Saturday, November 15, 2008

Net neutrality? Yes we can!

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I must admit, I've been a bit concerned about the direction Obama's taken since the election -- what with his support for Lieberman and the possibility that Gates will remain at the Pentagon -- but this is certainly a good sign of what we might expect from the Obama presidency:

The Obama-Biden transition team on Friday named two long-time net neutrality advocates to head up its Federal Communications Commission Review team.

Susan Crawford, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, and Kevin Werbach, a former FCC staffer, organizer of the annual tech conference Supernova, and a Wharton professor, will lead the Obama-Biden transition team's review of the FCC.

Both are highly-regarded outside-the-Beltway experts in telecom policy, and they've both been pretty harsh critics of the Bush administration's telecom policies in the past year.

Their jobs will be to review the agency and arm the president, vice president and prospective agency leader with all the information needed to make key decisions as they prepare to take over.

The choice of the duo strongly signals an entirely different approach to the incumbent-friendly telecom policymaking that's characterized most of the past eight-years at the FCC.

I've long been a proponent of "net neutrality" -- and these two appointments suggest that Obama will depart from Bush's right-wing, corporatist approach to telecommunications in general and Internet content in particular.

Which would certainly be a victory for individual liberty and American democracy.


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Begich pulls ahead in Alaska Senate count

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Democratic challenger Mark Begich's lead over Republican incumbent/felon Ted Stevens was 814 on Thursday. It's now 1,022, with "about 24,000 ballots left to be counted, coming from Anchorage, Southeast Alaska and the Kenai Peninsula," according to the Anchorage Daily News. "The state will tally them all Tuesday."

It was expected that Stevens would actually narrow the gap somewhat yesterday, with many votes counted from "northern and western Alaska, the Mat-Su and the Fairbanks region, including the North Pole area, where Stevens is hugely popular." Instead, Begich pulled ahead by more than 200 votes.

There may yet be a recount next month, but, as of right now, with many votes still to be counted from Begich's Anchorage and southeast Alaska strongholds, the Stevens campaign seems to have read the writing on the wall:

The Stevens campaign has long gone silent, and once again Friday wouldn't comment on the race. The campaign office in Midtown Anchorage was largely deserted. The giant wall photos of Stevens were gone. So were the rows of campaign signs. All that remained was a pair of volunteers packing boxes.

(So... sad...)

(Tears... welling up...)

(Salty... salty discharge...)

No, it's not over yet, but it's certainly looking good for Begich.

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Income disparity and "Middle Class" assumptions

By LindaBeth

(Part one of several.)

I had wanted to write about the concept of the middle class and "who counts" back when McCain was criticizing Obama's tax plans and Palin was self-labeling as a middle class American to explain why those media elites are against her, you betcha. At the same time, I have been teaching Sociology 101 for the first time (after majoring in it in undergrad), which obviously involves a lot of discussion over class, economic inequality, the meritocracy myth, the race-class connection, among other things that are the elephant in the room when addressing income, poverty, and taxation in the United States.

But teaching kept me super busy at the time, so I missed the opportunity to write about the realities of American income back then, but I have been given another chance with a recent update, raising the issue of taxes and the poor that I want to discuss. I also thought it would be the perfect lead-in for my new blog, "Speak Truth to Power," which will focus on social justice and issues of institutional inequality that I am interested in, but seem out of place on Don't Ya Wish Your Girlfriend Was Smart Like Me?, my gender-sexuality cultural analysis blog.

So without further ado, I want to delineate a few thoughts about income, the "middle class," average Americans, and economic disparity. This first part goes back to those campaign moments that bothered me so. The second part takes a look at who exactly are the middle class. And the next parts will touch on issues of taxation, poverty, entitlement, and socialism that came up in the campaign and will not die.

1. During the first presidential debate, McCain made the following comment:

I know that the worst thing we could possibly do is to raise taxes on anybody, and a lot of people might be interested in Senator Obama's definition of "rich." (you can simultaneously read the transcript and watch the video here; clip begins at 11: 25 and the exact comment is made at 18:55).

According to

  • Obama's plan will cut the taxes for 95% of families with children and 81.3% of households overall. (citation)
  • "Obama's plan would raise taxes only on individuals making more than $200,000 a year, or couples or families making more than $250,000." (citation)
  • "Those reporting adjusted gross income of more than $250,000 to the IRS are projected to make up 2 percent of households next year [...] Joint returns with more than $250,000 adjusted gross income and single returns with more than $125,000 adjusted gross income together are estimated to make up 3.1 percent of households next year." (citation)

So when McCain says we'd be surprised who Obama considers rich, I wonder who he considers rich, if it's not the mere 3.1% of households making $125,000+ per capita (adult).

But the even bigger question in my mind is that if McCain thinks that singles/families with incomes of $125/$250k are not rich, then who does he think the poor or even the middle class are?

2. Sarah Palin at an October rally (via The Washington Independent):

I know what Americans are going through,” she said after the stock markets took another dive last week. “Todd and I, heck, we’re going through that right now even as we speak — which may put me again kind of on the outs of those Washington elite who don’t like the idea of just an everyday, working-class American running for such an office. (emphasis added)

And Palin at the vice-presidential debate:

Now you said recently that higher taxes or asking for higher taxes or paying higher taxes is patriotic. In the middle class of America which is where Todd and I have been all of our lives, that's not patriotic [...] We're going to fight for the middle-class, average, everyday American family like mine.

