Tuesday, December 7, 2010

More on Tax Cuts

Lots of Keith Olbermann on the blog tonight, with three video segments from his MSNBC show Countdown. The first is a special report from Monday night's show, in which guest host Sam Seder examines just where the money America borrows to pay for these tax cuts comes from. Borrowing money from foreign countries -- possibly even nations unfriendly to us -- just so the wealthy can have their precious tax cuts.

And the government doesn't say shit about it.

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The second video is an interview Olbermann did Tuesday night with my Congressman, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va. 3rd). As far back as I can recall, this is the first time Rep. Scott has been interviewed on a national stage, and he continued his argument against extending any of the Bush-era tax rates; as unpopular as that move would be, its effect in shrinking the deficit cannot be argued.

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The last video is a Special Comment from Olbermann, in which he takes the Obama administration to task not just for the compromise deal, but also with President Obama's condescending and angry response on Tuesday to liberal criticism. Decorum prevents me from truly revealing how I feel about the comments -- nothing like pissing off your base by telling them, essentially, to sit down and shut up -- so I'll let Olbermann articulate the anger for me.

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Tax Cuts Deal: Compromise or Caving?

With Monday's news that President Obama had reached a deal with Congressional Republicans that would temporarily extend the Bush-era tax rates, while also providing 13 more months of unemployment insurance and a few other benefits, much hand-wringing has occurred.

After all, letting the tax rates on the highest earners -- those who make more than $250,000 a year -- expire at the end of 2010 was one of President Obama's most popular campaign promises. It also had the side effect of lopping $700 billion off the deficit over the next 10 years; for all the talk in Washington over the deficit, letting the tax cuts expire -- at least on the wealthy -- was a pretty damn good way to start tackling the issue.

But Republicans, who are always quick to harp on the deficit (just ask those whose unemployment insurance ran out), didn't seem to care about that $700 billion. Apparently, we don't need to pay for tax cuts for the rich, but we do need to pay for helping keep unemployed people relatively afloat in a bad economy where jobs are scarce.

The GOP has two functions today: a) help the rich as much as possible, and b) make sure President Obama doesn't win anything. This deal, which some are calling a "compromise," accomplishes both goals.

There were those -- like Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va. 3rd) -- who advocated for the expiration of all the Bush-era tax rates, which came with a $4 trillion price tag over the next decade. While that's true, and would certainly help the deficit ... that large an increase in taxes with the economy still in shambles would've been a political nightmare.

But letting the middle-class rates stay while raising the rates on the highest earners? That was a public opinion winner. But aside from a vote last week in the House on the issue, the whole thing was never really given much life -- because the GOP -- aided by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker-to-Be John Boehner decided they'd rather force their hand upon a president who seems none too willing to fight.

Look at the tax rate differences between the parties. See how massive that bottom circle would be under the Republican idea? Notice how all the rest of the tax rates look almost identical, but then the highest earners get the biggest cut? That's the tax world we've been living in since 2001 and 2003, and if this deal goes through, this is the reality that will continue.

Those tax cuts for the wealthy didn't create jobs over the last decade, and they won't create jobs now. The rich don't spend the extra money they get in tax cuts like middle class workers do; they sit on it and save it, which does nothing to boost the economy.

Also ... while the deal says the tax rates will expire again in two years, does anyone really expect that? Are we really supposed to believe President Obama will just let the tax rates revert back to Clinton-era levels while we're in the middle of the 2012 presidential campaign? He didn't want that fight now, with no election in sight and with the Democrats still in control of Congress; what makes you think he'll want that fight on the campaign trail with Republicans in control of the House of Representatives?

Tax cuts for the wealthy that aren't paid for, to go along with wars that aren't paid for. More money borrowed from China and who knows what other countries. President Obama had a chance to make good on one of his central campaign promises and work on the deficit at the same time, yet he punted on third down.

Compromise happens; more often than not, it's the name of the game in D.C. I get that. I'm also glad the unemployment insurance was extended for another 13 months, and the payroll tax credit will put more money in people's pockets immediately.

But the president waved the white flag and conceded before the fight even began. It's one thing to wage a fight and lose; sometimes that happens. But to not even force the issue, to start conceding before you even step into the ring?

This is not the fierce advocate who inspired so many on the campaign trail. This is not the man who seemed so vigorous in defending the middle class and making sure the American dream was still reachable. President Obama gave up far too soon and abandoned a core principle, which is perhaps the most unsettling part of all this.

Because as disenfranchised as liberals were in last month's elections -- between a bad economy and legislation that probably didn't go far enough -- imagine the disdain and the outrage now. Where do liberals go from here, and for that matter, where does President Obama go from here?

I have no idea, but if this is any indication, the next two years are going to be really long.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Boy, We Dodged One ...

There's been a lot of hand-wringing over the past year, year and a half over the relative effectiveness -- or lack thereof -- of the Obama administration.

Conservatives, aided by the corporate-funded Tea Party movement and Fox News, claims President Obama is a socialist foreigner who's out to destroy America. Liberals felt the administration and its congressional majorities didn't go far enough in landmark legislation such as health care reform, Wall Street reform and the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

I'll admit, this page has participated in its fair share of the latter.

Independents and other voters who cannot be easily defined along partisan or ideological boundaries have developed an overall sense of disappointment with regards to the slow economic recovery and the persistent unemployment rate -- a phenomenon that always favors the party in the minority at the time.

But let's ... take a step backward for a moment and consider an alternate reality: specifically, one in which Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) was elected in 2008. I'm not even talking about the horrifying reality of Sarah Palin as Vice President (which could be its own separate blog post ... or book).

I mean Sen. McCain specifically.

In that vein, I offer this video clip from Monday night's edition of The Rachel Maddow Show. When watching this takedown of Sen. McCain's hypocrisy and the media's fascination with him, keep in mind ... some people wanted this man to be president!

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Friday, November 12, 2010

A Discussion of Media

Anyone who follows this blog knows that a) I studied journalism when I was in college, and b) even today, I have a keen interest in the shape and role of the media in today's society.

A lot of times, what I see in today's media -- between the struggling newspapers, the all-too-loud cable stations and sensationalistic websites -- is not what I learned at Old Dominion University, and that saddens me. Not just because I see people who aren't being good journalists taking journalism jobs away from people like me, but because I see what today's media is doing to our discourse -- both political and societal.

There are exceptions to the media climate that I support -- specifically, Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O'Donnell and such magazines as The Nation. Not necessarily because these are prominent liberal voices and I have become increasingly liberal with age, but because these prominent media voices live in a land of facts and reality -- a land sparsely populated in today's perpetual conflictinator, to borrow a phrase.

I also take a keen interest in The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, in large part because he was a big focus in a class I took at ODU surrounding the media and politics. Stewart is more than just an average funnyman, even if he won't admit it half the time, and I find his insights fascinating, even if I don't always agree with them.

Which brings me to Thursday night's interview between Stewart and Maddow on the latter's MSNBC show. The 50-minute discussion, which was cut to fit Maddow's airtime, centered largely around the role of the media -- 24-hour cable news in particular -- and how it affects public feeling and discourse.

I found it to be a fascinating discussion, even if I disagree with some of Stewart's points (sorry, Stewart, but Fox News is partisan and President Bush is a war criminal). Still, I recommend watching the interview and coming to your own conclusions.

