Saturday, February 26, 2011


Going to Florida, then Maryland on family business. Be back Tuesday. Probably will blog little, if at all. Behave yourselves until then.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gay Marriage Bill Passes Maryland Senate

The final tally was 25 ayes to 21 nays. The bill now moves to the state Assembly, which had traditionally been considered more friendly to gay marriage than the Senate. But according to the WaPo, equal rights supporters are still counting votes, and are not 100% confident of passage ("confident but not overconfident", is how the majority leader puts it).

Fiscal Hackery FTW

Can you smell the seriousity?
Wisconsin's Republican governor, Scott Walker, says that concern over his state's relatively modest budget crisis motivates his drive to strip public-sector employees of their ability to bargain collectively. And, yet, he just decided to put Wisconsin into a fiscal strait-jacket, signing a bill Tuesday that would require a two-thirds supermajority in the state legislature or a state-wide referendum to raise a range of taxes. This is not the sign of a serious budget hawk, whatever you think of Walker's policies on public-sector unions.

I'm not sure how serious to take any one on the question of deficits (I'm not sure how much I care about the topic myself). But with Republicans, I really think it's difficult to even draw a coherent line through their fiscal positions. They support slashing public programs to groups they don't like, but they turn around and plow the savings back into tax breaks for the wealthy -- a massively regressive upwards wealth distribution. None of it goes into deficit reduction. And of course, there are plenty of governmental spending categories -- particularly on the federal level (defense) but also in terms of state-subsidies -- that Republicans absolutely refuse to cut.

Democrats may not be interested in cutting spending (though I'm sure they have their list of programs worth cutting -- starting with overblown weapons budgets and continuing over to abstinence-only education), but at least they're willing to support the tax rates necessary to pay for their ambitions.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Union-Busting as Health Care Reform

As Steve Benen reports, what once looked like a wave of Republican union-busting legislation has been more or less arrested at Wisconsin, with a parallel bill in Indiana being withdrawn and GOP Iowa Governor Terry Branstad declaring he isn't interested in similar legislation in his state.

If you had asked me in advance what issue would arouse the soporific left from its torpor, I wouldn't have guessed that collective bargaining legislation would be it. After all, the Democratic salvo in this controversy -- the card-check bill -- died with little more than a whimper last Congress. But hey, catch what can.

It seems to me that this controversy is beginning to trace the trajectory of the debate over PPACA. There, like here, the governing party thought it had the mandate to make a sweeping change. There, like here, opponents were convinced that the other party had overreached, and were able to muster massive and highly publicized protests that fired up their base and re-energized their flagging electoral prospects.

The question is -- what happens next? In the health care debate, Republicans rapidly decided that a mutually-amenable compromise was their enemy. The important thing was prolonging the debate for as long as possible, keeping it in the news as an example of a radical administration that must be stopped. So while there was a lot of talk about "slowing down" and not "ramming the bill" through, the GOP was very careful to not actually make any substantive concessions or proposals of its own.

And Democrats played along, trying, futilely, to garner GOP approval; searching for an elusive bipartisanship that, by design, was never to be. And in their failure, the GOP won the media narrative -- PPACA couldn't be a sensible, practical approach to a serious national problem. Since only Democrats supported it, and we all know that any legislation worth supporting is bipartisan, it must be a partisan hatchet-job, Democratic maximalism promulgated by overconfident, out of touch party leaders. And so it was that a health care reform bill whose primary components were originally Republican ideas became the greatest instrument of socialism since the Cold War.

I'd be interested to see if Democrats play the same game. If you have momentum, don't let the GOP off the hook. Characterize everything as renewed union-busting, the kissing cousin of the radical Scott Walker proposals (how do we know they're extreme? Because real, heartland Americans are protesting them!). No compromises, no mercy -- just hammer it home, day after day: Republicans want to hurt teachers, police officers, and firemen. They want only the middle class to sacrifice while the fatcats get tax breaks. On and on -- a drum beat of progressive fury that does to the GOP what the Tea Party did to us.

