Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Prejudice Within All Of Us

And I thought Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says very dumb things.

Chris Matthews should learn when to keep his mouth shut but his failure to do so does provide us with an opportunity to think about what lies in our own hearts and minds:

Chris Matthews I am sure wouldn't consider himself a racist and he certainly is on the right side of the civil rights debates but he does say things that suggest that there is at least a little speck of prejudiced thinking in all of us and it that which in the end leads me to support affirmative action programs more than any other reason. We aren't color blind. And we probably won't be a color blind society anytime soon.

Hat tip to Talking Points Memo.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

State of the Union

The State of the Union can be found here and the response here.

"To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve problems, not run for the hills. (Applause.) And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town -- a supermajority -- then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well."
- President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union address, calling on his former colleagues on Capitol Hill to govern.

"Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions -– our corporations, our media, and, yes, our government –- still reflect these same values. Each of these institutions are full of honorable men and women doing important work that helps our country prosper. But each time a CEO rewards himself for failure, or a banker puts the rest of us at risk for his own selfish gain, people's doubts grow. Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith. The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates to silly arguments, big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away."
- President Barack Obama on why the public lost faith in our isntitutions

Initial reaction: President Barack Obama sounded very presidential. He definitely set up himself above Congress, spoke to the mixed feelings of anger and fear that we have and shifted his emphasis back to the jobs issue without giving up on health care.

Now - as to what he said on specific issues:

(*) Jobs and financial reform: He promised a major jobs bill and financial reform. I wish he specifically cited what his financial reform agenda would include. I agree with proposal to impose banker fees to pay for the new jobs bill and for his proposal to loan to smaller banks.

(1) on education reform: Agree with his race to the top program, particularly with its emphasis on encouraging reforms.

(2) college loans: Agree with his expressed plan to remove the banks as the middlemen and have the government provide the loans directly. Thinks he promised college the students the world by forgiving student debt of those who go into public service.

(3) House refinancing to be stepped up: sounds good but need more details.

(4) Tax Cuts: the emphasis is on targeted tax cuts for the middle class and small businesses as opposed to tax cuts that generally benefit those who need them the least (the rich). This too is good.

(5) Health care: Non-apologetic and as committed to reforming our health insurance industry. My problem: the loop holes in the senate bill allow the "worst practices" by the health insurance industries to continue.

(6) "Don't Ask, Don't Tell": He promised to work with Congress and the Defense Department to eliminate it. Nice to see he added one line to his speech to address it but I'll believe it when I see it.

(7) Campaign Finance: Glad he took on the Supreme Court on its horrible decision to count corporate and union spending as political speech. This court decision legalized bribery and corruption on a massive scale. Laws barring foreign companies from donating and requiring forcing the CEO's of these companies to disclose their support should pass through Congress and withstand Supreme Court challenges easily. Congress should attempt, however to discourage companies from endorsing candidates by conditioning aid on their refusal to do so.

I do not believe for a minute, however, that his administration has been anymore successful than his predecessors in isolating North Korea, or Iran.

(8) The War Against Al Qaeda: The president re-hashed the decisions he made to fight the war against this terrorist group, vaguely referring to our operations in Yemen and Pakistan and specifically, his decision to send more troops to Afghanistan.

(9): On Human Rights: some glaring omissions - Uganda's anti-gay religious cleaning campaign.

(10) Civil Rights At home: he promised to vigorously enforce gender pay laws (like the one he signed into law last year), and noted one gay accomplishment - Hate Crimes Legislation. Glaring omission: no vow to pass the Employment Nondiscrimination Act.

The Republican offered the typical, bland Republican platitudes that did not save the US economy from the recession. Basically, the Republicans have, for all intents and purposes, rendered themselves obsolete in so far as they promise to be a party that merely rejects what the president offers and not as a party that offers an alternative agenda for solving the problems we face.

US & UK on Gay Rights: Night and Day

David Axelrod, a campaign adviser for our liberal president, Barack Obama, says his boss will call for the elimination of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in his State of the Union Address tonight. He believes, rightly I believe, that the ban on letting gays serve openly is counterproductive and unnecessarily insulting towards those patriots who wish to give their lives for this country.

David Cameron
, the leader of the United Kingdom's main conservative opposition party and aspiring prime minister, apparently told his allies that schools should teach its children about gay and straight relationships equally.

“We do need good sex and relationship education. That education should teach people about equality, that we treat people the same whether they are gay or straight,” - Cameron is quoted as saying in The Telegraph.

