Posted by Cameron @ 11:37 am on July 15th 2009

Visualizing Government Healthcare

Congressman Kevin Brady released a helpful chart which details the proposed flow of cash and authority in the Democrats’ proposed health care bill. It’s actually sort of fun to track lines and try to imbue the absurd acronyms with meaning. For instance, I’m almost certain that AHRQ is the American Horse Racing Quarterly. This understanding allows me to fathom the reason for the existence of the line connecting the AHRQ to the Center for Quality Improvement – we must improve the (healthcare?) quality of horse racing. I think the Heretical Insurance Policy Demonetization Board (HIPDB) is x’d out because they’re, well, heretical.

Click the above photo to see an unfuzzy full sized screen grab of the flowchart or you can download the original PDF. You may wish to consider installing Sumatra PDF to view it in; it’s a lightweight alternative to Adobe Reader.

Posted by Liz @ 12:29 pm on July 14th 2009

Farewell to Hilzoy

This is Hilzoy of Obsidian Wing’s last week blogging.

From the horse’s mouth:

that was what I really wanted to do: to listen to people I disagreed with, to engage with them, and to try to show that it was possible to care deeply about politics without hating your opponents. Being civil doesn’t mean you’re lukewarm, and being committed to your principles doesn’t mean you have to be hateful.

She has been a truly civil and thoughtful voice in the political conversation and she will be missed.

Posted by Rojas @ 2:57 am on July 14th 2009

Stripy Menace Update

Add the British hotel industry to the list of collaborators and species traitors.

Posted by Rojas @ 2:34 am on July 14th 2009

What if Kanye West is Retarded?

A question to be asked.

Posted by Cameron @ 7:11 pm on July 13th 2009

Thirteen Digits of Red

Though we’re only three quarters of the way through the fiscal year, the deficit is already over the trillion dollar mark for the first time ever. The June deficit of $94 billion put the deficit at nearly 1,100,000,000,000 dollars.

Since big numbers are hard to understand here are a few illustrations of the size of this sum:

Divided among the population, this deficit comes to a tab of thirty six hundred dollars for each and every of the three hundred million people in the US. This means that the deficit burdens each family of four with just shy of fifteen grand in debt.

One point one trillion dollars spent over the course of nine months comes to slightly more than four billion dollars spent per day. That’s 167 million dollars per hour or 2.8 million dollars per minute or $46,000 per second. Of debt. We’re borrowing an average annual household income every single second of the day.

A trillion seconds is 31,700 years. A trillion minutes is 1.9 million years and is the point in history at which this dude thinks we invented barbecue.

A trillion feet translates to 189 million miles or roughly the distance of a round trip from the earth to the sun. It takes light sixteen minutes to go that far. A trillion miles is roughly a fifth of a light year and is 300 times the average distance to Pluto.

Posted by Cameron @ 6:00 am on July 13th 2009

Random Coolness

I’ve recently embraced my inner weather geek and have stumbled across some pretty cool sources of data. One of the slickest is the Intellicast fullscreen weather map in which you can enable various data layers. There are a bunch of great maps available from Plymouth State Weather Center. Some of the best are the two day temp map and current temps.

The last one is my favorite. I found it during the 2005 hurricane season when I wanted a better representation of the massive numbers of storms occurring in the Atlantic. Desktop Earth is a gorgeous live updating map of the world. It allows representation of the current expanse of day and night in addition to a global cloud cover map which updates every 3 hours. Did I mention that it’s a desktop background? Yep, it’s a non-static desktop background shows the world’s weather at a glance. It’s also great for understanding timezones and seasons.

The Freakonomics blog had a question and answer session with Austan Goolspee a few days ago that’s worth checking out.

Does anyone know if there’s pepper spray in the water used by police water hoses? The Big Picture recently had a collection of photos from the Honduran coup/notcoup and I was puzzled by the red water used by the truck mounted water hoses against protesters. The other possibility is that the police hooked the truck up to the red dye faucet instead of the water faucet.

Remember Obama’s Cairo speech? I mentioned this before but, while listening to it a single phrase caught my ear. Obama noted that the first country to recognize the independence of the United States was Morocco, of all places. I dug a bit further and found a few related tidbits. Our oldest unbroken treaty is the Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship which was signed in 1786. The current Tangier American Legation Museum was the first piece of property that the American government ever owned abroad and functioned in a diplomatic fashion as our consulate to the country for 140 years.

You know how the color green is easy to see compared to red? The varying sensitivity of our eyes to different colors is the reason green lasers seem brighter than red ones at equivalent brightnesses. Anyway, our ears work the same way and there’s a fun website that I ran across a few months ago with a method to illustrate how well we hear various frequencies.

When I purchased a 1080p capable monitor a while back I was on the hunt for some decent HD content to display on in it and quickly discovered the dirth of high resolution videos on the web. However, there are a great number of movie trailers available in full 1080p glory from Yahoo and Apple. Unfortunately it can be a hassle to try and download these to keep and playing the vidoes inside a browser is funky at best. There’s a solution to this problem, It functions as library of trailers and allows seamless downloading from the two main hosts of the videos. If you enjoy watching trailers or are just hankering for some true HD content, I suggest you give a whirl (remember to right click and select “save link as” to download the file directly).

