Father Robert Drinan, Congressman

I didn’t know anything about the late Drinan, who was both a congressman from Boston and a Roman Catholic priest until Pope John Paull II made him step down (priests should be loyal to the Vatican and to God, the Pope reasonably argued).

This was of course, back in the 1970s, when priests like Father Drinan concerned themselves with opposing things like war and torture. Y’know… What Jesus Would Do.

Friedman on Iran

Good Tom Friedman column today. He’s right to say that there’s no need for our relationship with Iran to be as confrontational as it is. The more we keep antagonizing them, the harder we make the situation. This goes back at least as far as 1953, when the CIA overthrew their democratically elected president because British Petroleum asked us to (and, well, he might have be possibly been a Commie pinko or at least trending that way so better safe than sorry, eh?).

Read Friedman’s piece together with Laura Secor’s dizzying foray into Iranian politics in Sunday’s NYT Magazine. She concludes that there’s a perhaps unresolvable tension between democracy and theocracy, which one Professor neatly sums up this way:

“Either [Ayatollah] Khamenei is infallible, or he’s not. If he’s not, then he is an ordinary person like Bush or Blair, answerable to the Parliament and the people. If he is, then we should throw away all this nonsense about Western values and liberal democracy.”

So while Friedman makes good point that Iran is much more liberal than Saudi Arabia, that liberalism is coming at the expense of internal stability. And, in my opinion, the harder we push on it, the more it’s likely to fall in the wrong direction.

Hey, It’s Called States’ Rights

Two years after approving civil unions, some Connecticut lawmakers are proposing that the state legalize full-fledged same-sex marriage:

The two Democratic leaders of the General Assembly’s judiciary committee say they intend to introduce a bill legalizing gay marriage, even though Gov. M. Jodi Rell has said she would veto such a measure.

“This is obviously not the most important issue [facing] the legislature,” said Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven and one of the co-chairmen of the judiciary committee. But, he added, “this is inevitable.”

Opponents vow to fight it. Brian Brown, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut and one the leading voices against same-sex marriage, called for an amendment to the state Constitution defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Acknowledging that winning legislative approval of such a measure was highly unlikely, he urged a non-binding referendum on the matter.

. . .

Two years ago, the legislature made history by permitting same-sex couples to enter into civil unions. While granting same-sex couples nearly all of the rights and responsibilities available to married couples, civil unions are not recognized by most other states or the federal government. Many gay rights activists view civil unions as an acceptable compromise and say they have helped many couples. But they also view the law as inherently unfair and have failed a lawsuit seeking full-fledged marriage. Senate GOP leader Louis DeLuca of Woodbury rejected the claim that marriage is a civil right. “Isn’t that what civil unions were supposed to address?” he asked during the Family Institute press conference. “Now they want that name as well. As someone whose been married 53 years, I resent it.” But Becca Lazarus, a 12-year-old who lives in Windsor with her two dads, doesn’t see it that way. She said her friends don’t understand why her parents can’t marry. “They don’t understand what a civil union is,” Lazarus said during the Love Makes a Family press conference. “but everyone knows what marriage is.”

Completely leaving aside the matter of whether same-sex couples should be able to marry*, I wonder if it’s wise for marriage-rights advocates to move this quickly. While Connecticut residents might be happy and comfortable with going in just two years from civil unions to marriage, it strikes me as potentially counterproductive for gay rights advocates elsewhere. I’m assuming (not so much assuming as being unable and too lazy to locate the exact numbers) you have a higher number of Americans who support civil unions than gay marriage and I wonder if what’s happening in Connecticut — not even happened, mind you, but simply that some lawmakers are proposing it — makes or might make that margin uneasy about even plain old civil unions.

Add to that is the geographic proximity of the states leading the charge for gay rights — Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey — and I also wonder if that middle ground of people is freaking out that there might be some domino theory of gay marriage going on.

I don’t think it’s the worst thing in the world to see how civil unions work in practice before moving on to something more contentious like full marriage on par with what hets get. If not for those who were initially unsympathetic towards providing legal protections to gay couples then for the people working hard in other places to get civil union laws passed.

*And although I resent that I have to say this because it should be totally unrelated to the matter at hand, I would describe myself as pretty strongly pro-gay marriage.

Andy Stern’s On The Trail

Harold Meyerson racks up the SEIU boss’s new initiatives. One asks Democratic candidates to spend a day with working-class candidates in the primary states, another, They Work for Us, monitors Democrats nationwide to make sure they don’t drift from the labor line (essentially a mirror image of the anti-tax Club for Growth on the right), and a third, Divided we Fail, is forming a coalition with the Business Roundtable and the AARP for single-payer universal healthcare.

Meyerson goes on to observe how Stern is turning SEIU into the United Auto Workers of the 21st Century.

It’s an interesting comparison, with one major caveat: Stern seems interested in directly affecting government policy, not corporate policy. For example, the UAW negotiated generous healthcare and pension benefits from the auto companies. Those “legacy costs” are now a major reason why the Big Three auto makers are having a hard time returning to profitability (we can argue about how major a reason, but they’re at least part of the story).