“Should we teach children about relationships? Yes we should.”

“Should we teach them about the importance of equality, whether you’re heterosexual or homosexual? Yes we should.”

“Should we teach them about civil partnerships being a way of same-sex couples showing commitment just as married couples show commitment? Yes we should.”

Remember. He's the conservative. Think back to David Brooks, in one of his more progressively conservative op-eds.

The liberals (and some of the more liberal members of his own party) don't like his tax plan because it discriminates against those who do not choose to marry or "civilly unite." They want the live-in boyfriends and girlfriends (as well as single parents) to get the same level of respect Cameron wants to devote to committed same-sex couples (in civil partnerships) and opposite-sex couples (in marriage).

In this country we have one party that pretends to support gay rights and another that thinks like the Iranian mullahs.

Great Britain, far ahead of us and far more nuanced on these issues.
Night and day.

O'Keefe, ACORN and the Senator from Louisiana

James O'Keefe won some Republicans' heart when he and another conservative activist, posed as a pimp and prostitute, videotaped an ACORN employee how they could withhold the nature of their earnings on their tax forms. Yesterday, O'Keefe and three conservative activists were arrested because they tried to bug Senator Mary Landrieu's (D-Lousiana) office.

Revenge can be sweet and it certainly was for MSNBC's liberal talk show hosts. Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann (I did not watch Ed Schultz or Rachel Maddow today) definitely were having some fun at O'Keefe's expense. They immediately compared what O'Keefe was doing to the 1972 break-in at the Watergate Hotel.

Before they jump ahead it should be noted the following:

(1) For all we know, O'Keefe and his conservative activists were acting on their own behalf. As of this moment, there is no evidence that would lead us to conclude that he was acting on any opposition leader's behalf.

(2) We don't yet know whether whether his motive (as opposed and distinguished from his actions) were purer than those who broke into the Watergate Hotel to dig up dirt for President Richard Nixon's re-election campaign. He might have considered himself to be a modern-day, conservative muckraker. (This would not excuse what he did and it would not make his actions any less criminal). He must and it is hoped, will pay for his crimes.

(3) This does not vindicate the ACORN official Mr. O'Keefe and his associate spoke to. O'Keefe caught an ACORN official red-handed, fairly and squarely, engaging in an illegal activity. Keith Olbermann, in particular, should have made that clear on his show. The charges which he currently faces concern his attempt to bug/wiretap a U.S. senator's office.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why Populism Works Now

Conservative columnist David Brooks rejects the populist approach to governing.
He says this nation was built by a group who thought we all thrive when the rich thrive.

This no longer holds true.

"It’s easy to see why politicians would be drawn to the populist pose. First, it makes everything so simple. The economic crisis was caused by a complex web of factors, including global imbalances caused by the rise of China. But with the populist narrative, you can just blame Goldman Sachs."

Perhaps, but Goldman Sachs & company did make mistakes.

"Second, it absolves voters of responsibility for their problems. Over the past few years, many investment bankers behaved like idiots, but so did average Americans, racking up unprecedented levels of personal debt. With the populist narrative, you can accuse the former and absolve the latter."

Well of course but those who bought mortgages they could not pay back are paying for it and the average person who trusted the wrong people to manage their 401(K) or 403(b) and their IRA is paying for it. The executives at these big financial institutions that helped bring this economy to the brink are not. They are still getting their multimillion dollar bonuses. For what? Failure? It seems as if the rules for one group differ from the rules for the other group. The individuals in one group sink or swim, depending upon the choices they make while the individuals in the other group wine and dine on a yacht.

"That’s because voters aren’t as stupid as the populists imagine. Voters are capable of holding two ideas in their heads at one time: First, that the rich and the powerful do rig the game in their own favor; and second, that simply bashing the rich and the powerful will still not solve the country’s problems.

Political populists never get that second point."

Who said CEO-bashing will solve all of our problems? It will only solve one, to the extent that it is used to enact reforms designed to curb their excesses so that we don't have to bail them out again. The Democratic base which supported President Barack Obama didn't just push for financial regulation to end "too big to fail" or health care reform to break up the health insurance oligarchy. They pushed for the equivalent of a New Deal public works program to put people back to work.

"In their view, government’s role was not to side with one faction or to wage class war. It was to rouse the energy and industry of people at all levels. It was to enhance competition and make it fair — to make sure that no group, high or low, is able to erect barriers that would deprive Americans of an open field and a fair chance."

