Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A good START

Finally. The Senate ratified new START, 71-26. I've covered the silliness of conservative arguments against this treaty before. I'm actually still somewhat amazed that there are 26 senators who think that reducing the number of nukes in the world is a bad thing, or that it's not really a problem to continue having no verification regime in place to look at Russian compliance. This doesn't bode well for further treaties working toward a world without nukes, which Obama has said is an ultimate goal.

It's disheartening that this really modest, inoffensive treaty went through such a partisan ringer. Remember that the constitution mandates that treaties get 67 votes for ratification of any treaty in the senate. America's ability to practice diplomacy abroad in a major way depends on the world's most dysfunctional deliberative body. That's not a good thing. I hope my pessimism is misplaced.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Demographics and Politics

Percentage of people below the poverty line (darker is poorer):

Minnesota House Districts:

My comparison would be even better before the 2010 midterms, when Chip Cravaack ousted longtime Democrat Jim Oberstar in the MN-8, the shaded district in the NE. But I think the pattern is still startlingly clear. The ring of wealthy suburbs around the Twin Cities Metro are a bastion of conservatives. When you and your neighbors are discussing which new luxury sedan to buy, thoughts of the plight of the poor don't enter your mind.

On "Obamacare"

Filling in for Sully at the Dish, Patrick Appel asks why liberals hate the term "Obamacare" as a nickname for the PPACA so much. I was apparently the only one who wrote in with any kind of defense for the term, though not really on the merits:

As a liberal who advocated for the PPACA and supports it, I have no problem with calling it "Obamacare." In fact, in my more optimistic moments, I hope that when it becomes as entrenched as Medicare, conservatives will end up regretting making Obama's name an integral part of the program. Can you imagine a Republican campaigning against a Democrat for having supported $500bn in "Obamacare cuts" in 20 years? I don't know about you, but the thought tickles me.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bending toward justice

By a vote of 63-33, the senate voted this morning to end debate on a stand-alone bill to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, setting the stage for a final majority vote at 2pm today. At this point, passage is all but assured. As Ezra Klein pointed out, this adds to the 111th congress' already impressive resume. More importantly, it's a big step towards equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans. It's not the end of the fight, however. Repeal of DOMA and passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act are both vital to the cause of ensuring that all Americans, gay or straight, can enjoy the same rights.

As for the DADT vote, notable yeses included Mark Kirk (he voted no last time around), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), George Voinovich (R-OH, retiring), Scott Brown (R-MA), and both Maine Republicans. Joe Manchin (D-WV) did not vote, he voted against repeal last time and still seems opposed. Notable (disappointing) nos included John McCain (his actions get more bitter and disgraceful by the minute), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Richard Lugar (R-IN).

63 Senators were on the right side of history today.

Friday, December 10, 2010

On "process" (III)

Here's Jon Stewart on the Senate failing to invoke cloture on a bill providing health care to 9/11 responders.

Then there's Ezra Klein on the Senate's failure to end debate on DADT:

I don't care who's right. And nor should anyone else. The diffusion of responsibility that comes from deciding law through complex parliamentary gamesmanship rather than simple majority-rules votes is the problem. What happened today is that a majority of the Senate voted for a bill that the majority of Americans support. The bill did not pass. Neither Harry Reid nor Susan Collins are ultimately responsible for that. The rules of the Senate are.