The Palins earned about $250,000 in 2007, according to The Washington Post. Their family net worth is over $1 million.

Is this what a "middle-class, average, everyday American family" looks like? Who a "working class" American is?

See Sunday, November 16th for part two: "Who is the Middle Class?"

(Cross-posted to
Speak Truth to Power.)

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"Run" -- by Snow Patrol

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I probably shouldn't like Snow Patrol (website, Wikipedia entry) as much as I do, what with all their overblown melodramatic pop-rock, but, well, I do, a lot. Final Straw (2004), their third release, is a fantastic album -- as is Live and Acoustic at Park Ave. (2005), an EP with five songs from that album. Their fourth album, Eyes Open, which includes the massive hit "Chasing Cars," is almost as good, and their fifth album, A Hundred Million Suns, which was released at the end of October, and which I'm just now getting into, is similarly strong.

It's easy not to like them, I suppose, given their immense popularity -- even more so in the U.K. (they're originally from Northern Ireland) than in North America -- their huge record sales, and the annoying ubiquity of some of their hit songs (mainly "Chasing Cars," even though it's very good), but there's actually much more to them than their reputation (and their less generous critics) would suggest. They may not be as adventurous (or as full of themselves) as Coldplay (whom I also like), another wildly popular British band prone to anthemic arena crowd-pleasers, or as experimental as, say, Radiohead, but they write catchy tunes with good lyrics and soaring instrumentals -- and singer and main man Gary Lightbody has a wonderful voice.

Here's the video of my favourite Snow Patrol song, "Run," off Final Straw. (For more, check out their YouTube page.)


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Friday, November 14, 2008

The Reaction in review (Nov. 14, 2008)

A week's Reactions that deserve a second look:


By Capt. Fogg: "The Commies are (still) coming!" -- Fogg concludes, "I'm nearly convinced that the biggest problem facing our new administration is not terrorism, depression or climate change, but the enemy within; the enemy who disseminate viral e-mails, throw tantrums on AM radio, giggle and sneer on Fox News: the people who make stupid jokes and the people who pass them on and on and on."

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Barack and Hillary: Team of Allies?" -- Michael covers all the angles in his piece about the possibility of Hillary Clinton becoming Secretary of State (includes link to earlier post).


By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Shumer: "Minnesota is not Florida." -- This interesting post explores current issues in the tight Minnestota senatorial race.

By Carol Gee: "The Defense of the Nation" -- The post covers the current and offbeat defense issues pertaining to the presidential transition.

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Sarah Palin and 'extreme partisanship' " -- Stickings skillfully weighs in on Governor Palin's speech to her fellow Republican governors.

By Dan Tobin: "Barack the Mac" -- Dan concludes his fun post: "Welcome to the Barackintosh presidency. Not only does he use a Mac... he is a Mac."


By J. Thomas Duffy: "YES THEY CAN!... Yes Men Strike Again!" -- Duffy delightedly reports on the fake NYT, headlined,"Fake 'NYT' Distributed: War Ends! Tom Friedman Resigns!"

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Andrew Sullivan on 'the Palin nightmare.'" -- Michael's conclusion: "Americans deserve to know the truth about Sarah Palin."

By Mustang Bobby: "No basement here" -- Bobby refutes Sarah Palin's criticism of liberal bloggers, "those bloggers in their parents' basement just talkin'garbage."

By Edward Copeland: "A completely silly post" -- Edward gives us a big smile with this one, on a brilliant appointment to the post of Secretary of Homeland Security.

By Capt. Fogg: "Same old Party" -- Fogg's great exploration of the big question, "What will happen to the ragged survivors of the GOP's biggest defeat in decades?"


By Michael J.W. Stickings: "The myth of 'one-party rule'" -- Michael's experience with a parliamentary form of government informs this well-argued post debunking the myth that it would be bad for the country.

By Carl: "The most annoying column of the week" -- Carl asks and answers, "How condescending is it to claim that it is so wrong for the rich to vote against their interests, when the poor do it and we don't bat an eye?"


By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Schwarzenegger speaks out on Proposition 8" -- Michael explains the Governator's strong position with this big issue in California, opposing just letting the election outcome stand.

By Carl: " 'Now we are engaged in a great civil war' " -- Carl's point: "It could be a tough four or eight years for conservatives; it will be tougher yet if they underestimate Obama."

Special Bonus Series this week by Michael J.W. Stickings: "What to do about Joe Lieberman?" -- Updates: One, Two, Three.

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Top Ten Cloves: Things about Hillary Clinton becoming Secretary of State

By J. Thomas Duffy

News Item: Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State?

10. Despite getting the appointment, Hillary will still expect Obama to pay off her campaign debt .

9. A really, confusing, cumbersome, crazy confirmation hearing if Hillary brings all those voices she heard to testify on her behalf.

8. It will escalate the Hillarylanders-Daily Kos strike.

7. Disaster, if she hires just one certain person for her staff -- Mark Penn.

6. We win every diplomatic crisis, with new negotiation tool - Hillary breaks down, crying.

5. Oh God, that means we'll have to put up with Lanny Davis again!

4. Already has world community intimidated, as they remember what Samantha Powers had to say about Hillary.

3. Doris Kearns Goodwin gets another three-months-plus of making the cable-show rounds, waxing about her book, Team of Rivals.