Fair warning, though: this thing's long. But so worth it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

All About The Bush Tax Cuts

In light of an interview White House senior adviser David Axelrod did with Howard Fineman and Sam Stein of The Huffington Post on Thursday, where he hinted the Obama administration might be willing to compromise on extending the Bush tax cuts -- only to have the White House deny Alexrod's words -- I figured I'd share a link I found from a Twitter follower (thanks, @madlolscientist!) that debunks the 10 lies Republicans peddle most often in arguing for a full extension of those cuts.

The cuts are set to expire on Jan. 1, 2011, unless Congress acts. President Obama and many Democrats have argued for extending the tax cuts for the middle class -- households making less than $250,000 a year -- while letting tax rates for higher earners revert back to Clinton-era levels (you know, back when we had a budget surplus).

Republicans, in all their corporate glory, want all the cuts extended -- deficit ballooning be damned.

So click on this link -- courtesy of Crooks and Liars. Fair warning, though ... it's long, and you'll be swimming in graphs, charts and links. But if you make it through, you will be thoroughly informed and better equipped to handle GOP talking points on this subject.

Oh, and my Twitter handle? @Cowboy_Witch.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Odds And Ends

A couple things I've stumbled upon tonight.

President George W. Bush apparently had his feelings hurt in 2005 when rapper Kanye West famously said he didn't care about black people -- so much so, he calls it the low point of his presidency in his just-released memoir, Decision Points. Melissa Harris-Perry, a professor at Princeton, frequent MSNBC guest and columnist for The Nation magazine, offers this deep, thought-provoking take.

Highly recommended reading.

Also, a pair of nuggets from The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell. O'Donnell, a former Senate staffer and executive producer and writer for the old NBC drama The West Wing, is quickly finding his own as host of his own primetime commentary program on MSNBC. O'Donnell (not related to thrice-failed Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell) is intelligent, insightful and able to give an insider's view of how Congress works (or doesn't) that people like Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow cannot.

Two video clips I wanted to share from Tuesday night's show -- starting with a defense of the word "liberal." Oddly enough, the poignant message came not from O'Donnell's lips on the set of his show; they came from his pen and through the lips of actor Jimmy Smits, during a debate taking place in The West Wing.

The setting might be fiction, but the words defending liberalism -- as a word and an idea -- are no less powerful.

And last, but not least ... in response to the predictable conservative frothing at O'Donnell's notion on Friday that he is a socialist, O'Donnell doubles down, and offers a stirring defense of socialism that everyone, regardless of political stripe, should watch.

Trust me, you might learn something. I know I did.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Time Now For the Sanity Break

In light of the past week, between the disappointing election results and Friday's saga involving Keith Olbermann and MSNBC, I figured it was appropriate to post Jon Stewart's closing remarks from this past Saturday's Rally To Restore Sanity And/Or Fear in Washington, D.C.

They're incredibly poignant words. We'd be a far better country if we heeded them.

And yes, the title of this post is an ode to Olbermann. Though I feel he should be punished for violating MSNBC policy, I am still a fan of Countdown.

MSNBC Right to Suspend Olbermann

Anyone who follows this blog knows I'm a fan of Keith Olbermann and his show Countdown on MSNBC. I cite him frequently, as well as post video clips from his various shows when he highlights issues I feel are important.

It's still odd at times to see Olbermann talking politics, since I spent much of my childhood watching him host SportsCenter on ESPN, but Olbermann is right more often than not, and he's to be commended for sticking to his convictions regardless of the backlash.

You can criticize Olbermann for his biting sarcasm, for his name-calling of such conservative media figures as Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Lou Dobbs. You're well within your rights to do that, and I won't disagree with you -- particularly since I'm still operating under a Jon Stewart-induced cloud of sanity.

One thing's for sure, though. Olbermann's heart is always in the right place.

But his wallet wasn't.

Olbermann was suspended indefinitely without pay on Friday by MSNBC, after Politico reported that Olbermann made three personal donations to Democratic political campaigns. Olbermann's donations, while in private and not made in the context of his show, ran afoul of NBC News policy -- a policy that covers employees of both NBC News and MSNBC.

The policy states that employees have to have prior permission to give to political causes. While it's true that fellow MSNBC host Joe Scarborough (one of two prominent conservative voices on MSNBC) gave to Republican candidates in 2006, that was before the current policy was in effect.

Pat Buchanan (MSNBC's other prominent conservative voice) has donated thousands of dollars to candidates himself, but NBC News makes an exception for him because he is an analyst and contributor, not a host.

I call bullshit on that; if you work for NBC News/MSNBC, you should play by the same rule regardless of your role. If we're going to suspend Olbermann for his personal political donations, then we should do the same to Buchanan.

However, I do not think MSNBC is in the wrong for suspending Olbermann. Olbermann violated NBC News policy, and he should pay a price for it. You can argue the validity of the policy in today's media climate, you can argue the severity of the penalty, but Olbermann violated a policy and deserves to be held accountable for it.

Not only did Olbermann's donations run afoul of NBC News policy, they also look bad. Olbermann donated the legal maximum of $2,400 to Arizona's Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the night after he interviewed the Congressman on Countdown. Rep. Grijalva has been on Olbermann's show several times -- particularly in the last few months talking about Arizona's immigration law.

Olbermann also gave $2,400 to Kentucky Democratic Senate candidate Jack Conway, who was a guest on Countdown in May.

Add to that the fact that Olbermann anchored MSNBC's Election Night coverage on Tuesday, and Olbermann never disclosed his donations as results came in and he led the coverage consisting of five people on the desk (Olbermann, Chris Mathews, Lawrence O'Donnell, Rachel Maddow and the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson) and Ed Schultz live in Las Vegas.

While that wasn't part of the official policy, it still looks bad from a journalism ethics standpoint. Olbermann isn't a traditional journalist; anyone who's watched Countdown knows that. But Olbermann does anchor hard news coverage on occasion (like election coverage and breaking news when warranted), and thus those standards apply.

Lack of disclosure, both to his bosses and to his viewers, was ultimately Olbermann's undoing.

I don't see this episode being the end of Olbermann's career with MSNBC -- his show is the highest-rated on the network, and his show's ratings have tripled in the past two years. Olbermann is largely responsible for the television success of Maddow and O'Donnell, and in a lot of circles, he's the face of MSNBC.

Still, this was a mistake on Olbermann's part, and he deserves to be held accountable for his actions. If nothing else, this episode illustrates yet again how MSNBC is not in fact the liberal equivalent of Fox News; whereas Fox News has no guideline against political donations, and even encourages the likes of Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck to shill for candidates on-air (be it television or radio), MSNBC does not.

Big picture, MSNBC is still showing some journalistic integrity. When Olbermann returns to his studio, both he and the network will be better off.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Road Ahead

I'm not gonna lie; Tuesday night sucked.

While I wasn't surprised the Republicans took back control of the House of Representatives and made gains in the Senate, I held out hope that voter turnout and other factors would stem the tide. But that didn't happen, leaving us with a divided government heading into 2012, and a bunch of questions I don't know the answers to.

Unlike the pundits, though, I admit that I don't know.

I suppose the first question to be asked is: what happened? How did Democrats lose so many seats just two years after a massive wave brought them into power? Was it voter turnout, anger over the economy, simple election patterns proven over the course of time?

Perhaps a little bit of everything. We know the majority party almost always loses seats in the first midterm election after a new presidential administration -- particularly when economic conditions are so poor -- just as we know midterm turnouts tend to be smaller and favor conservatives. These are trends and facts proven by history, and to some degree, they came to bear once again Tuesday night.

The problem isn't necessarily that the Democrats didn't do anything with their two years of power in the legislative and executive branches -- in fact, they did a whole bunch of stuff -- but we're talking politics, not policy.