Hulu recently put all episodes of Dead Like Me online. The first episode is embedded below:

Posted by Cameron @ 5:10 am on July 13th 2009

Awful web-design

I remember running into this same issue last year during the election while using CNN’s interactive maps for polling data and whatnot. My complaint was rekindled a few moments ago when I went to click onto a nice looking map showing relative gasoline prices in the US. The map looks harmless enough at first glance, accurately showing the gradation in pump price by state. The horror ensues when one attempts to mouse over the image to get actual numbers. For some inexplicable reason the map screws with mouse tracking and forces the mouse to be centered in each state. The jumping of the cursor from state to state is maddeningly unpredictable because normal mouse motion and movement is non-existent.

Posted by Rojas @ 1:58 pm on July 12th 2009

Too big to fail; too dumb to cure.

Indeed, the Wells-Fargo wagon IS a-comin’ down the street. Sadly, it is carrying nothing but a cargo of shame and fail. In a North Carolina mortgage foreclosure proceeding, the megabank has somehow managed to sue itself. Not a parody, apparently.

Aren’t you glad these people are getting billions of dollars of your money?

Posted by Brad @ 10:02 pm on July 11th 2009

High Immigration = Low Crime

So says Radley Balko, quoting a number of experts and statistics and using the example of El Paso, one of the most immigrant-rich cities in America, a poor border town, but also one of the three safest cities in America.

Posted by Brad @ 3:03 pm on July 10th 2009

A Trickle of Details Coming Out About Our Police State

Namely, that in the wake of September 11th, the Bush administration and CIA instituted a lot more than just warrantless wiretapping, and the details of the surveillance state they secretly instituted remain almost entirely unknown, even to Congress.

Breaking this hour is the existence of an internal government report that apparently tries to look into what, exactly, the Bush administration and Bush-era CIA was authorized by the executive to do in terms of warrantless surveillance. Apparently it was something pretty major, but nobody knows exactly what. Tenent, Ashcroft, Cheney, Card, Addington, and Yoo are refusing to make any statements. This IG report seems to be a big deal to insiders, particularly ex-Bush men. All we know is it outlines a surveillance program that “went well beyond warrantless wiretapping.” How you can go “well beyond” warrantless wiretapping” I’m not sure.

Perhaps related, it was also yesterday learned that upon assuming control of the CIA, Leon Panetta discovered some kind of surveillance program that had been instituted under explicit orders to keep it from Congress, despite the legal requirement to brief them. This program, whatever it was, and the fact that it had been withheld from Congress apparently so alarmed Panetta that he ended the program right then and there and scheduled two closed-door sessions with the Congressional Intelligence Committee to inform them that what they thought they knew about War on Terror CIA surveillance was not entirely true. Nobody knows what exactly all this entails, so Ambinder tries some shots in the dark.

What type of program would be acceptable to President Bush and objectionable to President Obama?

One can guess: perhaps the CIA found a way to covertly place information implicating Hamid Karzai’s brother in various drug-related offenses in the foreign media…..perhaps the CIA was covertly providing funds to an opposition candidate in Afghanistan or Pakistan in a way that was bound to be discovered by the regime we officially support. Perhaps the CIA created a front company to process, say, the encryption keys that Israeli’s Air Force uses to protect communications. (Israel manufacturers this stuff endogenously, but you can be sure that the American government wants to know everything it possibly can about Israeli Air Force strategy vis-a-vis Iran.) Perhaps the program involved sabotage in a country like Syria, which the U.S. is currently trying to court. Perhaps it involved the planting of covert communications devices on unwitting international scholars who travel to North Korea.

The mind wanders.

What’s clear is that Democrats on the committee were sufficiently outraged by the disclosure to make public the fact that something was disclosed. This may be the only way to hold the CIA accountable in an era where the executive branch refuses to relax briefing procedures. It may be irresponsible and jeopardize ongoing operations. It may be related to the CIA v. Pelosi grudge match. Soon enough, we’ll have our answers.

Important point: the first story relates to a non-covert program, i.e. it was fairly agency-wide, just not disclosed to the public and illegally (and knowingly) withheld from Congress (unlike, say, the FISA and warrantless wiretapping stuff, which Congress was briefed on). The second story apparently relates to a covert program of the black ops type. Nobody is really sure what’s what at this point, though it is the scuttlebutt of the day in D.C. and the few that do seem to know something about these stories seem to be very, very nervous/outraged.

Posted by Brad @ 1:49 pm on July 10th 2009

Blogroll Addition – Infidel753

Been awhile since I’ve freshened up the blogroll. I’ve been meaning to add this blog to the roll for months, and I’ll have to be honest, the only reason I know of it is because whoever Infidel is, he’s clearly one of our regular readers and fans of the site (feel free to out yourself if you like—I have a few guesses). Whenever I go to post something there’s a little “incoming links” box on the side, and about twice a week it’s to Infidel’s blog, passing on one of our posts. For almost a year now, like clockwork.

