I voted today.

In the New York primaries.

They don't have the awesome tamperproof mechanical voting booths any longer.

The replacement technology doesn't have a big red lever that makes a definitive and satisfying KA-CHUNK sound when you pull it and register your vote.


That is all, I guess.
I've had my ups and downs with Barack Obama, but I am pleased at the decision to drop the 2020 moon landing project.

The United States is the only nation that has been to the surface of the moon, which we did over forty years ago now. As soon as it became clear that other nations were thinking about trying, George Bush decided to pledge to spend billions of dollars to ... get there first, despite the fact that we already had. We know better than anyone else that there's nothing there. There's no life, there are no moon diamonds, there is no ready sources of Helium-3. Maybe there is water, but you'd be pretty foolish to show up there thirsty with an empty cup instead of bringing your water from Earth. The only thing that's there is a metaphorical finish line, and we've already crossed it. (I wish the Chinese and Indian governments great luck in crossing it themselves, and hope that they don't have to spend as much in blood and treasure as we paid.)

More foolish yet is the notion that we were going to use some sort of moon base to stage our trip to Mars ten years down the road. This never made a lick of sense to me. I'd love to think that we could build something of value off-Earth, but I've never seen it. The ISS is in a constant state of FUBAR, and everything else in history has been constructed on Earth. If you somehow were to think that gravity is the enemy in aeronautical construction (and I can't imagine why you would in this case, which is making a craft that needs to survive Martian gravity), then why would you build it on the Moon when you have an infinite amount of zero-gravity real estate everywhere else in space?

Plus the dream that we're going to Mars in our lifetimes is something that we seriously have to wake up from. We're not talking about a three-day trip to the Moon. If you want a round trip to Mars, it's a year to get there, nearly a year to stay there while the orbits align, and then a year to come back. So you need to carry along three years of food and water for however large your crew is, and at least two years of protecting yourself from lethal solar radiation. So you need enough power to carry all that crew and food and water, plus enough tech to scrub oxygen that won't be replaced until you get home. Those are currently insurmountable problems. And God forbid you'd actually want to land on the Martian surface, because then you need your crew to repair your pod and somehow refuel it enough to allow it to relaunch and escape a real planet's gravity well and travel a year back to Earth. Can you imagine the Space Shuttle landing even on Earth on something other than a pre-fabricated runway and the crew single-handedly preparing it for the next launch while simultaneously worrying about their own survival in an inhospitable environment? No, you can't even imagine it; we've never seen anything like it before. Now take away the atmosphere and the moderate temperatures and the instantaneous communication and you've started to scratch the surface of life on Mars.

Not only is the technology insurmountable, but our will is too. The first trip to Mars will be a suicide mission. The brave men and women we send off to Mars will, if they're very very lucky, *die* on the surface of Mars. (I could not possibly illustrate this point more beautifully and tenderly than xkcd did today.) NASA doesn't have the courage to launch the Space Shuttle on a cloudy day. If we were to build a rocket in space, we wouldn't trust it enough to put the best lives America had to offer on it. I don't blame us for this, because I'm not sure that science and exploration is worth blood at the end of the day, but at least let's recognize that we'd never initiate the mission before we spend another fifteen years paying a hundred billion dollars for it.

I'm not opposed to technology and pushing the boundaries of discovery, but let's do it with our heads on straight. Build me a self-sufficient colony with a thousand people a hundred feet underwater that works without drama, and you'll have learned things about atmosphere and food and water and energy that will eventually make space colonies more achievable for our grandchildren, and that will furthermore probably have application for more ordinary terrestrial communities. In the meantime, let's devote the largest share of our research energies to the problems of today, climate change and alternative energy and affordable medicine, instead of the challenges of fifty years ago and a hundred years from now.
I can't decide whether I agree with Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which essentially ruled that the government is not allowed to regulate corporate speech intended to directly influence an election (in the specific case, a movie swift-boating then-candidate Hillary Clinton set to air during the most electoral-rich days of the 2008 presidential primaries). In a sense, it definitely seems like the court may be prepared to take the final step of declaring that all campaign finance limits aside from public disclosure is a violation of free speech, which would get us back to the worst days of influence peddling from the era of the robber barons. On the other hand, I think it really was an arbitrary law censoring the free exchange of ideas (silly and nigh-slanderous as they were), and that's hard to be a fan of. Of course, as always, one gets the impression that only one of the justices had to listen to the arguments before making up his mind. Indeed, so much so that the justices decided that they needed a second round of arguments when the conservative wing decided in deliberations that they would also invalidate parts of the finance law that weren't directly addressed by the case that was being argued before them.