So who's to blame? In a word, everyone.

President Obama is to blame for failing to use his immense personal popularity and his considerable communicative skills to truly accentuate just what the Democrats' accomplishments mean for people. Simply put, he lost the message.

Republicans in Congress are to blame for their constant, unbending obstruction. Constant filibusters, a steadfast refusal to compromise, even as Democrats adopted long-held GOP beliefs (individual health insurance mandate, anyone?) and the simple belief that they would win at the polls by simply saying "no" and letting the economy fester.

Blue Dog Democrats for muscling their way through Congress to further water down legislation -- in the House, they forced the stimulus to shrink and tried to shove stricter anti-choice measures into health care reform. In the Senate, they nearly tanked health care reform because of their opposition to the public option.

The rest of the Democrats are to blame for a) capitulating to the Republicans and the Blue Dogs, essentially taking the mandate given to them by the voters and throwing it in the trash, and b) for also failing to adequately articulate their accomplishments to the public.

Voters are to blame, either for staying home or for letting their anger over current conditions sway their vote away from sanity. I wonder how many disaffected progressives or young voters went out and voted for a Republican or a Tea Party candidate, simply because they were mad about how things were going.

Then there's the media, the perpetual conflictinator, to borrow a phrase. Corporate-owned and more interested in the daily battles of which party is winning which battle, instead of really focusing on the issues at hand. The pundits and bloggers can scratch their heads all they want over Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity this past Saturday, but ultimately, the Comedy Central funny man had a point.

See? Plenty of blame to go around. But blame really doesn't get us anywhere, aside from the short-term emotional satisfaction of just letting off some steam. The question remains: where does the country go from here?

Hell, where do progressives go from here?

There is some good news to be had from Tuesday night. Democrats did maintain control of the Senate -- though it's a wonder if that'll mean anything, given that chamber's 60-vote default thresholdto get anything done -- and there are a number of governors' races that swung blue. Jerry Brown beat Meg Whitman (and her oodles and oodles of cash) in California, while it appears Pat Quinn might win in Illinois.

Then there's Senator Harry Reid defeating Tea Party darling Sharron Angle, Chris Coons upending Christine O'Donnell in Delaware and an intriguing fight in Alaska that could sink Tea Party favorite Joe Miller in favor of ... write-in Lisa Murkowski?

By the way, the last time a write-in candidate won a Senate race, the Giants won the World Series. Guess who won the World Series this year. Just sayin' ...

Also, while the GOP won back the House, it did not acquire a veto-proof majority, so if the party makes good on its threat to repeal some of the accomplishments of the past two years, or look to do something as crazy as, say, abolish the Department of Education, President Obama can sink those proposals with the stroke of a pen.

It will be interesting going forward to see a) how Democrats handle the lame-duck session over the next two months, and b) how does Republican leadership handle the influx of Tea Party candidate?

Do Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Reid work to push through some more legislative priorities before the new Congress is sworn in and we likely say hi to Speaker John Boehner (ugh, that hurt to write ...)? Do the Tea Partiers hold true to their beliefs, or can Senator Mitch McConnell and Speaker Boehner corrall them into an effective governing body?

Or do we have gridlock for the next two years while the GOP tries everything it can to ensure President Obama doesn't win re-election in 2012?

I honestly have no idea.

But here's the pep talk version of this post. I know things suck right now, progressives and liberals. Last night stung, I won't lie. I was mad last night, and I wasn't really sure who to direct that anger toward. But Election Night 2010 was not the end of the road; it was but another step in this messy process we call politics.

We knew we'd possibly lose the House and see our majority in the Senate shrink. This isn't a shock. But where do we go from here?

Well, we appear to have our work cut out for us. The fact that we have to start calling people like Rand Paul and Marco Rubio "Senator" is a scary thought, but it's the reality we have -- just as we now have a Congress without the likes of Alan Grayson and Russ Feingold. We still have a voice, and we need to start putting that voice to good use again. We need to continue fighting for the causes and the candidates we believe in, whether that's through party establishment or through outside groups like MoveOn.org.

We have to hold our elected officials, whether we voted for them or not, accountable. We have to begin voter mobilization efforts now, to ensure that turnout isn't a problem again in 2012. The media will likely paint Tuesday's election results as a test for President Obama, and they're not wrong, but this will be a test for us as well.

We must remain strong, we must remain vigilant. We cannot let these results, expected as they were, to deter us from fighting for the change we voted for two years ago. We cannot let a Republican-controlled House of Representatives prevent us from fighting for the common man. Jobs, equal rights, affordable health care -- these are among our causes, and if we truly want to see them enacted, we have to keep fighting.

It won't be easy, it won't be quick. But what worth fighting ever is? We cannot sit on the sidelines and let things happen; we have to go out and make them happen. We have a future to shape in this country, and I refuse to sit back and let the regressive party be the one who does the molding.

I leave you with words from President Obama, words he delivered on Election Night in 2008, after he'd won the presidential nomination. They were appropriate then, and they are even more so now.

"The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America - I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you - we as a people will get there."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

If You Stay Home Tuesday ...

If you're undecided about voting on Tuesday, if you've been disappointed by everything that's happened the last two years, if by some stroke of insanity you are considering staying home next week, then please, watch this video and forward it to anyone you know who might sit out Election Day this year.

This is too important; there is too much at stake. Watch, share and for the love of all that is good and holy, VOTE!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Respecting the President of the United States

When I was a child, I was taught that the office of the President of the United States of America was something to be revered. Regardless of who held that office, regardless of your feelings about that person's policies, the office commanded respect unlike any other.

To a point, the President of the United States was considered a hero. Children I went to school with grew up wanting to be the president.

I don't see that anymore. I don't know if it's a result of the 24/7 news cycle, brought on by cable outlets and the Internet, or if it's the mass explosion of vitriolic, right-wing public "discourse." But the office of the President no longer commands such respect -- even, it seems, from those who are supposed to be the president's base.

If one follows the media narrative, a president's supporters should be in lockstep agreement with everything an administration says or does; any deviation from the administration's agenda is seen by many as betrayal and a lack of respect. Members of the opposing party are shown as -- and even expected to be -- rude and disrespectful.

These days, if you disagree with President Obama -- according to the media, at least -- you hate him personally and think him a Marxist, a socialist ... whatever Tea Party-inspired insult you can imagine.

In the days of President Bush, and in one of the rare instances in which the false narrative of "both sides do it" holds some truth, there were comparisons from the fringe on the left to Hitler, Nazis, The Joker ... even a picture depicting President Bush as a vampire feeding on Lady Liberty.

Apparently, one can ignore the prestige of the office of the President if you have a deep-seeded hatred for the person holding that office. I strongly disagree with just about everything President Bush did, and in some cases, I feel a criminal investigation of his administration is justified, but respect for the office he held prevents me from stooping to such seemingly accepted levels.

The office always deserves respect, because the President of the United States represents the entire country, not simply the portion of the electorate which voted for him. That respect does in fact transfer to the person holding the office; even if you vehemently disagree with a White House decision or policy stance, that respect should still hold.

If we as a country cannot respect our democratically-elected leader, then how can we expect the rest of the world to respect us?

Respect means no name-calling, no Nazi comparisons (there goes half of Glenn Beck's show), no vitriolic language. In today's climate, respect doesn't mean liberals have to be in lock-step with President Obama; I'm certainly not. But part of that respect is holding the administration accountable for its promises and making sure President Obama lives up to his word.

