Things have gotten so bad in Washington that both pundits and Republicans are beginning to use the “N-word” to describe the president. No, no… not that N-word! Instead, Obama is now actively being compared to Nixon. This comparison is patently…
…WE INTERRUPT THIS COLUMN FOR BREAKING NEWS — We here at FTP News Network have obtained exclusive before-and-after photos of Angelina Jolie’s breasts! In these side-by-side shots, the viewer can easily see the transformation of two of the most famous breasts on the planet. As the camera zooms in and pans around our 3-D representation, we will utter pious thoughts on cancer screening which you won’t pay the slightest attention to. Later, we’ll have our resident nipple expert in to discuss what you’re seeing now…
Sheesh. Now, before anyone gets too irate, allow me to state that the preceding paragraph is (1) entirely fictional — we have no exclusive shots of anyone’s breasts, sorry; and (2) intended to satirize the media’s take on any news item with the word “breast” in it — and not Angelina Jolie, Angelina Jolie’s breasts, breast cancer, any cancer, cancer screening, or medical decisions by anyone.
Seriously, consider that there is one medical procedure which gets shown on television in pretty much any breast story: mammogram images. Are pale silhouettes of any other body part ever routinely shown on television news, for any reason? I don’t recall any testicular cancer or prostate cancer stories with such graphics, personally. Nor X-rays displayed after a story about someone getting injured. Not only are the mammogram images seemingly mandatory, but television news will also gratuitously throw in an image of a woman undergoing the procedure, just for kicks. What woman really wants a video of her boobs getting squashed by a machine to be on the news, after all? This was all on full display this week with the Angelina Jolie story, complete with CGI shots of (you just can’t make this stuff up) how “the nipples were saved.”
Am I the only one who has noticed this? Seems like there’d be a cries of “blatant sexism!” but if there have been, I guess I haven’t noticed.
But back to the political news. Scandal! Scandal! Scandal! That’s the type of week it’s been, and the only way to see a silver lining is to point out that if you’re going to have several scandals erupt, you might as well schedule them all for the same week — because Washington reporters are infamous for not being able to follow more than one story at a time. When the reporters hit “scandal overload,” then just imagine how the rest of the country feels.
For instance, while there really have been at least four scandals this week, the media have mostly focused on only three. None of these (Republican bloviating aside) have risen to the Nixonian level, but all have certainly been grist for the mill this week. Here are my snap judgments as to how all three scandals will play out (the fourth one I’ll deal with in a minute…).
First, Benghazi. The “scandal” this week was based on some emails Republicans leaked to the media. The White House countered by releasing the actual text of the emails, which showed that the Republicans had lied to the press by significantly editing the text. This continues their long tradition of hyping the “scandal,” and it truly seems like nobody outside the Fox News universe is even paying attention anymore. This “scandal” isn’t going to impact Obama much (if it were going to, it already would have — and it has not), but the target has now shifted to tarnishing Hillary Clinton in pre-emptive fashion. So expect to hear a lot more about Benghazi, with little in the way of actual news contained within. Benghazi will remain the Republican “go-to” scandal for years, when they can’t dig up anything else.
Second, the IRS. Obama moved pretty quickly on this one, and his damage control may indeed work. This scandal was the easiest one to fix, when it gets right down to it. Two IRS leaders have already been cashiered, and they likely won’t be the last ones to get their walking papers. Fire those responsible in any way (all the way up and down the chain of command), institute strict rules so it cannot happen again, and the scandal goes away. That’s assuming there isn’t some sort of “other shoe to drop” in terms of the known facts, of course, but so far this scandal looks like the one which won’t go much further after the initial outrage.
Third, the AP phone records to identify leaks. This scandal may generate more outrage than the other ones, because the press was the target. Whenever the press is the target of governmental overreach, they tend to close ranks and defend their own. So this scandal will be the only one without the taint of partisanship, really. The Republicans’ hands are somewhat tied on this one, because they themselves demanded aggressive investigation over the leaks when they happened. So it’ll be hard for them to say they’re shocked that the Justice Department did exactly what they demanded, in the end. The White House damage control on this one is just getting going, after a rather pathetic appearance by Attorney General Eric Holder before a congressional committee (which, bizarrely, involved asparagus… more on this at the end). Now the White House seems to have pivoted to arguing the case on its merits — making the case of how dire this leak was to national security, and how irresponsible it was for the media to have reported on it. This isn’t going to make them friends in the media, but it may convince the public. Of all the scandals, this is the toughest to predict the outcome — again, because the outrage is mostly going to come from the media itself. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — Scandalpalooza!
