Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Mas!

See what I did there? I took the "Christ" out of "Christmas" -- literally.

Because I'm a godless liberal waging war on Christmas, I have no choice but to take this step. And I'm not at all sorry to have to do it.

Simply, the right is right. Conservatives talk incessantly, belligerently, about this war on Christmas, and I've come to believe it.

So -- ye liberals, ye progressives, ye socialists, ye leftists of all stripes. To battle!


Actually, back in the real world, there's no such war at all, just greater appreciation for difference and greater celebration of diversity.

And I do celebrate Christmas, just without the religion -- the way it can be in our modern liberal society, and, on those terms, I really like this time of the year, just as I did when I was growing up.

And it's been a nice, quiet day here at home. "Santa" came last night, the kids are happy, I've been watching the Diners, Drive-ins & Dives marathon on the Food Network, and now I'm just about to go make dinner.

So, yes, a Merry Christmas to you all, and Happy Holidays.

Whatever and however you celebrate, I hope you're having a lovely day.

Be safe and take care of one another.


It'll be relatively quiet here at The Reaction over the next few days, but I'm sure we'll get some new posts up now and then, so keep checking back.

Talk to you later.

-- Michael

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Biden: "There's an inevitability for a national consensus on gay marriage."

Vice President Joseph Biden said in a television interview Friday that "there's an inevitability for a national consensus on gay marriage."

The vice president, who backs civil unions but not same-sex marriage, weighed in on the issue two days after President Obama acknowledged his position was "evolving."

"I think the country's evolving," Biden said in the interview with ABC News. His comments were not the first time he has suggested the country would eventually accept and support gay marriage. Asked in a 2007 appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" if gay marriage was inevitable, Biden replied that "it probably is."

I think Biden's right -- that same-sex marriage legalization is inevitable given the evolution of the country. I would also call this progress, as Americans and American society in general become more liberal, more accepting of difference and diversity.

Now, it's not clear what a "national consensus" would mean. Perhaps, despite his 2007 comments, such a consensus would form around civil unions but not same-sex marriage, that is, around Biden's own position. But I suspect that the country is ultimately moving towards not some separate-but-more-or-less-equal status for same-sex unions but full marriage equality, with the state (most, if not all, states, that is) recognizing both same-sex and opposite-sex marriages equally.

I would be fine with civil unions if they applied equally to same-sex and opposite-sex partners. Indeed, an argument can be made that the state should do away with "marriage" altogether, replacing it with "civil union" as the state-recognized partnership of two people. There could still be "marriage," but it would be religious, and hence private. You could get "married" by a religious official, for example, but while that religion would recognize the partnership as a "marriage" within its own code, the state would recognize it as a "civil union."

Simply, such partnerships, or civil unions, should be purely secular in nature. While the state should not tell religious institutions what to do, within certain broad parameters, religious institutions should not continue to hold such sway over society.

Anyway, while Obama's views on same-sex marriage may very well be "evolving," I don't expect him to push aggressively for the repeal of the odious Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), as I wrote yesterday, let alone for the full legalization of same-sex marriage beyond what some states have done or are doing on their own. Aside from the fact that he has been dragging his heels on gay rights the past two years, whether because of excessive caution (political calculation) or lack of principle (personal commitment), there just won't be any urgency for him to turn his attention to DOMA, not with Republicans in control in the House, with Democrats far from a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, and with more pressing political concerns to attend to in the lead-up to 2012.

A national consensus may very well be forming, and it may very well take the shape of support for marriage equality, but there's still a long way to go for any such consensus to be reflected politically.

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Turkish delight: House fails to vote on Armenian genocide resolution

The "Lame Duck" Congress did a great deal, yes, but unfortunately it did not pass -- and did not even vote on -- a resolution by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Cal.) recognizing the 1915-17 massacre of about 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Turks for what it was: genocide.

As you may know, Turkey, along with its agents in the U.S. (including the Congressional Turkish Caucus), has waged a massive campaign to revise history and silence anyone who would dare call it genocide. That word, it seems, is just too much -- even if it's absolutely the right word to use.

This campaign has been waged around the world, but in the U.S. what Turkey wants it to block Congress from passing any such resolution and the president from saying genocide. So much so that it has threatened diplomatic reprisals.

Various resolutions have made their way out of committee in recent years, but thus far no resolution has been passed. And Obama has thus far refrained from saying genocide.

The pressure from Turkey and the concern over U.S.-Turkish relations have no doubt trumped any other considerations. In this case, as The Hill reports, "Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sent Obama a letter Monday asking him to prevent the vote, warning that it could damage ties between the two countries." Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also pressured Hillary Clinton.

I have written about this issue -- the Armenian genocide and the failure to recognize it as such -- a few times already:

What happened was genocide. What is going on now, almost a century later, is still a despicable cover-up. I repeat what I wrote in the third of the posts listed above:

While I suspect that Obama [and Nancy Pelosi, too, who refused to bring Schiff's resolution to a vote] knows full well that it was genocide, and that the Turks are, on this issue, a nation of collective revisionists (and liars), he is effectively contributing to the Turkish campaign, perpetuating Turkey's massive lie, taking Turkey's side against efforts in Congress to call it genocide, and all because he wants to avoid annoying the Turks and risking... what?

