. First, the United States should fight wars less frequently but more decisively, erring, when combat is necessary, on the side of committing too many forces rather than too few. Second, the country should avoid fighting in places where victory depends on controlling the politics of chaotic countries, since local politicians will rarely do what Americans want when that differs from their own aims. And third, Washington should give priority to first-order challenges, focusing its military planning on fighting wars with great powers and focusing its diplomacy on preventing them.


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Agree or Disagree |Against the Grain|Should you go gluten-free? BY MICHAEL SPECTER NOVEMBER 3, 2014 ISSUE

Nearly twenty million Americans now say that they regularly experience stomach problems after eating products that contain gluten.

Just after Labor Day, the Gluten and Allergen Free Expo stopped for a weekend at the Meadowlands Exposition Center. Each year, the event wends its way across the country like a travelling medicine show, billing itself as the largest display of gluten-free products in the United States. Banners hung from the rafters, with welcoming messages like “Plantain Flour Is the New Kale.” Plantain flour contains no gluten, and neither did anything else at the exposition (including kale). There were gluten-free chips, gluten-free dips, gluten-free soups, and gluten-free stews; there were gluten-free breads, croutons, pretzels, and beer. There was gluten-free artisanal fusilli and penne from Italy, and gluten-free artisanal fusilli and penne from the United States. Dozens of companies had set up tables, offering samples of gluten-free cheese sticks, fish sticks, bread sticks, and soy sticks. One man passed out packets of bread crumbs, made by “master bakers,” that were certified as gluten-free, G.M.O.-free, and kosher. There was even gluten-free dog food.

Gluten, one of the most heavily consumed proteins on earth, is created when two molecules, glutenin and gliadin, come into contact and form a bond. When bakers knead dough, that bond creates an elastic membrane, which is what gives bread its chewy texture and permits pizza chefs to toss and twirl the dough into the air. Gluten also traps carbon dioxide, which, as it ferments, adds volume to the loaf. Humans have been eating wheat, and the gluten in it, for at least ten thousand years. For people with celiac disease—about one per cent of the population—the briefest exposure to gluten can trigger an immune reaction powerful enough to severely damage the brushlike surfaces of the small intestine. People with celiac have to be alert around food at all times, learning to spot hidden hazards in common products, such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein and malt vinegar. Eating in restaurants requires particular vigilance. Even reusing water in which wheat pasta has been cooked can be dangerous.

Until about a decade ago, the other ninety-nine per cent of Americans rarely seemed to give gluten much thought. But, led by people like William Davis, a cardiologist whose book “Wheat Belly” created an empire founded on the conviction that gluten is a poison, the protein has become a culinary villain. Davis believes that even “healthy” whole grains are destructive, and he has blamed gluten for everything from arthritis and asthma to multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia. David Perlmutter, a neurologist and the author of another of the gluten-free movement’s foundational texts, “Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar—Your Brain’s Silent Killers,” goes further still. Gluten sensitivity, he writes, “represents one of the greatest and most under-recognized health threats to humanity.’’

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