2. Will save money on security -- Hillary already knows how to duck sniper fire.

1. Maybe it's all a ruse and Obama is implementing Robert Smigel's "The Obama Files".


Bonus HRC To State Riffs

A.J. Liebling: Hillary Clinton's Defining Moment

The Jed Report: HRC For Secretary Of State

Laura Rozen: Will Hillary Clinton Be Taking Those 3:00 am Calls After All?

Al Kamen and Philip Rucker: In the Loop - Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State?

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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What to do about Joe Lieberman? (update 3)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Or, in praise of Patrick Leahy.

Via Greg Sargent at TPM, here's what Sen. Leahy said today about the upcoming Democratic caucus vote on Lieberman:

Every Senator will have to vote the way he or she believes they should. I'm one who does not feel that somebody should be rewarded with a major chairmanship after doing what he did... I felt some of the attacks that he was involved in against Senator Obama... went way beyond the pale. I thought they were not fair, I thought they were not legitimate, I thought they perpetuated some of these horrible myths that were being run about Senator Obama. I would feel that had I done something similar, that I would not be chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the next Congress.

In other words, no Homeland Security chairmanship for Lieberman. Let's hope Leahy's colleagues agree.

Think Progress has the audio of Leahy's remarks, which were picked up by Kos diarist terjeanderson.

For more, see MyDD's Josh Orton: "Leahy nails it: in any normal world, it makes perfect sense for Lieberman to lose his chairmanship of such a powerful committee. But this is Lieberworld, where comity always comes first, and bad faith is ignored willfully."

I don't know about you, but I've had more than enough of Lieberworld.

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The Commies are (still) coming!

By Capt. Fogg

If you really thought the Obama-as-Communist insanity had anything to to with Obama, with National Health Care or progressive income taxes or anything else in the real world, here's some evidence that might change your mind. We've seen many attempts to make us afraid of creeping Communism during the last two years and I've written about some of them: stern lectures about how frogs won't notice if you boil them slowly, fake letters from professors quoting "exchange students" who warn us about small increments of socialism being what brought on communism in Vietnam. Of course, Communism never did arise that way anywhere, but by armed revolution or invasion, nor did it grow from or replace socialism but rather corrupt feudalism or colonial fiefdom. The slippery slope argument they all share is a fallacy of course; an unsupported assumption or extrapolation designed to deceive and frighten, but it's one of the few things left to Obama haters and they continue to use it.

The recent recrudescence of a fake quote by Nikita Khrushchev that first appeared to the delight of wingnuts nearly 50 years ago is a perfect example. Titled "And so it begins!" the screed tells us that:

We cannot expect Americans to jump from Capitalism to Communism, but we can assist their elected leaders in giving Americans small doses of Socialism until they suddenly awake to find they have Communism.

That Khrushchev never said it or anything like it and that extensive research supports the fact that it was cooked up by people who had private reasons to object to social security, minimum wages, welfare and unions, doesn't really matter. This is the USA, and most of us are either ignorant, dishonest, or both, and a substantial number are barking mad and willing to believe anything that validates their obsessions, their fears and their greed.

I'm nearly convinced that the biggest problem facing our new administration is not terrorism, depression or climate change, but the enemy within; the enemy who disseminate viral e-mails, throw tantrums on AM radio, giggle and sneer on Fox News: the people who make stupid jokes and the people who pass them on and on and on.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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California to consider Prop. 8 challenges

By Michael J.W. Stickings

From the S.F. Chronicle:

The California Supreme Court has asked state Attorney General Jerry Brown to reply by Monday to lawsuits challenging the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage -- a sign that the justices are taking the cases seriously and will not dispose of them quickly.

A good sign indeed. As Governor Schwarzenegger himself put it this past Sunday, referring to the ban on same-sex marriage enacted with Proposition 8, "it's unfortunate, obviously, but it's not the end. I think that we will again maybe undo that, if the court is willing to do that, and then move forward from there and again lead in that area."

And the highest court in the state may very well be "willing to do that."

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Barack and Hillary: Team of Allies?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

(A follow-up on my Hillary-to-State post from earlier today.)

Obama and Hillary met in Chicago yesterday and apparently discussed what role she might play in Obama's administration. Secretary of State remains at the top of the rumour mill, and, as I put it earlier today, although I would prefer Kerry for the job, strictly in terms of policy considerations, I am certainly intrigued by the idea of Hillary and Obama working together, if that is possible (and if she wouldn't overshadow him), to chart a new course for U.S. foreign policy.

Steve Clemons has been following this rumour for some time and now thinks it's a serious possibility. And he presents an interesting theory as to what Obama might be up to: "[T]his is EXACTLY what George W. Bush did to his most serious rival in 2000, Colin Powell. He gave Powell Secretary of State and then began to box him up. Barack Obama may be on the same track with Hillary Clinton who is and was his chief rival in the Democratic Party today."

That may very well be the case, but I think Obama is in a much stronger position than Bush was in back in 2000. He also seems to be incredibly confident and sure of himself and what he is doing -- more so now in victory than every before. I doubt he's all that worried about Hillary mounting some sort of challenge to him. True, it is wise to keep your friends close and your enemies closer, but is Hillary really an enemy? And does Obama really think he needs to "box" her in?

Again, maybe. If Obama stumbles, she could indeed emerge as a formidable rival after the 2010 midterms. The case would be made, after all, that it should have been Hillary all along, that things would be different, and better, if only she had won the nomination. And, yes, Obama is certainly a shrewd political operator who knows how to prepare well for future political battles. (Consider that he is set to meet with McCain on Monday, a shrewd move not just to reach out to his recent opponent but to shore up possible support down the road.) But I simply do not think that the motivation for appointing Hillary to State are so entirely self-serving (and, to be fair, Steve may not think so either). Maybe I'm not being cynical enough today, but it could be that Obama thinks that Hillary would actually be a positive addition to his administration, that they actually could work well together, that she would be an excellent secretary of state at this extremely challenging time.

