* First shots fired: The Obama Justice Department rejects South Carolina’s law to restrict voting — oops, “voter fraud” — as discriminatory, a clear sign that the battle against the right’s war on voting will escalate nationally in 2012.

* Not much of a concession to the GOP, after all: Obama still has options to kill or delay Keystone XL.

* Steve Benen makes the key point about Mitt Romney’s nonstop mendacity: “It’s ultimately going to be up to reporters and major news organizations to decide whether a campaign built on deliberate deception is allowed to thrive.” I’m not terribly optimistic.

* Jonathan Capehart notes an overlooked reason the public responds well when Obama fights the GOP hard: The public continues to like him personally. A key advantage if Obama sticks to his new combattiveness.

* The Hill has an interesting glimpse at GOP frustration with real or perceived tensions between John Boehner and Eric Cantor, which could become a liability in next year’s battle for the House.

* David Dayen has an epic analysis of the scope and reach of Dem policy successes and failures this year, and makes this sobering point about the House GOP’s undeniable overall success:

The constraints on domestic policy put in place by this Congress will resonate for a long time.

The other key point about The Year In Gridlock is that there just isn’t going to be any fundamental governing breakthrough until the public finally casts its lot with one ideological approach or the other in 2012.

* Coinage of the day: Citizens for Tax Justice dubs the tax code provision that ensures Romney pays lower tax rates from investments “the Romney loophole.”

Now that Romney has said he likely won’t release his tax returns, this one could stick.

* Relatedly, a nice catch by Alec MacGillis: Romney is being quite forthright and aggressive in defending his right to pay lower tax rates than untoldnumbers of middle class Americans.

This stuff is going to loom larger than many expect, given the determination of Obama and Dems to speak directly to the public’s increasing preoccupation with tax unfairness during Campaign 2012.

* As I predicted would likely happen, the Truman National Security Project has now pushed out former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block for suggesting Israel critics are anti-Semitic.

* The Truman center accuses Block of “debasing” the term “anti-Semitism.” The affair is a referendum on whether insinuating that Israel critics are anti-Semities will continue to constitute accepted discourse.

* Did the House GOP’s surrender in the payroll tax cut fight reveal the Tea Party to be a paper tiger?

* And your evidence-free right wing conspiracy theory of the day: A self-proclaimed “proud racist” attendee at a Tea Party rally was actually a “leftist plant”!

What else is happening?