Of course that feeds the ego a bit, but every time I clickback to check out what of ours he linked to, I wind up forgetting what I was looking for and just start browsing through his updates (particularly his link roundups). It’s a nice blog—clean, personal, always interesting, and indicative of an intellectual curiosity more than anything. So I’m going to follow my own rule, that at the point where a blog winds up on my personal bookmark toolbar, I add it to the site blogroll as well. This one’s been on my toolbar for months now.

Plus, it doesn’t hurt that he’s got an excellent taste in blogs.

Posted by Brad @ 1:36 pm on July 10th 2009

Barbour’s Big Tent

Now that Sanford’s out, Haley Barbour is quietly stepping up as a potential 2012 Republican presidential contender, hope to step into both the fiscal con and Southerner shoes Sanford leaves open. This week he’s been in Iowa.

Interestingly, while there, his remarks centered around the need to create a big tent. Most of his speech was pretty boilerplate stuff, but boilerplate for 1996, not 2009. It’s sort of depressing that in today’s GOP, simply saying we shouldn’t tar and feather pro-choice Republicans counts as wielding political courage, but at this point I’ll take what I can get. And, many politicians, looking to start breaking open a spot in an upcoming primary, tend to fan the flames of divisiveness more than solidarity. In Barbour’s case, I’m sure he’ll be singing a different tune once there are actual opponents, but still, a nice foot to step out on in my book.

Party building is about addition and multiplication, not subtraction and division, Barbour said at a party fundraiser in Des Moines. The GOP must be inclusive, he argued, and that idea extends to even the most divisive political issues. To make his point, Barbour pointed out that he helped pass several anti-abortion bills as governor, eventually garnering his state the reputation as “the safest place in the nation for an unborn child.” But he said there are good Republicans who don’t agree with him on the issue.

“There are tens of millions of pro-choice Republicans that are just as good Republicans as I am, and we need to support them,” he said, adding: “That’s what party building is about, and don’t think that is giving up your principles.” […]

“There are a lot more things that unite us than do divide us,” Barbour said. “Or as President Reagan used to say, remember that a fellow that agrees with you 80 percent of the time is your friend. He’s not some 20-percent traitor.”

Posted by Brad @ 1:28 pm on July 10th 2009

Freudian Slip of the Day

Via Dailykos, here is Michael Steele pronouncing that he is a big Sarah Failin’ pan.

Posted by Brad @ 1:28 pm on July 10th 2009

Burris Won’t Seek Re-election

Certainly for the best, for his sake, but I still sort of feel for the guy.

I still am having trouble understanding why Lisa Madigan passed on two races she very likely could have won.

Posted by Brad @ 1:21 pm on July 10th 2009

Specter on Joe Sestak: “He’s Not a Real Democrat”

Well, if Arlen Specter is this tone deaf, Sestak might have a better shot than imagined.

Keep in mind two things:

1. Joe Sestak’s job prior to joining congress was as an admiral.

2. This is Arlen Specter speaking.

“Congressman Sestak is a flagrant hypocrite in challenging my being a real Democrat when he did not register as a Democrat until 2006 just in time to run for Congress,” Specter said in the statement. “His lame excuse for avoiding party affiliation, because he was in the [military] service, is undercut by his documented disinterest in the political process.”

I’ll give Specter’s people some benefit of the doubt here and assume they’re running this one up the flagpole just to try it out. I have some advice for them:

Run it back down the flagpole. Fold it. Burn it in a peaceable manner. Bury the ashes.

Posted by Brad @ 5:43 pm on July 9th 2009

More Bushian Thinking from the Obama Inner Circle

I’m not one to roll out the “Obama is going to take away our guns!” canard, as frankly if Obama can’t be arsed to show some cojones on detainee rights and health care and other central tenets of his campaign, with a 60 vote majority, I have no expectation that he’s going to put one scintilla of political will behind battling the gun lobby, save maybe signing stuff that Congress puts in front of him. Nor do I think the following clip is all that germane to the Obama administration. It is a clip of then-congressman Rahm Emmanuel in 2007, and frankly he’s a political actor, not a policy one, and I would be surprised if this specific issue has ever even come up for conversation in the Oval Office. I certainly don’t expect it will ever be seriously proposed.

But still, I pass it along because it does give a little window into the kind of thinking that Republicans and “centrist” or national security Democrats have about anything relating to terrorists. Namely, apply the word terrorist, and constitutionalism, to say nothing of common sense, no longer applies.

Here, we have Rahm Emmanuel making the argument that the one million people on the “terrorist watch list”, for which their is no process or overview as to getting on or off it, have, by virtue of being on that mysterious list, inherently lost their 2nd amendment right to bear arms. Because they are “not part of the American family.”

So, as with all things terrorist related, the mere accusation alone, made in secret with no due process or overview, not just warrants but demands a stripping away of all due process and even unrelated constitutional rights. And, according to Rahm, that’s a no-brainer.


People say I’m paranoid to believe we’re slippery sloping into a police state.

Here’s the thing: we already live in a police state. I don’t know what else to call it when the government can designate anybody they want as legal non-entities for whom our entire system of justice and government no longer applies. The state can make this designation at any time, for anybody, for whatever reasons they choose, and there is no appeal or even day in court.