Yes, what exactly? Is he afraid that Ankara won't return his phone calls? Is Turkey such an essential ally that it must be appeased no matter what? Would Turkey really refuse to do business with the U.S. and/or support U.S. foreign policy if Obama actually took a firm stand and called it genocide? Sure, the Turks would whine and complain and threaten to sever diplomatic ties, as they've done before (even over non-binding committee resolutions in the House of Representatives), but so what? Does anyone honestly think Turkey can do without America? Please.

Honestly, I wish the president would pull a Jon Stewart and tell the Turks to go fuck themselves.
Diplomatically, of course.

Just call it genocide. And stop helping Turkey get away with it.

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Elephant Dung #7: Huckabee calls out Palin over FLOTUS food flap

Tracking the GOP Civil War

By R.K. Barry

(For an explanation of this ongoing series, see here. For previous entries, see here.) 

You may have noticed that former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee took a little shot at Sarah Palin for her bogus claim that Michelle Obama doesn't want Americans to eat dessert – or some such nonsense. All of this was in the context of the First Lady talking about combating childhood obesity in America and the need to encourage children to consider healthier eating choices.

This is what Huckabee had to say:

With all due respect to my colleague and friend Sarah Palin, I think she's misunderstood what Michelle Obama is trying to do. Michelle Obama's not trying to tell people what to eat or force government's desires on people. She's stating the obvious: that we have an obesity crisis in this country. 

Palin was doing what she always does, which is to fire up her base by pointing to what she would consider an instance of government telling people what to do. In contrast, Huckabee was presenting himself as the voice of reason in defending Ms. Obama who was only suggesting the obvious point that public education about healthier food choices for our children is a good idea.

Okay. But what I found interesting is that this little flare-up, such as it was, comes only a few weeks after new polling indicated that Huckabee would give Palin a run for her money for the Republican presidential nomination and would appeal potentially to much of the same constituency, but also perhaps to much-needed voters beyond the base.

A Quinnipac poll on November 22 showed Huckabee in a statistical dead heat with Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. In a Marist College poll on November 24, Huckabee and Palin were virtually tied in popularity among Republicans who were not college graduates. But Huckabee pulled ahead significantly -- 18 percent to Palin's nine percent -- among respondents with college degrees. Huckabee came in second to Romney, who registered 25 percent among college-educated Republicans.

According to Janine Parry, director of the Arkansas Poll at the University of Arkansas, Huckabee is in a good position to separate himself from the rest of the pack.

His unfavorable numbers are significantly lower, he's penetrated the mainstream culture without becoming clownish, and he's demonstrated a willingness – even eagerness – to be a practical, truly bipartisan leader. In this environment and in a general election at least, those seem like substantial assets. 

Maybe this dessert flap is nothing. But it could be an early attempt by Huckabee to stake out some territory that takes in not only the conservative base but also independent voters, while Palin continues to say and do stupid things that appeal only to the same narrow constituency. 

I noticed a particularly idiotic comment on the Fox Nation website by an unnamed poster in response to Huckabee's statement, which said it all for me. It read: 

Governor, with your inability to see through to the real motives of the Obama's agenda to destroy freedom and America, you have lost my vote. 

There you have it. Taking away our freedom one double-chocolate raspberry cheesecake at a time.

The smarter types in the Republican Party understand full well that the road to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue does not go through Crazy Town.

Mike Huckabee seems to get this. Sarah Palin, and those who hang on her every word, not so much.

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Oh, the horror!

By Mustang Bobby

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) responds to a question from a reporter from a conservative news service about the ramifications of the repeal of DADT in the military. (His reaction at 0:33 is classic.)

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Is Obama finally moving forward on gay rights?


President Obama, although he still supports civil unions over same-sex marriage, said yesterday that he believes the Defense of Marriage Act should be repealed.

"Repealing DOMA, getting ENDA [a bill to protect LGBT people from discrimination] done, those are things that should be done," Obama told The Advocate the night before signing Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal into law. "I think those are natural next steps legislatively. I'll be frank with you, I think that's not going to get done in two years. We're on a three- or four-year time frame unless there's a real transformation of attitudes within the Republican caucus."

The federal Defense of Marriage Act, which was passed in 1996, defines marriage as strictly heterosexual. It's currently facing multiple legal challenges, including two cases from Massachusetts in which a federal judge already ruled that part of the law is unconstitutional. Obama's Justice Department is defending DOMA

The Justice Department has to defend DOMA regardless of what the president's own position on the law, but what we seem to be getting here is a signal from Obama that he has a plan and will work towards full equality for homosexuals.

The problem is, there won't be "a real transformation of attitudes within the Republican caucus," nor even a fake one. The Republican Party, individual dissenters aside, is anti-gay. And so it is highly unlikely that DOMA will be repealed anytime soon.

Still, it is noteworthy that Obama is speaking out more forcefully than usual on gay rights. He even told The Advocate that he's "wrestling" with same-sex marriage. The preference for civil unions over marriage rights is a cowardly cop-out, of course, and I've long thought, giving him the benefit of the doubt, that Obama actually supports marriage equality but just doesn't want to take that position publicly.

I just wonder if this is all just hot air for the base. After all, will Obama really push for DOMA repeal? (And, from there, for marriage equality?) Will he spend his political capital on gay rights? Sure, DADT repeal was a major victory for him, but it happened more in spite of Obama than because of him -- he never aggressively pushed for it and, of course, repeal only came after military leaders called for it and after a military study (and public opinion polls) showed overwhelming support for it. By the time DADT was repealed, it was safe to be against DADT -- and Obama knew it.

