BREAKING: MN Supreme Court: Franken Won (UPDATED X2)

It’s been nearly 8 months since Election Day.

It’s been more than 6 months since Inauguration Day.

And, finally, Minnesota’s outstanding Senate race has been decided.

Minnesota’s Supreme Court has affirmed [PDF] that Al Franken is the duly-elected junior Senator from Minnesota, having garnered more votes than former Senator Norm Coleman.

Of course, Franken still needs a certificate of election signed by his state’s governor, Republican Tim Pawlenty. But Pawlenty said that he would abide by the Supreme Court’s decision:

Minnesota law does not allow the governor to sign an election certificate until the state court process is complete. And when it is, and they direct me to sign the certificate, I’m going to sign it. There’s not going to be any undue delay or the like. But I’m going to follow the direction of the courts in that regard and we’re going to be having a decision here in the coming weeks … I have to follow the law. If the Minnesota Supreme Court says, “You sign the certificate” — and there’s not an appeal or some other contrary direction from a federal court — you know, that’s my duty. I can’t just ignore that or say I don’t feel like following a directive from the Minnesota Supreme Court. That would not be the responsible thing to do.

[Emphasis mine]

There’s a chance that Coleman could appeal this decision to the federal judiciary, which may give Pawlenty room to once again put off signing a certificate.

But the Minnesota Supreme Court should be the final say in this case, and they have resoundingly affirmed that Al Franken is the junior Senator from Minnesota.

UPDATE: I should note that the decision was unanimous–the court ruled 5-0 in Franken’s favor.

Here’s the key part of the ruling:

For all of the foregoing reasons, we affirm the decision of the trial court that Al Franken received the highest number of votes legally cast and is entitled under Minn. Stat. § 204C.40 (2008) to receive the certificate of election as United States Senator from the State of Minnesota.

UPDATE II: Norm Coleman just conceded; congratulations to Senator Al Franken!

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Iran Burning, Pt. 10

FOR

In Foreign Policy, the Brookings Institution’s Suzanne Maloney bolsters the case that Iran’s political unrest isn’t about the United States–and that the Iranian people alone can decide their country’s destiny:

If anyone needs another reminder of how minimal Americans’ understanding of and access to Iran has become, the discourse in Washington over the past week certainly provides one. As scenes of Iranian bravery and bloodshed have unfolded, American pundits and politicians have fixated on President Obama’s syntax and inflection. Although a passing familiarity with Iranian history, as well as Iranians’ appeals for Washington not to meddle in their nascent movement, buttress the case for caution, the tempest over presidential semantics is at best a pointless exercise and at worst a distraction from the serious question ahead: How will Iran’s internal crisis will impact U.S. policy?

The fact is, no matter how much Americans like to think they are the ones shaping events in Iran, it’s just not true. The dramatic events in Iran have been wholly internally driven. They are the product of three decades of semi-competitive Iranian elections, a sophisticated population that warily guards its limited rights and freedoms, the tensions of a longstanding elite power struggle, and the ever-important force of unintended consequences among other factors. Better for the United States, then, to focus on those areas where it actually has some capacity for influence: namely, its own Iran policy, and more specifically, how Washington can move forward with engaging Tehran in light of the dramatic changes of the past 10 days.

As profound as recent events have been, engagement remains the only path forward for Washington. Whenever the dust settles in the tumultuous battle on the streets and behind the scenes, direct U.S. diplomacy continues to represent the most viable mechanism for addressing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. After all, Obama’s interest in engagement was never about the Iranian leadership, and until very recently, most experts expected a second Ahmadinejad term. Instead, the case for engagement was – and still is – rooted in the urgency of the world’s concerns about Iran’s ambitions and the even-less promising U.S. policy alternatives, such as military action or externally sponsored regime change.

[…]

But what about Iran’s burgeoning democracy movement? And what useful role can and should the United States can play in advancing it? Given recent events, it was inevitable that some American pundits and policymakers would renew their calls for additional U.S. democracy assistance programs for Iranian reformers. This would be precisely the wrong move – not because it would compromise the climate for nuclear negotiations, but because Iran’s own activists have consistently rejected such funding. They don’t want it, and elections-related news such as the massive reformist vote monitoring effort suggests they don’t need it. Better for Washington to focus efforts on where it can be both useful and welcome, such as last week’s timely intervention to encourage Twitter to defer network maintenance during a crucial moment of the protests.