If not a police state, what would you call that? Certainly not a nation of laws.

H/t: Liberty Papers

Posted by Brad @ 5:01 pm on July 9th 2009

That Demon Self-Esteem

A favorite whipping-boy of Rojas’, here’s another post about the decoupling of self-esteem and achievement, an American problem that’s particularly prevalent in education.

Self-esteem has gone up in the United States; achievement has not. If anything, compared with other countries, we have done worse, but our kids feel really good about themselves on average. What seems particularly interesting, and there is an article by J. P. Tangney on this, is that there is an uncoupling between your perception of your own competence and how much you like yourself. Many American kids, particularly in the last couple of decades, can feel really good about themselves without actually being good at anything. This is the problem with the “self-esteem at all costs” message. Self-esteem should be earned.

Posted by Brad @ 2:48 pm on July 9th 2009

Don’t Forget About Ensign

Although it’s become the lesser political scandal of the month, amazingly (thanks Sanford and Palin!), in terms of pure creepiness and personal sleaze, I still keep going back to the Ensign affair. If all you know about it is that Senator John Ensign (R-NV) had an affair, that’s really the least of it. It’s the details of the arrangement that give me the heebie-jeebies and puts it more in John Edwards territory than, say, Bill Clinton territory. And, in fact, the best analogue that I can think of, or the one that keeps popping into mind for me anyway, is the court of Henry VIII, in which the king started choosing wives of members of his court to pursue while everyone else didn’t just keep their mouths shut, but helped him expedite his desires, including the husbands.

To recap, a guy works for John Ensign. John Ensign starts sleeping with that guy’s wife. Guy starts pathetically begging Ensign to stop. Ensign instead arranges for guy to start getting plumb political jobs to keep him placated, which only half works. The guy takes the jobs, which also has the side effect of keeping his wife in Ensign’s orbit, but he also keeps begging Ensign to stop, which Ensign does not deign to do.

New developments:

How did the affair start?

HAMPTON: The truth is, we were going through a really difficult time at the end of December. We had had a robbery at our home. We live not in the same neighborhood as the Ensigns, but in an adjacent neighborhood, relatively close to each other and we had a robbery. And our home was broken into, some doors were knocked down and we were asked to go over and to stay with the Ensigns. We’re close. Really close. Close friends. We’ve been close friends a long time. Very close while we live here in Nevada. While living in the house, Cindy and John got together. John …

RALSTON: While you moved into their house at – they invited you to their house to stay, when your house has been robbed and they, they, the affair began then?


So guy, a chum and employee of Ensign, is going through a rough patch in his marriage. His home is burglarized and Ensign, ever the gentlemen, throws open the doors to his own home and lets the couple, who he’s had his eyes on for awhile, stay in the home with his wife, the three Ensign children, and the three Hampton children. Ensign then starts boinking his friend’s wife in the house where they’re all staying together.

Development two:

Guy, who is now also in the orbit of other Senators and Important People due to his new plush political jobs, stars whining to the broader circle that Ensign keeps sleeping with his wife. One of those people include Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) and the rest of a congressional bible study group Ensign (and Mark Sanford) belong to. These people “counsel” Ensign.

Among their “counsels”, it is now alleged that Tom Coburn, in his role as ad hoc marriage counselor and arbiter, urged Ensign to stop sleeping with the guy’s wife or, barring that, to at least pay off their mortgage.

But there’s one point on which Hampton is particularly lucid. He clearly says that when Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) confronted Ensign over the affair in February 2008, the Oklahoma senator urged Ensign to pay “restitution” to the Hamptons, including helping them to pay the mortgage on their $1.2 million house and to move out of state. And Coburn isn’t denying it.

Let’s look closely at what Hampton said.

He told his interviewer, Jon Ralston, that in February 2008, he went to a group of men associated with C Street, the Christian fellowship that has a house on Capitol Hill, and asked them to confront Ensign.

Said Hampton: “So I confront him with these men, and Tom Coburn.” (Coburn has also been associated with the C Street fellowship, and his role in the Ensign confrontation was mentioned in Hampton’s letter to Fox News, which came out last month.)

Asked by Ralston about the charge from the Ensign camp that Hampton had tried to extort him, Hampton continued:

“The first money that was presented was from these men that confronted John. These men were the ones that said, ‘what we need to do is get Doug Hampton’s home paid for, and we need to get Doug Hampton some money, and we need to get his family to Colorado.”

Hampton added:

“The money and all those things came from this group initiating, initially, what they believed it was gonna take to take care of this.”

Asked by Ralston whether he or his lawyer asked Ensign for money, Hampton replied:

“Our attorneys did talk…because Sen Tom Coburn asked and was involved in these negotiations out of good will and good faith.”

Coburn’s office didn’t deny the story at first, just dickered about the dollar amounts, but then, in one fell swoop, walked back, offered a categorical denial, and in tandem preemptively said he will refuse to answer any further questions, because….

“I was counseling him as a physician and as an ordained deacon. … That is privileged communication that I will never reveal to anybody. Not to the Ethics Committee, not to a court of law, not to anybody,” Coburn said.


