Thursday, April 30, 2009

Didn't See That One Coming

I think the smart money was on Stevens or Ginsburg to be the next retiree off the Supreme Court, not Souter. Weird.

Anyway, let the always interesting Court nomination games begin. Random guess: Sonia Sotomayor.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Florida: The Dead Jesus State

So I get that Jesus dying is a kinda important event for Christians, but be that as it may, isn't this kind of a reach? Imagine you're driving down the highway, minding your own business, then WHAM dead Jesus? I expect to see fish with Greek letters on cars, not that. Kinda jarring. I suppose I should expect this out of a state with a governor named Crist...

Oh well, I guess it drives the point home though. (Groan.)

Of course, this raises some fascinating Constitutional questions. Is it government endorsement of religion or government facilitation of free expression/exercise? This is a question I am completely not qualified to answer.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Second Thoughts on Specter

After thinking about this Specter switch for a little while, I'm left with one question:

Does the GOP accept returns?

I'm not the only one wondering how good for fellow progressives this move actually is. Greenwald is openly hostile, and with good reason - Specter's been a consistent anti-civil liberties vote throughout the "War on Terror," and I doubt that's going to change now. Kos is lukewarm too. Both note that having Specter run as a Democrat pretty much precludes any liberal/progressive candidate from winning the seat (barring a Lamont-style charge from the netroots, which I don't see happening).

It would have been much better for the Democrats if Specter had been defeated in the primary by far-right Republican, Pat Toomey, who would lose to pretty much anyone the Democrats nominated. Specter should beat Toomey easily in 2010 (but Toomey now has all the ammunition he needs to paint Specter as a dishonest hack, which could make the race interesting), but that means we're stuck with a Ben Nelson-style Democrat out of a state that should give us more of a Russ Feingold.

There are things Specter's switch helps with, of course. Expect nominations to go through a lot more easily, for example (hello, Dawn Johnsen). Specter's also a decent shot at a vote for health care reform. But I still would have preferred replacing him with a civil-liberties advocate and honest progressive in 2010 to being stuck with Specter through 2016.

Wait, what?

According to the Post's Chris Cillizza, Specter is the new Jeffords. Which gives the Democrats 60 votes (counting Specter, Sanders, and Lieberman), once Franken is seated.

Yeah, that changes things a little bit.

This also means that, thanks to Coleman's defeat, Eric Cantor is the lone Jewish Republican in Congress. Don't know what this means, exactly, but there you go.

Monday, April 27, 2009

"Attention Please: Flight 213 to Alpha Centauri Now Departing from Gate 6"

This has gotta be a joke, right?

Rule #1: If you're gonna build a giant UFO airport in the middle of your largest city, you've lost the right to take umbrage when Sacha Baron Cohen pokes fun at you.

Update: In the comments, Leah says it's part of the reporting paper's new satire section. So yeah, it's a joke. Color me amused.

More Webb Awesomeness

Holy shit, Jim Webb is on fire. How many political third rails is he gonna touch before this criminal justice reform thing is all over?

He's absolutely right, by the way. One of the major problems with our prison system is that we put way too many people in jail for selling or buying drugs, neither of which are crimes with actual victims.

Hat tip: Jacob.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Son of Liberty

This book looks like it'd be a fascinating read. It reminds me of a chapter from an Al Franken book where Franken visits Bob Jones University with his college-bound son and is shocked to find normal, decent people there.

Sympathetic portrayals of those on the other side politically are rare, but necessary. Now we just need a Liberty student to go to Brown for a semester...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Lines Have Been Crossed, Here...

OK, so I'm a father of a wonderful little girl. I want her to be happy and have a fulfilled life, and when she grows up I want her to know that I love her and care about her.

But, um, this is just a bit too creepy. Sorry, Selah, I'm not dating you. Ick.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Couple Bits of Good News

First, on the piracy front, there's this article talking about the pirate who survived the Maersk Alabama incident arriving in New York for trial. It discusses some of the difficulties associated with this case, like trying someone whose real name and age aren't readily identifiable, who comes from a country with no laws, etc. But what I want to note is that he's being tried. He's not being thrown in some black-site prison as an "enemy combatant" and held without access to lawyers - he's being processed through the justice system, as he should be. This is encouraging, as is the apparent lack of support for Gitmo-style detention by the right. Now explain to me why we can't handle terrorism cases the same way?

Second, Obama seems open to investigating and prosecuting lawbreakers in the Bush administration who approved torture. Of course, as he himself mentions and as Greenwald points out (it's down a ways - incidentally, I'm thinking I should probably just turn my blog into a bunch of Greenwald and Balko links), that's not Obama's decision to make. It's Attorney General Eric Holder's, and we can only hope Holder does the right thing. There's noise that he might, at least.