We tend to think of them, coming out of that long and at times bitter and nasty primary season, as rivals, and as the two of them as a possible "Team of Rivals," but what if, with the election over, they are actually, or could actually be, allies -- that is, a Team of Allies?

Possible, no?


UPDATE 1: Of course, it could all be a Clintonite-driven media "freak show." But I suspect there's a bit more to it than that.


UPDATE 2: CNN is reporting that Obama and Hillary did in fact discuss the secretary of state job. Apparently, Obama wanted "to gauge Clinton's interest in the post of Secretary of State, if she were offered it. Senator Clinton's response is unknown, although multiple sources agree that Hillary Clinton was left with the impression that if she were interested in the post, it would be hers."

Note, however, that the CNN piece relies on anonymous "Democratic sources." They could well be pro-Hillary sources.


UPDATE 3: ABC News has more on the meeting: "A source with knowledge of the transition process describes the meeting as not a hard offer. Obama is more cautious than that... Obama does not want to be seen as being rejected by her, but it is 'hers to turn down,' one source put it. They have an agreement to have another meeting or phone conversation about this very soon." Again, we're dealing with anonymous sources here.

Obama also met with Bill Richardson about the secretary of state job.


UPDATE 4: The WaPo is reporting that Hillary and Richardson are on the SoS short list. The source? Once again, anonymous "Democratic sources."


UPDATE 5: The NYT has more: "The prospect of Mrs. Clinton as secretary of state, perhaps the most prestigious cabinet position in any administration, sent people buzzing. But associates to both Democrats cautioned that their conversation included other cabinet possibilities and that no job was offered."

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Idiot of the Day: Dennis Miller

By Michael J.W. Stickings

For saying this about Palin the other night on O'Reilly:

She's a great dame. People are fascinated by her because the Left hate her. I think the Left hate her — mostly women on the Left hate her — because to me from outside in it appears that she has a great sex life, all right? I think she has non-neurotic sex with that Todd Palin guy... I think that snow mobile looks like mechanized foreplay to me and that's why people are fascinated.

Right, because there's no other reason to "hate" her (if we even want to use so strong a word). Uh-huh. Sure.

Seriously, though, women hate her because they're envious of her "great sex life"? What, do liberal women not have great sex lives? Apparently not, because they're all so "neurotic."

Miller should go back to fantasizing about a three-way with the Palins on a snowmobile, or whatever else lights up the dark recesses of his warped mind.

Once a bitingly funny independent, he's been a right-wing idiot for years. Obviously, nothing has changed. How fitting that he's been relegated to spewing his nonsense for Bill O'Reilly.

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Hillary to Foggy Bottom?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The latest juicy morsel of speculation coming out of The Transition, or at least making its way around Transition watchers, has to do with Hillary being a candidate for Secretary of State. Here's WaPo:

There's increasing chatter in political circles that the Obama camp is not overly happy with the usual suspects for secretary of state these days and that the field might be expanding somewhat beyond Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Gov. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.), Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and maybe former Democratic senator Sam Nunn of Georgia.

There's talk, indeed, that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) may now be under consideration for the post. Her office referred any questions to the Obama transition; Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor declined to comment.

Well, okay, though I'd prefer to have Hillary in the Senate working on, say, health care reform.

I still think it'll be Kerry, who clearly wants the job, who would provide progressive leadership on U.S. foreign policy, and who would be an effective counterweight to the more hawkish, Republican-lite Democratic foreign policy establishment with which Obama has surrounded himself (Richard Holbrooke, another possibility for the job, et al.). I don't mind Richardson, but there's just too much of the bumbling fool about him, and Hagel... well, as much as I admire him for his tough stand against the Iraq War, he's still a conservative Republican.

At MSNBC, Andrea Mitchell reports that Tom Daschle could be a "compromise choice." I didn't think much of him when he was Senate majority leader, but his support for Obama, from early on, was impressive, and I think he'd be an asset to the Obama Administration. I just don't think he's right for State.

As for Hillary, I just wonder how effectively she and Obama would be able to work together. At Politico, Mike Allen reports that she may be "the favorite," and that appointing her to State "would create the ultimate 'Team of Rivals' cabinet, according to officials involved in the discussions." Fair enough, and, indeed, there is certainly a lot to recommend her -- not least her foreign and military policy experience, her engagement in world affairs, and her undeniable stature and credibility. And it would certainly be a news-dominating pick, overshadowing the rest of the Transition and Obama's other Cabinet appointments. (For more, see Taylor Marsh, who makes a good case for her.)

I'd be happy with either Kerry or Hillary. I've been leaning towards Kerry, given that I'm closer to him on policy, but the thought of an Obama-Hillary foreign policy team, if it is at all workable, is rather appealing.

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The Sarah Show

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Yeah, about that Palin-centric Republican governors press conference yesterday? Seems like some of Palin's fellow governors weren't terribly amused by the fact that it turned into The Sarah Show.

She's obviously looking ahead to 2012 already, as we know from her ongoing and utterly self-serving media blitz, and the press conference, in the words of one governor, "unfortunately sent a message that she was the de facto leader of the party."