But a part of me thinks that Supreme Court rulings aren't something that you should like or dislike, but some passive event like an earthquake or getting laid off. We've got some pretty big lemons here, what are we going to do with them? I wonder if there aren't opportunities here. The notion of public control of American government has been a bad joke since the 1920's and I haven't seen a regulation in my lifetime that hasn't been instantly worked around. I'm not so angry about it being unconstitutional, I want to talk about how it's been ineffective! We evidently can't remove the influence of money from elections, and we can argue about whether we should be allowed to try. So let's go further back to the source and try to create a culture in which absurd amounts of money don't help you much more than big amounts.

I like the idea of disclosure a lot. It would be nice if you could easily connect the dots to see that The American Family Foundation For Liberty And Family that ran that ad opposed to the public option was really the health care insurance industry taking money raised from your high premiums and using it to convince you to not reform their ability to continue making yet wilder profits at your expense. I don't think it's a liberal or conservative issue; I can't imagine that anyone likes it when a bully asks them why they are hitting themselves. And I am hopeful that the internet has made disseminating the truth cheaper and faster than producing an ad for a lie. We just need to develop the skills to do that, and more importantly to see the importance of it.

To underscore, this isn't a partisan issue. We haven't done anything if we just make ourselves smarter. We need to get people that we aren't used to agreeing with that none of us look forward to the corporate takeover of government, and until the Supreme Court gives the vote to corporations we all have the power and the responsibility of an informed electorate. We will always disagree over who our next Senator should be, but we will always agree that it is a decision that shouldn't be made as half-mindedly as we are used to.
... Without the vim and verve
But I could show my prowess, be a lion not a mou-ess
If I only had the nerve

Believe me, I've heard some bad reasons to oppose same-sex marriage, and it seems like there are new challengers for the title every day. But I found a new low yesterday. Most embarrassingly, it doesn't come from some villain in Kansas or Alabama or California, but from my own State Senator.

Jim Alesi was heavily on the unknown list. He's a Republican, but he used to be a Democrat. And, of course, he lives in Rochester which has a history of civil rights and not much institutional tolerance for intolerance. He belongs to a renegade Catholic church that sanctifies gay unions. He talks the talk. And I didn't see it myself, but I am given to believe that if you saw a video of a Republican New York Senator who voted against the same-sex marriage bill this week with his head buried in his hands, that was him.

Why? How will he come back home and sit in the pew next to a gay couple and ask for our entire community's support in his re-election campaign next year? What was so important? He explains it in the article linked above.

"Politically, you never vote for a bill that's going to fail. Let me rephrase that. Politically, a highly controversial bill should not be voted on when it's going to fail."


You know, I don't mind if my representative fails to represent my position because he feels it to be at odds with the majority of his constituents. I don't like it, but I'll take my lumps. And I don't mind if my representative fails to represent my position because he feels it to be at odds with his or her own conscience even if his constituency supports it. Obviously, I'll support a different person in the next election, but that's the risk that you run in a representative democracy. But it turns out that I have no acceptance at all of a representative who looks around the room at how OTHER PEOPLE'S Senators are voting before making up his mind. That goes beyond a lack of courage to a full-press rejection of the fundamentals of a republic.

What's strangest about this wholly gutless justification of only wanting to support the winning side is that I can't imagine that will satisfy his reactionary supporters in the rural parts of his highly gerrymandered district either. If I don't want to hear that he'll fail to stand on principle when he doesn't feel that the stakes merit it, I can't believe that someone else wants to hear that he would still play the "will he or won't he" game if he ever came to be the deciding vote. You know how everyone hates all of congress but loves their own representative? So why do you want to tell me that you aren't even my representative but a reflection of the will of the Senate? I am furious with incoherence.
1) The New York State Senate votes down same-sex marriage. This was totally not a surprise, and I'm disappointed that the buzz that went out during the day gave the impression that the votes were there. Seriously, it's hard to count where the votes would have come from back when they were counting noses in the summertime, and since then the national Republican party has issued a very clear fatwa against independent thought amongst its politicians at every level of government, most specifically making an example of the center-right New York legislator who was running for the NY-23 seat THAT THE NATIONAL REPUBLICAN PARTY REFUSED TO ENDORSE EVEN THOUGH SHE WAS THE REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE. Sure it's cowardly when a politician casts a vote just to extend their political futures, but who among the rest of us are risking our careers every day over justice?

