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 ...