It would not be inappropriate for Republicans to feel a bit like Dr. Frankenstein at this point.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Schumer: "Minnesota is not Florida."

By Michael J.W. Stickings

No, but, with a recount looming in the exceptionally tight Coleman-Franken Senate race, the Republicans are certainly fighting like it's Florida all over again. Here's The Hill:

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Thursday accused Republicans of trying to halt the Minnesota Senate recount through intimidation and vowed the process "won’t be another Florida."

Schumer, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), said allies of Sen. Norm Coleman, the GOP incumbent, are working to undermine the recount even though it is required under Minnesota law and neither candidate can "short-circuit" it.

Schumer pointed to statements made by former Bush administration official Hans von Spakovsky and "attack documents" circulated by the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) — both of them aimed at Minnesota election officials.

"The Coleman campaign is juicing up the right wing to put pressure on the process," Schumer said. "The right wing has worked itself into a lather in a clear attempt to intimidate election officials from doing their job... I have news for those seeking to intimidate the process: Minnesota is not Florida."

Three things:

First, I think it's hilarious there's a guy named Hans von Spakovsky in the middle of this. For those of you who don't know who he is -- and I can hardly blame you for that -- check out his Wikipedia profile, as well as this profile at Slate.

Suffice it to say that he's a rather controversial figure, like so many Bush appointees, first in Bush's Justice Department, where he was involved with voting rights, then as a recess appointment to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). As Dahlia Lithwick put it in that Slate profile, "this man was one of the generals in a years-long campaign to use what we now know to be bogus claims of runaway 'vote fraud' in America to suppress minority votes. Von Spakovsky was one of the people who helped melt down and then reshape the Justice Department into an instrument aimed at diminishing voter participation for partisan ends." In other words, a distinguished Republican operative.

Second, Coleman has been trying to avoid a recount from the start. He prematurely declared victory the day after Election Day, a transparently pre-emptive move in the spirit of Bush 2000, then pressed Franken not to push for a recount, arguing that it would be too expensive (actually, it will cost only about $86,000). Franken rightly declined the offer, saying that "a recount could change the outcome significantly" and that the "goal is to ensure that every vote is properly counted."

Third, Republican intimidation will no doubt continue. It is essential that Democrats both nationally and at the state level remain vigilant. Franken may end up losing, but the recount must proceed fairly -- and all the votes must be counted.

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The Defense of the Nation

By Carol Gee

It will be assured by a well-executed presidential transition plan. The American people are curious about whether current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will be staying on after President-elect Obama takes the oath of office. It looks like there is some possibility that he will, based on these news items: Gates and Danzig? -- A former Navy secretary praises the man whom he might eventually replace. "Obama Mulls Plan to Keep Gates at Pentagon," from the 11/11/08 CQ Politics. To quote:

President-elect Obama is strongly considering keeping Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates in that post for a limited time in the new administration, several sources close to the discussions said Tuesday.

Under the still-tentative plan, former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig would become deputy secretary and take over the job when Gates departs, perhaps after up to one year. Gates has not formally been asked to stay, sources close to the Pentagon and the transition team said. A source close to Gates said he is reluctant but willing to stay on in the short term.

The general in charge of the Missile defense program is leaving his post soon and has prepared a briefing for President-elect Obama, should he want it. Obama has not said what his final views on the subject are, though he has not ruled it out. The story, "General Warns Obama on Missile Defense," is from the 11/12/08 CBS News. To quote the piece's sub-head, "Head Of Missile Defense Agency Says U.S. Would Be "Severely Hurt" If Plan Is Abandoned; Russia Rejects More U.S. Proposals." As for the Middle East war situation, "Obama faces major challenge in Afghanistan/Pakistan," from Juan Cole's (11/12/08) Informed Comment, is one of the very best available current background readings on the subject.

Public Diplomacy as an element of national security has been an abysmal failure under the Bush administration. Here is an example: "USC Study of Alhurra Withheld from Public; Inquiries of Network's Operation Deepen" from the 11/4/08 ProPublica. To quote:

The government board that oversees the US-funded Arabic satellite channel Alhurra has refused to make public an independent study commissioned last year to review the network’s content.

People who have read the study, which was completed in July, described it as highly critical of Alhurra, a four-year-old government broadcasting effort begun by President Bush that has cost U.S. taxpayers $500 million and has been shrouded in controversy.

Bush’s public diplomacy efforts have been widely criticized by Democrats and even within his own party and corners of his administration. It is likely that his successor will review some of the most expensive efforts such as Alhurra which was designed to promote a positive image of U.S. policies in the Muslim world.

Defense acquisition will need an enormous amount of revamping if the following two examples are any indication of how wrong-headed it has been under the Bush administration:

  1. "Army Orders Pain Ray Trucks; New Report Shows 'Potential for Death'," is from the 10/10/08 Wired: Danger Room. To quote:

    After years of testing, the Active Denial System -- the pain ray which drives off rioters with a microwave-like beam -- could finally have its day. The Army is buying five of the truck-mounted systems for $25 million. But the energy weapon may face new hurdles, before it's shipped off to the battlefield; a new report details how the supposedly non-lethal blaster could be turned into a flesh-frying killer.

    The contract for the pain ray trucks is "expected to be awarded by year's end," Aviation Week notes. "A year after the contract is signed, the combination vehicle/weapons will start be fielded at the rate of one per month."

