Archive for April 8th, 2009
Congressional Quarterly Inc. has announced the launch of a new interactive map that shows the results of the 2008 presidential election by congressional district. The exclusive map and analysis can be found on CQ Politics.
Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) has been the lead sponsor of a House bill to repeal the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy, but with Tauscher leaving Congress for Obama’s State Department, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) is reportedly prepared to step up as the bill’s new champion.
It’s no surprise why proponents of the bill would want Murphy, who is a respected Democratic voice on military matters. In addition to serving two deployments in Bosnia and in Baghdad, Murphy was awarded a Bronze Star and his unit earned the Presidential Unit Citation. He is also a former West Point professor and an ex-military attorney.
With a record like that, it would seemingly be difficult for conservatives — especially conservatives who didn’t serve in the military — to blast Murphy as someone who doesn’t understand issues like unit cohesion.
But there’s also an unfortunate reality: it won’t matter. Murphy may be a decorated hero and respected lawmaker, but conservative Republicans who care more about hating gays than national security will be unmoved. For them, this is about a culture war, not military readiness, fairness, or respect for those who volunteer to wear the uniform.
I’ve been reading Nathaniel Frank’s "Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America" — which is excellent, by the way — and while it makes clear that there is no legitimate defense for banning able-bodied, patriotic Americans from serving their country, it also reminds me that for conservative activists and policy makers, reason, evidence, and common sense are largely irrelevant in this debate.
Newsweek‘s Anna Quindlen had a good column on this in the new issue:
In January of this year alone, the Army fired 11 soldiers under the policy, including a military-police officer and a health-care specialist. Dozens of Arabic-language translators have been thrown out of the service as well, including one whose captain’s evaluation began: "Exceptional leader." In the meantime, to meet recruitment quotas, special waivers have been issued to allow the enlistment of hundreds of convicted felons, including arsonists and burglars. One man who had repeatedly beaten his wife was accused of beating prisoners in Iraq; another, who stabbed an Iraqi private with a bayonet, had been accused of assault as a civilian.
The absurdity of this is so overwhelming that even many of those who once supported the policy have turned against it. Former Republican senator Alan Simpson wrote, "We need every ablebodied smart patriot to help us win this war," and retired General Shalikashvili called for the end of "don’t ask, don’t tell," saying it was important to "consider the evidence that has emerged" against a ban on gay service members. But overwhelming evidence has existed for decades that allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly has no effect on military mission or efficiency. Time after time, respected think tanks and governmental departments have been asked to study the issue, and time after time the result has been buried by military leaders who preferred mythology to data.
Some members of Congress have recently suggested an "in-depth study" of this issue. All they need do is read Frank’s book to see that it has been studied to death. The existing policy is a blot on the reputation of the U.S. armed forces, since it suggests that while the Australians, the Canadians, the Israelis, the British and service members from 20 other countries that have jettisoned gay bans can overcome individual differences, Americans cannot.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said about a week ago that he’d prefer to push this issue "down the road a little bit." Given the right-wing hysteria surrounding his budget restructuring proposal, Gates probably figures he can only handle one apoplectic response at a time.
If Congress, and Rep. Murphy, can pick up the slack, maybe the nation can end this absurd policy once and for all.
Certainly it’s been found that smoking marijuana, even heavily, does not cause lung cancer. (See this report, for example.) Now it looks as though THC might be a cancer-killer. We would have known this decades ago except that the DEA righteously prevented any medical research into marijuana so that… so that… so that the DEA could keep its enormous budget.
Steve Benen wrote this very fine post:
There are quite a few errors of fact and judgment in Michael Gerson’s latest anti-Obama column, premised on the notion that the president is "the most polarizing new president of recent times." The general gist of the piece is that Obama needs to do a lot more to make Republicans happy, or he’ll be a "source of division."
But let’s just focus on this point from Bush’s former chief speechwriter:
That makes last week’s votes on the budget resolutions a landmark of ineffective governance. Not a single Republican in the House or Senate supported the bill, largely because the Democratic majority forced its will. Republicans were flattened, not consulted. Democratic leaders talk of enacting controversial elements of the budget through the "reconciliation" process — which would require 51 Senate votes, not the normal 60, for passage.
Now, there are a lot of problems contained in these three sentences. For example, Republicans balked at the Democratic budget, not because Obama was mean to them, but because they preferred an insane alternative. What’s more, Republican leaders enacting controversial proposals through the "reconciliation" process — tax cuts, welfare reform, Medicaid reductions — and Gerson didn’t seem to think it was particularly outrageous at the time.
But what really gets me is the notion that to pass legislation, the Senate should aim for "the normal 60" votes.
This is simply wrong. There’s nothing "normal" about this. Gerson buys into the all-too-common notion that the Senate has always required a 60-vote supermajority to pass every meaningful piece of legislation. That’s nonsense.
This 60-vote standard is a modern creation, and routine filibusters on all bills are a new tradition. Gerson considers it "normal," when in fact it’s a bizarre fluke with no foundation in the American legislative or political tradition.
It is, as this chart from Norm Ornstein makes clear, an entirely modern creation.
To suggest the majority needs 60 votes for passing every bill is anything but "normal."
The Obama administration might agree to postpone auctioning off 100 percent of emissions allowances under a cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse gas pollution, White House science adviser John P. Holdren said today, a move that would please electricity providers and manufacturers but could anger environmentalists.
In one of his first interviews since being confirmed March 20 as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Holdren said a group of Cabinet-level officials is trying to establish a set of principles to guide the climate legislation that has just begun to move in Congress.
During the presidential campaign, Obama called for auctioning off all greenhouse gas emissions permits at the outset, rather than just a portion of them. Many industry leaders say a phase-in will be essential to easing the transition to a low-carbon economy…
Continue reading. Once elected, those promises get forgotten. Like the promise of transparency and of prosecutions regarding the domestic surveillance programs.