Respecting the President does not mean being his cheerleader. No president, regardless of party, needs that; it does nothing to help this country move forward.

Besides, the image of Keith Olbermann in a skirt waving pom-poms is a tad frightening.

As a teenager, I was quite conservative, and as such, I disagreed with President Clinton on virtually every issue. But he was the President of the United States, and I was taught that anyone in that position deserved respect and admiration. If I had a chance to meet anyone who was once president, I would jump at that chance, regardless of my personal political feelings.

Honestly, how often can you say you met a president? There's a reason these men are still called "Mr. President," even after they've left the White House.

Consider it this way; Michael Vick spent almost two years in prison for his role in a dog-fighting ring. Now that he's out of prison and back in the NFL, fans are on his side again, cheering him as he makes plays on the football field and seemingly forgetting what he did.

I'm not saying Vick doesn't deserve a second chance, but what does it say about this country when a convicted dogfighter is cheered, yet President Obama is called a socialist and jeered for trying to make health care more affordable for everyone?

It is possible to disagree with a president without being disagreeable and vitriolic; if the modern right wing realized this and actually employed such respect, we'd all be better off. As for the left, respect includes making sure the administration doesn't go back on its promises; when I write the White House asking it to live up to its word on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," that's not disrespect or betrayal, that's asking President Obama to do what he said he'd do.

Sadly, such respect and substantive discourse wouldn't fit Fox News' narrative, nor would it make today's corporate-owned mainstream media any money.

And really, who needs respect when there's a profit to be made?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fierce Advocate, My Ass

Tuesday's victory when it comes to the death of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" will, at the very least, be delayed. That's because word came on Thursday that the Justice Department will appeal U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips' ruling that enforcement of the policy prohibiting openly homosexual soldiers from serving be immediately stopped.

Her ruling gave the DOJ 60 days to appeal.

Let me be up-front and say I have no idea how much input President Obama and his advisers in the White House have when it comes to determining how the Justice Department operates. The DOJ does have the obligation to defend this nation's laws while they're on the books, even if the individuals disagree with said law.

That said, Judge Phillips' 60-day window says, to me, that the Justice Department had the option of letting the decision stand, and the fact that the department has decided not to puts this squarely on the shoulders of Attorney General Eric Holder -- and rightly or wrongly, President Obama.

In many ways, the Justice Department is an extension of a presidential administration, so if the DOJ is appealing Judge Phillips' ruling, the buck ultimately stops with President Obama.

Who campaigned on repealing DADT.

Who promised to repeal DADT in his State of the Union address back in January.

Who has called himself a fierce advocate for repeal of DADT.

But ... the actions are not matching up with the rhetoric. President Obama has repeatedly expressed his preference that Congress repeal the law. On the surface, that makes sense, since DADT was first passed by Congress when Bill Clinton was president. However, in practice, it's not that simple.

There's a Pentagon review, and when the House of Representatives passed a DADT repeal last month, it was contingent on that review. There's also the matter of the Senate failing to pass the repeal, as Senate Republicans -- and the Democrats from Arkansas -- filibustered the entire defense spending bill solely because of the DADT repeal and the DREAM Act.

Simply put, Congress failed. But because of how the Constitution frames our government, there were other options for repeal. President Obama could've issued an executive order halting enforcement of DADT until such a time that repeal was passed. He didn't.

The courts have heard lawsuits challenging DADT's constitutionality (brought forth by the Log Cabin Republicans), and Judge Phillips ruled DADT was in fact unconstitutional -- which paved the way for the death of this horrifically bigoted policy.

Now the Obama administration is defending DADT. And the Defense of Marriage Act.

Fierce advocate, my ass.

I know I'm beating a dead horse here. I know I've said all of this before, twice on Wednesday. But this bears repeating, because when it comes to America, nothing trumps equality. If every single one of us is not equal under the law, whether we are civilian or military, gay or straight, then we as a country are not all we profess to be -- nor are we all that we can be.

If we are not equal, we are not America. As long as DADT is on the books, we are not equal. President Obama, if you want DADT to go away, make it go away. Stop passing the buck and delaying what should be inevitable, because whatever reason you give isn't good enough.

Equality or nothing. It's that simple.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The White House Doesn't Get It

Following Tuesday's landmark decision in which U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips ordered that the military stop enforcing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," many have wondered whether the Justice Department would appeal within the 60-day timeframe.

While there's still no official word on that decision, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs offered this during an off-camera exchange with reporters on Wednesday (per The Huffington Post's Sam Stein):

I think that the courts have demonstrated that the time is ticking on the policy of Don't Ask Don't Tell. It is not whether, but it is the process of how.

The president strongly believes that this policy is unjust, that it is detrimental to our national security, and that it discriminates against those who are willing to die for their county. And the president strongly believes that it's time for this policy to end. The best way to end it is for the Senate to follow the lead of the House of Representatives so that that end can be implemented in a fashion that is consistent with our obligations in fighting two wars.

Absent that action, the president has again set up a process to end this policy. And I think the bottom line is that recent court rulings have demonstrated to Congress that it's time to act and end this policy; they demonstrated that time is running out on the policy of Don't Ask Don't Tell, and the bottom line is this is a policy that is going to end. It's not whether it is going to end but the process by which it is going to end.

Such flowery rhetoric from the Obama administration is nothing new; President Obama has been promising to end DADT since he was on the campaign trail, and he once called himself a "fierce advocate" for the LGBT community. But the actions have not followed the words, and Gibbs' statement today only reinforces the White House's unwillingness to act.

If President Obama was as fierce an advocate about repealing DADT as he claimed, he would've issued an executive order halting enforcement of the policy pending Congressional repeal. If he was as fierce about repealing DADT, President Obama would've come out swinging when the Senate failed to take up the issue last month.

If President Obama is as fierce about repeal as he claims, he will order the Justice Department not to appeal Judge Phillips' ruling.

Gibbs' statement -- which essentially echoes the views of the president -- still claims that Congressional intervention is the preferred method. On the surface, this argument makes sense; DADT was originally passed by Congress 17 years ago, so the thinking goes that Congress should repeal it.

But while the House of Representatives held up its part of the bargain -- passing a repeal contingent on a Pentagon review due to be complete in December -- the Senate (surprise, surprise) dropped the ball. The repeal, included in the Defense Authorization Bill, never even came up for a vote ... because Republicans successfully filibustered it.

The pro-war political party filibustered defense funding to keep gays from serving openly. And the White House did nothing about it.

Being a fierce advocate for equality does not mean giving inspirational speeches and delivering teary-eyed prose. It means acting on making sure this nation's laws and policies treat everyone equally. Equality does not care how DADT dies, just that it does. The White House needs to get its head out of the sand, understand that its precious Senate can't even scratch its own itches and live up to its promises.

President Obama, let this horrible policy die, like you said you would.

The End of DADT?

A federal judge in San Diego, Calif. ruled on Tuesday that the military must immediately cease enforcement of the policy known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which prevents homosexual men and women from openly serving.

The Justice Department has 60 days to appeal the ruling.

In issuing her decision, U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips perhaps did more to end the 17-year-old discriminatory policy than President Obama or the Democrat-controlled Congress. You'll recall that repealing DADT was prominent part of Obama's campaign, and he often called himself a "fierce advocate" for ending the policy -- even as he refused to sign an executive order ceasing enforcement of the policy pending Congressional repeal.

Speaking of that repeal, the House of Representatives passed it, while the Senate -- thanks to obstructionist Republicans -- failed.