See, what fascinates me about this is less the personal stuff, although it’s pretty heart-breaking operatic stuff full of self-loathing and an absolute prostration, on Hampton’s part, to power and full of a really sick entitlement and lordship and shamelessness on Ensign’s part wherein he appears to be applying the principle of jus primae noctis to this sad sack couple. But just the culture wherein this sort of stuff happens. How perverted and vile an environment have some of these Senatorial offices become where getting close to power is so important you’re willing to literally allow your wife to be part of the bargain just so you can get the right townhouse and the plush appointment, and where the lords and masters and their staffs are so far-gone that this sort of practice and arrangement is, if not accepted, than at least tolerated and, to some extent, enabled? I don’t even know if the whole Ensign saga is relevant politically or not, though I suspect it is, but when people do talk about the corrosive effect of Washington and the culture of power and sycophancy in the beltway cocktail party set, this is a pretty startlingly lurid (and lucid) example.

I am not one to wag a finger at people’s messy private lives, even when those people are public figures. But this one is just beyond the pale, and, I think, symptomatic of something beyond just Ensign and this poor guy Hampton.

Posted by Brad @ 2:10 pm on July 9th 2009

Republicans Split on Sarah Palin

That’s not the headline you’ll most often find associated with the new Rasmussen and Gallup polls finding that Sarah Palin is still the second-most favored potential 2012 presidential candidate among members of the Republican base, such that they have any preference at all (an important caveat). But it’s the truth.

Believe it or not, there are still a few of us non culture warrior conservatives out there, and we still vote. Rasmussen, for instance, finds Mitt Romney leading the pack as the person Republicans would most like to see win the 2012 nomination, with 25%. Palin, alarmingly, comes in second with 24% (beating Huckabee and Gingrich and Barbour and Pawlenty, though I have to say I think the latter two lose on name ID (the most germane thing polls this far out are good for checking), and I can’t say I blame them on Gingrich’s poor showing)). What’s alarming is that, among those voters, Palin’s favorables have actually gone up since her resignation.

However, the flip side. Asked who they would least like to see win the nomination, about an equal number of Republicans also name Palin, who wins that particular metric with 21%.

The lesson?

It is silly for smart Republicans to dismiss Sarah Palin, much as we might want to, as not being representative of the party. Frankly, she is, to the extent anybody is. She remains very popular with a significant chunk of the GOP base, and of course as many reasonable and/or moderate Republicans bail on the party, that chunk of the base has only grown more significant (and thus Sarah Palin even more representative). This is why, dogged and overbearing as it is, the persistence of say an Andrew Sullivan on Palin is not misguided. She is not just a sideshow. She can stake as good a claim as a national Republican figurehead, in every sense of the word, as anybody.

But opinion on Palin, even among self-identified Republicans circa 2009 (a rare breed indeed), is not homogeneous by any means. And yes, Sullivan et al, there remain a significant of Republicans who are as horrified by the tabloid express as the rest of the country, and are saying so, and, presumably, will vote so, doing more to keep her out of power, arguably, than all the liberal teeth-gnashing will.

I think, ironically, that the most fair assessment of her prospects in this respect comes from Dailykos.

The good news for Republicans is that Palin’s negatives will make it very difficult for her to win their nomination. The consolation prize for Democrats is that her numbers are strong enough that she just might give it a try.

Posted by Brad @ 1:52 pm on July 9th 2009

Kilmeade: The Reason We Get Dementia is We Keep Marrying Other Species and Ethnics

Fox and Friends remains for me one of the most surreal programs on television. It’s sort of like, for me, some sort of dystopian future combining elements of V for Vendetta with Idiocracy. Some studio exec decided to find a bunch of dim-witted culture warriors and give them a chatty and perky unscripted morning show. The result?

Well, for instance, reporting on a Swedish and Finnish study finding that couples who stay married have less of a risk of Alzheimers, Brian Kilmeade decides to just “throw this out there”.

Posted by Brad @ 3:15 pm on July 8th 2009

It Has Begun: The Fight for Marriage Equality Goes Federal

Once Iowa fell, it became clear to me that the next fight in the marriage equality war was going to be on the federal level, one way or the other. States will continue to either lift their civil exclusions of same sex marriage, or amend their constitutions to enshrine them, as per their own political and legal realities, but now that the marriage status of a same sex couple can vary wildly from state to state—from “you can’t even sign hospital visitation rights private contracts” ala Virginia to “full equality” ala Massachusetts, it just isn’t really tenable—or perhaps more accurately, not really comfortable—to have a class of citizenship that fluctuates that much once you cross a state border.

As Andrew Sullivan, who works in D.C. but vacations a few months of the year in Rhode Island, put it the other day, he’s married at his work home and divorced in his vacation home. In one house he is seen as being part of a civil partnership, where he and his partner have rights and privileges which are intertwined. In the other, he is solely an individual entity, with his partner having no more rights or civil connections to his life than any stranger off the street. You can see the problems inherent in that right off the bat, but as a further exercise, add children, say, to the equation, and the problems inherent in this arrangement are obvious (and yes, libertarians, having the state out of the marriage business altogether solves all problems, but unfortunately that’s not where we are here).