  2. "Packs of robots will hunt down uncooperative humans"* comes from the 10/22/08 Short Sharp Science. To quote:

    The latest request from the Pentagon jars the senses. At least, it did mine. They are looking for contractors to provide a "Multi-Robot Pursuit System" that will let packs of robots "search for and detect a non-cooperative human".

    One thing that really bugs defence chiefs is having their troops diverted from other duties to control robots. So having a pack of them controlled by one person makes logistical sense. But I'm concerned about where this technology will end up.

    Given that iRobot last year struck a deal with Taser International to mount stun weapons on its military robots, how long before we see packs of droids hunting down pesky demonstrators with paralysing weapons? Or could the packs even be lethally armed?

In conclusion, as Commander in Chief, President-elect Obama will be challenged to restore and repair the U.S. military to full effectiveness. Our professional military has not been well-served by the current Commander in Chief. You can be assured that President-elect Obama would have an entirely different "take" on the last three stories in this post than our current president would have. Though Obama is a "techie," he would likely look askance at deploying pain ray trucks and pursuit robots. And because he is so bright, he would read with fascination my last story: "Scientists Identify Brain's 'Hate Circuit'"* from the 10/29/08 Yahoo! News. To quote:

British researchers say they've identified a "hate circuit" in the brain.

This hate circuit shares part of the brain associated with aggression, but is distinct from areas related to emotions such as fear, threat, and danger, said researchers Professor Semir Zeki and John Romaya, of University College London's laboratory of neurobiology.

Hat Tip Key: Regular contributors of links to leads are "betmo"* and Jon#.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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What is this, the 18th Century?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

So reports The Times. Apparently "[i]t was the first time the Royal Navy had been engaged in a fatal shoot-out on the high seas in living memory."

It's all so... retro.

Then again, the pirates probably have a profile on Facebook and probably know a lot more about Twitter than I do.

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No Gore

By Michael J.W. Stickings

From TNR's Seyward Darby: "Looks like Al Gore won't be joining Team Obama. A spokesperson says, he 'does not intend to seek or accept any formal position in government.'"

Alas, I sigh, a great Gore admirer, who once thought Gore-Obama sounded awfully good, and who thought he was (and who may still think he is) "the best person for the White House." (I wrote about it here, Creature here.)

Though perhaps he can do more good for the world outside of government -- as an activist and advocate, as a conscience -- than in any formal role.

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Sarah Palin and "extreme partisanship"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I must admit, Sarah Palin sounds better (or reads better) when she's speaking to her fellow Republican governors about "conservative solutions to these economic challenges" than when she's stirring up vicious mobs at hate-filled rallies on the campaign trail. Not that I approve of "conservative solutions," but at least she was coherent today. Besides, I'm not entirely against "the federalist principle" (whether in the U.S. or here in Canada). As much as I desire an active/activist federal government on issues such as health care and education, there ought to be responsibility and accountability at all levels of government, and, in some areas, state and local government is indeed better suited than the federal government to address issues effectively and efficiently. And it's not like I support government bailouts of big banks and big corporations.

And, yes, Palin also said some very nice things about Obama today, things that are completely at odds with what she said about him during the campaign, such as: "If he governs with the skill, and the grace, and the greatness of which he is capable, we're going to be just fine... [T]his is a shining moment in American history. Sen. Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and for our country." (Sure, but doesn't he also pal around with terrorists?)

And yet... for Palin to complain about "obsessive, extreme partisanship," well, that's just nuts. As she proved on the campaign trail, she is as obsessive and extreme a partisan as there is. Her barrage of attacks on Obama was nothing if not obsessive and extreme. A partisan of the extremist fringe, she's even obsessive and extreme within the context of her own obsessive and extreme party.

Then again, maybe this entirely self-unaware and unironic comment should come as no surprise. After all, it's not just that she seems to be utterly clueless, it's that she's so full of herself, so sure of her own righteousness, that her "reality" is whatever she wants it to be at any given time.

"As far as we're concerned, the past is the past," she said. Presumably, then, she's already forgotten all about the campaign that exposed her as a twit, a thug, and a fraud.

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Begich expands lead in Alaska Senate count

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Democrat Mark Begich overtook Republican/felon Ted Stevens late yesterday, at one point holding a lead of just three votes, and he has expanded his lead as the counting continues.

As the Anchorage Daily News is reporting (and CNN and Alaska Elections have the same numbers), Begich is now up by 814 -- "132,196 to 131,382 -- with the state still to count roughly 35,000 more ballots over the next week." In percentage terms, it's Begich 47.41, Stevens 47.12. [ADN update: 40,000 ballots left to be counted.]

Sean Quinn at FiveThirtyEight: "As we've pointed out and has been pointed out elsewhere, the remaining votes come from Begich-friendly districts. Mark Begich is now an overwhelming favorite to win the Alaska Senate seat."

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Rachel Maddow, one of us

By Michael J.W. Stickings

A fellow blogger, that is. (Against Palin's stupid attacks.) In case you missed it:

(From Think Progress.)

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What to do about Joe Lieberman? (update 2)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Well, it now seems that both Obama and Durbin want Lieberman to remain as chair of the Homeland Security Committee, at least according to Newsweek's Howard Fineman.

It has been reported that Obama wants Lieberman to remain in the Democratic caucus, but it hasn't been clear whether or not he wants him to keep his chairmanship. It has also been reported that Durbin wanted him to be stripped of his chairmanship.

Meanwhile, the Politico is reporting that some Democratic senators -- including Dodd, Salazar, Carper, and Nelson -- "have launched a behind-the-scenes effort to save... Lieberman's chairmanship."