Judge Phillips had already ruled DADT unconstitutional on Sept. 9, after a lawsuit brought forth by the Log Cabin Republicans. She argued the policy violated due process rights, freedom of speech and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances guaranteed by the First Amendment.

There's that Constitution thing conservatives claim to love again ...

Tuesday's decision came after Judge Phillips gave both sides time to provide input regarding an injunction. It is the latest development in what has become a political hot potato, with several high-ranking government officials saying they oppose the policy but not really acting toward its abolishing. President Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Charmain of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen have all voiced support for repealing DADT, but none of them have taken action.

And no, this so-called Pentagon review that's supposed to end in December doesn't count.

From a governmental standpoint, Judge Phillips was within her rights to make this decision; as laid out by the Constitution, the judicial branch has the power to question the constitutionality of a law when it is brought before the courts -- like, say, in a lawsuit. That's what DADT is -- a law, passed by Congress during the Clinton administration.

The right can scream about a lefty, activist judge all it wants -- like it did back in August, when California's Prop 8 was ruled unconstitutional -- but Judge Phillips did not overstep her boundaries.

But while Judge Phillips' ruling is valid on constitutional grounds, it was also correct in terms of equality. We like to call America the land of equality, a country where everyone is treated the same regardless of their ethnic, racial, religious or sexual differences. The reality doesn't reflect that ideal, though, with policies that kicked capable soldiers out of the military for simply being gay and preventing same-sex couples from marrying.

The slow but seemingly inevitable death of DADT is a step toward that equality, but the fight isn't over. If the Justice Department appeals the ruling, then the policy can again be enforced. And with Congress dragging its feet (especially the Senate), the courts might be the best, if not only, avenue toward full equality in the military.

Expanding to a broader view, the courts might also be our best bet for things like marriage equality; a federal judge in Massachusetts has already deemed parts of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, on top of the Prop 8 decision in California. Congress is apparently unwilling to tackle this issue (and would be even less willing should Republicans regain control next month), while President Obama has not been nearly as fierce as he'd like us to believe.

So maybe the courts are our only option.

This was what the Constitution intended when it created the three separate branches of government: a system of checks and balances that allow fairness and progress to survive, without grinding everything to a halt. It's amazing what government is capable of when we're not knee-deep in partisan gridlock and the battle for the most outrageous soundbite.

Equality will eventually win out -- and Tuesday was an excellent step in that direction.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Foreign Money Buying U.S. Elections?

When the Supreme Court issued its Citizens United decision, thus ending nearly a century of campaign finance law, the outrage was justifiable and spread across the entire political spectrum. Liberals, moderates and conservatives all blanched at the thought of unlimited corporate money funneling into the electoral process; many rightly predicted dire consequences in future elections.

Fast-forward to now, less than a month before the 2010 midterms, and it looks like a lot of those fears were well-founded. After all, you've got entities like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Karl Rove-backed American Crossroads pouring millions upon millions of dollars in attack ads against Democrats, and the website Think Progress has investigated the source of that money.

Investigated because under the law after Citizens United, organizations like the Chamber of Commerce don't have to disclose who their donors are.

Still, using money from foreign entities to fund elections in the United States in legal, and Think Progress has found that some of the money used in those attack ads -- $75 million worth from the Chamber alone -- might've come from foreign companies.

That's right; according to Think Progress, the Chamber of Commerce is using money brought in from companies in India and Bahrain, to name a few, to run attack ads on Democrats.

The Chamber has denied the allegations on numerous occasions, and Rove went absolutely bonkers on Fox News after President Obama and Vice President Biden used the reality of foreign money in our elections in their stump speeches over the past week. But don't be fooled; Think Progress has done solid work reporting this issue -- far better than the mainstream media -- and given the state of the right-wing today, would this really surprise you?

For a simple breakdown of the issue, Think Progress has created a graph breaking down how the Chamber's foreign contributions might be funneling into political attack ads. Check out the graphic here.

Like I said, this isn't a surprise. We knew this might be reality once Citizens United became the law of the land. Nothing short of a constitutional amendment undoing the Supreme Court's decision will ultimately undo the damage, as campaign finance reform is next to impossible; even passing legislation requiring full disclosure of political donations might not be enough in this environment.

The right-wing noise machine is getting louder, richer and more powerful in its opposition to President Obama and Democrats in general. Combine that with the passion and anger of the Tea Party, and it's not too hard to imagine the future if the extreme right and its corporate backers the world over get their way.

We fought so hard for change two years ago, and the extreme right is threatening to undo everything we've accomplished -- and stave off what we can accomplish in the coming years. It's definitely an uphill battle at this point, but the fight for equality and fair economics in this country must be waged in full.

The other side might out-spend us, but we have to make sure they don't out-vote or out-fight us. They want to take our country back, we have to move it forward. Do you want foreign conglomerates deciding what happens to America, or are you going to decide for yourself?

I'm choosing the latter. I hope you're with me.Justify Full

Friday, October 1, 2010

Election Day Pep Talk

Election Day is Nov. 2, with a number of seats in the U.S. Senate up for grabs -- as well as the entire House of Representatives (this is what happens when your term is only two years long). Conventional wisdom, for a number of reasons, points to the Republican Party making huge gains in a month's time -- maybe even enough to win back a majority in at least one chamber.

If you think President Obama has a hard time getting his agenda through Congress now ...

Washington thinking is that the party in the White House always suffers in the first midterm election. There's also the reality of the GOP base always coming out to vote, regardless of the election -- an enthusiasm aided by the rise of the vitriolic and free-from-reality Tea Party. Then there's the thought that young voters -- so pivotal in President Obama's win in 2008 -- don't show up for midterms.

There's also the thinking that the Democratic base is disappointed in the Obama administration, thinking the reforms passed don't go far enough and the base might just stay home. Low Democratic turnout, combined with an energized Republican base ... well, you get the idea.

Who knows, all of that thinking might be true ... if we let it. I'll be the first to admit, a lot of what the administration has accomplished didn't go as far as I liked. I thought the stimulus should've gone farther. I wish health care reform had contained a public option, or at the very least a lowering of the eligibility age for Medicare.

And there are Democrats who should pay the price for watering down legislation time and again -- looking at you, Max Baucus (Mont.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Joe Lieberman (Conn.). I've said before I don't largely blame President Obama for the relative failings of Congress (though one could make the argument that he's gotten anything done, given how dysfunctional the Senate is), but it would've been nice to see him placate his base more than trying to reach across the aisle to satisfy the immature corporatists.

Still, if we let the Democrats lose next month ... is that something we really want? Do you want to see the likes of Rand Paul (who rails against the Civil Rights Act), Sharron Angle (who talks of "Second Amendment remedies") or Christine O'Donnell (take your pick) in the Senate? These are people who oppose abortion (even in cases of rape or incest), want to privatize Social Security and Medicare and, in some cases, abolish the entire Department of Education.

Because really, who needs school? Not the GOP!

The Democrats have proven ineffective on a number of fronts (not even bothering to vote on the Bush tax cuts before the election?! That's a winner right there! The polls say so!), but their hands are somewhat tied since the GOP is saying "No!" to literally everything -- and in the Senate, a simple majority is no longer enough. The Republicans are using arcane Senate rules to force every bill or administration appointment to break a filibuster -- so everything in the Senate needs 60 votes instead of the simple majority of 51.

Hundreds of bills have passed the House, only to die waiting for the Senate. You think that's gonna get better if the Republicans pick up seats in November?