Isn't that what the populists Brooks deride are pushing for? One set of rules for all? If we have to sink or swim, shouldn't the CEO's at these banks? If they get a helping hand, shouldn't we?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Obama's Flawed Strategy: Responding to the Wrong Crisis

"You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before." - Rahm Emmanuel

Rahm Emmanuel, the president's chief of staff once told the Wall Street Journal Digital Network that "you never want a serious crisis to go to waste" since it provides the administration in power at the time to do things that might not otherwise be done during normal times. Obama's predecessor responded to the 9-11-01 World Trade Center bombings to consolidate agencies designed to locate and track terrorist organizations, weaken the barriers that allowed them to share information, and ultimately, created a system that allowed them to detain those it considered enemies of the United States as "war combatants" indefinitely without any opportunity to challenge their legal status.

The Supreme Court and, belatedly, Congress, pushed back. In Rasul v. the United States, it held that United States civil courts can hear the legal challenges filed foreign nationals detained at Guantanamo Bay. On the same day, an eight-member majority issued a judgment (I say "judgment" since no one single "opinion" commanded the respect of a court majority) upholding limited due process rights of a U.S. citizen whom the government classified as a an enemy combatant.

Congress would later reassert some of its Congressional oversight when the PATRIOT Act was renewed.

The Bush administration's national surveillance and detention policies polarized the nation. Conservatives thought the president was asserting his role as the chief law enforcer of the land and commander-in-chief to effectively fight a war against a network of terrorists. Liberal-to-libertarian-leaning scholars thought he was usurping Congress' constitutionally prescribed role to make law and/or abridging the accused war combatant's legal proceeding rights in his effort to do so.

As constitutionally dubious as these policies were, the public at large forgave the president as did a number of conservatives and liberals who thought the president condoned the use of torture to extract information from suspected terrorists. President Barack Obama cut off any attempt to prosecute former Vice President Richard Cheney and anyone else who involved in the decision-making process, for war crimes since doing so might offend a public that does not want to rehash arguments made in "the heat of battle."

I say this because 9-11 was, for all intents and purposes, a crisis which some used to re-assert executive powers once curtailed after Watergate and if it was not for 9-11, the public in all likelihood would have pushed back.

The public won't grant a president anything he wanted. The president's agenda must in some way be "closely tailored to" or otherwise related to the problem which it purportedly is designed to fix. Water boarding was rationalized, national security letters that circumvented the FISA court, and the indefinite detention of suspected "enemy combatants" were excused in the interest of national security. Our intelligence agencies, it was asserted, needed to gather as much intelligence as they possibly could and that required an ability to obtain warrants more easily and scare prisoners into disclsing information they might otherwise withhold from the proper authorities so that al Qaeda could not strike American soil again.

President Franklyn Delano Roosevelt too faced a crisis. The Great Depression provided him with an opportunity to enact legislation that would not have reached his desk in an age of prosperity.

A president who appears to respond to a crisis by enacting legislation that increases the size of its government will be viewed more favorably than a president who uses a crisis to enact legislation designed to pursue his or her agenda. The former will be viewed as a pragmatic response to a dire situation while the latter would be viewed as a government takeover.

I think this contributed to Obama's declining poll numbers and why the demagoguery coming from the Republicans on health care seemed so credible. Conservatives and independents thought the president was engaging in a "takeover of" a significant part of the economy at a time when (a) most people who are gainfully employed (full-time) have it and (b) the job market is in a state of decline.

The president wasn't elected to fix health care (not that reform isn't needed); he was elected to fix the economy. His Republican opponent, it should be recalled, had closed the gap after he selected the charismatic but under-qualified one-term governor of Alaska as his running mate, and the president only pulled away from the his Republican opponent when the stock market went into a free-fall.

Obama was charged with reversing the trends and to some extent he succeeded. He bailed out the banks, thereby saving some pension plans and he pushed an economic stimulus package through Congress. Though it wasn't big enough to reverse the decline and get more Americans back to work, the stimulus package saved jobs that were marked for elimination.

He did, however, shift his focus to health care before his job was done and so the president and his advisers used the crisis to push through Congress legislation designed to provide affordable health insurance coverage for more Americans. By shifting their focus, however, they let the "crisis go to waste," for the time he wasted pushing that bill through a reluctant Congress was time he could have used to fix our financial regulatory system.

