Friday, March 1, 2013

Last Call

Matt Yglesias on sequestration:

Long story short, if you're a defense dove like me and have a nonutopian view of the domestic discretionary budget, then this looks like we're mostly talking about harmless spending cuts. It is very true that the current moment is not an optimal time to cut wasteful government spending. Given the high unemployment rate, the low and stable inflation rate, the low cost of federal borrowing, and the weird dynamics of "Evans Rule" monetary policy, I would say that 2013 is an excellent time for the federal government to waste some money on make-work military contracting gigs. But in the grand scheme of things, wasting resources on low-value programs is not a great idea, and there's more to life than timing.

Spoken like a man halfway to David Brooks' View From Nowhere.  Steve M. rips into Yggy and rightfully so:

Maybe there's more to life than timing for you, Matt, a fast-track journalist who's skipped effortlessly from excellent career-building job to excellent career-building job in the past decade, but for the ordinary schmucks who've waited years for a genuine ray of hope in their economy, the one that seems to have permanently high rates of unemployment, timing is everything -- as in, these people need a break now.

What Yglesias says in the lead-up to that statement is absolutely correct: we should be doing far more to put money in ordinary people's pockets. I don't care what it is: I'd take "make-work military contracting gigs" or a huge infrastructure repair program or any other way you could make it happen. Whatever will inspire people go to the mall next weekend. Whatever will flow money through the rest of the economy.

If military contractors are laying people off, retailers in regions where military items are made will suffer. If federal workers are experiencing one-day-a-week furloughs, their ability to spend drops 20%. And on and on. And, of course, this happens in an economy where most people barely have an economic cushion -- I bet Yglesias has one -- so how far will some of these people sink, even if the cuts are temporary?

Excellent point. Real people are going to get hurt here, and it's important to remember that.

The Massive Malay Melee

The kids over at WIN THE MORNING, JR. do some actual journalism for once, and have caught conservative bloggers and columnists behaving rather badly, taking a buck or three (or hundreds of thousands) writing stories about Malaysia...stories which are actually propaganda press releases from the country's government.  At the center: former Guardian columnist Josh Trevino.

The payments to conservative American opinion writers — whose work appeared in outlets from the Huffington Post and San Francisco Examiner to the Washington Times to National Review and RedState — emerged in a filing this week to the Department of Justice. The filing under the Foreign Agent Registration Act outlines a campaign spanning May 2008 to April 2011 and led by Joshua Trevino, a conservative pundit, who received $389,724.70 under the contract and paid smaller sums to a series of conservative writers.

Trevino lost his column at the Guardian last year after allegations that his relationship with Malaysian business interests wasn't being disclosed in columns dealing with Malaysia. Trevino told Politico in 2011 that "I was never on any 'Malaysian entity's payroll,' and I resent your assumption that I was."
According to Trevino's belated federal filing, the interests paying Trevino were in fact the government of Malaysia, "its ruling party, or interests closely aligned with either." The Malaysian government has been accused of multiple human rights abuses and restricting the press and personal freedoms. Anwar, the opposition leader, has faced prosecution for sodomy, a prosecution widely denounced in the West which Trevino defended as more "nuanced" than American observers realized. The government for which Trevino worked also attacked Anwar for saying positive things about Israel; Trevino has argued that Anwar is not the pro-democracy figure he appears.

The federal filing specified that Trevino was engaged through the lobbying firm APCO Worldwide and the David All Group, an American online consulting firm. The contract also involved a firm called FBC (short for Fact-Based Communications), whose involvement in covert propaganda prompted a related scandal and forced an executive at The Atlantic to resign from its board.

The problem is that Trevino has run afoul of many sites for failure to disclose taking money from a foreign government along this lines...and he contracted these columns out to his wingnut welfare buddies.

Trevino's subcontractors included conservative writer Ben Domenech, who made $36,000 from the arrangement, and Rachel Ehrenfeld, the director of the American Center for Democracy, who made $30,000. Seth Mandel, an editor at Commentary, made $5,500 (his byline is attached to the National Review item linked to above). Brad Jackson, writing at the time for RedState, made $24,700. Overall, 10 writers were part of the arrangement. 

So yeah, HuffPo has already pulled all Trevino's pieces, and I'm expecting more will follow.

Oh, and didn't conservative columnists and bloggers make a huge stink about how unethical it was that Chuck Hagel reportedly took money from "Friends of Hamas" (which never existed) to speak their "propaganda"?

Funny how that works.

The Beginning Of The End Of Same-Sex Marriage Bans

The Obama Justice Department released a brief backing the end of California's Prop 8, which overturned the state's law allowing same-sex marriage.  The argument that the Justice Department makes here, backed by the President himself, is the end of same-sex marriage bans.