Incidentally, Michael Mukasey and Michael Hayden: Epic. Fail. Seriously, how can you write a column about torture without noting that it's fucking illegal? Their column amuses me. They sound like little kids whining to Mommy about how Billy eats pizza every day but Mommy makes them eat green beans. "Mommy, mommy, they can torture, why can't we? Waaaaaa...." Can we put Mukasey and Hayden in time-out?

Update: Greenwald castigates those who think that Obama's the central figure in this prosecution/investigation drama. (Guilty as charged - see above. I really should just start linking to Greenwald and not adding my own thoughts.) He's not - it's Holder, and has always been Holder. Obama can scream until he turns blue about how we shouldn't be prosecuting Bush lawyers - Holder can do whatever he damn well pleases, and he should do whatever the law says he should do. Which, in this case, is investigate and prosecute if the evidence permits it. This isn't a political issue, or at least it shouldn't be.

Monday, April 20, 2009

We're Number 1!

NC leads the nation in percentage of people without health insurance.

Employer-based health insurance... it's FANtastic!

The Debate on Marriage Equality Is Over...

some anonymous dude on YouTube just won.

Interesting tangent: has anyone else noted how the right's rhetoric on this issue has shifted in the past couple of years? They're not scaring people about Teh Ghey anymore - rather, they're trying to say that allowing same-sex marriage will infringe on your freedom. Which is a bizarre, counterintuitive argument to make (as the YouTube vid I linked to argues), but a) anti-gay sentiment is becoming more socially unacceptable among those inhabiting the vast American middle, and b) if most voters realize that allowing gays to enter into a civil marriage will not affect them in the slightest, they'll be more likely to vote for it. What I'm saying is this - the right knows that if they just went anti-gay, they'd lose and lose badly. So they have to make this stretch (or a similar stretch) in order to convince people that same-sex marriage hurts the average voter, since it's the only way to keep marriage equality from happening.

I guess what I'm really trying to say is that the HRC should find this guy and plaster him all over the country.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sell Florida

I think this guy is only half kidding.

Quick Question...

How can you serve in the military for long enough to retire and still, when discussing the military, have no frickin' clue what you're talking about?

"Don't ask, don't tell" is cruel and should be repealed. End of story. I'll let fictional black Joint Chiefs chair Percy Fitzwallace (from The West Wing) make the argument...

"The problem with that is that's what they were saying to me 50 years ago. Blacks shouldn't serve with whites. It would disrupt the unit. You know what? It did disrupt the unit. The unit got over it. The unit changed. I'm an admiral in the U.S. Navy and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff... Beat that with a stick."

Tweedledee, Meet Tweedledum

A while ago, Ben outlined the differences between Obama's anti-terrorism policy and that of Bush. There are some differences, of course, but as the NYT reports, they're getting smaller every day:
WASHINGTON — The National Security Agency intercepted private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year, government officials said in recent interviews.

Several intelligence officials, as well as lawyers briefed about the matter, said the N.S.A. had been engaged in “overcollection” of domestic communications of Americans. They described the practice as significant and systemic, although one official said it was believed to have been unintentional.
I'm not sure I buy the "unintentional" thing. I don't know how you "unintentionally" spy on someone.

Now first off, it's good that we're at least finding out about this. On the other hand, it's disturbing that Obama would continue the same policy as Bush regarding surveillance until someone called him out on it. I'm hoping this is a lost-in-transition problem that won't be a permanent feature of the Obama administration... but given this administration's admittedly short history of maintaining bullshit "state secrets" arguments, I'm not holding my breath.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Intellectual Whiplash

One thing that happens when power shifts abruptly from being completely in one party's hands to being completely in another's is that outside observers start feeling like they live in the Twilight Zone. Take, for example, this Moonie Times report about a DHS document attempting to profile right-wing extremists and warning of violence. As Sharon at CSPT points out (hat tip for the links), some of the bullet points can be used to pretty much describe any arch-conservative, whether or not they're actually intent on violence or not.

The more astute among us will recognize that this is exactly the same thing Bush was doing to the left wing during his entire presidency. But as Greenwald points out, most of the righties that cheered on Bush when he launched his surveillance of left wing groups are suddenly up in arms. And while he's not as enthusiastic about it as the righties were back in the Bush years, Matt Yglesias seems a little too happy about this turn of events. Haven't seen this on Kos' front page yet, but I'll let you know what the reaction is when I do.

Ah, but there's more. Remember how right-wingers called liberals traitors and unpatriotic when we protested the invasion of Iraq? Well, they have no problem criticizing this president during a military operation. Of course, the folks over at Big Orange jump all over this, and frequent diarist David Waldman goes so far as to call the right-wing critics anti-American. Which is the same crap insult they used against us.