The good news is that now it is clear who needs to be replaced, most particularly the eight Democrats who are more eager to serve their bishop than their LGBT constituency. The bad news is that state legislators never ever lose elections in NY, so it's going to be an uphill battle even to get it done after next years' elections. Go ahead and guess when New York State outlawed slavery. Sorry, you're wrong, it was much later than that. So it's an old problem.

2) Mike Huckabee is a co-conspirator in a cop-killing spree. Okay, of course not really. I'm all over the map on this one. I'm definitely not a fan of the tenor of what happened to Mike Dukakis over a similar issue, but I think that Dukakis should have had to answer sober questions about how and why a prisoner under a life sentence got a weekend furlough. And the same thing goes for Huckabee. There is a good case to be made that a man shouldn't get sentenced to 108 years for aggravated robbery and all the trimmings. But when one wields unilateral authority to downgrade a sentence, it seems that one has taken an ownership stake in the rest of that man's history, and I don't think that Huckabee made his decision with that sort of burden in mind. At the time of Clemmon's clemency, he had enough prison violations under his belt to give a strong impression that this wasn't a safe bet. Maybe the Holy Spirit told Governor Huckabee differently, or he thought that it did. And I think it's perfectly fair to ask whether a President Huckabee would be inclined to use the same sort of moral intuition on any or all of the venues in which a President can issue executive orders.

3) On the other hand, I feel bad for Tiger Woods. The guy has feet of clay, but who doesn't? He admits that the whole thing is stupid and that the whole thing is a private matter, and I don't disagree with either. But really, literally 90% of the reason that Tiger Woods is literally a billionaire is because he seems like the sort of guy that you'd want to buy a watch from. And now, not so much. He seems a bit like the sort of guy that would cheat on his wife and take out his anger on innocent fire hydrants. And while he has the right to choose the public's level of access with him, he doesn't get to choose how we perceive him and subsequently what values we ascribe him with. He should choose accordingly, but either way we'll probably soon enough forget that he is made of flesh and blood and return to the suspicious that he is an alien ninja golf robot from the future.

4) Chia Obama. Oy. Okay, in this context of being able to buy a Chia George Washington or a Chia Abraham Lincoln, it's obviously not racist, huh. Except that we've never had Chia presidents before this year AFAICT, so it really does seem like someone thought through that this is the first year that we've had a President with Chia-like hair. (And as far as the Chia Hillary Clinton goes I am just totally WTF.) I can sort of wrap my mind around how it might conceivably be a beloved non-ironic gift under some Giftmas trees this year, but I hope to not see one in real life ever.

5) Speaking of our Glorious Leader, I've been alerted to the existence of the Obameter. I do appreciate the reminder that things of substance have been done in the past ten months, because it is so much easier to see all the places where progress has been delayed or denied. I remain concerned that some opportunities are lost forever because Obama will never be as popular or have the congressional majorities that he had in the first few months of his Presidency, but we'll see.
Two stories about Michelle Obama in the news today. Two!

As rivka points out, the AP ran a story about the dress the First Lady wore at the state dinner that the reporter described as "flesh-colored", and runs a picture next to it that makes it very very clear that it is not the color of flesh at all. Sheesh, it's been almost fifty years since Crayola picked up the clue phone on this one, so what the hell is going on at the AP editor's desk? Frankly, it seems to me that even a healthy white person oughtn't have flesh of that particular shade.

And I refuse to look, but according to the news, if you did a Google image search of Michelle Obama this morning, the top result would have been a crudely altered picture that portrays her as a monkey. Again, you can't make me look. Google initially resisted calls to fix this problem, saying 'We have, in general, a bias toward free speech', and the only reason the problem was remedied from what I can gather is that the original blog took down the image (which isn't too surprising if, in fact, it was viewed and linked by enough people in the world to get it to the top of Google's scoring algorithm).

I like free speech too, but that isn't what this is about. If someone does an image search for Michelle Obama, and Google's top scored image is not a picture of Michelle Obama, then there is something wrong with Google's scoring algorithm, and pretending that you are not responsible for the relevance of your search results is highly disingenuous. By all means, keep a link to the picture and tag it so that it does very well if someone searches for "Michelle Obama racist monkey infantile". But you've managed the web search so that the entire top page of Obama's search is filled with non-pranks, and the rest of your searches need to catch up.
Rhode Island Congresscritter Patrick Kennedy is banned from receiving communion in Rhode Island because of his lack of enthusiasm for abortion restrictions in the health care bill.