The public would not have objected to these attempts to restore the regulatory regime dismantled by his predecessors. In general. Voters would have scoffed at any Republican portrayals of ending "too-big-to-fail" and consolidating regulatory agencies as "government takeovers." Wall Street's practices, after all, made victims out of everybody who did not work on Wall Street.

To offset the potential loss in jobs which will occur if the big banks cut their lending practices even more and to reverse the trend in overall job losses, the president could have pushed for some major government works projects (rebuilding schools, roads & bridges in disrepair, new railroad connections), issue new loans to smaller banks and credit unions with the hope that they would restart businesses, and cut payroll taxes, something Lawrence O'Donnell suggested on Wednesday's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann."

Had the president started with this agenda, he might have saved the seat in Massachusetts and minimized the losses we would be expecting in November. Whatever fears the public may have in our national debt would have been offset by their fear in further job losses. Only now, when the president had squandered a year, focused on the health care bill, is the president ready to shift his focus.

The president compounded his mistake by letting Congress write a health care bill which he then refused to defend or otherwise comment on. He refused to say what must and need not be in the final bill. He squandered precious time letting Senator Max Baucus reach out to a Republican Party that had shown no willingness to work with him on the less controversial stimulus bill.

By Thanksgiving, the president was asking Congress to pass any bill and call it health care reform. He offended the progressives by ceding the public option, something they consider the more cost-effective approach, too early and then he lost virtually everybody else when the deals had to be made with Senators Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark) , Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana) and Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska). Senators and governors from both parties objected to the special giveaways designed to win their votes. By Christmas, no one liked the bill. Progressives like former Governor and DNC Chairman Howard Dean said they should scratch the bill and go through reconciliation.

In sum, the president managed to anger everybody. He angered the independent moderates because they felt he wasn't doing enough to create jobs and reign Wall Street under control. Then he offended the liberals within his own party by squandering his time pushing for a bill that, in their estimation, subsidized the insurance companies it was supposed to regulate.

The Obama administration is finally getting its act together. Yesterday he vowed to enact legislation designed to curb Wall Street's practices. We will see, however, whether the Republicans will let him get these measures through Congress, when he had a filibuster-proof majority in the senate. Since he squandered his political capital tepidly fighting for a weak, uninspiring health care bill that even Democrats are now running away from (and consequently won't even get passed) the president's financial agenda will now be in the hands of the Republicans, who now will be in the position where they can block any legislation that might come their way.

I don't think Obama's performance on the domestic policy front merits a B+ he gave himself , even if it is weighted. He gets a D+ from this blogger.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

So Who Lost Mass?

Let me resolve the dispute so we can avoid the finger-pointing that will take place:

Everybody lost Massachusetts.

Coakley for taking the seat for granted.

The Democrats in Washington for their failure to pass anything meaningful. The stimulus package wasn't nearly large enough nor was it written so that the construction projects which it funded could begin immediately.

The House, senate and president dropped the ball on financial reform, leaving us with the impression that they were protecting the bankers on Wall Street. The Republicans have exploited this (not that they'd do anything to curb Wall Street's gambling habits).

The president failed to lay out his specific priorities on health care reform, letting the senate finance committee and leadership to get bogged down crafting complicated legislation. Senator Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman, and Blanche Lincoln deserve dishonorable mentions for threatening to block meaningful reform until it was watered down while extracting special concessions for their states.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Health Care Reform

Well Norah O'Donnell says Senator Jim Webb (D-Virginia) wants any further votes on health care reform held after Scott Brown is seated so the door on health care reform is closing fast.


Richard Wolfe was telling Keith Olbermann that the Democrats might use their loss to actually fight for what they believe. Now that they lost the senate seat they needed to actually govern (without reconciliation that is), they can use force the Republicans to vote against the Obama administration's agenda.

Now to some of us that would of course be breath of fresh air. Many Obama voters, particularly those who align themselves with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, were less than thrilled with the president's failure to fight for anything that he believed in. He was largely silent while the Democrats on the hill were negotiating over the health care bill that may very well be dead on arrival now that Scott Brown won today's special election for the seat once held by the late Senator Ted Kennedy.

Still, this renewed sense of commitment in the Democratic Party's principles seems a bit jarring since it is easier to "fight" for what you believe in when there is little to no chance of getting anything passed, than it is to actually legislate. To be quite frank, the Democrats' renewed sense of commitment reminds me of the Republicans' renewed sense of commitment to budget cuts.