As I have written before, I trust Obama's judgement and am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. And I have a great deal of respect for Durbin and Dodd.

The thing it, while Obama and Lieberman's backers may not hold grudges, many of us do. And rightly so. He's proven time and again over the past several years that he isn't much of a Democrat, if one at all. And after all he did to attack Obama and the Democrats during the recent campaign, why should he be forgiven and allowed to remain as if nothing happened?

And I'm not so sure it's such a great idea to let him keep such an important chairmanship. For more on this, see Jane Hamsher: "Allowing Lieberman to retain control of a committee where he has done nothing but suppress meaningful oversight is going to be an awfully bitter pill to swallow when we're told that the price of 'change' we all thought we were voting for is going to be too high."

The Senate Democrats are "making a mistake they're likely to regret," argues Steve Benen, and I tend to agree.

I must stress, again, that I have been sympathetic to Lieberman in the past and have argued that the Democratic Party should be inclusive enough even for Lieberman to have a place in it. But that was then, this is post-election 2008. The party should still be inclusive, and perhaps Lieberman should be allowed to remain in caucus, at least for the time being, and perhaps even forgiven, with a massive generosity of spirit, but that is all.

A chairmanship, particularly such a key one? Absolutely not.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Begich overtakes Stevens in Alaska vote count

By Michael J.W. Stickings

(Updated here -- Begich's lead has grown since I posted this.)

Alaska started counting its roughly 90,000 absentee, early, and "questioned" ballots (or about 30 percent of the total votes cast) today -- you'll remember that something was stinking badly there -- and Democratic challenger Mark Begich, who was ahead in the polls but behind on election night, has overtaken Republican incumbent and convicted felon Ted Stevens.

Stevens had a lead of 3,353 with almost 210,000 votes counted before today. His lead was down to 971 earlier today, with 28,519 additional votes counted, but now Begich is up by 3 -- yes, three:

The elections division still has over 10,000 ballots left to count today and thousands more through next week, but the latest numbers show Mark Begich leading Sen. Ted Stevens 125,019 to 125,016.

The new numbers, reflecting nearly 43,000 absentee ballots counted today, are from all over the state.

If the trend holds, Begich should be able to expand his lead and win.

(Unfortunately, incumbent Republican Don Young, who's corrupt in that specially Stevensesque sort of way, is still well ahead in his House race against Democratic challenger Ethan Berkowitz.)

But let's not get ahead of ourselves, however much we may wish to bid good riddance to Stevens. There is still much more counting to do.

CNN has the updated results for the three Alaska votes -- President, Senate, House -- here. See also Alaska Elections here (with updated unofficial results here).

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YES THEY CAN! ... Yes Men Strike Again!

By J. Thomas Duffy

You may have heard about this today, or, perhaps seen it (maybe even have gotten a copy).

Those irascible gents from The Yes Men struck again.

Fake 'NYT' Distributed: War Ends! Tom Friedman Resigns!

Fake copies of the NYT, possibly a year in the making, were distributed in the city today, and apparently some commuters thought it was for real. The banner announces the end of the Iraq war and other stories reveal that Tom Friedman has resigned and so on. It's set in the future--next July.

Alex S. Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, and a co-author of “The Trust,” a history of the family that controls The Times, said in a telephone interview that the paper should be flattered by the spoof.

“I would say if you’ve got one, hold on to it,” Mr. Jones, a former Times reporter, said of the fake issue. “It will probably be a collector’s item. I’m just glad someone thinks The New York Times print edition is worthy of an elaborate hoax. A Web spoof would have been infinitely easier. But creating a print newspaper and handing it out at subway stations? That takes a lot of effort.”

He added, “I consider this a gigantic compliment to The Times.”

You can go HERE to visit the website of the spoof edition (and be patient, it's got some heavy traffic, so you may have to try a few times to get on).

And, if you are not hip to The Yes Men, whose motto, more or less, is "Impersonating big-time criminals in order to publicly humiliate them. Targets are leaders and big corporations who put profits ahead of everything else."

Here's an example of one of their previous efforts:

Yes Men Strike Oil: Civil Disobedients Make Modest Flesh-to-Fuel Proposal

"Without oil, at least four billion people would starve. This spiral of trouble would make the oil infrastructure utterly useless" -- unless their bodies could be turned into fuel.

That was the satirical message delivered by two corporate ethics activists to the Gas and Oil Exposition 2007 in Calgary, Alberta. The activists, part of political trickster collective the Yes Men, used the Exposition to stage their latest theatre of corporate absurdity, with Exxon/Mobil and the Natural Petroleum Council playing the fools.

The prank, intended as a critique of the fossil fuel industry's influence on energy policy, caused confusion and consternation on the final day of the Exposition, one of the industry's largest gatherings.

After noting that current energy policies will likely lead to "huge global calamities" and disrupt oil supplies, Wolff told the audience "that in the worst case scenario, the oil industry could "keep fuel flowing" by transforming the billions of people who die into oil," said a Yes Men press release.

Yes Man Mike Bonnano, posing as an Exxon representative named Florian Osenberg, added that "With more fossil fuels comes a greater chance of disaster, but that means more feedstock for Vivoleum. Fuel will continue to flow for those of us left."

More on The Yes Man website: "Exxon's Climate-Victim Candles."

Also this -- Halliburton solves global warming!

Hysterical stuff!

So, for a day, at least, the old Grey Lady, The New York Times, was "All The News Fit To Spoof."