Perhaps in a more confederate society this would work, but as currently organized, we are not much of a confederate society any more, and a lot of people, judges and lawmakers included, are going to find it exceedingly obnoxious that you are literally a different kind of person, a different class of citizen, in the eyes of the state, depending on which side of a state line you stand.

So I posited some months back that the next battleground is going to be DOMA. Either the equality movement was going to push lawmakers to challenge it legislatively, or the courts were eventually, one way or the other, going to have to further reconcile the federal-state interplay of marriage laws more completely than they ever have before, now that the issue is being pushed.

It looks like the path to challenging DOMA is going to be the latter, and as before, Massachusetts leads the way.

Massachusetts, the first state to legalize gay marriage, sued the U.S. government Wednesday over a federal law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

The federal Defense of Marriage Act interferes with the right of Massachusetts to define and regulate marriage as it sees fit, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said. The 1996 law denies federal recognition of gay marriage and gives states the right to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Boston, argues the act “constitutes an overreaching and discriminatory federal law.” It says the approximately 16,000 same-sex couples who have married in Massachusetts since the state began performing gay marriages in 2004 are being unfairly denied federal benefits given to heterosexual couples.[…]

Before the law was passed, Coakley said, the federal government recognized that defining marital status was the “exclusive prerogative of the states.” Now, because of the U.S. law’s definition of marriage, same-sex couples are denied access to benefits given to heterosexual married couples, including federal income tax credits, employment benefits, retirement benefits, health insurance coverage and Social Security payments, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also argues that the federal law requires the state to violate the constitutional rights of its citizens by treating married heterosexual couples and married same-sex couples differently when determining eligibility for Medicaid benefits and when determining whether the spouse of a veteran can be buried in a Massachusetts veterans’ cemetery.

“In enacting DOMA, Congress overstepped its authority, undermined states’ efforts to recognize marriages between same-sex couples, and codified an animus towards gay and lesbian people,” the lawsuit states.

Note the crux here, and the two likely lines of argument.

The first is going to be pretty simple, I think, and it’s the one that will be most easily understood, or at least championed, by both sides. Namely, the federal government and the federal constitution does, of course, give broad powers to states to define their own laws. But, particularly when you add in a few hundred years of constitutional amendments (the 14th anybody?) and dominant judicial precedent (sexuality is almost certainly going to be enshrined as a protected class alongside race and religion as more and more supreme courts fall that way), that deference to a state’s right to make its own law does not really extend to a state making laws (even at the state constitutional level) that violate the federal constitution as, in my estimation, anti-gay marriage measures do, as presently defined. To put that another way, a state has relatively broad discretion to make laws as they see fit on matters where the federal constitution is silent. But civil rights, the most basic desire to not create different classes of citizens, is not an issue, at all, where the federal constitution or courts are silent. There has been a very tenuous federalism on this point for awhile now, but that only stands because the direct reckoning has been avoided or side-stepped. That situation is no longer tenable, and trying to avoid the issue is no longer possible.

The second tract of argument is perhaps less intuitive simply because it doesn’t lend itself to as easy a distillation, but the crux of this argument, and the one that MA is apparently basing their challenge on, is that the federal government has already made marriage a de facto area of federal jurisdiction. Many conservatives are going to argue that states challenging for federal recognition of marriage are acting on federalist impulses. That it should be left entirely to the states. But as Coakley points out, that’s a misnomer, because it is already a federal matter and the federal government has already taken it out of state hands, which is what makes the federal position vis-a-vie DOMA untenable. Because all kinds of civil benefits at the federal level are dependent on marriage status, so, in a nutshell, by not acting and choosing to leave it to the states, the federal government is already taking a de facto position, one in favor of the anti-marriage equality position. That can get a little theoretical, but in essence, it is not the granting of marriage rights that is the heart of the matter, but rather the denial. In any case, it still requires a legal defense on the federal level, because by accepting the decision of anti-same sex marriage states and using that as a basis for denial of federal benefits, the federal government is inherently taking a position, that being that marriage rights can federally be denied to same sex couples. Think of the federal government, in that sense, as one more state, one that everyone lives in even as they live in states-within-that-state. The federal government can no more avoid having to defend the denial of benefits according to its federal constitution than Iowa can avoid having to defend the denial of benefits according to its Iowan constitution. DOMA, in that sense, doesn’t in any way answer the question being asked, namely whether the federal government can defend, according to its governing principles, having sexuality be a class that confers on it different kinds of rights for different kinds of people. It doesn’t matter what states say, because these are federal rights and benefits being denied. So that question has to be answered on its own merits first and foremost, despite what politicians who want to fall back to the “I’ll let the states decide” feint may say. You can let the states decide so long as it has no bearing on federal execution of laws. But that is patently not the case in terms of marriage.

My guess is we’re going to keep seeing what we have been seeing—state-by-state scraps on the marriage question—for the next few years. But each time a state settles the question for itself, the immediate next question falls straight in the federal government’s lap, and there is simply put no way the federal government can avoid answering for much longer. In a few years time, the state-by-state battles will necessarily fall away as the ball winds up in the federal court. It looks like Massachusetts, relatively under the radar, has already fired off the opening salvo.