This, as always, sickens me to the core. I'm a Protestant, and I suppose that this was one of the principle things that we Protested against. The Eucharist takes place on a table that was set by Jesus Christ, and it is an act of extreme offense and hubris to keep someone away from that table. I don't think it's a decision that a bishop should be allowed to make, particularly when it is such a public figure that every other bishop is then going to have to either uphold your ugliness or publicly repudiate it and create dissension in your community. I'm not even going to start on how a religious entity could oppose health care reform that would bring medical care to the underprivileged in America just over the sole issue of abortion, because the thought angers me too much for coherence.

But this bugs me on a political facet and not just a spiritual one. If we agree that Assurance of Pardon and Communion with the Saints are things of value (and how could we not as a "Christian nation" lol), then it seems clear to me that withholding them for want of political patronage is extortion. The separation of church and state goes both ways; the Catholic church cannot demand to be free to engage in institutionalized homophobia that is illegal in the secular sector and then browbeat a politician who is pledged to serve the full diversity of his constituency. This isn't even because I just happen to agree with Rep. Kennedy on this issue; I would be as sickened if some UCC or UU-aligned politician were kept from the full expression of her faith because her stances weren't sufficiently progressive for her spiritual community. Take a stand, and then take your lumps if it doesn't go your way, but treating salvation as a toy that you can take away from a child who is not behaving the way you would like is an abuse of the authority bestowed upon you by Christ. Repent.

Anyway, I know that Rep. Kennedy is a faithful Catholic and wouldn't want any part of my raggedy-ass open communion, so I will merely stand beside him in a metaphorical sense today.
“The term I used to describe the panel making these decisions should not be taken literally. It's a lot like when President Reagan used to refer to the Soviet Union as the ‘evil empire.’ He got his point across. He got people thinking and researching what he was talking about. It was quite effective. Same thing with the ‘death panels.’ I would characterize them like that again, in a heartbeat.” - Sarah Palin

As I said before, while cleaning out my house a month ago I came across my collection of silly books from my childhood. The one book that I was particularly sorry to not see in that list was Paul Slansky's The Clothes Have No Emperor, which was a chronicle mostly of the lies and gaffes perpetrated by Ronald Reagan and the rest of his administration. The entries are very brief with almost no commentary, so it's sort of like what Al Gore's Twitter feed would have looked like in the 1980's. It's a fun little book that walks the line between humor and rant very effectively and from the looks of things you can pick up a used copy for the cost of shipping, so you might want to give it a read and pass it along to a loved one for Holiday.

The one comment that does stick with me was Slansky's prediction that the Republican party would go back to this well and provide us with more telegenic personalities who were unconcerned about the substance of their comments provided it allowed them to pursue their agenda. The word "truthiness" didn't exist at the time, but I think Slansky would have found a use for it. He has turned out to be even more accurate than he could have predicted, as since 1992 the Republicans have either nominated slick-talking idiots or principled people who then were forced to pretend to be slick-talking idiots. I suppose that the one point in Sarah Palin's advantage regarding her political future is that being proud of being inaccurate seems to come naturally to her.
Oh, my two favorite ex-beauty queens are back in the news.

Carrie Prejean is still working the conservative martyr angle, which is pretty neat to watch. I mean, when you've confessed to distributing child pornography but think that the world still wants to hear your inspiring story of the traditional values that were instilled in you, it's a transcendent moment of hubris that comes along so rarely even in our modern lifestyles. Sit down before you read this or you might fall down.

"There is an extreme double standard that conservative women are under attack for whatever it is," Prejean told Vieira. "If Sean Hannity went out there and said some of the things that Keith Olbermann has said about me, if he says anything about [Sonia] Sotomayor, Michelle Obama, he would be off the air. Why is there this double standard? That's the reason why I wrote this book."

Take a moment, there's a lot there to soak in. The only reason that Sonia Sotomayor and Michelle Obama's underage sex tapes aren't released to the public is because Hannity is too scared to release them. Everybody does it, but she's the only one paying the price for it. There is no recognition that Sotomayor and Obama are strong women who really could be your models of how you take responsibility for the regrettable things that they have said and the mistakes they have made in their lives (and they both obviously have said regrettable things).