And now? Don't count on much happening. I don't want to be overly critical here, but Obama will be able to ride the wave of DADT repeal for a while, basking in its glow, and there won't be any urgency for him to turn his attention to DOMA, not with Republicans in control in the House, with Democrats far from a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, and with more pressing political concerns to attend to in the lead-up to 2012.

So, yes, call me a cynic.

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Can someone please find a fat lady in Alaska?

Go away, Joe Miller. You lost.

And quasi-Republican Lisa Murkowski, the "write-in" incumbent to whom you lost, has voted admirably well during this period of lame-duckery.

(By the way, I have nothing against fat ladies. I'm not a sizeist. But you know the saying.)

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An outgoing paean

By Carl 

Y'know, we bitch and moan about Democrats, but compared to Republicans, they can actually get shit done: 

The outgoing 111th Congress is among the most productive in history, in spite of its reputation for gridlock and 13 percent approval rating. Democrats controlled the House and the Senate, and used their large majorities to push through landmark legislation with barely any GOP support.

The post-election lame-duck session – typically a mopping-up operation to get out of town – also made history, passing key pieces of legislation, often with greater input from Republicans than had earlier been the case. People can argue the merits of what Congress did, but it’s hard to quibble with the scope of the undertaking. 

Granted, much of the legislation runs antithetical to the interests and values of liberals, and we should note that too. But a lot of what was done was good for a progressive agenda. Let's take a look, in chronological order:

1) The American Recovery and Re-Investment Act -- Everyone points to the "stimulus" portion of the bill, but the largest part of the bill was a tax cut for you and me. 98% of Americans saw a tax break out of this bill, incremental and therefore obscured by just sloppy minimalism. Too, the roll-out of the spending portion of this bill, which favored pet liberal projects like education, came down the road a bit and the agenda had already been co-opted by Teabaggers. But we ought to make note of the true progressive nature of the stimulus package.

2) Patient Protection And Affordable Care Act -- Health-care reform. It was nasty, it was ugly, and the ultimate law was a shamble of progressive and conservative philosophies, but it got done and it's a first step in a highly charged and volatile conservative atmosphere.

3) Financial Regulatory Reform -- Want to know how progressive this bill is? It's been priority targeted for budget cuts in the new Republican Congress.

4) Tax Cut Extension Plus Stimulus Spending -- Sadly, when liberals want spending, we usually force ourselves to raise taxes. Here was an instance where the evil of Republicanism, tax cutting, forced liberals to actually borrow to spend. I know, odious, right? But we got the ok to spend to try to get some jobs created, and that's good. It's all about jobs, this economy. We have to get to work on that.

5) DADT -- Nuff said.

6) START Treaty -- This is a great achievement in ratcheting down the threat of mutual annihilation. I don't think anyone... well, after 1962, at any rate... seriously believed any nuclear power would use nukes in any capacity. Until those weapons started to spread to countries who will be less than scrupulous in their use. With both Russia and the U.S. in accord on this issue, we can now turn to those nations and start asking them to dismantle them, with the full authority of speaking on behalf of the rest of the world. What happens then is a different story, but we accomplished a step towards world peace.

Could there have been more? Oh, hell yes, and that's where I think most liberals get upset. It took so long to get the modest healthcare reform we did get and that vote alone probably took the wind out of the sails for a true energy policy, for carbon trading, and for any number of other progressive items that we could have easily obtained with supermajorities in both houses.

I blame Obama for not taking the lead on his initiatives, but I also blame Harry Reid for having little stomach for beating up his constituency.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Fox News calls Elie Wiesel a "Holocaust winner"

As Mediaite notes, Fox News last week referred to Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel -- author of The Night Trilogy -- as a "Holocaust winner."


Sure, everyone makes mistakes, but... wow. And yet are we surprised that Fox News -- and specifically the ridiculous Fox & Friends -- blew it like this?

And it wasn't just the caption. As Jonathan Chait notes, host Gretchen Carlson, one of the network's mindless wonders, referred to Wiesel, a rather well-known figure, as "weasel" instead of "vee-zell." (Watch the clip at Mediaite.)

Disrespectful? Ignorant? Yes and yes.

But it's just the same old Fox News.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Beyond New START

By Peter Henne

Jonathan Swift once said, "Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed." (I've always attributed this to Swift, but while trying to find the citation, I also found it as an apparent quote of both Alexander Pope and Benjamin Franklin.) I've adopted this as my motto when pondering U.S. politics, especially concerning things like the crucial New START treaty.

That is why I was completely wrong about this treaty. As was reported earlier today on this site, the Senate ratified New START today. And as I said several times, I didn't expect it to pass, due to GOP obstructionism and the waning days left in this year's session. But it did, with 13 Republicans' support.

What does this mean for U.S. foreign policy? A lot, actually. The treaty keeps the inspections of nuclear stockpiles going and decreases the number of nuclear weapons maintained by the United States and Russia. More importantly, it preserves and possibly accelerates U.S.-Russian dialogue, which is crucial on issues such as the Iranian nuclear program.

What is the likelihood of the New START treaty leading to further arms control agreements or reductions in nuclear stockpiles worldwide? Probably minimal. As The New York Times' David Sanger argued, further steps towards Obama's goal of nuclear disarmament will be exponentially more difficult than was the ratification of New START.

