Wednesday, December 22, 2010

bipartisanship, a dish best served cold

It's been quite a lame duck session, has it not? What was supposed to be a legislative winding down of the 111th Congress saw the end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, ratification of the New START Treaty, and a tax cut package no one seems to know what to make of, as well as serious pushes of a 9/11 worker health bill and the DREAM Act.

What's been most interesting about it has been the sudden flood of Republican "yea" votes in the Senate, where none have been seen in years it seems. The usual suspects who've flirted with bipartisanship in the last few years -- i.e., the three New England Republicans not named "Judd Gregg" -- finally started following through, and even Gregg himself put his country first on START. We also saw a few one-offs from erstwhile party men like Bob Corker.

And then there are the Democrats' new best friends, Republicans who voted for several Democratic initiatives who've never cottoned to anything with the slightest whiff of donkey before. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) and Dick Lugar (R-IN) voted for the DREAM Act and the START Treaty. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Arlen Specter (?-PA) voted for all three. Yeah, that's right: the DREAM Act, a bill laying out a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, got votes from a Utah Republican and an Alaska Republican.

Lugar's harder to figure out (he's quite old, and may be headed for retirement), but Murkowski, Specter* and Bennett share a particular something in common: they were both primaried this year and lost. It's interesting to see that Senators are normally this petty, and it isn't just a particular personality who radically changes his voting patterns to get revenge on party leadership after such an event. Not sure, however, if it's comforting or disheartening.

*I suppose technically Specter lost the Democratic primary, but he was only in that party because he'd been driven out of the GOP by Senator-elect (ugh) Pat Toomey.

Monday, December 20, 2010

the difference between President Obama and President McCain

Next time you want to say Barack Obama, like Bill Clinton, is just another moderate Republican president, remember this moment. Remember this reaction to repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell from the man whose biggest weakness in the 2008 Republican primary was that he was too liberal.

Friday, December 17, 2010

guilty of some crimes, innocent of others

When considering the moral consequences of a news story, when distinguishing the faces from the heels, it helps to learn to distinguish relevant facts from irrelevant ones. For instance, there's no inherent contradiction in Roman Polanski being both a brilliant filmmaker and a child rapist.

This is important when looking at all this Wikileaks stuff, too. If you take my view, Julian Assange is providing an important service by keeping a website for whistleblowers to publish their material. Whistleblowers keep the government honest, as their presence is a major incentive not to cut corners or allow corruption to set in. Plus, of course, the act of whistleblowing is often the only method by which corruption is rooted out and stopped once it has taken root, and the only way to ensure someone is held accountable. Nothing disinfects like air and light.

[A side note: whistleblowers often give up much more than just their careers for their country and their integrity. Bradley Manning's mind is currently being destroyed by extended solitary confinement in Quantico (8 months and counting) for his contribution to Wikileaks.]

It is perfectly possible, however, that a man on this crusade against the invisible, unelected, secretive powers that rule our world also raped two women. The accusers have gone public, and the charges are serious:
The first complainant, a Miss A, said she was the victim of "unlawful coercion" on the night of 14 August in Stockholm. The court heard Assange was alleged to have "forcefully" held her arms and used his bodyweight to hold her down. The second charge alleged he "sexually molested" her by having sex without using a condom, when it was her "express wish" that one should be used.

A third charge claimed Assange "deliberately molested" Miss A on 18 August.

A fourth charge, relating to a Miss W, alleged that on 17 August, he "improperly exploited" the fact she was asleep to have sex with her without a condom.

Is it possible that this was all a multi-government conspiracy to shut down Wikileaks? Uh, I guess it's theoretically possible, but which is more likely?

  • Three different governments conspired to convince two of Assange's ex-lovers to concoct false rape stories in order to provide the pretense to arrest him, throw him in Gitmo and shut down his website

  • the dude raped two women, and also happens to run a famous whistleblower clearing house website

C'mon, seriously.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

compromise wins

I don't normally care much for his work, but Steve Kornacki at Salon nails this one:
As part of the deal, expiring unemployment benefits for millions of Americans will be extended for 13 months. Just as important, there is now a real prospect that the Senate will act on repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy and ratification of the START treaty before this month's lame duck session ends. Is extending tax cuts for the richest Americans (and blowing another hole in the deficit in the process) a steep price to pay for all of this? Absolutely. But that's politics: Obama took the best deal he could possibly get...

...Note that the deal also includes a reduction in the Social Security payroll tax and an expansion of the earned income tax credit and the college tuition tax credit. This is on top of the extension in unemployment benefits. These measures have one thing in common: They are stimulative in nature.

McConnell and Kyl, being the odious, nihilistic saboteurs that they are, held the entire lame duck session hostage over rich people's tax cuts. Among the things held hostage? Unemployment insurance, meaning that if Obama played chicken with the Republicans and they didn't blink, millions of people could have had their last monetary lifelines cut just in time for Christmas. Obama could not let that happen.

Was there really a chance the GOP would have let unemployment insurance expire? Well, Republicans did just get elected partly on angst over entitlement spending. Besides, Republicans and conservatives are ideologically unfriendly toward such generosity in the first place. You tell me.

And besides, what's the endgame there? The Republicans could always just let the lame duck session end and then bludgeon the Democrats over letting everyone's tax cuts expire. Then when the new Congress convenes, pass the tax cuts all over again and dare the Democrats and Obama to vote against them. Democrats get hammered several times on the same issue and get nothing in return. No unemployment insurance, no additional stimulus, no START treaty, no DADT repeal, nothing.

By admitting Republicans have the upper hand and compromising on tax cuts, however, Obama was able to extract a fair amount of stimulus out of the deal and broke the logjam for potential work on DADT and the START treaty. I'm not a fan of tax cuts as stimulus, but when the choices are stimulus via tax cuts and nothing at all, you take what you can get. If either of the other things passes, so much the better.

Furthermore, Obama kept the tax cuts from becoming permanent. Will relitigating the issue in 2 years just mean Obama loses again? Maybe, and yes a 1 or 3 year extension would have been better politically, but at least there's a chance sanity could win out next time.

Monday, December 06, 2010

the Wetzel Plan, 2010 edition

We do it every year here, highlight Yahoo! columnist Dan Wetzel's plan for a 16 game playoff in college football like the one played in division II. It gives automatic seeds to all 11 division one conferences, with 5 at-large bids that would normally be chosen by a panel of experts a la the NCAA basketball tourney (for the purposes of illustration, Wetzel goes with highest seed). Each game is played on the higher seed's home field, with the championship game on neutral ground. This year:

It's something, isn't it? In the first round, we're looking at Michigan St. at Arkansas, VA Tech at Ohio State, and LSU at Oklahoma, and it just picks up from there. TCU would face off with the winner of VA Tech-Ohio St., Oregon would get the winner of Oklahoma-LSU, and we'd get a potential Michigan St. at Auburn matchup.

One of these days, hopefully.