There are more issues like this - the filibuster issue and reconciliation tactics in the Senate, to name one - but I don't have the links or the time to write about them too.

But yeah, my neck hurts.

Update: Balko has another example:
Apparently without the slightest hint of irony, Schultz started by casting off the tea party protesters as “un-American” and “unpatriotic.” Yep. Bush has been out of office for all of three months, and the left has already adopted the “people who disagree with us hate America” crap. He then characterized tea partiers exercising their right to free speech and protest as “trying to overturn the results of an election.” Another page ripped from the right-wing playbook. Just substitute “anti-war protests” for “tea parties.”

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Hits Keep On Comin'

So Iowa becomes the first state outside the Northeast and West Coast to legalize gay marriage, and now Vermont has become the first to do so without a court ruling. They overrode Governor Jim Douglas' veto to pass the legislation... by a single vote in the House.

Vermont, you might recall, was the first to legalize civil unions. Pat yourselves on the back, Vermonters - you done good.

Meanwhile, Back in Fairfax...

Here's a story about Fairfax County Public School officials being idiots. I don't give a damn what your rationale is, threatening to expel someone for taking a birth control pill is insane, no matter how you look at it. As is suspending someone for two weeks because they're taking Advil. Or something prescribed by their doctor. There's no excuse for this outrage, and the many like it that occur every day. None.

This is your country on the War on Drugs. Any questions?

Monday, April 06, 2009

Gay Marriage, Donchaknow

Since the NCAA men's championship game is turning out to be as boring as last year's was exciting, I figured I'd dump a few thoughts on the recent Iowa Supreme Court ruling that gay couples must be allowed to marry in the Hawkeye State.

First, the decision was unanimous and, as Ian points out, pretty damn decisive. Meaning it's not being overturned anytime soon, and no wishy-washy civil unions are going to be instituted. It's either full marriage equality or gut the Constitution.

Aside: I wonder whether the unanimity and definitiveness of this decision means it'll be used as precedent for other state Supreme Courts that are faced with similar decisions...

Anyway, we all know an amendment battle is on the horizon - the question is how it's going to be fought. And this is where Iowa's conservatism actually works against conservatives. In contrast to states like California, where any schmuck can put together a petition and get an amendment on the ballot that year, Iowans have two options. First, the state legislature can take up the question of the amendment. If the amendment passes in two successive sessions of the legislature, it goes before the voters. Second, every ten years Iowans are asked if they want a constitutional convention - this convention can submit amendments to the people to be voted on the next year.

The point is that there'll be no Proposition 8-like electoral battle this year. The absolute worst-case scenario is that the convention ballot question passes - should that occur, a measure would be on the ballot in November 2011. Realistically, I don't expect this to occur. Furthermore, this article makes it clear that Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal is in favor of gay marriage with the zeal of the convert (Gronstad opposed it in '98, but has since seen the light). We'll assume that Gronstal has power similar to that enjoyed by Marc Basnight here in NC, and that he can bury this bill if he doesn't want it to go anywhere.

This means that Republicans will have to take over the Senate at least, and probably both houses, in order to get a question on a ballot. Gronstad's Democrats currently enjoy a 32-18 advantage in the Senate, though, and in this political climate it's tough to imagine a Republican sweep in 2010. So realistically, we're talking 2013 before the Republicans can even get a vote through the Senate on this. Which means another vote would have to take place in the 2015-16 session. Which means the earliest I expect a measure to be on the ballot is November 2016 - more than seven years from now.

This decision is pretty big. It'll be the first foray for marriage equality outside the Northeast. Recall also that the first state to consider gay marriage, Massachusetts, has a similar means of amending their Constitution - they need two consecutive constitutional conventions to give 25% approval to the amendment. The measure passed the first time but couldn't muster the measley 50 votes (out of 200) required to pass the second time around.

What this tells me is that if gay marriage is given time to "sink in," it ceases to become much of a concern. (In fact, a Republican co-sponsor of the proposed MA gay marriage ban admitted as much in this CBS News article.) We'll see if that's the case in Iowa. I think it will be.

Quote of the day: "The politics of it are I'm not going to put discrimination in the Iowa Constitution. That's a horrible idea. The people who are pushing the amendment are saying equal protection under the law -- except. I think that's unacceptable." - Gronstal, saying "You shall not pass" to the gay-marriage ban.

Dumbass quote of the day: "He [Gronstal] is denying 2.1 million Iowans of voting age of the right to vote on an issue of great importance to 550,000 schoolchildren." - Chuck Hurley, president of the "Iowa Family Policy Center," who apparently has some bizarre ideas of what schoolchildren find important.