I want to address the first-time voters from 2008 specifically for a moment: I know you were excited to vote for President Obama and the Democrats' agenda, and I'm glad you did. Being involved in the political process is important, because of the impact decisions in Washington can have. I don't know how many of you thought things were magically going to be okay when Barack Obama won two years ago, but it doesn't work that way.

Change is difficult in Washington, one might argue impossible. This country's problems, vast as they are, were never going to be fixed in two years' time -- particularly with the obstruction the president faces. This is a lengthy, difficult process, and if you back out now, a lot of the changes that have been made could be in jeopardy.

I agree the health care bill doesn't go far enough, but it does a lot of good things. Same with the Wall Street reform bill -- it establishes a Consumer Protection Agency that will be run by Elizabeth Warren -- one of the greatest advocates the middle class can ask for. The stimulus, small as it was, succeeded, and under President Obama, private-sector jobs have grown for eight straight months.

The recovery is underway. It's moving at a glacial pace, but it is underway. Don't stay home on Nov. 2 and risk losing everything the administration has achieved. The GOP wants to go back to the same policies that got us into this mess in the first place; their "Pledge to America" is more of the same, and it would gut nearly 1 million jobs from this country -- not to mention slash funding for such things as education, cancer research and firefighters.

If it doesn't serve corporate interests, the GOP wants nothing to do with it.

Yes, getting things done is almost impossible even with vast majorities in both houses of Congress. But just think ... if the Republicans win control back, if we start calling John Boehner "Speaker of the House," how much do you think is going to get done?

Under that scenario, I see President Obama using the veto pen. A lot. I also see potential impeachment hearings on the horizon, because let's face it, considering the level of obstruction the GOP has displayed since President Obama took office, would you really put it past them to try that?

Especially considering Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is currently blocking a bill that would provide nearly $1 billion of promised aid to Haiti. That's right, Sen. Coburn, by himself, is keeping aid money from earthquake-ravaged Haiti because he thinks he can score political points by fighting "big government."

If we let the Republicans back in control, that's the sort of thing we'll be getting. Stay home at your own peril ...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Liberal Reading List

Just a list of the political books I'm currently reading:

C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy by Jeff Sharlet

The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power by Jeff Sharlet

American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right by Markos Moulitsas

The Promise: President Obama, Year One
by Jonathan Alter

Renegade: the Making of a President
by Richard Wolffe

What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception
by Scott McClellan

The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Barack Obama

And some books on the horizon I'd like to read:

Entertaining Politics: New Political Television and Civic Culture by Jeffrey P. Jones (one of my communication and mass media professors at Old Dominion University)

When the Press Fails: Political Power and the News Media from Iraq to Katrina by W. Lance Bennett

Entertaining Politics: Satiric Television and Political Engagement by Jeffrey P. Jones

Third World America: How Our Politicians are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream by Arianna Huffington

Taking on the System: Rules for Radical Change in a Digital Era by Markos Moulitsas

Pitchforks and Torches: The Worst of the Worst, from Beck, Bill and Bush to Palin and Other Posturing Republicans by Keith Olbermann

Conservatives Without Conscience by John W. Dean

A Personal Case for Public Health Insurance

I understand that a lot of people consider the debate over health care in this country over now that reform passed earlier this year and many of the provisions took effect last week. But those who are truly progressive and devote much of their time and energy to activism understand that the fight for progress and fairness is never-ending -- particularly in the face of conservative opposition as hell-bent as today's Republican/Tea Party.

Because of that, I felt it was important to share a few personal stories to accentuate why I'm so strongly in favor of America adopting a public health care system that covers everyone. There are already public coverage systems for the elderly (Medicare), the poor (Medicaid), veterans (the VA) and in some circles, children (S-CHIP) -- but I'm talking for everyone.

Why should the rest of us have to fight the greedy insurance companies who answer to Wall Street before the patients?

That's right, I want Medicare for All. Go on, call me a socialist. You wouldn't be the first.

My grandmother is 76 years old and is on Medicare. Two years ago, she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. A lengthy bout of chemotherapy and radiation got rid of the cancer, but the treatment indirectly led to congestive heart failure. Cue all the medication.

Last month, a colonoscopy revealed a mass in her colon, one that was later found to be cancerous. So she had surgery and spent a week in the hospital, going from intensive care to high-level care to a regular room before she was discharged, cancer-free and possibly avoiding chemo.

During all these ordeals, throughout the past two years of doctor visits and bad diagnoses and good outcomes, how many bills do you think she was sent? None. Not a single one. Two years of cancer and heart problems, and my grandmother hasn't paid a dime.

How many times do you think the doctors have come to her, saying they can't perform a test or give a certain treatment because of the cost and insurance's unwillingness to cover it? Not once. My grandmother has received the best treatment possible in a timely manner, and not once have the doctors or she worried about how much it would cost.

For my grandmother, there's been no cost.

My grandfather, all 77 years of him, served in the Army and fought in Korea -- which means he has access to VA health care. He's been diabetic for the past 16 years, on top of a heart attack and a stroke. My grandfather had triple-bypass surgery several years back. He's been treated at some of the finest hospitals on the East Coast, going to both Georgetown and Johns Hopkins.
How many bills do you think he's seen? None.

How many times does he go without a treatment or checkup because insurance won't pay? Never.

And let's not forget: for the first 23 years of my life, I was covered under TRICARE because my father served in the Air Force. Open-heart surgery when I was 4? Covered. Every subsequent check-up? Covered. Shots for school? Glasses so I could see the chalkboard? Physical so I could try out for the high school baseball team? Covered, covered, covered.

But once I turned 23, I was on my own, thrown to the wolves of private health insurance.

Imagine the peace of mind that comes from knowing you don't have to worry about the cost of treatment. My grandparents have never had to sit in a hospital bed, wondering where the payment was going to come from, or when the call from the insurance company would come, telling them they were no longer cost-effective enough to cover.

All they had to worry about was getting better. The comfort in knowing the best care would be given, with no thought or worry about money, has to be so uplifting. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans don't have that luxury -- whether they have insurance or not. What kind of country lets its citizens fall through the cracks like that?

I won't sit here and pretend that Medicare, Medicaid and VA are perfect, but they're a damn sight better than the greedy insurance executives who turn down cancer treatment or cancel policies because they're not making enough millions. Need hip replacement surgery? Sorry, the overlords in Wall Street won't allow it.

Greed might be good, but not when it comes at the expense of someone's health and life. My grandparents don't have to worry about that, and neither did I until I turned 23. Wouldn't it be great if everyone in this country had that peace of mind? The comfort of knowing that no matter what happened, they wouldn't have to worry about a hospital stay costing them their home or their life savings?

Shouldn't that be something this country aspires to? Instead of demonizing public health insurance as socialism or a government takeover, or a goddamn death panel, shouldn't we look at it as a better way to care for our citizens than the current profit-based model?

It makes perfect sense to me, and it makes perfect sense to my grandparents. When will the rest of the country catch up?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Just How Small Are We Talking?

To a man, the GOP loves to talk about everything they do for small businesses. Tax cuts so small businesses can (theoretically) hire more workers, stuff like that.

But what constitutes a small business in the eyes of the GOP?

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann addressed that issue on Wednesday night's edition of Countdown, with a hard-hitting report roughly 11 minutes long. To summarize: a lot of companies you thought were large corporations are actually small businesses when it comes to tax laws.

Hell, Olbermann himself is a small business.