Posted by Brad @ 2:31 pm on July 8th 2009

Bulgaria’s Jesse Ventura

Former wrestler, bodyguard to previous political leaders, and Bulgarian national karate team coach Boyko Borisov won election to prime minister of Bulgaria on Sunday. He is described as a centre-right politician. Interesting story.

Posted by Brad @ 2:26 pm on July 8th 2009

The Curious Thinking of Sarah Palin

Not to crib Sullivan, but I think one illustrative thing that Sarah Palin said was about the ineffectiveness of lame ducks.

But, of course, to be thinking of herself as a lame duck is pretty weird. Not because she was only in her first term, but because, as Ed Rendell (lame duck governor of a State That Matters) points out, Alaska doesn’t have term limits.

The more the Palin thing festers, the more I believe there is no other shoe ready to drop. I think it’s mostly face value narcissism. She got a taste of The Good Life as a VP candidate and national figure, completely bought into her PR bullshit from Day One, and then had to return to Alaska to govern, and F that.

Posted by Rojas @ 9:30 pm on July 7th 2009

Debate coach crimewatch

In the aftermath of the Shanahan fiasco, TCP proudly brings you news of yet another mad professor. This time it’s nothing as serious as mooning a judge, merely assault and arson:

Police say Warner got into a fight with his wife, saying, “it was on.” He then allegedly threw her onto a couch.

While she was in a locked bedroom, she told police Ede Warner tossed her coat onto the stove and turned it on.

The victim was able to escape with a 12-year-old child and throw the burning coat out into the yard before the entire house caught fire.

Dr. Ede Warner was arrested, charged with assault, first degree arson and wanton endangerment.

A scary breed, these debate coaches.

Posted by Brad @ 4:13 pm on July 7th 2009

Honduran Coup / Not Coup Discussion

As a lazy way of not generating real content myself, but also because it’s helping me wrap my head around recent events in Honduras, if you haven’t read Jack’s piece on on Honduras you should. But also interesting is a discussion in the comments section of a post at Tom Palmer’s blog. More than a week old by now, but worth reading.

Posted by Brad @ 4:03 pm on July 7th 2009

The Everyman Fallacy

I’ve spilt a lot of ink on this blog writing about the fetishization of the “Average Joe” in American political fantasy. I won’t rehash it all here. But I did want to pass on some fine musings from Ta-Nehisi Coates on the matter, in relation to Sarah Palin. He starts here and continues here. Read both. Coates has walked-back much of his post (a response to a post by Ross Douthat) as it pertains to Douthat’s specific point, but I think Coates’ reasoning is worth passing on even in a vacuum.

Sarah Palin Represents Real America. I know this because Mika Brezinski told me. I don’t think there’s anything serious to address in her point. There are a lot of hours to fill. Gotta say something. One interesting notion is that we’re seeing a kind of mirror-image of the Left in the 60s and 70s. Or maybe not, I wasn’t around then and my reading on the era isn’t as thorough as it should be. But my understanding is that a large part of our problem–or the New Left’s problem–was that we got weighted down in theory, and lost touch with actual people.

I get the same impression whenever I hear people pull out this hamfisted notion of Real America. It’s like there are no people in “Real America”–just cartoon cut-outs yelling “Don’t take our guns.” It is, as I said yesterday, the Al Sharpton analysis–distilling millions of complicated people through the lens of one person who happens to attract a lot of ink.

The worst part of the “Real America” analysis is that while it means to slap down “media elite”–much as the old radicals were aiming for the corporate elite–it’s offers nothing but elbows for the Everymen it claims to uplift. It turns him into a cartoon and fetishizes him. He is not a person. He is the beer track.

What Coates is talking about is a reflex snap judgment, amazingly persistent despite being baseless, that Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber sorts represent “real” America, while people like Barack and Michelle Obama represent a kind of “other”. This is at its heart a cultural critique, of course, and thus imminently fungible and non-quantifiable, but still, I’m with Coates’ first pass on this. I can’t measure it precisely, but I overwhelmingly get the impression that, at least among a certain political and pundit class, Sarah Palin represents a kind of mythological genuineness while Barack Obama represents a strange foreignness. The myth being, of course, that everybody can heart Sarah Palin even when it doesn’t make any sense and when she doesn’t appear to deserve it, but that Barack Obama remains a sort of cultural pariah outside the bounds of the “American experience”.

Coates goes after the racial read, and even on that I don’t think he’s wrong (anyone want to deny that the archetypal “American” is white?), but it’s more than that, I think, when you peel away the layers. It’s quite literally a celebration of ignorance as an American value.

Worth passing on, anyway.

There is in this critique, a kind of Al Sharpton analysis–Sarah Palin as a stand-in for all of her social class. Ross contends that her failures are not her own, but somehow the failures that would afflict anyone else presumably from her “social class.” But this only works if you think that most of working class America is as fucking inept as Sarah Palin.

There is more to be said about that, but I’d like to move to something more important–that being Ross’s definition of “Anyone.”

In the last ten months, we’ve seen the son of a single mother, son of an immigrant, roots in Kansas, roots in the quintessentially American South Side of Chicago, standing for the “traditional values” of family, and the lesson we take from this is is that American meritocracy is broken.