And and and you won't believe!!! Sarah Palin is coming to my small town to shill her own book next week. She's trying to stay away from the big cities with their nationally televised shows that ask the mean questions, and being shepherded by fools like she is, she must have been informed that Rochester is a part of Real America. Tee hee, I can't wait to see the look on her face when she finds out that we're mostly a suburb of Toronto. (Actually, my theory is that she's here to hit up Tom Golisano for a few megabucks.) I'd like to go, but it's sure going to be a madhouse.
Damnit. I had such nice things to say about folks from Maine six months ago when their legislature passed same sex marriage laws. Today, it's more clear that the statespeople are better than the voters in off-off-year elections, because they've rolled it back. There is a part of my brain that wants to focus on the fact that a 53-47 margin is something that would have been unimaginable ten years ago and that at the local level there are countless stories about individuals facing the issues and opening their eyes and seeing a truth that they will never unsee. But in the end, the march of progress has been delayed today, and we have consciously decided to curtail rights to citizens of the United States due to hatred and fear, a decision that has never been endorsed by the long-term perspective of American history.

I will briefly suspend my no-name-calling rule in this blog. Equal protection under the law is a crucial element in a free society. If I know you, and you somehow believe that you have the right to parcel out privileges to the sorts of law-abiding citizens that you like and deprive it from the law-abiding citizens that you do not, then you suck. And if I know that you feel that way, and especially if for some especially unbelievable reason you're puffed up about this power of yours, then I will treat you like the nine-year-old toddler-abusing playground bully that you are until you amend your ways. And I'm normally the guy who will give out cookies to people who make small steps along very long journeys, but you won't even get a cookie from me when that day comes because this is just too basic a lesson for you to not grasp immediately.
I seem to have caused a rant. Patrick Nielsen Hayden has gotten it into his mind that I am a cause for the failure of the liberal agenda, what with being so high-minded and feel-goody that I am unwilling to do the dirty work of libeling my enemies to secure victories. Specifically, in this case, my failure to endorse Florida Rep. Alan Grayson's tactic of suggesting that the Republican plan is hoping that the elderly "die quickly".

I respectfully believe Mr. Nielsen Hayden to be wrong on two counts, one political and one personal. The political reason is that there is no reason to believe that we benefit from proving that liberals don't suffer from an "asshat gap" when faced with the Michelle Bachmans and Joe Wilsons on the other side of the aisle. Passion is great for rousing the base, to be certain, but you pay a terrible price with arousing the opposition when your passion is fueled by disinformation or ignorance. Liberals should know that better than anyone, since we got here largely because we were just that pissed off at Dick Cheney and Karl Rove. It is undeniable that the most fervent birthers and teabaggers don't need reality to fuel their mistrust of liberal ideals, but there are independents who do, and we risk losses as great as our recent gains to the degree that we provide equally foolish targets. Beyond that, I don't think that there's any way to have a good faith discussion about the very real and difficult decisions that need to be made about the future of health care in the United States until everyone stops drinking the crazy juice that makes you say that the other team wants to kill Grandma. I think that both Chuck Grassley and Alan Grayson need to STFU and start listening; if I seem more motivated in calling out Grayson it is only because I think that he is marginally less inclined to ignore me.

On the personal side, Mr. Nielsen Hayden brought out several of my quotes which would indicate that I am both passionate and idealistic, and concluding: "Call me kooky, but I'm basically getting the impression that Matthew Daly simply says things that sound good in a show-offy way, no matter how completely they contradict earlier observations. This holds whether he's nobly patting himself on the back for his broadmindedness toward "thoughtful conservatives", or harshly insisting that "justice delayed is justice denied." In his mind there's no contradiction, because both kinds of statements leave onlookers with a warm glow of righteousness."

Most folks here have known me for a while, but some are new friends, and some are strangers. So let me be plain. I am not good, and I am not nice. It takes effort for me to be as good as I am, I'd like to be nicer, and I think that good has gotten me further than evil when you do a full audit of my life. But if I follow the path of good in defense of important causes, be certain that I have conceptualized and contemplated the path of evil and concluded that, today, good made the better case. There are other days when I've done what I've known to be evil for what I felt were the right reasons, and I rarely have misgivings on those matters.

There are two questions that I have to ask myself: is the cause important enough that I need to win, and is the undertaking of evil enough to bring about victory. If I am satisfied with the answer to both of those questions, then the gloves come off. If not, then on they stay. For instance, when Mr. Nielsen Hayden suggested that I call him kooky, I decided that actually doing so wouldn't convince him or anyone else and would invite the response that I was a hypocrite instead of just a Pollyanna, so I decided not to call him kooky. On the other hand, I decided to passively-aggressively post about the whole thing on my blog where I am more likely to receive kind responses than if I wrote all of this tl;dr crap on Making Light.
I've long believed that organizations have the right to give subjective awards to whoever they want, and the public's recourse is to ignore them if they make dumb choices. If you want to decide that Forrest Gump was the best movie of 1994 or that the entire Universe should be represented by an eighteen year-old Venezuelan woman with breast implants and the talent to wear a bathing suit and high heels, then who am I to stop you? You just get tossed into the "Yeah, whatever" pile.