This is partly due to the nature of the treaty. As I, and many others, pointed out one of New START's biggest selling points was its endorsement by numerous foreign policy luminaries, including Republicans. The objections of Senate Republicans notwithstanding, there was a pretty broad consensus on the necessity of this treaty. Other arms control topics -- such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and general nuclear disarmament--are more divisive, with reasonable arguments for and against the relevant international agreements.

It is also due to who voted for the treaty. Republican supporters included some who will not be around next year -- due to retirement or election losses -- including George Voinovich, Judd Gregg, and Bob Bennett. It also included moderates and pseudo-moderates like Scott Brown, Susan Collins, Dick Lugar, and Olympia Snowe, all of whom will face increasing pressure from GOP leaders to oppose Obama's initiatives as 2012 approaches, especially with some of them up for re-election. And that's not even counting the Democratic Senators who won't be in office after this session.

So the combination of lessened societal cohesion surrounding foreign policy issues and a decreased liberal/moderate pool of votes means Obama will struggle to add to this foreign policy victory. That is not to detract from the victory, as it is a great success for the President, Democrats, and -- I would argue -- US national security. And I don't want to take away from the admirable support for the treaty from numerous Republican Senators. I just need to salvage some of my pessimism in the wake of such an uplifting week.

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Still pleased

By Creature

Days like today don't come around often. DADT, START, 9/11 first responder bill, then a kick-ass press conference. Good stuff.

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Gays in the military and the vulnerability of homophobic men (not)

By R.K. Barry

One of my absolutely favourite experiences has long been listening to gay-bashing masquerade as a concern by heterosexual men that they will be hit on by gay men.

The is almost always expressed by some of the most obnoxious, mouth-breathing morons, which would suggest to me that they need not be all that concerned.

I was reminded of this recently when I read that a conservative Republican delegate to the Virginia House of Delegates, Bob Marshall, will introduce a measure that would ban practicing homosexuals from serving in the state's National Guard. His claim is that openly gay soldiers would distract straight troops, commenting that, "[i]t's a distraction when I'm on the battlefield and have to concentrate on the enemy 600 yards away and I'm worried about this guy whose got eyes on me."

I am not gay and can't speak from direct experience, but I have never been particularly attracted to women who are openly hostile to my core values or significant aspects of my identity. Is there something difficult to understand about this?

No, Mr. Marshall, I think you're safe, as are all the other homophobic jackasses who express concern that gay men will find you irresistible. Has that every really happened to you? Ever? I didn't think so.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Elephant Dung #7: Lindsey Graham lashes out at capitulating Republicans

Tracking the GOP Civil War

By Michael J.W. Stickings

(For an explanation of this ongoing series, see here. For previous entries, see here.)

Sen. Lindsey Graham, once the Robin to John McCain's Batman, is hardly much of a Republican spokesman these days, but he nonetheless carries some credibility with the media as a bit of a maverick willing to speak out against his party. Which he did yesterday:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) lashed out at fellow Republicans Tuesday for a "capitulation... of dramatic proportions" to Democrats and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in the lame-duck Congress.

Graham said Republicans have no one to blame but themselves for allowing ratification of the New START Treaty and other legislation in the period before new lawmakers are sworn in in January.

"When it's all going to be said and done, Harry Reid has eaten our lunch," Graham said on Fox News radio. "This has been a capitulation in two weeks of dramatic proportions of policies that wouldn't have passed in the new Congress."

Capitulation? Really? Yes, there have been a couple of high-profile Democratic victories, but DADT repeal, for example, is widely popular, including in the military. The new START may soon be ratified, but, as Fred Kaplan notes, "the treaty's text contains nothing objectionable in substance." So is Graham opposed to the health-care bill for 9/11 First Responders? If so, is he saying that providing much-needed benefits to these courageous men and women amounts to political capitulation?

So what else? The tax deal? Yes, that's seen as capitulation by the far right. The DREAM Act? Well, the GOP stood firm against that. The omnibus spending bill? Republicans killed that. What else is there? The food safety bill?

What's going on here? Obviously, Graham, trying to secure himself against attacks and challenges from the Tea Party right back home in South Carolina, is positioning himself as an extremist partisan opposed to any and all compromise with Obama and the Democrats -- much like Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. (So much for all that bipartisan work Graham did on a comprehensive climate/energy bill. Remember that?)

So maybe it isn't all that significant, in terms of the coming GOP Civil War, that Graham is lashing out at his fellow Republicans for personal political reasons. If a tree falls in the forest and all that.

But it's amusing nonetheless.


Even more amusing, in a not-so-very funny sort of way, Graham demanded that Democrats apologize to fellow Republican Jon Kyl for moving ahead on START ratification:

I stand here very disappointed in the fact that our lead negotiator on the Republican side... basically is going to have his work product ignored and the treaty jammed through in the lame duck. How as Republicans we justify that I do not know. To Senator Kyl, I want to apologize to you for the way you've been treated by your colleagues.

Oh please. Such immature posturing. Greg Sargent:

Seriously? Senators who have agreed to ratify New START before the end of the lame-duck session are doing this because they've been asked to by the President of the United States, the military leadership, all the living secretaries of state under Republican presidents, and a whole range of national security experts across the political spectrum. They are doing this after more than a dozen public hearings and countless private briefings from military leaders and White House officials who did everything they could do address their concerns. They are doing this because they are persuaded that it is in the national security interests of the United States and is necessary to maintain global stability.