Scott Brown Predicted

I believe the race will be called for Scott Brown within 15 minutes after the polls closed.

With that in mind, I second Josh Marshall's suggestion in Talking Points Memo. Pass the senate bill so that the president can sign something. Then fix the bill through reconciliation.

If the senate refuses to use reconciliation for the next few years we can expect the president to get nothing done for the next three years. Nothing.


life in prison, for walking the streets nude?

Sexist Headline

From The Sydney Morning Herald

"Fox adds a brunette to blonde weaponry against the President"

Judging women by their looks and not by their qualifications (or in Palin's case, lack there of), is a no-no.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Obama the Lame Duck

Count me in among the doom & gloom crowd. Obama will accomplish nothing of any significance once Scott Brown takes the oath of office. He won't get anything done because the Republican senators won't let him.

I don't like it one bit and it makes me even more furious and not just at the Republicans. The Democrats had a year to get this right. They had a year to push through a serious, well-thought-out economic stimulus package and a year to push through a credible health care insurance reform package. And he had a year to push for financial reform. They blew it. And Obama blew it because he didn't fight for any of it. He let Congress write the bills and waited on perhaps the most important of these - financial reform.

The banks, at the end of the day will win and not only because Timothy Geithner and the Treasury Department has aligned itself with the bankers who squandered our pension plans. They will win because the Republicans will shoot down any serious attempt to end "too big to fail."

The Massachusetts Special Election Can Determine Whether Obama Can Succeed in Accomplishing Anything

Within the next 24 hours we will know if the voters of Massachusetts have given the Republicans the one additional vote they will need to bring President Barack Obama's reform-oriented agenda to a halt. Polls show Scott Brown, a relatively unknown local conservative state legislator from Boston's suburbs, beating Massachusetts' popularly-elected Attorney General, Martha Coakley in tomorrow's special election, putting the president's reform oriented agenda in jeopardy.

The Republicans have spent the first year of President Barack Obama's term opposing everything which he pushed for while offering little to nothing in the way of alternative solutions. They opposed the economic stimulus package which saved jobs as well as the president's health care bill and they have given any indication that they will oppose the president's financial reform package, including his proposal to recoup the our losses by taxing the bankers (like the Europeans are doing) with excessive bonus packages.

Like the health care bill which the Democrats have wrangled over for the past year, Obama's proposed financial reforms are far from perfect. I don't know why, for instance, Obama would hand the Federal Reserve Board, which coddled Wall Street, primary oversight over the banks or why he wouldn't just break the banks which are "too big to fail" up so that they can not put the American taxpayer into the position of bailing them out again. But a bill is better than no bill and Obama's plan will limit the bankers' ability to shop for a government agency that would regulate them the least.

Massachusetts' voters, like their counterparts in New Jersey and Virginia, are understandably fed up at Washington. The Republicans economic policies brought this country to the brink of disaster. Their Democratic counterparts have done little to get us out of it. The stimulus package which the president sought was too small to reverse the job loss trend. The health care bill which the president hops to sign includes no public option while providing the insurance companies that jack up insurance premiums with new customers who are forced to buy insurance. To soften the blow the bill includes subsidies and an expansion in Medicaid funding. The bill reads more like a health insurance relief act than a health insurance reform bill, but that relief will provide some Americans who could not otherwise afford health insurance the means to buy it.

Voters in Massachusetts who do not like the health insurance bill, must keep this in mind: Their vote for Brown will affect Obama's entire reform agenda. Republicans aren't just opposing the president's health care plan; they are opposed to everything which the president has proposed and may yet propose. Giving Scott Brown the seat allows the Republicans to stop the president in his tracks for the next year and, assuming that the Democrats lose even more seats in Congress during the midterm elections, for the remainder of his first, four-year term in office.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Limbaugh's Lack of Empathy

Wasn't he discharged from the hospital recently? Did he, ever once, feel vulnerable? helpless? like his life was short? Why then deprive the Haitians of the water, food and shelter they will need to ward off malnutrition, starvation, disease, and ultimately, death?

Rush Limbaugh, Pat Robertson, an Earthquake and the President

"You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other." "Rev." - Pat [oops he did it again]Robertson

Pat Robertson's claim can easily be countered with a google search and a little common sense. Haiti may be a fourth world country where the lucky ones die when travesty strikes but there is no reason to believe they were better off as slaves under French, or for that matter, as the working poor stiffs for rich, white racists under American rule.