Now joining you in the "Yeah, whatever pile": the Nobel Peace Prize.

Granted, it's been close to the edge for a while now, what with their recent laureates including microcredit lenders and tree-planters. These are surely worthy causes, but I'm just not clear that they're promoting peace so much as prosperity and wellness in traditionally under-served communities. If I can squint, I can sort that a global environmental catastrophe would drive the world into local wars for shifting resources and that Al Gore deserves some sort of peacelike recognition for his efforts to forestall such an event, but it seems to me that the award should lift up people who actually negotiate treaties, reduce weapon proliferation, and embiggen non-combatants in war zones.

But Barack Obama hasn't even done the small stuff yet. "[E]xtraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples?" Lolwhut? I presume that the plural means that he's done that at least twice, but I can only think of deciding not to build the dopey missile shield in Eastern Europe and I'm not even convinced that that's extraordinary so much as simply rational. At the same time, if anything we're looking at a buildup of our military posture in Asia and the excesses in post-9/11 liberty curtailment are being entrenched rather than sunsetted. Is this just about how he is being rewarded for not being George Bush, or that he is the flag-bearer of post-racial America or that he paid our UN dues, because I'm going to bust my sides from laughing if they think that's worth the Nobel Peace Prize.

As you read in the papers that he is the third sitting President to win the award, be sure to keep in mind that hindsight has not made the selections of either Theodore Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson endorse the decision-making power of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, but at least those guys were selected for things that they had done rather than things they promised to do if elected.
So, Sarah Palin is resigning as governor of Alaska in time for it to be the water-cooler keg talk at everyone's Independence Day parties. I'll say right off the bat that I have contempt for anyone who quits an elected office mid-term for some reason other than being elected or appointed to higher office or being driven out by scandal in such a way that indicates that you have lost the confidence of your constituents. Just deciding that you're tired of it, or perhaps calculating that you want your protege to have the comfort of incumbency is highly disrespectful of the people who voted for YOU. I'm glad to say that it doesn't seem to happen very often; the last time that I recall this happening at a national level was Newt Gingrich deciding that he would resign from the House after just winning an election because he didn't want to be Majority Leader after the Republicans lost seats, but even then the worst that could be said is that his district had to pay for a special election and the winner would be at the bottom of the seniority ladder.

I hope that she actually does take the opportunity to return to public life and that this isn't just a Ross Perot-esque stunt to allow her to stay in the news without having to answer any of the questions or have a legacy of trying to balance a state budget now that oil is in no hurry to get back to $140 a barrel. I know many don't, but I feel bad for her; she's a small-town politician (and what is Alaska but one of the largest small towns in the world?) who is unprepared to campaign across the nation, and she wouldn't have been placed in that situation so early in her life (if at all) if John McCain hadn't decided to use her career as collateral on his fairly desperate gamble. She could have turned down his offer, but I think most people wouldn't have. But my pity has its limits, and deciding that she actually can run for President of the United States on her own terms is likely to exhaust it.
It's a very strange story that nobody quite seems to understand yet, but evidently Malcolm Smith has lost leadership of the New York State Senate. There seems to be a lot of false news about the Republicans regaining control because two of the three rogue Democratic senators switched parties and that the old Minority Leader is now in charge. From where I'm sitting it looks more like all of the Republicans and two of the rogue Democrats voted for one of the rogue Democrats for President pro tem, and that no one has yet announced a change of party.

It's just been a mess all around. Again, the popular story has been that the entire session has been about gay marriage and that the Gang of Three insisted that it not come up for a vote and that's why it wasn't going to be passed this session, and then Governor Patterson forced Smith to break his word to overcome HIS dismal ratings. But there is another story, that the Legislature came under one party control for the first time in forty years and they still waffled on passing political reform. To give an example, the average Democratic senator gets a little over $2.4 million in slush money to pass around their district in exchange for endorsements, while Republican senators get around $267 thousand apiece. The injustice of punishing taxpayers who aren't represented by lawmakers who caucus with the majority is something that minority Democrats wailed against, but I suppose it must have made sense when they were the ones wearing the pants and living in the farmer's house. Malcolm Smith couldn't keep his word either to the voters or to the members of his caucus, and I'm not fully sad at the news that he's out of power.