[Emphasis mine]

In an interview with Al Hunt, both former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger side with President Obama:

HUNT: What the critics say is that we wouldn’t have taken that attitude in South Africa in the 1980s, we wouldn’t have taken – shouldn’t have taken that attitude in Tiananmen in 1989, or in Hungary or in Czechoslovakia in the ’50s.

ALBRIGHT: I think very different. And I think the point here is you have to understand the differences.

So for instance, I know a lot about Czechoslovakia and Poland. Those were very different kinds of bottom up revolutions against the Soviet Union. And frankly, there was a very big issue in Hungary. And this is something that people have to be careful of.

The administration in the 1950s kept saying to the Hungarian people, we will help you if you rise up. And then we didn’t. And so there’s a lot of blame that goes around. Czechoslovakia in 1968, same thing.

So first of all, they’re very different. Those revolutions were very nationalistic. And just a different situation.

BERGER: Now the fact of the matter is what the President has said has been very tough. And he’s escalated his rhetoric as the situation has escalated. In the early first days, it was not appropriate to prejudge how this thing would unfold. But his rhetoric over the past few days and his statements have been clear, have been strong, and have been appropriate.

[Emphasis mine]

HuffPo brings us a 10-minute long video of yesterday’s brutal crackdown:

And Reza Aslan writes about the possibility of a compromise solution emerging:

Reliable sources in Iran are suggesting that a possible compromise to put an end to the violent uprising that has rocked Iran for the past two weeks may be in the works. I have previously reported that the second most powerful man in Iran, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of the Assembly of Experts (the body with the power to choose and dismiss the supreme leader) is in the city of Qom—the country’s religious center—trying to rally enough votes from his fellow assembly members to remove the current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei from power. News out of Iran suggests that he may be succeeding. At the very least, it seems he may have gained enough support from the clerical establishment to force a compromise from Khamenei, one that would entail a runoff election between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his main reformist rival Mir Hossein Mousavi.

[Emphasis added]

The GOP’s Unhealthy Obsession: Lying About Health Care Reform (UPDATED)

DENY

There is a lot of misinformation and garbage talking points on health care reform being spread around by conservatives.  But, despite all the sound and the noise, there doesn’t seem to be a single worthwhile argument against health care reform buried anywhere in there.

Republicans claim–falsely–that a public option would result in the “rationing” of health care. But what is rationing?

ra⋅tion

1. a fixed allowance.

2. an allotted amount.

By that definition, isn’t health care already rationed? Health care isn’t unlimited–first, whether or not you even have health insurance depends on where you work and how much money you have. And both of those influence the quality of coverage you can get.

Second, even if you have the means to get health insurance, the insurance companies can still deny you coverage for a variety of reasons–a pre-existing condition, for instance.

Third, even if you have health insurance, insurance companies can deny your claim for a particular medical treatment for a variety of reasons.  So, even if you are covered you might not be able to get the treatment you need.

Health insurance companies make a profit by denying as much coverage as possible to as many people as possible; their entire business model is centered around rationing.

Conservatives also argue–falsely–that a public option would put “government bureaucrats” between citizens and their doctors in terms of making health care decisions.

Yet, bureaucrats are already between people and their doctors–instead of being government bureaucrats whose jobs are to serve the American people, it’s private health industry bureaucrats whose jobs are to try to deny you as much health care as they can. That is how they make money, after all.

Conservatives are also asking where the money for health care reform is going to come from, claiming a plan including a public option would cost somewhere between $1.5 and $2 trillion.

Of course, that crowd includes a fair number of newly-minted deficit hawks who didn’t seem to care very much when George Bush and the Republican Congress were spending huge amounts of money on utterly frivolous things.

Where were these guys when Bush was pushing his $1.6 trillion tax cut package through Congress? Why weren’t any of these conservatives complaining about the cost of the Iraq War, which will cost us nearly $3 trillion?

Of course health care reform will be expensive–it’s going to help insure tens of millions of Americans who are currently going without health care.  The question isn’t simply how much it will cost, but whether or not the benefit is worth it.  For instance, to an average middle-class family buying a house is incredibly expensive, but the benefit they receive from that purchase justifies the cost.