Rush [the demagogue] Limbaugh in the meantime used the tragedy in Haiti as another occasion to attack the president and perhaps gin up another race war. On his talk show, Limbaugh said Obama would use this incident to boost his credibility from the African American community, as if (a) he wouldn't do it because the plight of the Haitians who survived the 7.0 earthquake didn't move him, b) he didn't consider how our reputation around the world would decline if we let the Haitians died from starvation, malnutrition, or disease and/or (c) he didn't consider the national security concerns created by the illegal immigration from a fourth-world people who would have every reason to flee to the United States after this incident.

I wouldn't be too surprised if Limbaugh were to accuse the president of trying to bribe his way into the white American's good graces if and when he needs to respond to a tragedy inflicted upon a predominantly white-populated society.

Mr. Limbaugh also criticized Obama on his response time. The president, he asserted reacted far more quickly to the humanitarian disaster inflicted upon the Haitian people than he did to the Nigerian terrorist's attempt to bring an airplane down utilizing an explosive he hid within his underwear.

The conservative talk show host is, however, comparing apples to oranges since the president needed far more information to react to the latter than he did with the former. He didn't need to gather any information about the devolving situation in Haiti before he vowed to help the Haitians in their time of need. Video-footage aired on CNN, MSNBC or any of the broadcast news stations were all he needed to express his condolences and vow to aide, in whatever as of yet undefined way we can, those in need. His response to the latest terrorist incident was delayed in part because he wanted to get all of the facts, to , in other words, see where things went wrong, before he spoke to the American people or took questions from the press.

The administration's response to one incident required more time because it required more thought, than the response to the other incident. One was a humanitarian disaster, the other a lapse in national security.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ford's Flip-flops

Former Representative Harold Ford Jr. (D-TN)took conservative positions when he was running for the senate in a conservative state. Now he wants to run for the senate again but he knows that the politics that worked in Tennessee don't work in New York so we shouldn't be surprised by his epiphany. The man who voted for the misnamed "Defense of Marriage Act" and opposed, of all things, the employment nondiscrimination act, has reversed himself on gay marriage and will "re-consider" (but not change) his views on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

It seems to me like he's pulling a Romney.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Conservative Ponnuru: Lott/Reid Comparison Fails

Andrew Sullivan will have to nominate Ramesh Ponnuru for one of his Matt Yglesias awards for his honesty here.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Olson: Why the Procreative "Justification" for Sexual Orientation-Based Marital Discrimination Fails

From Newsweek

"Preventing lesbians and gays from marrying does not cause more heterosexuals to marry and conceive more children. Likewise, allowing gays and lesbians to marry someone of the same sex will not discourage heterosexuals from marrying a person of the opposite sex. How, then, would allowing same-sex marriages reduce the number of children that heterosexual couples conceive?" - Theodore B. Olson, former Solicitor-General of the United States - under George W. Bush

This procreation argument cannot be taken seriously. We do not inquire whether heterosexual couples intend to bear children, or have the capacity to have children, before we allow them to marry. We permit marriage by the elderly, by prison inmates, and by persons who have no intention of having children. What's more, it is pernicious to think marriage should be limited to heterosexuals because of the state's desire to promote procreation. We would surely not accept as constitutional a ban on marriage if a state were to decide, as China has done, to discourage procreation.

"Science has taught us, even if history has not, that gays and lesbians do not choose to be homosexual any more than the rest of us choose to be heterosexual. To a very large extent, these characteristics are immutable, like being left-handed. And, while our Constitution guarantees the freedom to exercise our individual religious convictions, it equally prohibits us from forcing our beliefs on others. I do not believe that our society can ever live up to the promise of equality, and the fundamental rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, until we stop invidious discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation." - Theodore B. Olson, former U.S. Solicitor General of the United States - under George W. Bush

Saturday, January 09, 2010

On the other hand, The Asbury Park Press has a point here:

"It is folly, bordering on the obscene, that all teachers are paid the same without regard to how effective they are in the classroom. That's an incentive for mediocrity at best and a "race to the bottom" at worst. Outstanding teachers should be handsomely compensated."

Republican Budget Philsophy: Voodoo (no Offense to those who practice it) Math

The conservative Asbury Park Press, which endorsed Governor-elect Chris Christie (R-New Jersey) for governor because he promised tax cuts, undermines its own case for their endorsement with its own budget calculator.