The bad news, of course, is that now it is virtually certain that we will not have a vote on liberalizing our marriage laws this year. That's a damned shame, because we really have a bad sense of how many people are on the fence, so the Democrats might regain a Gang of Three-proof majority after next year's election and *still* not have enough votes to get it through. That'd be an easier task if we had an official nose count. On the other hand, I think we've got a good enough sense of the challenge that lies ahead from what we've been through. And, just maybe, a legislative body with a Democratic majority but bipartisan leadership will spend the next year serving the citizens instead of the apparatchik.

ETA: Here is a memo from the new majority leader outlining the new rule changes. They might be the same empty promises that will be undone the moment Tom Golisano gets on his private jet back to Florida, but it would be honorable if they became the model for doing business in the capitol. And, to be upfront, one of the reforms is that a bill can get a vote if a majority of members request it.
Okay, maybe it's frustrating when they send you off to get a news story and nothing happens. Maybe you don't want your byline to be associated with "everyone kept to the script and we were shut out." Maybe you want to go the extra mile to find the drama that no one else found.

So, Laurie Kellman, what do you have on Sonia Sotomayor's meeting with Senate leaders in which she consciously made no public statements?

She even remained composed when Majority Leader Harry Reid referred to her as "the whole package" and thrice invoked the word "dog" to describe her — twice as an "underdog" who rose through the Ivy League and the judiciary to become "top dog."

Oooh, I don't know if I'm more mad that Senator Reid would be so publicly disrespectful to a member of the federal judiciary or that she would be so meek that she -- wait, what? Really? Really?
I freely admit that, while voting for Barack Obama and being enthusiastic about his campaign and inauguration like everyone else, I knew that he wasn't the second coming of Abraham Lincoln. But that's okay. Lincoln wasn't even the first coming of Abraham Lincoln, if you know what I mean. Many are the times that he carelessly blundered, and many times he was despotic. So, I was prepared for the day that Obama would break my heart. But that doesn't make my heart less broken.

I can even overlook his passivity on same-sex marriage and the repeal of DOMA. It's necessary work that someone will have to bite the bullet on someday, but he ran on the "separate but equal" domestic partnership half-loaf. He is standing still when the nation is moving forward on historic understandings of equality and fairness, which feels like backtracking but it's really just a lack of vision and courage.

Waffling on the reconciliation of torture and the repeal of DADT, though, is a betrayal of Mr. Obama's campaign pledges. I should expect that anyone who reads this follows The Daily Show even more closely than I, but I will still lift up Jon Stewart's insightful analysis on how the United States will do everything that is necessary to win the Global War on Terror except, evidently, confront institutional homophobia:

Amazingly, in this time of national crisis, when we are marshaling every tool at our disposal to fight this insidious enemy, Dan Choi is one of 54 Arabic translators dismissed due to their sexual preference. So it was okay to waterboard a guy over 80 times, but God forbid the guy who could understand what that pr*ck was saying has a boyfriend. You know, I want to say this: waterboarding may make the prisoner talk, but it ain't going to make him talk English.

So, broken heart. That's okay, it's been broken before and will be again. Unfortunately, the President took the opportunity last night to pour salt and do a comical little dance on my heart. Speaking of the protesters that he saw when entering a Beverly Hills fundraiser:

“One of them said, “Obama keep your promise,’ ” the president said. “I thought that’s fair. I don’t know which promise he was talking about.” The people in the audience – who paid $30,400 per couple to attend – laughed as they ate a dinner of roasted tenderloin, grilled organic chicken and sun choke rosemary mashed potatoes.

Mr. President, ignorance is not funny. At Notre Dame, you treated pro-life protesters wheeling blood-stained dolls around campus with more dignity than LGBT protesters who actually have cause to wonder about your commitment to their agenda. If you are not going to be committed to civil rights or effective governance, at least retain enough honor to not mock those who do.
What I don't know about Canada's government could fill a large book. I should probably get around to reading that book someday. But from my partially uninformed opinion, I thought that it was hardcore to have Michaëlle Jean as head of state when the Queen is not in Canada. That regard was tarnished to a significant degree when Her Excellency failed to perform one of her rare non-ceremonial duties and didn't stand up to the Prime Minister's highly dubious power-grasping shenanigans over this past winter.

Today, that regard is rusted clean through, with the story that seems like someone accidentally crossed their wires and dropped a story from The Onion into the news feed that Ms. Jean gutted a baby seal and ate its heart, evidently in protest of EU bans on hunting methods. Alas, if she wishes to be in solidarity with commercial seal hunters, then I will agree to think of her as I think of them.