Of course, there were many voices within the Democratic Party during the health care debate that understood precisely what was happening, and urged Democrats to actually take a maximalist position. After all, if you're going to get blamed for it anyway, you might as well get some of the sweet with the bitter -- a genuinely ambitious, single-payer health care system. And one wonders if Republicans are keen enough to adopt this strategy -- if they're going to get raked over the coals regardless, they might as well please their corporate clients and blow up the unions.

Anyway, I'm not saying that's how it's going to play out. But I do find it interesting the way that this issue seems to be developing into a genuine Democratic parallel to the Tea Party during PPACA.

Indiana Assistant Attorney General Advocates "Live Ammo" Against Protesters

Absolutely shocking:
On Saturday night, when Mother Jones staffers tweeted a report that riot police might soon sweep demonstrators out of the Wisconsin capitol building—something that didn't end up happening—one Twitter user sent out a chilling public response: "Use live ammunition."

From my own Twitter account, I confronted the user, JCCentCom. He tweeted back that the demonstrators were "political enemies" and "thugs" who were "physically threatening legally elected officials." In response to such behavior, he said, "You're damned right I advocate deadly force." He later called me a "typical leftist," adding, "liberals hate police."

Only later did we realize that JCCentCom was a deputy attorney general for the state of Indiana.

I mean, I've enjoyed the solidarity messages coming from North Africa to the American Midwest, but I'd really prefer the similarities end before we have state officials advocating the massacre of unarmed protesters.

UPDATE: The official in question has been fired.

DOJ No Longer Will Defend DOMA

This just out from the DOJ:
In the two years since this Administration took office, the Department of Justice has defended Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act on several occasions in federal court. Each of those cases evaluating Section 3 was considered in jurisdictions in which binding circuit court precedents hold that laws singling out people based on sexual orientation, as DOMA does, are constitutional if there is a rational basis for their enactment. While the President opposes DOMA and believes it should be repealed, the Department has defended it in court because we were able to advance reasonable arguments under that rational basis standard.

Section 3 of DOMA has now been challenged in the Second Circuit, however, which has no established or binding standard for how laws concerning sexual orientation should be treated. In these cases, the Administration faces for the first time the question of whether laws regarding sexual orientation are subject to the more permissive standard of review or whether a more rigorous standard, under which laws targeting minority groups with a history of discrimination are viewed with suspicion by the courts, should apply.

After careful consideration, including a review of my recommendation, the President has concluded that given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny. The President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional. Given that conclusion, the President has instructed the Department not to defend the statute in such cases. I fully concur with the President’s determination.

I think this makes sense. It is exceptionally difficult to justify declining heightened scrutiny to gays and lesbians; as my Comment points out, the lack of constitutional protection for GLBT persons is more attributable to the badly inconsistent use of "political power" as an operative element in the Court's tiered-scrutiny jurisprudence than anything that can be truly characterized as a "legal" reason (the DOJ announcement also buttresses my larger claim that the constitutional status of gay legal claims will rise in tandem with their increased political and social clout -- the DOJ explicitly notes both legal and political advances by gay rights forces as part of the reason for its reversal). Where there is explicit precedent -- however bogus -- that anti-gay classifications receive rational basis review, it makes sense to defend the law on that axis. Where that precedent is absent and we are reviewing the law of the legal land untainted, the clearly correct position is that these laws are subject to heightened scrutiny, and cannot survive it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Strange Bedfellows

Glenn Beck is now calling Reform Jews -- a plurality of the American Jewish population -- "almost like" "radical Islam". The line was that, like "radicalized Islam", Reform Jews (specifically, Reform Rabbis) are more about "politics" than they are "religion" -- thus creating two entirely separate points of offense: Comparing the bulk of American Jewry to a movement Beck believes to be at the heart of contemporary international evil, and arrogating to himself the right to define what Jewish religious experience is.