Bottom line: you cannot cut taxes and balance the budget at the same time. I know the Republicans like to say that you can but no, you can't. I decided to raise the income tax by 20% (this would never happen), the gas tax by 3 cents, increase motor vehicle fees by 20% (this too would never happen), while slashing government salary workers by 50% (another unrealistic expectation), property tax relief by 10%, higher education aid by 10%, school aid by 20%, and municipal aid by 20%. I also gutted CharityCare to hospitals, saving me $302 million and accepted $2.2 billion in federal stimulus aid and still wound up with a deficit of $678.75 million.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Gethner, Some E-mails and Growing Disillusionment with the Obama Administration

Three things must happen if the president wants to get ahead of this politically damaging story:

(1) He must sack U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner immediately and nominate a highly education and qualified successor, who does not have any friends on Wall Street and any connection to Goldman Sachs, AIG, Bank of America, CitiGroup, and Countrywide. Obama shouldn't give the (hopefully departing) secretary a Presidential Medal of Freedom or a pat on the back. Geithner isn't fighting for us; he's fighting against us.

(2) Announce that his administration will be conducting an investigation to see if any criminal charges can be filed on the taxpayers' behalf against Geithner & AIG officials mentioned in the e-mails as well as any civil fraud charges that SEC might file against them. If the e-mails are legitimate, Geithner encouraged AIG officials (who in turn willingly complied) to file false claims on their applications so that they can acquire $182 billion of the taxpayers' hard-earned money. There must be something U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder could get them on (fraud? filing false claims?) and if he is having any trouble he could always talk to Eliot Spitzer.

(3) Renew his commitment to reform the financial system. Release the AIG e-mails as former NY Governor Eliot Spitzer, William K. Black, and Frank Partnoy suggest in their latest Huffington Post column and move to break up the banks.

The timing could not have been worse. Polls show President Barack Obama's approval rating declining. Many believe this country is still headed on the wrong track. They believe Obama isn't doing enough to create the jobs his predecessor lost because his attention is directed to the debate on health care, no matter how directly tied it is to their welfare, and the progressive/liberal wing of his party for that matter believe he is focused on getting any, as opposed to a good, health care bill through Congress. They believe that Washington is fighting for the interests of the power brokers while leaving the average working Joe and Jane to fight for themselves. CEO's of major U.S. firms write checks underwritten by U.S. taxpayers to preserve their seven-figure bonuses after wiping out workers' 401(k) and retirement plans. They see the stock market rise again while grandma is forced to go back to work in a market where jobs are scarce.

And what does the administration have to say to them? And what does the administration have to show for its year in office? A tepid stimulus package that hasn't created any jobs yet? The banks that promised to give the U.S. government its money back haven't done so yet and the administration that promised to end "too big to fail" has, well, failed to break the larger banks up yet. We were told that AIG's bailouts would enable it to loan to the smaller banks and businesses that would otherwise go under. It sounded like Ronald Reagan's trickle-down economics which former President George H.W. (a.k.a. "the smart one" Bush) called "voodoo economics) but we were prepared to give the current administration a chance. We needed to believe in anything. To believe that hope was around the corner. To believe that someone is looking out for the average working stiff.

And then we learn about some f-----g e-mails which suggest that nothing has changed at all. That the powers-that-be in Washington are still, to this day, looking out for the rich bankers on Wall Street.

I'm sorry. This is not the change that I voted for. And though my donations to the Obama campaign might seem paltry when compared to those made by the fat cat robber barons on Wall Street or Hartford, CT I had every reason to believe that we the people would have the president's ear. In the aggregate we didn't do too poorly raising some money.

The president and his Democratic allies on Capitol Hill have eleven months to get something done. I know that we have entered an economic rough patch and I know that the president has inherited a mess from his predecessor. And I know that it might take a while to turn things around. And I know that the Republicans, whose philosophical believes and policies have led us into this mess have proposed nothing to get us out of it. But the president must at least have us believe that he is trying to undo the damage that was inflicted by his predecessor - that he is at least fighting for us. That he would hold the bankers that ruined this economy and the health insurance companies that have taken our money in exchange for coverage accountable. That he is going to be the "fierce advocate" for the gays and other Americans that he said he will be. That he will fight for the working poor and the ever-dwindling middle class American that is feeling like the working poor day-by-day. That he will fight for new environmental regulations to curb the effects of global warming.