Being a student of the political lexicon, I would like to propose a new definition for an old term — a term we’ve all used since roughly the second grade. I refer, of course, to the “wedgie.” For those who are astoundingly unaware of what this term literally means, I would refer you to your local second-grader (pick any boy age 7 or 8 and ask him… and after he rolls around the floor screaming with laughter for awhile, he’ll explain and even demonstrate the “wedgie” for you, I’m sure). Ahem.
But I propose a new definition for the wedgie, one in the adult political realm which has nothing to do with underwear (to clarify: the definition has nothing to do with underwear — the adult political realm often has all too much to do with underwear). My new proposed definition:
Wedgie: When a political party’s “wedge” issue turns on them and instead of dividing the other party, begins to divide their own.
Usage: “Boy, the Republicans are really getting a giant wedgie on immigration, aren’t they?”
You’ll have to forgive my irreverence, but we’ve been waiting for this fight to be joined for a long time. The immigration bill was supposed to be debated in February, and has been slipping ever since, but we’re now finally in the thick of it. Patrick Leahy’s Senate committee is voting on proposed amendments to the bill, and they’ll be doing so for weeks to come, because there are 300 of them so far (77 by Chuck Grassley alone!).
This has intensified the struggle within the Republican Party between the nativists and the realists who can read demographic data. More on that in a bit. But what’s amusing is that the wedge has turned so quickly, in historic terms. Starting in the 1990s, Republicans have scapegoated Latinos mercilessly on the immigration issue, and have won many elections because they have successfully driven a wedge between Democratic voters (in the same way they used “tough on crime” in the 1980s).
Now, however, Latinos have truly come into their own as a political force in American politics, and Republicans are on the brink of losing this entire bloc for another generation or so. Which is why there’s a comprehensive immigration bill even being discussed, right now. Unfortunately for those trying to drag the Republican Party into coming to some kind of terms with the new reality, there are still quite a few Republican politicians (and — more importantly — a whale of a lot of Republican primary voters) who are still echoing the old party line and will not budge one inch. Listen for the cries of “Amnesty!” to identify them.
And so the wedge turns. Republicans are giving themselves a wedgie. And it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving group, could it?
To be scrupulously fair, however, we must also point out that Democrats have their own immigration wedgie in their near future. Sooner or later, an amendment will be proposed to allow gays to sponsor their spouses for immigration. This will be kind of a double-reverse wedgie, as two Democratic goals come into contention. But for this week, it’s been mostly Republican-on-Republican infighting.
Senator Elizabeth Warren is making all kinds of sense with the first bill she’s introduced as a senator. Here are the facts, in a nutshell. The federal government loans money to students for their education. The interest rate currently charged is 3.4%. If Congress doesn’t act, this will go up to 6.8%. The federal government also loans money to large corporate banks. It charges them 0.75% interest. So why should students pay up to 800% more on their loans than giant Wall Street banks?
Senator Warren’s bill would fix this disparity, by charging students the exact same rate as we charge the banks. Here’s what she had to say about her bill: “As a country, every time we advance money to the big banks at low interest rates, we invest in those banks. We should be making at least that same kind of investment in our students.”
This is exactly why Democrats across the land cheered Warren’s victory in her Senate race. This is exactly the kind of thing we had all hoped for from Senator Warren. For making her very first bill such a commonsense measure, and for stripping away all the governmental nonsense to make a very salient point, we are happy to award the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week to Senator Warren.
[Congratulate Senator Elizabeth Warren on her Senate contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts, and you can show support for her bill by becoming a citizen co-sponsor of the legislation.]
Well, if we had a “Democrat Who Disappointed The Most Other Democrats” award to hand out, it would have to go to Elizabeth Colbert Busch, who did better in the vote than Obama (in the district) by five percent, but who also still lost a South Carolina special House race to Mark Sanford. Our only consolation is that we now will be able to make Sanford jokes for the next year and a half, my favorite so far being: “Mark Sanford (R-Appalachian Trail).”
Don’t like that one? Feel free to make your own. The most historic joke about South Carolina was when it was notably described by one of its own sons as “too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum.”