Yet Senators who are voting to ratify New START because they believe it's the right thing to do should feel apologetic to Kyl for defying his wishes, even though the evidence is overwhelming that Kyl's objections have been thoroughly addressed? Yeah, right: It's an absolute outrage that these Senators are prioritizing their own sense of what's right for the country and the world, over the influence, standing and fragile ego of a single fellow Senator.


Alas, all-too-real. It's the Republican Party, after all.

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Freedom vs. corporate authoritarianism: The FCC and net neutrality, Apple and WikiLeaks

As we move into an ever more virtual, digital world, there can be no genuine freedom without net neutrality. But it has to be all-out net neutrality, not limited net neutrality that gives ISPs, our corporate overlords, the ability to restrict our access to content.

The FCC -- with three Democrats and two Republicans -- voted yesterday "to approve its first ever Internet access regulation," as The Washington Post reports. The new rule "ensures unimpeded access to any legal Web content for home Internet users." 

But not really.

While the regulation is certainly a step in the right direction (one that Republicans oppose and are doing everything they can to block, so beholden are they to our corporate overlords and so opposed are they to genuine free speech, and access to free speech), and while President Obama claims it "will help preserve the free and open nature of the Internet while encouraging innovation, protecting consumer choice, and defending free speech," it only goes so far -- and not nearly far enough.

Two of the FCC's Democratic members agree but essentially had to vote for "weak rules or no rules at all." Wherein lies the problem? Where does the regulation fall short?

The agency's two Republican members voted against the rules, showing support for Internet service providers who say the regulations will impede their ability to create new business plans to expand their broadband networks and boost speed.

[FCC Chairman Julius] Genachowski said the measure represents a compromise between industry and consumer interests.

"I reject both extremes in favor of a strong and sensible framework -- one that protects Internet freedom and openness and promotes robust innovation and investment," Genachowski said.

The same provisions do not apply as strongly to cellphone users because the agency voted to keep wireless networks generally free of rules preventing the blocking and slowing of Web traffic.

The Republican argument is both dishonest and nonsensical. Republicans want ISPs to make as much money as possible while controlling access to content -- that is, bluntly, to allow ISPs to restrict accessible content to corporate-approved content; that is, to Republican-friendly content.

Genachowski's argument is somewhat defensible, though as the deciding vote he didn't have to appease the Republicans -- it's not like they voted for this supposed compromise, after all. A more robust regulation could have passed 3-2 as well.

The problem is that this supposedly "strong and sensible framework" has a gaping hole in it -- namely, Internet access through mobile devices and wireless networks. Under the regulation, you'll be able to access what you want at home, through your ISP, but not necessarily on the go on your iPhone, BlackBerry, or other portable device. So how does the new rule protect freedom and openness?

Here's how Sen. Al Franken put it on Monday:

As a source of innovation, an engine of our economy, and a forum for our political discourse, the Internet can only work if it's a truly level playing field. Small businesses should have the same ability to reach customers as powerful corporations. A blogger should have the same ability to find an audience as a media conglomerate...

For many Americans -- particularly those who live in rural areas -- the future of the Internet lies in mobile services. But the draft Order would effectively permit Internet providers to block lawful content, applications, and devices on mobile Internet connections.

Mobile networks like AT&T and Verizon Wireless would be able to shut off your access to content or applications for any reason. For instance, Verizon could prevent you from accessing Google Maps on your phone, forcing you to use their own mapping program, Verizon Navigator, even if it costs money to use and isn't nearly as good. Or a mobile provider with a political agenda could prevent you from downloading an app that connects you with the Obama campaign (or, for that matter, a Tea Party group in your area).

I'm not sure if the new rule is "worse than nothing," but Franken goes on to address its other problems and makes a persuasive case.

Yes, it's still a step in the right direction, I think, but, given Republicans' objections to net neutrality altogether, shouldn't Democrats push for all-out net neutrality instead of promoting compromises, as Obama himself is doing, that give ISPs much of what they want? Why isn't the choice between net neutrality or no net neutrality instead of between some net neutrality or no net neutrality?

Once again, this looks like Democrats caving in to Republican demands and allowing the range of options to be shifted to the right.

And, politically, this should be a winnable issue for Democrats, who can make the case, as Franken does, that this is about access to content generally, not just to left-wing, pro-Democratic content. Conservatives are very much in bed with our corporate overlords, which are generally on the Republican right, but who's to say that non-neutrality wouldn't result in restrictions on access to right-wing content as well?

Isn't freedom non-partisan? Can't Democrats make the case that you're either for freedom or for corporate authoritarianism?


Case in point:

As The New York Times reports, Apple has removed a WikiLeaks app from iTunes, claiming that the app "violated [its] developer guidelines." "Apps must comply with all local laws and may not put an individual or group in harm's way," said an Apple spokesperson. (The app was unofficial, not formally endorsed by WikiLeaks.)

As The Guardian notes, "this is all part of the momentum behind the campaign to silence Wikileaks, and ultimately to extradite Julian Assange."

Whether you approve of WikiLeaks or not, though, the issue isn't WikiLeaks, or Assange, but full access to content that governments and ISPs might not like. I don't support white supremacism, but I support access to white supremacist content, however despicable I may find it. And, while the truth-revealers at WikiLeaks are the current targets of governments and corporations, I'm sure you can find an extraordinary amount of white supremacist and neo-Nazi content on the Internet. The point is to keep it all free. That's net neutrality.