That, in sum, he will be the advocate for change that he promised us he will be.
Does the president get it? Do the Democrats on Capitol Hill get it? They have the majority, a filibuster-proof majority to be exact, in the senate. They have a comfortable majority in the House, and they have the White House. They were expected to do something with that majority.

And if not, is there not one Democratic staffer on Capitol Hill or in the White House to explain this to them? November's just around the corner. Eleven months, Mr. President. Eleven months. Shift your focus now or watch us sit the next election out.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Brown Nearly Ousted in UK

"A series of Cabinet ministers were sent out to back Mr Brown, but David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary and a potential successor, left a cloud over the Prime Minister by taking seven hours to issue a less than effusive statement saying only that he “supported the re-election campaign for a Labour government”.

Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, also took hours to back Mr Brown and Bob Ainsworth, the Defence Secretary, appeared to offer only token support."

Labor sticks by their leader, barely. U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown is on his way out.

Settlement Expansion Continues

in East Jerusalem, on land that the Palestinians hope will be theirs once a peace treaty is signed between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

I've said this before but it is worth repeating. Expecting the Israelis to withdraw from all of their settlements in the West Bank would be unrealistic. The land which they possess, as well as the people who populate it, give them a valuable bargaining chip they can use to cash in on any future peace deal with the Palestinians. They can use what they currently own to exact important concessions from the Palestinians. Moreover, insisting upon their immediate withdrawal would leave the Israelis potentially vulnerable while doing nothing to dissuade its fiercest enemies from exacting further concessions from the Israelis for nothing.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his successors could, for example, tie the pace of their settlers' withdrawal to the Palestinians' ability to fulfill their part of the bargain which presumably would include the disarming of dismantlement of Hamas and any other radical militia located within the Palestinian territories, the renunciation of all Palestinian claims to Israel-proper, access to Jewish holy sites within Palestinian territory, and an extradition treaty for crimes perpetrated against Israelis on Israeli soil among other things.

The Obama administration should, however, remind Prime Minister Netanyahu that his country is building on disputed land which the Palestinians hope to acquire as a part of any peace settlement they sign with the Israelis. And it should, with its allies in Europe and the Middle East,publicly dissuade the Israelis from engaging in these needlessly provocative acts which undermine the peace process. Netanyahu's government, it should be noted, does the Jewish settlers no favor by first, raising their hopes by letting them move into new settlements they would might be forced to withdraw from three or four years from now. The administration should urge the Israelis to reconsider and put a break on settlement expansion.

Will Salazar Run?

President Barack Obama may have to pick a new Interior Minister in the near future if the current Secretary enters the race for outgoing Governor Bill Ritter's (D) seat.

Burial Rights

Who can vote against a bill denying any man or woman his or her right to bury his or her deceased loved one? Rhode Island's governor vetoed such a bill, and the misnamed National Organization for Marriage (which takes no position on California's divorce ban proposal while opposing gay marriage in states across the United States) urged the state's legislators to vote against the veto override effort. But Rhode Island's legislators came through, with the overwhelming majority voting to override Carcieri's veto of a burial rights bill.

And so goes

Senator Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut). Last year he was running for the White House. This year he will retire, at the end of his term. The chairman of the banking committee saw his popularity wane when the stock market collapsed and his ties to Countrywide came to light. Apparently he believes that his effort to regain his state's favor by pushing for meaningful banking regulations were getting him nowhere in the polls. Good riddance.

The Democrats didn't want his colleague from North Dakota, Senator Byron Dorgan to go. His seat will almost certainly be replaced by a Republican. Maintaining the Democratic Party's hold on Dodd's seat probably increased with his departure, however, since Dodd's numbers weren't looking so good.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Finlandization of Taiwan

This is a must-read article so if you aren't a subscriber read it at the Barnes & Noble like I did.

One Way to Win Afghanistan: Bribery

"The initial stability of Najibullah’s government suggests that Afghans will assume responsibility for the fate of their government when the foreign footprint in their country has been sharply reduced -- but only if an outside patron is prepared to supply and equip Afghan forces. The central government in Kabul is strengthened when it sends gifts to the provinces rather than collecting taxes from them. But someone has to pay for this. The United Kingdom lavished resources on India in the nineteenth century; the Soviet Union sent billions of rubles to Afghanistan. Is Washington prepared to play such a role today?" Nikolas K. Gvosdev in Foreign Affairs

Bribery, patronage, and Pakistani support.

but for how long? Gvosdev himself noted that Najibullah's government ultimately failed.