Plus, we already pay a significant portion of what health care reform would cost in other ways–our salaries are lower because our employers have to pay greater health care costs.  We pay more in taxes to help support overburdened hospitals that have to treat a large number of uninsured Americans.  We pay higher health insurance  costs and premiums to a veritable monopoly with no competition and massively-high prices, which would be challenged and kept honest by a public health insurance option.

I wonder just how much of that $1.5-$2 trillion would come from costs that the American people already pay in some form or another?

On one hand, conservatives–falsely–claim that a public health care plan would be massively inefficient, resulting in long waits for treatment,  reduced choice in doctors, limited treatment options, etc.

But on the other hand, they claim that  the public option will drive the private insurance industry out of business.  That’s right–they claim that public option will be terrible, but so many people will opt into it that the entire private health insurance industry will go bankrupt.

They also claim that private insurance will go out of business because it’s impossible for a private entity to compete with a government program.  Except:

I immediately thought of the U.S. Postal Service. Here’s a government-run service that can deliver a paper document to any remote location you choose for 42 cents.  They can also deliver packages quickly and at a very competitive rate. Impressive.

But even with this efficiency the “public option” for package delivery has a number of healthy competitors. There’s FedEx (started in 1971 as Federal Express), DHL (founded in 1969), UPS (founded in 1907) among others.

Somehow, despite the government-run program, these private delivery services have managed to survive by offering customers something they found worthy of their business.

Conservatives don’t want to admit it, but America is facing a health care crisis.  Costs are rising because there’s nobody to compete with the insurance industry. Tens of millions of Americans go without health insurance for themselves and their families, relying on overburdened, understaffed hospitals to be their first–and last–resort in the event of injury or illness.  The time for change has come, yet conservatives are content to simply drag their feet and say “No.”

UPDATE: And keep in mind that there is already a public option for health care–it’s just restricted to members of Congress. That’s right–every member of Congress currently receives taxpayer-funded, government-provided health insurance.

So any Senator or Representative who opposes a public health insurance option is a complete and utter hypocrite, unless they put their money where their mouth is and reject their free government health care in favor of buying private insurance out-of-pocket.

But I guess those are conservatives for you–they have no problem accepting free government handouts hand-over-fist when it benefits them and their families, but will fight tooth and nail to prevent those same benefits from being extended to regular, everyday Americans.

BREAKING: Gov. Sanford Admits Affair (UPDATED)

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (R) admitted just now during a press conference that he recently traveled to Argentina and engaged in an extramarital affair.

Gov. Sanford will resign as Chairman of the Republican Governors Association, elevating current Vice Chairman Haley Barbour (MS) to the Chairmanship.

Sanford is currently serving his second term as Governor; he will leave office due to term limits in early 2011. Widely-rumored to be a potential 2012 Presidential candidate, today’s news will likely end Mark Sanford’s political career.

UPDATE: Remember, Gov. Sanford’s announcement comes just 8 days after Sen. John Ensign–another formerly-rumored 2012 Presidential candidate–admitted to having an extramarital affair with a campaign staffer.

At this rate, are there going to be any Republicans left to run for President in 2012?

Iran Burning, Pt. 9

1

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In one of the most significant developments of the Iran uprising, CNN is reporting that some Islamic clerics are joining the opposition protests:

In a blatant act of defiance, a group of Mullahs took to the streets of Tehran, to protest election results that returned incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power.

Whether these clerics voted for Ahmadinejad or one of the opposition candidates is unknown. What is important here, is the decision to march against the will of Iran’s supreme leader who called the results final and declared demonstrations illegal.

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mullahs rule supreme. They are the country’s conservative clerics; the guardians of the Islamic revolution and its ideologies. They’re loyal only to God and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

[Emphasis mine]

Meanwhile:

Iran also expelled two diplomats from Britain — a nation it bitterly accuses of meddling and spying — and Britain in turn sent two Iranian envoys home.

The latest moves, and a fresh deployment of riot police and militia to break up any street gatherings, signaled the regime’s determination to squelch dissent and mute the voices of those whose protests have been the largest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

[…]

No rallies were reported Tuesday. Many in Tehran seemed hesitant to confront the feared Revolutionary Guard and members of the Basij militia, suggesting the harsh response wrought by hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to large and boisterous demonstrations may have weakened the opposition’s resolve.