No one says you have to like all the content you can find on the Internet. You're free not to like it, just as you should be free to access it.

Of course, Apple's point is about illegality. An app promoting child pornography, for example, should never be allowed. Some content, obviously, is illegal.

But WikiLeaks and child pornography are two very different things. As Sean Paul Kelley puts it at The Agonist, "Wikileaks has broken no laws that the New York Times hasn't broken. The Pentagon and Biden and The State Department have all said no one has died as a result of the leaks. But it has embarrassed our leaders."

So is this really about illegality? Or is it not rather about a major corporation (once thought to be a radical one, contra Microsoft) blocking access to legitimate content?

Kelley adds: "Free speech will not be regulated by the Federal Government. The Bill Of Rights guarantees it won't. But there is nothing in the constitution to stop corporations from regulating speech. This is exactly what is going to happen. Most people get their internet from wireless devices these days, so expect more and more rigid firewalls."

There's the problem.

And it doesn't help that Democrats aren't fighting for all-out net neutrality and that the president of the United States, once thought to be a progressive, backs such corporate-friendly compromises. (Yes, Republicans are fighting this with a vengeance, but they should actually be very happy about the FCC's regulation. It's change they should be able to believe in.) 

I'll give the FCC a single cheer, maybe a cheer and a half. But with Republicans frothing at the mouth, it'll take much more from Democrats to make net neutrality a reality.

In this case, compromise in the name of limited freedom is a terrible vice.

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The Haunting Specter

By Carl 

I need to digest some of what he said yesterday, but Arlen Specter left a flaming bag of poop on the Senate doorstep:

Partisanship, a quest for ideological purity, and the "abuse" of procedural rules have bled collegiality from the U.S. Senate and mired "the world's greatest deliberative body" in gridlock, Specter said.

This was not the usual flowery goodbye and trip down memory lane. 

There's some merit to his point of view, and Specter lays out his case like the prosecutor he was, but is it correct? Is too partisan a bad thing?

Forget the chicken-egg argument. It really doesn't matter who started the partisanship ball rolling. We can track echoes of it back to the McCarthy hearings, to Watergate, to any number of incidents that brought us incrementally to where we are.

Is the legislative process compromised when, well, there is no compromise?

My first observation is that Harry Reid finally seems to have grown a set. So much legislation has been passed in the last few weeks, it's hard to keep track of it all, including the showcase piece, the repeal of DADT. Why he squandered this forcefulness over the past two years will go down in history as one of the greatest blunders a Senate majority leader could ever make.

(Side note: Imagine if Hillary Clinton had not accepted the secretary of state post, instead focusing on rallying the troops for the 2006 election and then lobbying for the Senate majority leadership job...)

In the next Senate, Reid will have to contend with a Republican House that will have a large element of combativeness in its arsenal. Reid squeaked out a win this year against a nutcase who put her foot in her mouth more times than a yogi with a toe fetish. Reid's Senate may not be so lucky next time around if Reid doesn't carefully extract the good from his dilemma while shirking the bad off onto someone else.

A formidable job even for a deft politician with muscle. For Reid, a real challenge.

The twin questions of ideological purity and abuse of procedural rules seem to go hand in hand, in my opinion, and I delineate them differently from simple party line distinctions. Voting along party lines is expected, which is why I'm not sure the last Congress, or even the Congresses under Bush, were "too partisan."

The difference, noticeable over the past twenty years, but in particular a problem during the Clinton administration, has been the severe punishments proferred to a maverick. It has gone from shunnings over minor quibbles, to outright hostility. I've never seen so many incumbents face primary challenges in which fellow Senators and other national party figures have actively campaigned to remove a fellow party incumbent.

This, in my view, is unhealthy, and guess what? For every Lisa Murkowski in the Republican ranks, we have a Joe Lieberman in the Democratic camp. It's not a right-wing problem only. There's a bubbling undercurrent in this pressure cooker that threatens to explode the entire process, causing entropy at best and chaos at worst, but of much more impact will be the quiet before the storm. The attempt to keep a lid on it.

It started in the 1990s, of course, when the GOP leadership suddenly decided to put a thumb on the scale of negotiation and compromise, forcing their Senators to toe a party line first, and only clear compromises second. It was aided and abetted by the right wing blast fax/talk radio Golem, which spewed venom left and right... ok, mostly left... and forced legislators to either deal with the voters (and others outside their districts) or deal with the leadership. The only way to keep things quiet was to memorize talking points, spew them on cue, and vote Republican only.

That wasn't enough, even though Republicans were generally pretty successful with this strategy. As the Congress did nothing through the first Bush administration, and people watched their savings and jobs drift away on this tide or that, Democrats started to put together two and two and actually come up with five when it came to winning an election or two.

The clamps in the GOP tightened. In response, clamps were applied in the Democratic Party as well. The Fifty State Strategy of Howard Dean's DNC tenure really had two effects: it welcomed moderates and even conservatives while at the same time tried to get them to come to some consensus on issues so that Democrats could present a unified front on issues that people wouldn't be too embarassed by in Wyoming or Utah.

This pissed off everyone, from conservative Blue Dog Dems to us liberals.