How do you know you're on the wrong side of an issue? There are no hard and fast rules, but a really good sign is when Wonderella and I are in complete agreement.
Exhibit A: Barack Obama is denied a honorary degree from Arizona State University because he hasn't done anything yet. Evidently, being allowed to speak at such a prestigious *coughpubliccough* institution *coughpartyschoolcough* is reward enough. I hope they didn't make him come in through the servant's entrance. Frankly, back here in one of the original 13 colonies, this sort of SNAFU makes me wonder if Arizona has been a state long enough to deserve full recognition. Clearly, its body of work is yet to come.

(What a weird story this has been. I mean, okay, Obama defeats Arizona's senior senator in the election and you want to get a cute jab in by jesting that he is prestigious enough to honor your state university but not vice-versa. That's actually pretty funny. But then you pull back and acknowledge that you routinely honor people who have accomplished less in their entire lives than Obama has up to now. And you know who has gotten a free pass here? John McCain, who obviously couldn't be bothered to make one phone call to make his state look like it is not filled with hypocritical grudge-holders.)

Exhibit B: Sarah Palin scores perhaps an $11 million advance to write her memoirs. The world hungrily awaits learning about being the third-prettiest girl in Alaska one year and mayor of a town almost as large as ASU's graduating class. Perhaps she can get Katie Couric to ghostwrite it, I think those two really had a great mindmeld.
“This sounds odd, but except for this very big thing that he had done that was bad, I thought I was married — I believe [I am] now — to a magnificent man, someone who truly cared about other people,” says Elizabeth Edwards about her husband, ex-Senator and presidential candidate John Edwards.

No. If you wish to forgive him and spend the remaining year of your life with him, that is entirely your business. But John Edwards doesn't truly care about anything but himself. It's not even fair to talk about "this very big thing" as if it were one thing. He cheats on his wife, lies to her by denying it, then lies to her by telling her that it was a one-night stand instead of a long-term relationship. This would be damning enough if it stopped there, but he is also doing all of this while running for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States, a goal that he must know that he is incapable of achieving given his life choices. When your mistress gets pregnant and decides to keep the child but never reveal who the father is, it's time to end the campaign. You've got your beloved wife with Stage 4 cancer, so you'd look like a winner and you'd become such a historical after-thought that not even the National Enquirer would waste ink on your infidelity. Instead you keep going, ensuring that you will be newsworthy when the fatherless baby of a woman in your inner circle is born which will be a roadbump for both you and all of the Democratic candidates. Because you're not thinking about anybody else.

Rawr. I used to be on the "personal indiscretion between a man and his wife" bandwagon who would accept her forgiveness as my own, but not any more. In politics, a healthy long-distance marriage is used a symbol of trust and stability. Conversely, breaking it is really a part of violating the public's confidence. You make campaign promises and swear an oath to defend the Constitution if elected, so I have a passing interest in how you uphold your promises and oaths to your wife. And it seems pretty unforgivable that you would accept campaign contributions and enjoin volunteers on a quest that was so far beyond quixotic that your own senior staffers were planning on sabotaging it for the sake of the party if you came too close to success.

Seriously, new rule. Gentlemen, if you can't keep it in your pants, stay in (or return to) the private sector. The money is better, the scandal is reduced when (when!) you are discovered, and you don't kneecap your political ideals by putting your colleagues on the defensive or your opponents into office. You are not so irreplaceable that it is worth the shitstorm that you bring onto yourself and your agenda.
... and then there were forty-five. Tonight, I am a big fan of Governor John Baldacci for having the political courage to change his mind about whether civil unions are an acceptable substitute for marriage, and I hope that New Hampshire Governor John Lynch comes to a similar conclusion over the next few weeks. Plus, I continue my secret crush on Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe for being calm, reasonable New England Republicans like I recall in abundance from my youth before they were hunted to near extinction by Bible Belt conservative snipers.

As much as stories like these concerning the march of social progress are inspiring, there always seems to be a bitter wake that New York and California are so slow to join up. And, in one way, that's fair. But to be honest, there is another part of me that is glad for the wave that we have. It would be too easy to frame the issue as a culture war if the early advances were happening in gay meccas like San Francisco and New York. But instead, it's happening in C-list state capitols like Montpelier, Des Moines, and Augusta. These aren't ultra-liberal governments doing what is gay-friendly, they are pragmatic governments recognizing that their citizens deserve equal protection under the law. And that's got to be even more scary to the National Organization for Marriage, because a limited government, individual rights, basic fairness argument might gain traction somewhere like Montana or even Alaska. All the same, I hope that my beloved home state and my also-beloved post-college state don't show up too late for the party. Rhode Island looks small, but it gobbles up all of the best hors d'oeuvres.
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