[Emphasis added]

Reports are also coming in that opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi has been placed under house arrest. There are also reports that another major demonstration is being planned for Wednesday at 4:00 PM Tehran time.

Iran Isn’t About Us (UPDATE)

THEM

Conservatives are hitting President Obama over Iran, arguing that he should be doing more to support the opposition there. I bristle at the politicization of the situation in Iran because, ultimately, what the Iranian people are going through isn’t about us, it isn’t about American politics and we shouldn’t be making it about us.

First off, I find it pretty disingenuous for conservatives–who spent years calling for the United States to bomb Iran–to suddenly show so much concern for the Iranian people. As Glenn Greenwald pointed out a few days ago:

During the presidential campaign, John McCain infamously sang about Bomb, Bomb, Bomb-ing Iran. The Wall St. Journal published a war screed from Commentary‘s Norman Podhoretz entitled “The Case for Bombing Iran,” and following that, Podhoretz said in an interview that he “hopes and prays” that the U.S. “bombs the Iranians.” John Bolton and Joe Lieberman advocated the same bombing campaign, while Bill Kristol — with typical prescience — hopefully suggested that Bush might bomb Iran if Obama were elected. Rudy Giuliani actually said he would be open to a first-strike nuclear attack on Iran in order to stop their nuclear program.

[…]

Advocating a so-called “attack on Iran” or “bombing Iran” in fact means slaughtering huge numbers of the very same people who are on the streets of Tehran inspiring so many — obliterating their homes and workplaces, destroying their communities, shattering the infrastructure of their society and their lives.

Second, like I said, this isn’t about us. It’s about Iran and the Iranian people. The uprising in Iran is really two simultaneous conflicts–the fist is pro-democracy demonstrators facing off against an oppressive government. To that extent, Obama has done what should be expected of a President of the United States—he spoke out in favor of democracy, in favor of free speech and free assembly, and denounced the Iranian government for their violent, brutal crackdown against their own people.

But there’s another conflict here that conservatives are not seeing or not acknowledging–the political conflict over the disputed election. The major players in Iran’s unrest are the ruling party and the opposition party. That’s partially why Obama hasn’t done what conservatives want and side with the demonstrators—that would, in effect, be telling the Iranian people who their next president should be.

One of the basic tenets of democracy is that sovereign states should be able to hold elections without interference. The Iranian people have a right to decide—as much as they are allowed to—who should govern them; it’s not the job of the United States (or anyone else) to declare winner.

Iran’s election occurred, was stolen, and resulted in violence. But, in the end, this is still an Iranian political dispute, though a decidedly violent one. Iran–and only Iran–should determine the course their country takes. They have that right, and Obama has said from the start he isn’t going to take that right away from them.

Honestly, if Iran’s conflict didn’t involve a disputed election, I too would be criticizing Obama for not doing more. But the fact that the core of this fight is about who will run Iran makes it infinitely more complex.

Third, if Iran’s opposition wanted America to get involved they would ask us to. Mousavi and his movement are the center of the world’s attention at the moment; they have a large microphone at their disposal. Yet, we’re not hearing the opposition call for the United States to get involved. As the National Iranian American Council says,

People in Iran have told NIAC’s Iranian-American membership that they don’t want the US to get itself involved in the conflict, but they do want to see the government’s use of violence condemned

[…]

If America’s posture returns to that of the Bush administration, these indigenous forces for change may be quelled by the forces of fear and ultranationalism

I trust the opposition to understand more than anyone how American involvement would affect their movement. The the fact that they haven’t called on Obama to do what conservatives say he should do is telling.

Fourth, it’s funny how conservatives–who like to dismiss Barack Obama as nothing but lofty rhetoric–are now suddenly believers in the power of a speech. But even if Obama did what conservatives wanted and spoke out in favor of the opposition, nothing would change. The opposition would still demonstrate; the government would still crack down; the situation would be as bloody and violent as it currently is if not moreso. As it is, the Iranian government is trying to portray the protesters as puppets for America and the West; if Obama came out fully on the side of the opposition, it would vindicate those paranoid, conspiratorial fantasies and justify even more violence and murder. Obama taking the opposition’s side would do little to help but a lot to hurt; the opposition knows this and that’s why they aren’t asking for Obama’s support.