Glenn Beck Didn't Shoot Anyone

In the wake of the awful shooting of three police officers in Pittsburgh by a far-right crazed nutball, the left blogosphere seems to have taken a page from right-wingers and has started blaming - at least obliquely - right-wing commentators for the tragedy. I'd ignore this moonbattery if it were coming from the far-left cranks, but it's coming from bloggers I respect and agree with much of the time such as Jesse Taylor and Pam Spaulding over at Pandagon. Spaulding, especially, makes the case that:
Richard Poplawski, who spent his time surfing the internet filling his disturbed mind with notions held by many of the fans of Glenn Beck and the WingNutDaily denizens, represents what happens when tin-foil hat conservative theories are taken seriously.

Now I'm not going to question whether or not Poplawski was a fan of Beck or WorldNutDaily. But there's a distinct difference, and if you read this piece by Dave Neiwert you start to get a feel for what it is. Neiwert is probably one of the leading experts on the far-far-right out there, and he reveals that Poplawski held a few other neuroses not explored at all by the Beck crowd, even at their worst. From some of Poplawski's rantings, as uncovered by Neiwert:
In other words: Why, seeing as how the Jews seem to have the nation right where they want it, would they now turn around and destroy it?

Common perception seems to be that if there is an abrupt collapse of social order then racial awareness among the white population will rise dramatically. The Jewish media that dictates “pop culture” could no longer elevate the negro, and reality would reveal its nature. Race-mixing would come to a halt overnight. Consumerism and materialism would cease as the people scrounge for the necessities.

Notice anything there? In fact, most of what Neiwert finds deals more with anti-Semitism and racism than it does with gun-nut and anti-Marxist paranoia. I don't watch Beck's show much, but I have a feeling he'd be just as queasy as I am at the suggestion that Jews are controlling everything and engineered the financial meltdown etc. etc. Put differently, Beck might be wearing a tin-foil hat, but Poplawski decked himself out like Darth Vader in the stuff, to the point where even Beck thinks he looks like a damn fool.

And this is what Spaulding and Taylor ignore. The Freepers who are ranting ungramatically about Obama being a Marxist who wants to take our guns away are not, themselves, a threat to anything but their own sanity. The hate espoused by Poplawski comes from a completely different place. Beck, the Freepers, the WND crowd - they may be a little off-base, but their brand of paranoia is harmless. Meanwhile, it's the anti-Semitic, anti-black hard stuff that Poplawski was into that causes the real damage... and lumping Beck in with that crowd is unfair and simply untrue. We don't need to say "Glenn Beck causes violence" to prove that he's wrong. One would think our standard capability for abstract reasoning is generally good enough to prove that point.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Con Law Nerds, This One's For You

This video is perhaps the geekiest thing I've ever seen. And by "geeky," I mean "awesome."

(H/T: Balko)

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Brain Dump

Yet again, a while elapses between posts. Oh well. Here are a few things on my mind...

- There's a lot of bleating out there about Obama asking GM chief executive Rick Wagoner to resign. A lot of it's coming from the traditional right-wing noise boxes, but the meme that "Obama fired the GM CEO" has even come from people whose opinion I generally respect, so I'll go ahead and address it.

The thing is, Obama didn't fire anyone. No one is forcing GM to take bailout money. If Obama's going to offer the cash it's his prerogative to attach conditions to it. In the business world this is called "negotiating." If GM doesn't like the offer, like I said, it doesn't have to take it. GM is perfectly free to turn down the bailout money and go wherever that path takes them, be it into Chapter 11 or wherever. I'm not in favor of giving GM a cent of my tax money, but if the government's going to give GM a massive handout, I feel better knowing that it's not just shoveling money into a dark pit of despair.

Look at it this way. We place conditions on recipients of personal welfare all the time. You have to be actively looking for a job, you can't be on drugs, yadda yadda yadda. Why should we put less restrictions on recipients of corporate welfare, especially since corporations are receiving far larger welfare payments?

- Jim Webb is awesome. Just read the Greenwald article I linked to - he says pretty much everything I want to say. I will add this - having watched Webb in action the past few years, it's gonna be a tough sell for Republicans to call him soft on anything, crime included. So he is really one of the few elected officials who really has the political capital to pull this off, even if he is from a purple-leaning-red state.

- Dear Dan Snyder: Stop it. Seriously, we already have Jason Campbell, and he's pretty good, and he'll be better once he stays in the same offense for more than a year. While it would be pretty awesome to have the potential for an all-Vanderbilt touchdown pass (Cutler to reserve TE Todd Yoder), I don't think it's worth it.

But if you do go through with the trade, just remember to remove all the emergency phones from the vicinity of FedEx Field, for safety purposes...

(No, making fun of that will never get old.)