Kidding aside, we’ve got a pretty revolting Democrat in our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week category. The story starts nine years ago, when the mayor of Jersey City, Jerry Healy, got drunk and wound up naked on his front porch, where a photo was snapped of him, wallowing in his own crapulence. As if this weren’t bad enough, this week Healy offered an explanation for how the photo happened which just defies comment:
A nude photo of Jersey City Mayor Jerry Healy that surfaced years ago is making headlines again following Healy’s new explanation behind it. The photo, which shows Healy sitting naked on his front porch, was first published nine years ago. However, in a newspaper interview this weekend, Healy said a group of Hispanic girls drew his attention by making noise outside his home. Then, he said, they touched him and did “filthy” things.
It’s rare that a story strikes us speechless here, but this one certainly qualifies. There’s nothing in the way of chastisement which can even be offered up, as the story indeed speaks for itself. Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week is the mildest way we can put our own feelings towards Healy, in fact.
[Contact Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy on his official city contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.] Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — Wedgies For All!
Before I get into our main subject, allow me a moment of frivolity. I’d like to be the first (because I’m a day early) to wish everyone a Happy Star Wars Day! Yes, tomorrow is unofficially known as Star Wars Day, because (get ready to groan if you haven’t heard this one before) it is the fourth of May. Put another way, “May the 4th,” as in (I’m warning you, this is pretty cringeworthy) “May the fourth be with you.”
But this year’s Star Wars Day is a big one, because the original film (“Episode IV” to be fully accurate) is going to be dubbed into Navajo. They’re having casting calls today and tomorrow to fill the parts, and they’ve already translated the script. That’s pretty cool, I have to say. The people behind the effort did this to raise awareness of their language especially among their youth. Which, as I said, is a pretty great idea. I might just get a copy of the Navajo Star Wars when it comes out, just to hear what it sounds like. I have driven through the Southwest and tuned my radio into Navajo stations just for the novelty of hearing a Native American language spoken on the airwaves, so I could see sitting through a movie (where I pretty much know all the dialog anyway) just to hear it in such a unique and interesting format. So, more power to the people who put this together, or (more properly) “May the Force be with them!
In other Native American news, I read with interest this week a proposal put forth by Tim Giago, a Native American journalist, to build a museum at the site of the historically-significant Wounded Knee to present the history of the decimation of Native Americans throughout the Americas. While a quick look at a map suggests that such a museum might draw more visitors if it was located at the Crazy Horse Monument site (which is a lot closer to South Dakota’s main tourist draw, Mount Rushmore), the Wounded Knee site isn’t all that out of the way, especially for any tourists driving through Badlands National Park. The historic significance of the site is an excellent argument for building such a “Holocaust Museum of the Indigenous People” upon the site of a massacre.
In other early American news, there is now solid proof that the first English permanent settlement in America almost immediately resorted to cannibalism. It’s been in the historical record all along, including one man who “slew his wife as she slept in his bosom, cut her in pieces, salted her and fed upon her till he had clean devoured all parts saving her head,” but apparently some anthropologists hadn’t been convinced. Now there’s proof, in the form of bones from a teenage girl who was (to put it bluntly) butchered for her flesh after she was dead. Nothing like making a good first impression, when Europe first settled America! This is why children’s schoolbooks have one whale of a lot more about Plymouth Rock than they do about Jamestown, incidentally.
OK, this is a pretty bizarre introduction to this week’s news, but hey, I’m just passing along what was reported, folks. In more modern (but equally stunning) news, a professional pundit was fired because he wrote an opinion piece that was factually inaccurate and pretty ignorant all around. Is that even a thing? “Journalists” can get fired for saying things which are false (things which five minutes of fact-checking would have proven laughably wrong), and for other stupid comments? Really? Wow, I had no idea. Could’ve knocked me over with a feather…. Of course, while Howard Kurtz no longer is welcome on the Politico site, he’s still got a television program on CNN, so I guess the universe isn’t tilting as radically as a first glance might imply.
OK, that’s enough, let’s get on with it….
There are two winners of the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week, even though the impressive thing they did didn’t happen last week. The impressive results (so far) did, though.
Senators Mary Landrieu and Kay Hagan are both Democrats from two rather reddish states (Louisiana and North Carolina) with plenty of rural gun owners within them. They both went ahead and voted for expanded background checks anyway. Well, the polls are now in, and they both increased their approval significantly by voting the way they did.
