Wednesday, 22 December 2010

DADT Repeal Is Now Law

Today, President Obama signed the death warrant for the last remaining piece of outright bigotry legally required in America. Not just gays and lesbians, but all Americans are a little better off for this. Because we can now be defended by the best and the brightes no matter who they are, and because our country comes a little closer to living it's own ideals.

START Treaty Now Looks Certain to Pass

Despite opposition from leading Senate Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and John Kyl who appears to have negotiated in very bad faith with the White House on this, the START treaty now looks almost certain to get the two thirds majority vote it needs to pass in the Senate.

Republicans couldn't really come up with a good reason to vote no on the treaty - it is designed to control nuclear arms, and will among other things allow American inspectors back into Russian missile silos where for more than a year there has been no oversight. It places pretty much no constraints on US security decisions, and typically these types of arms treaties achieve near unanimous support in the Senate.

As should have been the case this time as well. Instead, Republicans decided that this would be another opportunity to deprive Obama of a victory, so they stalled and dithered and demanded and tried to amend and even at one point insinuated that they would pass it only if DADT was taken off the table.

And the result of this nonsense is that they have turned what was originally a straightforward vote into some big test of Obama's Presidential authority. And then the treaty passes anyway! With broad bipartisan support! Even as Republican leaders continue to have a hissy fit!

Seems to me that they took a great big non-issue and turned it into... yet another big win for the Democrats! Hurray Democrats!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Your Moment of Shallow...

You've just gotta love Michelle.

Also... here is a dog.

More festive Obamaness can be found here (including special guest appearance of Mr. Schuster from Glee! Ahem).

OK, this post may have lacked nuance and insight, but give me a break it's Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia and a range of other non-denominational Winter Solstice related celebrations.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Are you a member of the "food eating" demographic?

Then this should be good news:
A bill that would overhaul the nation's food-safety laws for the first time since the Great Depression came roaring back to life Sunday as Senate Democrats struck a deal with Republicans that helped overcome a technical mistake made three weeks ago and a filibuster threat that seemed likely to scuttle the legislation.
I love this quote:
"This reaffirmed my faith in democracy," said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union. "We were getting ready for a last-ditch effort . . . and they just went ahead an passed it, like they should have. . . . There's some hope now that the government will do a better job of protecting people" from tainted food.
"Just went ahead an passed it." Imagine that...

I Love US Voters. But I Don't Understand Them...

It's the job of political activists and politicians themselves to try and understand the point of view of their constituents to that they can either persuade or represent as needed. But what are you supposed to do with a voting population that, within a few weeks of giving the President's party the biggest Congressional defeat in a hundred years, still tell pollsters that they basically don't trust the guys who they just voted in one little bit, and think the President will stand up a lot better for their values.

Obama's position against the Republicans in Congress is much stronger than that of his predecessors. The following polls were all taken in the December after the president's first major midterm defeat. So for Bill Clinton, the poll results are from December 1994, and for George W. Bush, they're from December 2006. In both cases, the public trusted the congressional opposition more than the president. Not so today
I mean, I agree with the assessment of the people. But I just can't reconcile it with their vote. Hmmmm...

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Believing in Change You Can Believe In

Yesterday, by an amazing 64-33 majority, the US Senate finally voted to end the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy. The President has promised to sign it next week, and will then promptly begin work on a policy to roll out the implementation.

Although that implementation must wait at least 60 days following delivery of the President's plan to begin, I think it is safe to say that last night's vote marked the beginning of the end to the last bastion of legal, open discrimination within the US Military. Let's be clear - this will not be the first time that gay men and women will serve in the US military. It will just be the first time they can do so without dishonoring and torturing themselves by lying to their friends and colleagues.

More than 90% of service members who believe that they are currently serving with gays and lesbians have stated that it had no impact on their morale, unit cohesion or ability to perform. Evidence from other countries which have long allowed gays to serve suggest that the transition towards open service is a gigantic non-event. Just as gays work and live openly alongside straights in every other walk of life, they will now be able to do so as members of the US armed forces.

