Thursday, July 22, 2010

Special Comment: Sherrod and the Right Wing Echo Chamber

Rather than offer my opinion of the whole Shirley Sherrod fiasco -- essentially a case where Fox News cried wolf (again) and everyone from the mainstream media to the White House panicked in response -- I give you a Special Comment from Wednesday night's edition of Countdown on MSNBC. Though Keith Olbermann is in the middle of his vacation, he took time from it to deliver a hard-hitting editorial taking everyone to task.

It is well worth the watch. Trust me.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Unemployment Benefits: The Saga Continues

It's fashionable to blame Republicans for the fact that the Senate has let unemployment benefits lapse for some 2.1 million Americans since last month, and you'd be well within your rights to do so. After all, the GOP has offered plenty of fodder.

-Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah insinuated that the unemployed are drug addicts.

-Nevada Senate hopeful Sharron Angle has said the jobs are out there, but the unemployed are just spoiled by their benefits.

-Kentucky Senate hopeful Rand Paul said the unemployed should just suck it up and take a lower-paying job instead of relying on unemployment benefits.

-Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, the minority whip, has also expressed on several occasions an opinion against unemployment benefits, citing everything from the deficit to the benefits inviting the unemployed to stop looking for work. Oddly, he doesn't think the deficit is a problem when it comes to the Bush tax cuts.

Like I said, plenty of fodder.

But there's another enemy when it comes to trying to extend an olive branch to the unemployed since jobs are still so hard to find, and he's right here in the Democrat's back yard. Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska has been joining the Republicans in their attempts to filibuster unemployment benefits -- and effort aided by the vacant seat of the late Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.).

Yes, that's the same Sen. Nelson who nearly held health care reform hostage. Yes, that's the same Sen. Nelson who voted with Republicans against the stimulus package.

Nelson has not only parroted the right-wing talking point that the deficit is more important than helping the unemployed or spurring economic growth (which many economists argue unemployment benefits would do), he's also defending his choice to help filibuster extending those benefits by explaining that Nebraska isn't as bad off as the rest of the country.

While the national unemployment rate hovers around 10 percent, Nebraska's is only 4.9 percent.

While it's true that Sen. Nelson should keep the state which he represents in mind when deciding how he's going to vote on legislation, he must also keep in mind matters of national significance; after all, Sen. Nelson holds a national office. His state does not exist in a vacuum, and his state's relative standing in unemployment is not a reason for the Senator to oppose something that would help the rest of the country.

Frankly, if Sen. Nelson is so concerned with Nebraska's fate that he's willing to forsake the rest of the country (remember the Cornhusker Kickback?), then maybe he should give up his Senate seat and run for a state office.

I'm under no illusions when it comes to Nebraska; I realize that's a conservative state, and there's no real chance of a truly liberal Democrat being elected to the Senate from that state. However, given Sen. Nelson's actions over the past year and a half, maybe it would be better for everyone if he just ended the charade.

Sen. Nelson, switch to the Republican Party. I think you'll find yourself more at home there.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Progressive Presidency? Not Yet

That President Obama would be facing opposition and anger from the conservative end of the political spectrum is unexpected. Differing political ideologies always lead to high emotions, and considering the large margin by which Obama won the 2008 election, it made sense that the resulting conservative backlash would be loud and angry.

Throw in the fact that Obama was a biracial man who became the country's first African-American president, and that adds another dimension to the fervor.

But a lot of criticism and anger toward the Obama administration has also surfaced from the left. Progressives represented a significant portion of Obama's electorate -- not as large a segment of the population as the independents who might've elected Obama simply because he wasn't George W. Bush or because they were turned off by Sarah Palin, but still. Given how compromised the health care reform and financial reform bills have been, as well as the grim outlook for immigration and energy reform, there's anger among progressives that President Obama hasn't lived up to his promises.

Progressives are not seeing change they can believe in.

But is it really all Obama's fault? There are things that can be laid at the president's feet, no doubt, but is he really the only one to blame? Is it President Obama's fault that his first term hasn't ticked as far to the left and people would've liked? The first year and a half of Obama's first term has seen him take a center-left approach, often seeming to take what he can get legislatively rather than fight for specific ideas.

That's led to legislative victories whose actual policy value is yet to be determined.

Eric Alterman of The Nation magazine examines the issue of the progressive presidency and why such a thing is impossible right now. It's a lengthy, far-reaching examination of today's political climate, and I think it's worth the time. It doesn't fit the media's narrative of win-lose politics and it doesn't pin the blame on any one person, but I think that's what makes the piece worthwhile.

Politics is not as simple as the 24-hour cable and internet news cycle would like you to believe.

Read Alterman's piece here.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Judge Rules Against (Part Of) DOMA

The Defense of Marriage Act, enacted in 1996, is one way in which the conservatives of this country hold same-sex couples down, discriminating against them on the national level by essentially legislating that marriage is a construct open solely to one man and one woman. The law is discriminatory and unconstitutional.

On Thursday, Massachusetts Federal Judge Joseph Tauro ruled that part of the DOMA was in violation of the U.S. Constitution -- specifically the Fifth and Tenth Amendments. The ruling does not apply to the entirety of the law, but to a specific provision of it.

Still, Tauro ruled that federal law cannot discriminate against same-sex marriages in states where those unions are legal. Since same-sex couples are allowed to marry in Massachusetts, the ruling means they are eligible for the same federal rights and benefits as heterosexual married couples. Under DOMA, there are two sets of rights for married couples: one for straight couples and another for homosexual couples.

Will the conservatives who trumpet about state rights go along with this ruling (the 10th Amendment establishes state rights), or will they expose their collective hypocrisy yet again in the name of discrimination?

President Obama and his Department of Justice have yet to decide on how to proceed -- as the defenders of DOMA, the DOJ can appeal the ruling. President Obama promised to repeal DOMA on the campaign trail, but his administration is faced with defending the policy against court challenges until Congress works on a repeal.

And we know how long Congress can take.

John Nichols of The Nation magazine examined the issue, hoping that President Obama and his administration would let the issue stand, which would pave the way for such decisions in the four other states where gay marriage is legal. Rather than prattle on and on about how I feel -- my support for same-sex marriage is fairly obvious -- I'll merely let you read Nichols' words.

You can find them here.