Conservative condescension toward working class America, works in tandem with racial blindness. I have tried, through a few re-readings, to avoid seeing that in Ross’s column. But it’s very difficult to process the notion that Sarah Palin is a better model of the all-American meritocratic ideal than Barack Obama, without believing that that judgment hinges on race.

I would like to see Ross’s point another way. But I can’t escape the fact that, at this very moment, there are two young girls living in the White House. In their veins, they have the blood of men who fought in World War II. They have the blood of women who fled the Aparthied South, made something of themselves, and helped build one of the country’s great neighborhoods.

Yet, in these times, having come this far, at this moment, we are told that the meritocratic ideal is broken. And, seemingly, it would be fixed by offering a candidate, who can’t name a single newspaper she reads, access to the nuclear launch codes. In that context, one wonders at what precise point, meritocracy worked? And then I recoil at the answer…

I’ve come to really appreciate Coates as a cultural critic, despite the fact that his posts (and the ones of mine that pass them on) tend to meander, are scattershot, and never really come to definite conclusions. But perhaps that is as it should be in cultural critiques. Anyway, go read his stuff on the Palin controversy from this angle. It’s worth rattling around in your head as you listen to cable news commentators.

Posted by Brad @ 2:48 pm on July 7th 2009

Not Just the Washington Post – Atlantic Corporate-Sponsored Salons

I passed on the tempest regarding the Washington Post’s planned sponsorship opportunities for “salons” with influential “thought-leaders” including Congressmen, journalists, pundits, et al.

Worth noting that this isn’t just a bad idea of the WaPo’s, but a fairly common practice among beltway news media. One such conductor of such business is one of my favorite entities, The Atlantic, which has hosted over a hundred such salons since 2004.

TPM Muckracker has more.

Posted by Brad @ 1:57 pm on July 7th 2009

C-SPAN Video of the Day

Politics aside, his path to this moment is a really interesting story. One can only imagine how he feels today.

Posted by Rojas @ 1:57 pm on July 7th 2009

Not the media’s fault

My friends (well, my Facebook friends, which is almost as good as having real ones) are in a lather. It seems that the world is watching Michael Jackson’s corpse this morning, and they would much rather that the media were paying greater attention to larger numbers of corpses elsewhere, like in Sudan.

In America, the media is a business, in constant competition for eyeballs. This means there is an intrinsic incentive to give the people the sort of news they wish to watch. I would not have it otherwise. The downside of this is that the same people who made “Transformers 2: Electric Boogaloo” the biggest movie of the year also get to dictate mass-market tastes in media coverage. We are fortunate in that the splintering of cable and the presence of the internet media provides those of us with other preferences the opportunity to pursue them.

I’m no happier about public preferences than any of the people screaming on Facebook at the moment. What I don’t quite understand is what the critics of CNN’s coverage choices would prefer. Should it be the role of media to spoon-feed the people the sort of nutritious information they “should” care about? If so, who makes the nutritional choices? It goes back to that universal and excerable human tendency to believe that we can make better choices for other people than they can make for themselves.

Our celebrity culture is almost certainly a product of our educational system. We train children from an early age to treat knowledge of world history and current events as obligatory and pop culture as a delightful break from the everyday drudgery represented by the former. If you addict children to brain candy, they will develop a taste for it. The solution to this problem, if there is one, is to make important information more interesting to people.

My life’s work centers around high school debate, a competitive game requiring knowledge of public policy. It is a game which, whatever its other merits or lack thereof, turns people into hard-news geeks. I can’t say that none of my former students are following the Jackson funeral this morning; I am pretty sure, though, that they’ll be pursuing other sources of informational sustenance in addition to it.

Days like this make me proud of what I do, and reinforce the importance of doing it. If the media’s worship of celebrity culture annoys us, then it becomes incumbent upon us to create a system where the young do not come to obsess over celebrities. It requires public involvement in education. The paparazzi are the price we pay for making the real world look tedious.

Posted by Brad @ 1:51 pm on July 7th 2009

Quote of the Day

I’m not really going to harp on Sarah Palin here—her recent moves seem to me to more or less speak for themselves. But it’s hard not to pass on this excerpt from her ABC interview, which Andrew Sullivan relays under the title “The Person John McCain Thought Could be President.”

But as for whether another pursuit of national office, as she did less than a year ago when she joined Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the race for the White House, would result in the same political blood sport, Palin said there is a difference between the White House and what she has experienced in Alaska. If she were in the White House, she said, the “department of law” would protect her from baseless ethical allegations. “I think on a national level, your department of law there in the White House would look at some of the things that we’ve been charged with and automatically throw them out,” she said. There is no “Department of Law” at the White House.

Even putting aside the sniggering about the “Department of Law” bit, that’s a pretty frightening view of the White House and its relationship to the freedom of the press. I’m not even really sure how she imagines that interplay, but it smacks to me of a decidedly dictatorial fantasy of the office. A rough paraphrase might be “Well, when I’m President, I can make ethics allegations go away.”

Nixon in high heels is not a bad analogy for any number of reasons at this point.

And, frankly, the GOP deserves her at this point.

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