It goes something like this:

  1. Hi, we're the Executive Branch.  Maybe you've heard of us.
  2. California's Prop 8 basically allows taking rights away from a specific class of people.
  3. We think that warrants "heightened scrutiny."
  4. This means California has to have an ironclad, 100% bulletproof reason for doing this.
  5. Here are the reasons California laid out for doing this.  We list them.
  6. None of these reasons come anywhere close to the ironclad, 100% bulletproof level. 
  7. That leaves discrimination for its own sake.  That's unconstitutional.
  8. Junk Prop 8 and let people marry in any state with legalized same-sex marriage.
  9. Oh, and by the way, the logical endpoint of our argument, hint hint...
  10. ...Is for you guys to say "Hey, we can't come up with an ironclad, 100% bulletproof reason either...
  11. ...And if you then hold all same-sex marriage bans in states to heightened scrutiny...
  12. ...None of them would pass muster, period.  They'd have to go too."
  13. Voila!  End of same-sex marriage bans.

Now, will SCOTUS actually get to 13 there?  Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSBlog says no, and argues the DoJ stops at 8, where 9-13 are simply implied.  That's true to a point, but the implication is strong.

In essence, the position of the federal government would simultaneously give some support to marriage equality while showing some respect for the rights of states to regulate that institution.  What the brief endorsed is what has been called the “eight-state solution” — that is, if a state already recognizes for same-sex couples all the privileges and benefits that married couples have (as in the eight states that do so through “civil unions”) those states must go the final step and allow those couples to get married.  The argument is that it violates the Constitution’s guarantee of legal equality when both same-sex and opposite-sex couples are entitled to the same marital benefits, but only the opposite-sex couples can get married.

“The Court can resolve this case,” the new brief said, “by focusing on the particular circumstances presented by California law and the recognition it gives to committed same-sex relationships, rather than addressing the equal protection issue under circumstances not present here.”   That final phrase was the brief’s strongest indication that the administration is not yet ready to take a firm position on whether the “fundamental right to marry” that the Court has recognized repeatedly is a right that should be open also to same-sex couples.

The eight states that apparently would be covered by the argument the Solicitor General has now made are California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Rhode Island.

Some believe the brief is woefully inadequate, mostly those who have always found the President lacking in some way.  Marcy Wheeler goes as far to call the President a liar and a coward:

Mr. Obama has consistently lied about his dedication to civil liberties, privacy and the Fourth Amendment, I guess it should not be shocking that he would lie about his dedication to civil rights for all, across all the states, in the form of marriage equality. And that is exactly what he has done. And as Denniston’s article makes clear, this decision bore the active participation and decision making of Obama personally. The cowardice is his to bear personally. Thanks for the fish Mr. Obama

Which is odd, because Allahpundit at Hotair suggests the President is a liar precisely because the brief effectively is the full-throated defense of the equal protection of same-sex marriage rights that Wheeler was looking for.

The news also isn’t that O’s revealing himself once again to have been a liar on this issue. When he ran in 2008, he pretended to be against gay marriage to parry Republican claims that he was a devout liberal rather than the centrist “post-partisan pragmatist” his campaign touted him as. He finally dropped the facade last year — it’s politically safe now to support gay marriage, even in the GOP (sort of) — but he’s continued to insist that this issue should be left to the states because … I’m not sure why. Literally no one believes he sincerely feels that way, and since he’d already taken the plunge by endorsing legal gay marriage, he had little to gain politically from his phony federalism. The best I can do by way of a theory is to guess that O, instinctively, likes to posture as a “moderate” even when he’s pushing reliably liberal positions. (E.g., “the balanced approach.”) It’s good for his brand as the “reasonable” adult in the room in Washington, a vestigial version of the pragmatic independence he feigned in summer ’08. Plus, I suppose he might have thought that posing as a federalist on SSM would cushion the blow for opponents once he revealed his support for legalization. It’s not as big of a deal to find out that the president thinks gays should be allowed to marry if he’s qualifying that by saying you should get decide to your home state’s rules. But that was nonsense, as the DOJ’s brief confirms, and anyone who didn’t see through it instantly is a fool.

But Greg Sargent believes the goal is step 13 there, and that the argument that the DoJ gives means 9-13 must be implied (and basically says "look, the time is right to do this.")  I agree with this analysis:

Because Supreme Court justices give weight to the opinion of solicitors general, this makes it more likely — though it certainly doesn’t assure this — that the Court will adopt an equally sweeping ruling. It sets forth a legal view that comports with Obama’s view that “the love we commit to one another” should be equal before the law. It sends a strong signal that the administration believes the culture is ready for full equality for gay and lesbian Americans. If the Court responds in kind, it will give gay advocates a powerful weapon to challenge other state laws around the country banning gay marriage, and they’d likely be toppled as unconstitutional — one by one. This could truly help put this persistent relic of legalized discrimination on the road to extinction.

Now the question is again, will SCOTUS get all the way to 13, or stop at 8?  If it does get to 13, then as Greg mentions, the precedent means that same-sex marriage bans will be struck down time and time again as states simply can't come up with any good legal reason to ban it.

That would leave a huge vacuum across the country, which you could then make the argument that the vacuum had to be filled with a national legalized same-sex marriage law.

We'll get there.  The question is how long it will take.


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