Long and short of it, we're being had. Watch the report, then do your part to make sure as many other people see it as possible. We constantly bitch about how awful journalism is today, and how the mainstream media is ignoring actual facts. Now that we have a mainstream media outlet doing actual investigative reporting that relies on substance instead of partisan bickering, let's not let this go to waste.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Equality Now, Dammit!

What does it say about this country when Lady GaGa has more conviction than nearly half of the United States Senate?

Not to take anything away from the pop megastar, who has been a much fiercer advocate for LGBT rights than President Obama; Lady GaGa's constant pressure on Congress to repeal the discriminatory military policy known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" -- in particular the rally she attended in Maine on Monday -- was designed to lead the Senate to pass the Defense Authorization Bill ... of which the DADT repeal was a part.

But the GOP -- aided by Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) -- filibustered the entire bill on Tuesday (the first time such a thing has happened), solely so the DADT repeal did not have a chance to come up for a vote.

That's right; the pro-war conservatives blocked a defense budget simply to stick it to homosexuals.

I'm usually hesitant to blame President Obama for the fecklessness of Congress -- especially the Senate. Due in large part to the separation of powers as outlined in the U.S. Constitution, there's not much the president can do without legislation passing through Congress -- and no amount of hand-wringing or persuasion would get some of today's Congressmen to vote in the interest of the people. To a large extent, President Obama can't be blamed for that.

But in this instance, it falls at his feet. President Obama has called himself a fierce advocate for LGBT rights -- even as his Justice Department defends the Defense of Marriage Act and continues to throw dedicated men and women out of the military when they're outed.

Not very advocate-y, is it?

The House of Representatives has already passed a repeal of DADT, pending a Pentagon review of the policy that is slated to wrap up by December. The language in the Senate's Defense Authorization Bill would've done the same thing. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have both spoken out in favor of repeal.

The judicial branch has even ruled DADT unconstitutional. So why are we still applying the policy?

There are a few options going forward; the repeal can be brought up for a vote in the Senate again, likely after the midterm elections. Considering the bleak prospects for Democrats come Nov. 2, though, that's not a likely prospect.

President Obama can, and should, sign an executive order immediately ceasing enforcement of the policy, until such a time that Congress passes the repeal. DADT is not a policy drafted by the military; it is a law passed by Congress during the Clinton Administration, and it must ultimately be taken off the books the same way it was enacted.

President Truman signed an executive order in 1948 halting racial discrimination in the military. He didn't wait for a Pentagon review, he didn't take into account how the soldiers on the ground would feel; he did what was right and made sure that full equality applied to all of this country's soldiers.

President Obama needs to do the same. If the Senate won't do the right thing, then the White House must.

Frankly, any soldier so bothered by the prospect of a homosexual soldier that their performance would be affected has no business defending this nation anyway. As Lady GaGa said on Monday, maybe the prejudiced soldier should be sent home instead of the gay soldier. Do we really want to be defended by a bunch of bigots?

No one in this country can claim that we are a nation of equality -- at least, not with a straight face -- when we have such policies as DADT and DOMA on the books. The opposition will always frame this as an issue of morality and religious superiority, when in fact this is a matter of equality and rights for all -- constitutional protections that are the birthright of everyone in this country and are not up for debate or a vote.

Everyone in this country -- gay or straight, Christian or atheist, Democrat or Republican -- has the same rights and privileges, and laws such as DADT fly in the face of the very core of our country. How can we trumpet our land as one of equality when we have such blatantly discriminatory laws on the books? How can we preach equality when we kick out honorable men and women from the military when we find out they're gay? How are we equal when one couple can marry but another cannot?

DOMA and DADT are unconstitutional; plain and simple. The GOP loves to scream about "Big Government," when in reality, these discriminatory policies they champion are the very definition of the "Big Government" they claim to despise.

Lady GaGa and most of the American people get that. Why is it the people who can actually vote this archaic law out of existence don't?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Right-Wing Theme Song?

I'll be out of town next week -- and oddly enough, without internet -- so my last pre-trip blog post will be another music video that I thought pertinent. It's from Serj Tankian's first solo CD Elect the Dead, and the song is called "The Unthinking Majority."

Depending on how you interpret the lyrics, it could be a theme song for the Tea Party. Or an explanation for how George W. Bush won a second term.

A sample of the lyrics:

We don't need your hypocrisy
Execute real democracy
Post-industrial society
The unthinking majority

Controlling tools of your system
Making life more tolerable
Making life more tolerable

I believe that you're wrong
Insinuating they hold the bomb
Clearing the way for the oil brigade
Clearing the way for the oil brigade

Enjoy the song, have fun and be safe, defenders of democracy. I'll be back in a little more than a week; hopefully our country hasn't completely gone to shit by then.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Income Inequality in America

Slate.com has posted a 10-page slideshow of graphs and charts depicting what is referred to as "the Great Divergence" -- a period since the 1970s in which the income disparity between America's middle class and rich has grown.

The Great Divergence came on the heels of what is called the Great Compression -- a time when the difference between incomes for the middle class and richest earners shrank.

The images accompanied an three-part article on Slate.com written by Timothy Noah titled "The United States of Inequality." Rather than offer my own insights with regards to the numbers -- some of which aren't exactly in my wheelhouse -- I merely post the article and the slideshow in the hopes that you will take the time to read them and draw your own conclusions.

Mini-spoiler alert: the last slide does not look good for Republicans.

Read the full article here. View the slideshow here.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

In Defense of Education

For some reason, television commentator and all-around loon Glenn Beck (who I try like hell to ignore) has begun an assault against colleges and universities. Apparently, he thinks they're "re-education camps," pumping out a veritable smorgasbord of communists and Mao sympathizers.

Not that is particularly new; the right has long held a disdain for education and critical thought. It's only natural, since knowledge and thinking for one's self is the perfect weapon for the ills of modern convservatism.

I'd like to turn your attention to a fantastic blog post in response to Beck's recent attacks, a sterling defense of education and intellectualism. The proudest accomplishment of my life is my graduation from Old Dominion University in 2006; not necessarily because I'm gainfully employed in my field of study, but because of how I grew as a person while I matriculated.

Because of my experiences in college, I will spend the rest of my days looking to further myself intellectually -- both in and out of the classroom. I'd imagine this education is largely responsible for the fact that I've gone from being conservative to quite liberal. And I understand why modern-day conservatives would hate that.

From the post:

What is it that you think goes on in the college classroom? Doubtless many of your audience have no firsthand experience themselves, but you should. You at least wanted to go to college. Didn't last long, from what I hear, but you tried. You even mentioned that you’re sending your son to college as well. Would you actually do that if you believed your own palavering about “reeducation camps?”

Of course not. But that’s not the point, is it? No, the point, to the extent there is one in your yammerings, is to scare your audience, to make them think some fictional phalanx of Marx-quoting philosophy profs are coming for their children. Because a scared populace is one that can be more easily manipulated, one that is more prone to believing the jabbering of a morning zoo radio disc jockey cum political messiah.

Read the full post and follow the blog here. You won't regret it.

"Liberal Media" Just a Myth

Chances are that if you've paid any attention to politics over the last 10 years or so, you've heard someone lament the rise of the "liberal media." This tag, uttered on cable news networks and conservative talk radio, is designed to lead one to believe the mainstream media leans to the political left, giving Democrats an unfair advantage in today's political discourse.

Never mind that conservatives have the backing of large corporations, some of which own media outlets.

The media today is anything but liberal -- a point that was driven home for me yet against Monday evening when I read an Associated Press story about the speech President Obama gave in Wisconsin on Labor Day.