And here's the NYTimes:

On one of the most shameful days in the modern history of the Senate, the Republican minority on Thursday prevented a vote to allow gay and lesbian soldiers to serve openly in the military of the United States. They chose to filibuster a vital defense bill because it also banned discrimination in the military ranks. And in an unrelated but no less callous move, they blocked consideration of help for tens of thousands of emergency workers and volunteers who became ill from the ground zero cleanup after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The senators who stood in the way of these measures must answer to the thousands of gay and lesbian soldiers who must live a lie in order to serve, or drop out. They must answer to the civilians who will not serve their country when some Americans are banned from doing so for an absurd reason, and to the military leaders who all but pleaded with them to end this unjust policy. They must answer to the workers who thought they were aiding their country by cleaning up ground zero.
The Senate is broken.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

On "process" (II)

Adam Serwer knocks it out of the park:

The senators who voted against cloture were merely concerned about procedure. But make not mistake, they made an affirmative decision today. They voted for something. Those who voted to prevent a final vote on the Defense Authorization Act claim to honor the sacrifices of America's service members while demanding they bleed to death in the closet. They voted to ensure that the partners and families of those who have committed to giving their lives in service to this country receive no recognition, financial or otherwise, of what they have lost.
There may still be time for the Senate to redeem itself from this one, truly disgraceful moment. But the fact that so many senators were willing to sacrifice something as fundamental as equal treatment for gay and lesbian service members on the altar of "procedure" should not be forgotten.

Those of you following my twitter feed, uh, know how I felt about today's vote.

Transit policy is screwing me over (IV)

The Market Urbanist makes a point that I was unaware of:

Unlike state and federal highways, local roads are almost entirely subsidized out of general revenues – user fees like gas taxes are barely kicked down at all to municipalities for local road costs, as Randal O’Toole, who is much more knowledgeable about road financing than I, has told me. In fact, given that local roads are (I assume?) paid for out of property taxes and sales taxes levied on local Seattle residents, it would seem that those who don’t drive in Seattle actually pay more for the roads than the average person who uses them! This could be exacerbated by property taxes, which are often higher for renters– who are more likely not to own cars – than for homeowners

I'm REALLY getting screwed. The argument for "user fees" to cover the total cost of transit holds no water whatsoever when local roads are paid for overwhelmingly from the general fund. There are non-gas-tax forms of user fees for cars, but I can't imagine they generate anywhere near enough revenue. I ask again: why is it okay to subsidize roads but not transit? Perhaps it's because only gang members take the bus.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Civilian Trials? Nah.

Adam Serwer points to a clause in the continuing resolution that will fund federal government programs and activities that makes it illegal to try anyone who's been in Gitmo in a civilian court. It strikes me as a rather unreasonable foray into the judiciary from Congress, for one. But also, why is there this fetish with military commissions? Civilian courts have convicted hundreds of detainees, whereas tribunals have been less than perfect. Anyway, it's another chip at the rock of civil liberties in this country.

Cyber War (II)

So over the last few days, there's been some fascinating activity in the interwobs. Wikileaks seems to have sparked a war of sorts between "patriots" that are attacking Wikileaks and "hacktivists" like Anonymous who are attacking websites that have slighted Wikileaks in some way. I don't really have anything interesting to say about it except that it's really really cool. BoingBoing has more here. The BBC has a story here. And the Economist's Babbage blog has a primer on Anonymous here

This is really cool stuff. On the heels of a ridiculous virus like Stuxnet, we've got what seems to be one of the most ferocious and high-profile DDoS battles ever seen. Interestingly, Stuxnet is based on an ingenious virus, whereas DDoS attacks are some of the most rudimentary attacks possible. They're also among the most effective.


On "process"

Greg Sargent reports that Senator Collins (R-ME) is withdrawing her support for the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell over procedural complaints:

Collins has said she supports repeal, but won't agree to vote for cloture on the Defense Authorization Bill containing repeal if Harry Reid doesn't allow ample time for open debate and amendments on the bill.

Frankly, I find this sickening. Senators are willing to obstruct landmark civil rights legislation (and that's what this is) because they're unhappy with the amount of debate or amendments. If I were a senator, I would likely sound a lot like Anthony Weiner right now:

There are no more excuses. I'm sorry. There just aren't. If you believe that gay Americans are not second class citizens in this country, you vote for repeal. I've had it with this bullshit. The last couple days have had conservatives holding the unemployed hostage for tax cuts for millionaires, and now conservatives are willing to play procedural games in order to deny gay Americans the right to serve their country openly. It is disgusting. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff has said personally and professionally that repeal is a matter of integrity and must happen.