In Congress, procedural rules became a weapon, rather than a tool. The use of the filibuster is the most notable, and both sides have gone to that trough healthily. I include, however, reconciliation votes in this. It was used to shove Bush's tax cuts down our throats, and some aspects of healthcare reform also utilized this. Here, a bill is deemed passed already for purposes of making cosmetic budgetary amendments to it, which only require a 51 vote majority and no filibusters allowed.

I'm sure in caucus, worse abuses of procedures occured.

Specter comes off as a bit of a whiner in his speech, but he does point out the signal changes in protocol and custom over the past thirty years, mourning the loss.

But things change, Arlen. One can't expect the world to freeze just because you're in the Senate. And one might point out that there were plenty of moments when you could have shown great courage, opting instead to hew to the party line.

But among his "why mes?" he has made several very cogent and valid points. Go read his speech.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Tom Coburn looks to block passage of health-care benefits for 9/11 First Responders

Full credit, or almost full credit, to Jon Stewart for raising awareness of the urgent health-care needs of 9/11 First Responders at a time when most in the media, and so many in Washington, couldn't be bothered, and for advocating swift passage of the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.

As Slate's Chris Beam notes, examining Stewart's undesired role as partisan political activist, "[t]he bill wasn't as far from passage as it seemed -- Stewart just shined a light on the issue at the right moment." But even if it was close to passage, Republicans were still blocking it, at least until the tax deal was passed. And it was getting so bad for Republicans, PR-wise, that even some conservatives were slamming them for blocking what should be a slam dunk (or at least, like Giuliani, Huckabee, and Pataki, advising them to get on board). Who, after all, opposes health care benefits for courageous 9/11 First Responders?

Well, how about Oklahoma's Tom Coburn?

Amid mounting pressure from Democrats and a growing handful of Republicans to pass a bill that would provide health care benefits to first responders who were at the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn announced on Monday his intentions to block passage of the legislation.

He tells Politico that he "wouldn't allow the bill to move quickly" due to "problems with parts of the bill and the process Democrats are employing" to pass it.

Coburn  defended his position in a Tuesday morning interview on Fox News, arguing that "this is a bill that's been drawn up and forced through Congress at the end of the year on a basis to solve a problem that we didn't have time to solve and we didn't get done."

Coburn also argued that the bill, entitled the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, "hasn't even been through a committee." Coburn added: "We haven't had the testimony to know." (ThinkProgress notes that on June 29, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions -- on which Coburn sits -- held a hearing on the bill. But Coburn's office says that doesn't amount to having gone "through a committee.")

The testimony to know what? Whether 9/11 First Responders deserve health care? Why do you need a committee to tell you that? I appreciate the committee process, but isn't this a prime example of a bill that should be allowed to circumvent process?

It's bad enough that Senate Republicans -- all of them, let us remember -- were prepared to block this and all legislation until the tax deal was passed, as if tax cuts for the wealthy are more important than health care for 9/11 First Responders (to Republicans, they seem to be), worse that Democrats still had to get Republicans to haggle over the cost of the bill (and how it would be paid for -- now a fee on federal contracts instead of closing a corporate tax loophole), as if the health care benefits of these courageous men and women should have to be subjected to the right-wing Republican agenda, and worse still that this one Republican is threatening to kill it altogether. (And is he really against it for procedural reasons, or is he just against it period -- you know, because it's government health care?)

And is he alone? As Fox News's Shep Smith discovered, a lot of Republicans don't even want to talk about it. So are they with Coburn or not?

I suspect that the bill will be passed -- another major victory for Democrats during the lame-duck session. But it won't be easy, given Coburn's opposition, and it says a lot about Republicans (and not just Coburn), that it's come to this point.

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Senate likely to ratify New START today


An arms control treaty paring back American and Russian nuclear arsenals won a decisive vote in the Senate on Tuesday, clearing it for final approval and handing President Obama an important foreign policy victory.

The Senate voted 67 to 28 to end debate on the treaty, known as New Start, mustering the two-thirds majority needed for ratification despite a concerted effort by Republican leaders to sink the agreement. Eleven Republican senators joined every Democrat present to support the treaty, which now heads to a seemingly certain final vote of approval on Wednesday.

This would indeed be a big, big win for the president, not least because ratification could end up with almost 70 votes (despite McConnell's obstructionist opposition).

Stay tuned. (In the meantime, check out our foreign policy blogger Peter Henne's posts on the politics of New START here, here, and here.)

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Haley Barbour now says racism is bad

Jim Crow Republican Haley Barbour now says those pro-segregation, white-supremacist Citizens Councils in the South, including in his hometown of Yazoo City, Mississippi, were "indefensible":

It was a difficult and painful era for Mississippi, the rest of the country, and especially African Americans who were persecuted in that time.

It was, to put it mildly, but you'll excuse me if I don't believe a word this racist blowhard says.

At Slate, David Weigel writes that "[t]he pattern revealed by his "gaffes," though, is of a politician who thinks racism isn't really a problem anymore, and that liberals get too much political leverage from the memory of the Civil Rights era."

I think that's understating, and somewhat misrepresenting, Barbour's race "problem." This is a man, after all -- Barbour, not Weigel -- who has a Confederate flag signed by Jefferson Davis in his office, a man who in 2003 attended a fundraiser for the Council of Conservative Citizens, a pro-segregation, white-supremacist group, a man with a long history of playing the race card to win white votes.