Before I continue, a little Journalism 101, since I studied journalism and mass media in college. Writers are taught that the first four to five paragraphs of a news story should hit home the most important aspects of a story -- editors here are operating under the assumption that readers might not take in the full article, instead skimming over the first few paragraphs to get the gist of the story.

As such, the writer puts the most important information up high, leaving less significant details and some bit of context for later in the article -- if not for later articles.

Now, with that in mind, re-read the AP story in the above link. If you'll notice, the first paragraph mentions the speech, but the next four paragraphs focus on Republican opposition and the slim chances of the proposal passing Congress.

We don't find out the particulars of the president's proposal until the 18th paragraph of the story; so for a story that's supposedly about President Obama's new job-creation proposal, the article fails. More importantly, though, this sort of thing drives the narrative, and by placing the thought of Republican opposition ahead of the specifics of the proposal, the AP is helping drive the narrative away from facts -- thus helping conservatives.

I don't buy that this was a simple oversight; after all, editors are paid quite well to spot such journalistic deficiencies and fix them. Any editor worth a damn would've noticed this article's screwed-up priorities and called upon the writer to fix them. Especially for the Associated Press, an organization that distributes news stories to websites and newspapers all over the world.

You don't get much more mainstream than the AP.

Then again, real journalism is a dying animal these days; facts and true analysis often fall in favor of he-won-she-lost storylines and minutia that ultimately serves no purpose when the proverbial dust settles.

The Park 51 controversy, anyone?

But let's examine this myth of the liberal media more closely, shall we? Consider the following:

-An entire cable station, Fox News, is the de facto propaganda wing for the Republican Party. On top of a bevy of conservative commentators like Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Sarah Palin, the network's news hours are tinged with conservative rhetoric and there is a relative paucity of liberal ideas. The station doesn't even try to hide its affiliations.

-MSNBC, the supposed liberal opposite of Fox News, employs two prominent conservatives; former Congressman Joe Scarborough, who co-hosts the network's morning show "Morning Joe," and uber-conservative defender of the oppressed white majority Pat Buchanan. I realize MSNBC employs the likes of Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, but if it was really Fox's mirror image, would Buchanan really be on the payroll?

-Just about every television station, newspaper and website of note today is owned by a large conglomerate; by definition, corporations are conservative. Considering Viacom owns CBS and GE owns NBC News and the Tribune Company owns countless newspapers throughout the country, do you really think corporate shareholders would stomach their media outlets promoting a liberal agenda -- one that would probably harm their precious bottom line?

-Not that long ago, CNN had Erick Erickson on its payroll. Yes, that Erick Erickson -- he who created the conservative blog RedState and once referred to retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter a "goat-f***ing child molester" and called two U.S. Senators "health care suicide bombers." That's not even counting the time he called President Obama's reception of the Nobel Peace Prize "an affirmative action quota." And CNN gave this guy a job!

-Media narratives on cable news and the Internet no longer focus on the substance of real issues; it seems like every week brings a new controversy that does little more than distract us from the teetering economy, record foreclosures and other important matters. Instead of talking about unemployment, today's media focuses on a proposed community center in downtown Manhattan. Or a disgraced USDA worker whose comments before the NAACP were doctored to make her seem racist. Or a community service organization dedicated to helping low-income Americans being demonized with more misleading video. Or rumors that our democratically-elected president is either foreign or Muslim or both.

-The AP and select other news outlets do in fact debunk GOP myths and conservative talking points -- like the birther conspiracy -- but it's often days or weeks after the fact; by which point, the narrative has already gained enough steam that the debunking has little, if any, effect. There even comes a point where the debunking, no matter how necessary, only calls more attention to the nonsense it's disproving, thus fueling the conservative narrative even further and damaging both our political discourse and the prospects of real change taking effect.

-What determines the value of a news or opinion show on one of the cable news outlets? The credibility of the host and the quality of his or her content? If that were the case, The Rachel Maddow Show would be the highest-rated news show on cable TV. Ratings -- and advertising -- are king, because with ratings and advertising comes revenue ... followed by profits. And considering much of the mainstream media today is corporate-owned (see above), profits trump all else -- even truth. Why bother informing people when fear-mongering and lying makes so much more cash?

Liberal media is a myth; for every Olbermann or Maddow or The Nation, there's five Becks or Limbaughs or Weekly Standard and Christian Science Monitor. For the most part, liberal voices and voices of truth (even within the conservative movement) are ignored or marginalized; it's becoming more difficult these days to discern truth from spin, even if you're not watching Fox or reading the Wall Street Journal.

For further proof, let me provide a transcript. This is from Countdown with Keith Olbermann and it originally aired on MSNBC on Dec. 14, 2009. Olbermann was discussing Beck and O'Reilly's collective frothing over a Law & Order storyline that featured a caricature of today's right-wing media personalities. I quote from Olbermann (editing for childish name-calling -- while entertaining, it doesn't serve the overall point of this blog):

If Mr. Beck disagrees, or Mr. (Jonah) Goldberg disagrees, or Mr. O'Reilly disagrees, or Mr. (Andrew) Breitbart disagrees, and they think they are being crushed under the weight of this vast, left-wing media conspiracy, they can ...

Go on the (Rush) Limbaugh Show, where (Rush) will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or go on the Sean Hannity Show, where Sean will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or go on (Fox & Friends), where Brian Kilmeade will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or go on Mike Huckabee's show, where Mike will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or go on G. Gordon Liddy's radio show, where G. will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or go on Michael Medved's show, where Michael will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or go on Mark Levin's high-pitched radio show, where Mark will insist conservatives have no high-pitched voice in the media; or go on the Neil Boortz Show, where he will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or go on the Lou Dobbs Show, where Lou will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or go on the Laura Ingraham radio show, where Laura will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or go on the Neil Cavuto Show, where Neil will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or go on the John Stossel show, where John will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or get David Horowitz to write a column in which David will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or get Bill Kristol to write a column in which he insists conservatives have no voice in the media; or get (Ann Coulter) to write a column in which (Ann) insists conservatives have no voice in the media; or get Peggy Noonan to write a column, in which Peggy insists conservatives have no voice in the media; or get Jonah Goldberg to write a column in which Jonah insists his mom told him conservatives have no voice in the media; or get John Fund to write a column in which John insists conservatives have no voice in the media; or get Brent Bozell to write a column in which Brent insists conservatives have no voice in the media; or get Cal Thomas to write a column in which Cal will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or get Charles Krauthammer to write a column in which Charles will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or get George Will to write a column in which George will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or get Sarah Palin to post something somebody wrote for her on Facebook in which Sarah's ghostwriter insists conservatives have no voice in the media; or get Matt Drudge to steal somebody else's column in which somebody else will insist conservatives have no voice in the media; or pay Armstrong Williams cash to write a column in which Armstrong insists conservatives have no voice in the media, and then he'll expense it.

Because to conclude where we started, with Dick Wolff and Law & Order. In a right-wing dominated media system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the right-wing media who instigate crime, and the right-wing media who prosecute the imaginary liberal media.

Olbermann outlined 25 examples of prominent conservative voices in the media -- and not all of them populate the Fox News airwaves. Many of them, including Noonan and Will, appear weekly in my newspaper (Daily Press, Newport News, Va., owned by the Tribune Company). There are countless other examples to cite -- Olbermann neglected to mention Michelle Malkin, whose books on the evils of liberalism are readily available at Barnes & Noble and Borders, alongside a lot of the other names mentioned above -- but the point is made.

The media today is nowhere near liberal, no matter what the conservative noise machine tells you.