As an additional note, conservatives are outraged that the administration is going ahead with a planned diplomatic meeting with Iranian representatives on July 4th. But that shouldn’t be surprising or controversial—Obama has always said that America shouldn’t talk only to its friends and that diplomacy shouldn’t be a reward for good behavior. And Obama’s foreign policy was the one chosen by the American people last November.

And how idiotic is it that conservatives are calling for Obama to make a speech, which would accomplish very little, yet they attack him for wanting to engage iwth Iranian diplomats, even though that would actually give us a chance to affect Iran’s polity. And for anyone who would claim that a despotic, terrorism-supporting nation cannot be changed through diplomacy, all I have to say is: Libya.

The arrogant conservatives who would have America further meddle in Iranian affairs don’t know what they’re talking about; they’re the same arrogant conservatives who engineered the Bush administration’s failed, disastrous foreign policy. Iran isn’t about us. It isn’t about Barack Obama or the Democrats or the Republicans; it’s about Iran and the Iranian people. If you truly believe in democracy, then you must believe that the Iranians should decide their own fate instead of having America decide it for them.

UPDATE: Super special note to Sen. John McCain: you lost the election. Get over it.

GOP Makes No Gains From Sotomayor Obstruction (UPDATED)

Turning back to domestic politics for a bit, the GOP is failing to reap political benefits from opposing Judge Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court:

Nearly a month after President Barack Obama picked her for the Supreme Court, Republican senators say Sonia Sotomayor isn’t serving as the political lightning rod some in their party had hoped she would be.

“She doesn’t have the punch out there in terms of fundraising and recruiting, I think — at least so far,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who most likely will be elected as the No. 4 Republican in Senate leadership this week.

[…]

“Right now, you don’t have the fever pitch you did over the filibuster,” said [Sen. Lindsey]Graham, a member of the Judiciary Committee. “It depends on how she does [at the hearings]. If she performs well, no. If she performs poorly, potentially, yes.”

“I don’t think she’s the kind of person that invites that kind of reaction,” said Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) of the possibility of making major political gains over Sotomayor’s nomination. “I don’t think her judicial record warrants the ability to do that with her.”

Who could have imagined that an experienced, talented, highly-accomplished judge with a history of moderate, sensible decisions would turn out to be completely uncontroversial?

The GOP bungled this from the start. They only had two options–filibuster or let Sotomayor slide.  It would have been extremely hard for them to filibuster; in fact, it’s likely Sotomayor will be confirmed by a wide margin.

Therefore, conservatives would have been smart just to let Obama have his nominee and avoid a political battle.  Plus, going along with him on this one would have helped dispel the perception that the GOP is made up of kneejerk obstructionists; sometimes, a little bipartisanship can go a long way.

Instead, conservatives attacked Judge Sotomayor from the start, desperately grasping at one ineffective attack after the next, clearly lacking any semblance of a strategy. Now conservatives are being forced to eat their words as the likelihood of Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation looms.

It looks like Republicans have become completely politically tone-deaf. They obstruct for the sake of obstructing without giving a single thought to whether or not they can succeed; they waste political capital on battles they can never hope to win, and then pat themselves on the back for their self-defeating and ultimately pointless opposition.  Once again, the GOP has failed to deliver; no wonder people are abandoning their party in droves.

UPDATE: Hispanics, especially, are abandoning the GOP in droves:

The latest numbers from the nonpartisan Research 2000 for Daily Kos find that only eight percent of Latinos view the [GOP] favorably, while an astonishing 86 percent view it unfavorably.

That’s a real shift from what were already pretty bad numbers from before the Sotomayor nominatino, when 11% of Latinos viewed the GOP favorably, and 79% viewed it unfavorably.

One of the big stories today is that Republicans are realizing that there’s no political percentage in fighting the Sotomayor nomination. It’s striking that Latino opinion about the GOP is dropping so fast, even at a moment when GOP opposition to Sotomayor appears to be flagging, as opposed to intensifying.

This continuing drop among Latinos, coming at a time when many party strategists recognize the party’s desperate need to broaden its appeal, only reminds us that not only are there few apparent upsides in opposing Sotomayor, there are potentially serious costs, too.

[Emphasis mine]