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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Post-election Congressional round-up

By Carol Gee

In the U.S. House and Senate -- The picture is slowly coming together. Congress may start back to work next week with a "lame duck" session; it is still up in the air. Come January everything changes. The Democratic majority in the House of Representatives is 254 (a majority is 218); the Republicans now hold 173 seats, a net gain of 20 for Democrats. In the Senate 51 is a majority; the Democrats now hold 55 seats and the Republicans hold 39, a net gain of 6 for Democrats. Just getting to the magic 60 may be difficult, but there are other ways around the filibuster dilemma. There are two Independents who currently caucus with the Democrats. But there are still six seats within both chambers where a recount or runoff is pending. States involved include Minnesota, Alaska, Virginia, California, Ohio, and Georgia.

Democratic Party:

Senator Robert Byrd will step down on January 6, 2009, as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and will be replaced by Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Politico reports. And there is still no decision about what to do with Senator Joe Leiberman. With DNC chairman Howard Dean stepping down, Senator Claire McCaskill has been mentioned to replace him as head of the Democratic National Committee. Senator Hillary Clinton will return to the Senate under new terms, most likely with increased influence. No doubt she will be interested in health care reform.

Rahm Emanuel was fourth in the House leadership hierarchy. He is now President-elect Obama's new Chief of Staff. There will be an election to fill his vacant Illinois district seat. Emanuel, already beginning to serve informally, said a couple of days ago that President-elect Obama still intends to make a quick call for a middle-class tax cut, according to John Bresnahan of The Crypt at Politico relays some good info regarding the shake-up from fellow reporter Chris Cillizza: Rep Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) will chair the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. To quote:

Van Hollen will also serve as a "special assistant" to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) focusing on policy coordination between the House Democratic leadership and the incoming Obama administration. . .

Van Hollen's decision clears the way for Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) to become Democratic Caucus chairman, replacing Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), who is set to become President-elect Obama's chief of staff.

With Van Hollen staying at the DCCC, that avoids a messy leadership fight for Pelosi, although there is still a battle between Reps. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) and Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) to replace Larson as Caucus vice chair.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) is challenging Rep John Dingell of Michigan for the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee, according to The Washington Post (11/7), and Time (11/10). Waxman has been honing his skills by holding an amazing number of hearings in his Government operations Committee. He is younger than Dingell, but certainly no tougher.

Republican Party:

We are not sure what the terms of Senator John McCain's return to the Senate will be, according to a New York Times story, "The Return of John McCain, but Which One?" Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss faces a run-off election in Georgia in December.

In the House, "Maneuvering Begins for House GOP Leaders" headlined the WaPo shortly after the elections. John Boehner will probably remain as House Minority Leader, but Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri has stepped down. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) will most likely replace him.

The Washington Post reported earlier that 11-term Connecticut Representative Christopher Shays was defeated by Democrat Jim Himes, whom the NYT calls "bull-headed and a Rhodes scholar." His loss removed the last Republican representation in all of New England. Surviving Republican senators from New England include Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine. (Another Republican senator from the Northeast is Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.) I was sorry to see Shays go. He was a fine moderate Representative, never an ideologue. Such moderate Republicans are becoming an endangered species.


  1. House Winners, by District (111th Congress) - Very useful current interactive map in The Washington Post.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Andrew Sullivan on "the Palin nightmare"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

With the election now over, pretty much, I really don't want to waste much time on as loathsome a creature as Sarah Palin. I wrote about her extensively during the campaign, but what I may not have expressed explicitly -- though it was certainly there implicitly -- was my utter contempt for her. There are few political figures I despise as much as I came to despise her. She is, as I put it, an ignorant thug and an arrogant twit. Simply put, she was, given her place on the presidential ticket of a major party, an embarrassment to the United States. And nothing has changed since the election. She is still utterly clueless yet still thinks she has some sort of God-given right to impose herself on the American people.

Along these lines, our must-read of the day comes from one of Palin's harshest and most determined critics -- for which I admire him -- Andrew Sullivan, whose post "Why Palin Still Matters" is an excellent recapitulation of what was, and is, wrong with Palin and the man who elevated her to unwarranted prominence, John McCain. As always, make sure to read it in full. Here are a few key passages:

Let's be real in a way the national media seems incapable of: this person should never have been placed on a national ticket in a mature democracy. She was incapable of running a town in Alaska competently. The impulsive, unvetted selection of a total unknown, with no knowledge of or interest in the wider world, as a replacement president remains one of the most disturbing events in modern American history.


It happened because John McCain is an incompetent and a cynic and reckless beyond measure. To have picked someone he'd only met once before, without any serious vetting procedure, revealed McCain as an utterly unserious character, a man whose devotion to the shallowest form of political gamesmanship trumped concern for his country's or his party's interest.


This deluded and delusional woman still doesn't understand what happened to her; still has no self-awareness; and has never been forced to accept her obvious limitations. She cannot keep even the most trivial story straight; she repeats untruths with a ferocity and calm that is reserved only to the clinically unhinged; she has the educational level of a high school drop-out; and regards ignorance as some kind of achievement. It is excruciating to watch her - but more excruciating to watch those who feel obliged to defend her.

Her candidacy, in short, was indefensible. It remains indefensible.

Keep at it, Andrew. Because, as I put it repeatedly during the campaign, Americans deserve to know the truth about Sarah Palin. They still do. We all still do.

Especially with Palin "claiming vindication" and being "touted as a future leader of the GOP."

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