Of course, unlike PG -- who, by merely omitting to play the "do you deny you beat your wife" game, became the greatest enemy of the Jewish people ever to spill ink on this comment section -- some continue to harbor doubts over whether it is really fair to accuse Beck of anti-Semitism. Creating overwhelmingly Jewish "enemies lists? Meh. Accusing a prominent Jewish financier (and Holocaust survivor) of trying to create a "shadow government", being a Nazi collaborator, and manipulating global financial markets for his own personal gain? Shrug.

We'll just "keep watching".

UPDATE: The ADL has condemned Beck for his "bigoted ignorance."

That Can Be Arranged

Well, he doesn't appear to be in Venezuela, and embattled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has promised to stay in the country he's ruled for 40 years and die as "a martyr".

I have to admit, that doesn't strike me as the worst outcome in the world -- though I suspect the "martyrdom" aspect of it will be limited. Perhaps Daniel Ortega can give a toast in his honor.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Report: Gaddafi Flees to Venezuela

It isn't confirmed, but reports are that Libyan autocrat Muammar Gaddafi is fleeing to Venezuela. Hugo Chavez -- recipient of Gaddafi's joke human rights award -- is a close ally of the Libyan dictator.

Meanwhile, there are reports that the Libyan air force is firing on protesters, and two pilots have defected along with their jets to Malta after reportedly being ordered to fire on civilian demonstrators.

Photo of the Day


Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Only Difference

There's a ton of talk out there about what Obama should or shouldn't have done with respect to the Egypt and Tunisian rebellions. One major refrain is that the success of the revolts in these two countries show that, had Obama pushed a little harder during Iran's 2009 Green Revolution, that country's dictatorship could have fallen too.

I'm dubious. The US didn't really do much of anything but watch and try and stay out of the fray in Egypt (Tunisia we barely even had time to react to). And when you think about it, how much can we do? Ultimately, any revolution is going to be in the hands of the people revolting -- it's their concerns and their conditions which dictate the course of the movement. Except where the US can credibly threaten to intervene militarily -- implausible in all the countries we're talking about -- there is very little we can do to influence the situation, at least overtly.

Actually, I think there is one very simple reason why Egypt succeeded where Iran failed. As LGM put it, the Tank commander said "no":
Last night, a military officer guarding the tens of thousands celebrating in Cairo threw down his rifle and joined the demonstrators, yet another sign of the ordinary Egyptian soldier's growing sympathy for the democracy demonstrators. We had witnessed many similar sentiments from the army over the past two weeks. But the critical moment came on the evening of 30 January when, it is now clear, Mubarak ordered the Egyptian Third Army to crush the demonstrators in Tahrir Square with their tanks after flying F-16 fighter bombers at low level over the protesters.

Many of the senior tank commanders could be seen tearing off their headsets – over which they had received the fatal orders – to use their mobile phones. They were, it now transpires, calling their own military families for advice. Fathers who had spent their lives serving the Egyptian army told their sons to disobey, that they must never kill their own people.

Thus when General Hassan al-Rawani told the massive crowds yesterday evening that "everything you want will be realised – all your demands will be met", the people cried back: "The army and the people stand together – the army and the people are united. The army and the people belong to one hand."

And that's the key difference. Protesters rarely stand any chance, pound-for-pound, against a halfway decent state military apparatus. The question is whether, when push comes to shove, the military is actually willing to crush the demonstrations violently, or whether they link up with them. In Egypt, they weren't willing to fire on their own people. In Iran, they were. And so we have our different outcomes.

In any event, we're going to get a bunch of new data points on this shortly. New protests are emerging in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Iran again. Obviously, I hope for the best in all of these countries. But I think the ultimate outcome is not likely to be contingent on what Americans say or do. It has to do with the nerve of the protesters, and the ultimate decisions of the country's military forces -- to join the revolution, or crush it.