Is he an out-and-out racist? Maybe not -- at least not anymore. But he's certainly enough of a politician to know when to correct himself and to say what has to be said (particularly when eyeing a presidential run). Which he did. He just doesn't have any credibility. You'd have to be a fool to believe him.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Quote of the Day: Arlen Specter on Justices Roberts and Alito

Ex-Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania voted to confirm both John Roberts and Samuel Alito, but the outgoing Democrat, in his last speech on the Senate floor, rightly took aim at both:

The Supreme Court has been eating Congress' lunch by invalidating legislation with judicial activism after nominees commit under oath in confirmation proceedings to respect congressional fact finding and precedent.

Ignoring a massive congressional record and reversing recent decisions, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito repudiated their confirmation testimony given under oath and provided the key votes to permit corporations and unions to secretly pay for political advertising -- thus effectively undermining the basic Democratic principle of the power of one person, one vote. Chief Justice Roberts promised to just call balls and strikes and then he moved the bases.

Specter was referring to the notorious Citizens United decision, a 5-4 ruling (with the conservatives, including Kennedy, with the swing vote, in the majority) that essentially opened to the door to unlimited corporate spending on election advertising. As Justice Stevens wrote in his dissent:

At bottom, the Court's opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.

In other words, the decision paves the way for the corporate takeover of American politics -- as if the system weren't already corporate enough.

Of course, Specter could not have known this when he voted for Roberts and Alito, but he knew full well that such right-wing judicial activism was likely. If nothing else, he should have known after Bush v. Gore that what drives conservative judges these days is not adherence to the letter of the Constitution, as they self-righteously claim, but adherence to a generally partisan right-wing agenda and to a view of the judiciary as a key instrument for enabling the implementation of that agenda.

Yes, Specter should have known this, and maybe he did, but at least he's saying the right things on the way out.

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This is what democracy really looks like

Guest post by Nicholas Wilbur 

Nicholas Wilbur is an award-winning reporter and opinion columnist turned political junkie and critic. He is the founder of the blog Muddy Politics and lives in New Mexico.

(Ed. note: This is Nicholas's fourth guest post for us. You can find his first two, both on the Obama-GOP tax deal, here and here. You can find his third, on the potential for revolution, here. -- MJWS)


Nothing is perfect. Life is unfair. And politics is a dirty business.

Between the filibusters, debates, and votes on Capitol Hill this week, American politics embodied all that is true and beautiful – and unfair and ugly – about the processes of Washington politics. This week was a microcosm of exactly what Democracy looks like. It was a week of negotiations and compromise, of political maneuvering and allegiance fortifying, of sharp-tongued criticisms and heartfelt praises. It was a week that could have turned a Bible-thumping teetotaler into whiskey-latte slurping lush by breakfast.

To the chagrin of bleeding-heart liberals across the country, President Obama on Friday signed what some have dubbed "The Great Tax Deal of 2010," a bill extending unemployment benefits and tax cuts for all Americans, including the rich, and to the detriment of the national deficit. To the chagrin of all but the GOP, the Senate this week failed to pass the DREAM Act, which would have given children of illegal immigrants a path toward citizenship. And to the chagrin of those who believe discrimination is protected by the United States Constitution, Congress this week repealed a 17-year-old policy that prohibited gays from openly serving in the military.

Americans no longer must lie about who they are in order to fight on the battlefield for the freedoms awarded to them in the Constitution but kept from them, until this weekend, by lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

The American middle class must no longer worry about a tax increase come January 1 at a time when jobs are scarce, incomes are low, and economic security is all but certain.

But Americans also must face another several years, if not more, of political squabbling, maneuvering, and states-rights propagandizing of never-popular immigration reform proposals.

For the true patriots of life, liberty, equality, and justice, this week was as encouraging as it was discouraging, as disappointing and disheartening as it was productive and exciting. Democracy failed them, and the critics were quick to denounce all those who impeded the manifestation of their idealism. Liberals denounced the president, and Tea Partiers denounced the GOP. And then Democracy provided a path that reinforced the maxim, "to each his own" – granting conservatives the denial of immigration reform, and liberals the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

It was a roller-coaster ride of celebration and mourning, a simultaneous rekindling of hope, and a reminder that armchair strategists and social network site activists can achieve only so much when it comes to real progressive change. It was, above all, a call to action.

Again, this is what Democracy looks like.

It looks like President Obama and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell negotiating a tax deal that neither side can fully support, and which a small but vocal group of constituents on both sides claim, vehemently, is the straw that broke the camel's back come 2012. It looks like pissed off Hispanics being denied, yet again, a path toward citizenship. It looks like average Americans rejoicing because they needn’t hide their lifestyles in order to defend their flag. And when it plays out on Fox News, it looks like a Capitol Hill cockfight between ideology and idiocy – which it is.

But again, this is what Democracy looks like.

Celebrate the victories, mourn the defeats, and wake up tomorrow to fight another day, and another and another – until America is the country that can rise above the stalemated bureaucracy that we've seen it become in recent years; until America can reclaim its beacon of light status in the world by attracting industry instead of outsourcing careers, and by encouraging intelligence – in discourse and debate – instead of rewarding indigence, ignorance and incorrigibility.

We saw this week that when we work toward Democracy, when the stars and stripes align in spite of ideological differences, Democracy works for us. In the weeks, months and years ahead, perhaps it can work better.

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