At this point, supporters of Don't Ask, Don't Tell have no leg to stand on. And yet, they will likely carry the day. And the rest of the world will look on as America treats a group of people as second-class citizens.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Obama the Pragmatist

Wow. From today's presser:

I don't know quite what to make of this. But it's damn interesting.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Bad solutions

December's Car and Driver (sorry, not online) has an article on the California Air Resource Board's attempts to force car-makers in California to produce high numbers of Zero-Emission Vehicles.

Starting in 2012, CARB regulations get stricter, requiring large-volume automakers that sell more than 10,000 vehicles in California yearly--currently Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Ford, GM, and Chrysler--to produce among them a total of 7500 ZEVs between 2012 and 2014, a figure that rises to 25,000 for the 2015-2017 time frame.

There's also a cap-and-trade component that allows companies like Tesla to sell credits to companies not yet in compliance. This strikes me as a very bad approach to the worthy goal of reducing carbon emissions and other air pollution. Telling companies to produce a certain type of product is intrusive and far from guaranteed to work.

Think back to when subcompacts and hybrids really took off. It was when gas prices spiked to over $4/gallon. Ezra Klein calculated that the true cost of gasoline, counting all the unpriced externalities, would be closer to $4.37/gallon. Putting a proper price on carbon is a far better way to spur innovation and production of ULEVs and ZEVs.

Clearly there's no current appetite right now for a nationwide carbon tax, but states can raise the price of gasoline by raising the state gas tax. The deficit commission also recommended raising the federal gas tax. These solutions would raise revenue (which the country and California badly need) and accomplish the goal of getting people to buy more efficient vehicles, and they would do so in a far more free-market way. Pricing carbon and/or gasoline properly is more likely to work and more efficient than top down regulation. Ironically, in flatly opposing any sort of tax increase, conservatives are causing environmental regulation to move in a less free-market direction. That should change.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The problem with the two party system

Via Sullivan, Daniel Larison distills it down to the essence:

This means that antiwar activists and civil libertarians are caught in an odd bind: many of them are genuinely appalled by Obama’s continuation of Bush-era security policies on detention and surveillance (and especially by his outrageous new claim of assassination powers), they are disgusted that his administration is hiding behind the state secrets privilege to cover up for the Bush administration, and they object to escalating the war in Afghanistan. However, they know very well that the alternative to Obama is to have all of these things, plus torture, aggressive foreign policy in all directions, and possibly war with Iran.

For all the various disagreements I have with the Democratic party, I don't have anywhere to turn. The Republican party is worse on gay rights, worse on civil liberties, worse on deficits, and worse on Afghanistan. I could vote Green or other third party, but they don't have a chance, and I'm increasing the chance that the Republican could win by "throwing away" my vote. 

On a more local scale, this also happened in the recent Minnesota gubernatorial elections. I had no love for the DFL candidate, Mark Dayton, and considered voting for Tom Horner, the Independence party candidate. But the thought that my wasted vote could have allowed uber-conservative GOP candidate Tom Emmer to win meant holding my nose and voting for Dayton. As it turns out, the election was fairly close, so I'm glad I did. 

However, with instant runoff voting, I could have voted for Horner and still had my vote count for Dayton when he failed to garner a substantial number of votes. In 2000, liberals could have voted for Ralph Nader without helping George W Bush win. I could vote for a candidate with better civil libertarian bona fides in 2012 while not being an accessory to the ascension of President Palin. 

Now, chances are this wouldn't actually give rise to a multi-party system with loads of parties, a la proportional representation. But it would at least give me the option to lodge a protest vote without feeling like I'm aiding candidates who are anathema to my every policy preference. 

(As a side note, liberals are nowhere near as good as conservatives at scaring the shit out of incumbent senators with primary challenges. The latest victim is Olympia Snow.)