In the end, the relatively large number of Republicans who voted for the repeal of DADT is a tribute to the integrity of those Senators. I am truly and unequivocally grateful to them. In the current Republican party, the tea party has proven their ability to defeat in primaries even well funded and popular Republicans who make any effort to work with Democrats in support of the country's best interest. Each of them had to be, therefore, very much aware that to some degree they were gambling with their jobs.  So, let's take a moment to give them their due.

Thank you, Senator Collins of Maine - an especially strong advocate, who worked closely with Joe Lieberman to ensure that a standalone bill was put on the floor after DADT was initially defeated.

Thank you, Senator Murkowski of Alaska - who has already been a victim of Tea Party extremism, losing her primary and thus running as a write-in candidate last November. Thank you for not running scared from the bullies who tried to kick you down.

Thank you, Senator Brown of Massachusetts - who I was (you may recall) a little annoyed to see winning Ted Kennedy's old seat in the early part of this year, but who has been among the most moderate Republicans in the Senate from that point. A classic New England Republican, in fact. Like... my whole family. I wasn't sure they were still out there.

Thank you, Senator Snowe (also) of Maine.

Thank you, Senator Voinovich of Ohio.

Thank you, Senator Kirk of Illinois.

Thank you, Senator Ensign of Nevada and Senator Burr of North Carolina, both of whom (bizarrely) voted for the bill after initially voting AGAINST bringing the bill to a vote.

It's worth in particular noting the vote of Senator Burr - an old style Southern Conservative who NOBODY expected to vote for this bill. In fact, Senatory Collins, who was working to reach out to Republicans in this effort, didn't even bother to meet with him as she assumed he would be intractable. So why did he eventually vote for it?

Well, he says he did have concerns about the timing of making this change, but in the end:
“A majority of Americans have grown up at a time that they don’t think exclusion is the right thing for the United States to do,” Burr said, also noting, “It is not accepted practice anywhere else in our society and it only makes sense.”
That's... bizarrely reasonable. There is indeed no other part of American society where it is currently acceptable to discriminate against people solely because of who they are. We allow (in fact, sometimes we require) convicted felons to serve in the military. There is literally nothing that you can do, short of being physically unfit, that is so terrible it makes you ineligible for service. Except loving someone of the same sex.

While we are tipping out hat to erstwhile enemies, I probably need to take this moment to do the painful duty of singling out former Democrat Joe Lieberman for a special Medal of Excellence in pushing this bill relentlessly, determinedly and with unshakeable conviction. It was Lieberman who, when the first version of the bill failed to gain cloture immediately girded up to get a new version expedited through committee. It was Lieberman who made sure the bill had Republican support,  liaised with Nancy Pelosi about the timing of passage through the House, worked with Harry Reid to get it on the Senate calendar for a new vote and, in a final moment poignant moment, broke his longstanding and deeply held religious practice not to work on the Sabbath to shepherd the bill through the Senate on a Saturday vote. He decided that the opportunity to live the principles of his faith was more important, in this one case, than the duty to live up to the letter of it. I salute him for it.

I'm not sorry I called him a schmuck - because sometimes he acts like one. But today he was a mensch.
And finally, I want to once again give a round of applause to Harry Reid. The Leader has a lot on his plate lately, and frankly it would have been easy for him to find an excuse to not bring DADT back up for a vote - the packed schedule, the forthcoming Christmas break, the urgency of getting so much other vital legislation through (and here's hoping that we can find the couple more votes we still need to ensure passage of the vital START treaty...). But Reid made it clear he would keep the current Senate working until the voted on this bill - and that pressure undoubtedly move things along.

And President Obama... well, Obama has been the leader I thought he would be. He passed this bill in a stle that will be hard to reverse, easy to support, and will change America for the better and for good. By proceeding with an extensive study of the military's views, by bringing the top leadership of the military into the fold - including Bush appointee Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen - he made clear that this would be done with the suppor of and for the benefit of our services. And finally, by taking the painful decision not to rush this process but to dot every I and cross every T - even if it meant that, heart-breakingly, good men and women still had to suffer under this policy in the meantime....

He created change that wasn't as quick as we would have liked. Or as radical as we might imagine. But that we can absolutely, 100% believe in.