SEIU, on the other hand, is looking to de-emphasize the role of corporations in healthcare and pensions. So even if Stern has his way, we won’t be seeing Wal-Mart or Safeway crippled with legacy costs down the road, because his goal is to shift those costs (appropriately, in my view) to the federal government.

As for Stern’s other initiatives, I’m indifferent on the first one (it’s pure politics, but maybe it’s useful), and skeptical about the second (They Work for Us). The Club for Growth ran some pretty terrible candidates in ’06 and cost the GOP a few seats by running ultra-rightwingers in districts and states where they didn’t stand a chance.

Cuts to Farm Subsidies

This Bush proposal seems like a good thing:

The administration is seeking to eliminate farm payments for wealthy producers, limiting subsidy payments to those making less than $200,000 in adjusted gross income annually. The current income cap is $2.5 million.

Farm subsidies are on the order of $20B/year, and they’re largely a <a href="handout to rich agribusiness, or else some kind of weird tax shelter. So cutting the program by $18B over 5 years isn’t huge, but it isn’t a drop in the bucket, either. For a point of reference, when the Pentagon recommended closing over 30 military bases last year, the savings were calculated at somewhere between $2.5B/year and less than $1B/year, depending on what math you use.

So if the President supports it, and it’s a relatively easy way for the Dems to free up some money without offending any major constituents, it should be a no-brainer, right? We’ll see. Maybe I’m being overly cynical, but I have a feeling a few annoying Senators are going to try and block it for no good reason.

Um, you left WHO in charge of the store?

There are some things in life that are merely stupid. Then there are things that that are so stupid they make me want to run, screaming, in terror for the future of our species.

Before I post my little quote, just keep in mind two things. 1) Iran (according to our dimwit president anyway) is Public Enemy #1 and 2) other than the U.S., the only country that flies the venerable (and now retired) F-14 Tomcat is Iran (through a pre-revolution deal with the Shah). Remember also that most of Iran’s Tomcats are essentially grounded for want of parts, thus making it that tiny little bit easier for our aircraft to hit targets within Iran should it come to that.

So you’d think, or at least I’d think, that the last thing on earth anyone in the Pentagon would want to do would be to make F-14 parts available to the international arms market. Er, who, exactly, might be interested in buying F-14 parts? Oh, yeah, Iran.

[Deep breath]

Ready for this?

The Pentagon said Tuesday it had stopped selling surplus F-14 parts … U.S. law enforcement officials believe Iran can produce only about 15 percent of the parts it needs for its Tomcats, making the Pentagon’s surplus sales a valuable avenue for spares.

The Pentagon had planned to sell about 60 percent of the roughly 76,000 parts for the F-14, viewing them as general nuts-and-bolts-type aircraft hardware that could be sold safely without restrictions.

At least we’ve STOPPED selling these parts. But note that this was only due to pressure from Congressional Dems.

The decision comes as a Democratic senator moves to cut off all Pentagon sales of surplus F-14 parts, saying the military’s marketing of the spares “defies common sense” in light of their importance to Iran.

Oy. I ask you — is ANYONE in the Bush administration paying attention at this point?

More Great Game Fun

Following up on yesterday’s post, and building on what Matt says in the comments, Iran and Saudi Arabia are also “projecting soft power into a space in which we should be dominant,” (the Prof’s words) by working together to end the conflict in Lebanon.

In some ways, of course, that’s a good thing: more countries working to settle conflicts through international cooperation is a plus for humanity. On the flip side, this is another sign of decreasing American influence.

Ironic isn’t it? The whole Neocon goal was to extend American hegemony through the 21st Century, and in just five short years, despite having both a sympathetic president and even the “Pearl Harbor-like event” they dreamed of, they’ve managed to achieve the exact opposite.

Dystopia

I caught this out of the corner of my eye on MyDD:

Al Franken, Curt Schilling… oy. Apparently John Elway is being pushed into the Colorado race as well. I’m having flashes of a dystopian future where the entire Senate and half the House is made up of former athletes, actors, and other assorted celebrities. In other words, no one with a law degree.

On the other hand, with all the muscleman’s been able to do in Kally-fornia, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Pole Position: Baghdad

Andrew Sullivan has posted a great YouTube video of a U.S. Humvee driving through downtown Baghdad. Bumping the locals’ cars, as Sullivan writes, can “hardly endear the U.S. forces to the local population.” Indeed.

A couple of other interesting things. First, note that none of the traffic lights work. Second, it’s weird seeing a third-world country with so many cars on the road. I’m not the most well-travelled guy on the planet, but the few times that I’ve been to a poor, third-world nation, I’ve noted that bicycles, buses, and motorbikes are the normal forms of transit. This is obviously the result of living in an oil state (cheap oil + enough local wealth to buy cars), but it’s still jarring.