This is important for a number of reasons, not least that it might convince a few more senators to vote for the bill if it is brought back up again (which may, indeed, happen — especially if Democrats see it as a winning campaign issue). But the real significance is that this is the first time the old Washington conventional wisdom has been proven wrong — voting for gun control is not suicidal for “purple state” Democrats. It’s not the “third rail” it used to be.
So while the award properly belongs to the people of Louisiana and North Carolina who are showing strong support for their senators, we simply don’t have enough awards to send to them all, so we’re instead sending both Mary Landrieu and Kay Hagan awards, for their courageous votes which caused the bump in their poll numbers.
Other Democrats (and Republicans, too), please take note.
[Congratulate Senator Kay Hagan on her Senate contact page, and Senator Mary Landrieu on her Senate contact page, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]
While some on our Friday Talking Points Awards Committee argued strenuously to give the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award to either Kathleen Sebelius or Eric Holder this week, we must instead give it to their boss: President Barack Obama.
Last week, President Obama appeared before a Planned Parenthood meeting and gave a rousing speech, promising his administration would fight for women’s rights as hard as they possibly could. It was, from all reports, a good speech and got lots of applause. This week, Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services (led by Sebelius) suddenly announced they were relaxing — but not removing — age restrictions on the Plan B “morning after” birth control pill. They insisted that it was purely coincidental that their decision to allow younger women to have better access to the pill came five days before a deadline to comply with a court order where a federal judge blasted the “politics over science” policy of the Obama administration, and which would have completely removed the age restrictions of Plan B — making it as available (if not as cheap) as condoms. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — Most Disappointing Plan B
Every so often, I write an article (mostly) in tongue-in-cheek fashion, where (usually out of frustration) I offer up some sort of reductio ad absurdum solution to all the world’s ills. This game is also known as “If I ran the world, things would be different, dammit!” by its proper name. This vents my frustration, and (if I’ve done the job right) provides a bit of amusement for the readers. Every so often, after I write one of these, it (largely, or in part) comes true. Leaving me to ponder what’s wackier, the errant thoughts in my head, or life itself.
That was all a prelude to the breaking news today: “Congress moves at lightspeed, to fix a problem that would have hit them personally, as they take yet another weeklong vacation instead of doing the nation’s business.” Could’ve knocked me over with a feather. Ahem.
Back at the end of February, I wrote, rather cynically, of how I would implement the sequester, were it up to me. This consisted of one simple idea, really: “sequester the living heck out of Washington’s National Airport.” Let Congress see the results of austerity right in their faces, as they fly home every weekend. I ended this article with a prediction:
The problem with many in Congress (and I am not even discriminating by party, here) is that they get incredibly out of touch with how the decisions they make in the halls of Congress actually affect Americans’ lives. For once, shouldn’t they be the first ones to feel the impact of their actions (or, in this case, inaction)? It seems entirely fitting and reasonable to me to move cuts which make life tough for Congress to the front of the line in the budget wars. Bringing the Washington area airports (starting with National) to a crawl would indeed hit home. In fact, it would hit them on their way home.
The public (at least those outside of the Beltway region) would probably support such a move. Obama could pitch it as: “Want to slash federal spending? OK, you first!” I’m sure a lot of folks would see the justice in such an approach. In my opinion, it’s certainly worth a try. Want the sequester to happen? Fine. Then we’ll just sequester National Airport into the ground, until it (or you) screams for mercy.
I bet it would take less than three weeks for Congress to crack.
Well, I was right and I was wrong, as it turns out. It didn’t take Congress three weeks to crack, it took one single week — coupled with the fifth time this year they’re taking a weeklong vacation. The House is currently scheduled to work a whopping 126 days for the entire year, but that’s a frustration for another day.
Seeing as how I wrote the article in a rather unserious frame of mind, I also didn’t foresee what should really have been obvious — that Congress would not tackle fixing the sequester, but that they’d rather fix only the part which affected them personally. Cancer patients, Head Start teachers, and all the rest of the Americans without a powerful lobby? You’re on your own, sorry.
The real message of this week is a simple one: for all the talk about how “Congress is broken” and “Congress can’t do anything,” the hard cold truth is that Congress is indeed capable of moving very quickly indeed — when it wants to. Inside of one week they put a bill on President Obama’s desk. That’s the yardstick to measure all other legislation — legislation which affects other Americans than “those in Congress” — when you hear either Harry Reid or John Boehner moan about “process” or some other wonky way of describing “sitting on our fat asses and not producing legislation.” Sorry guys, but when you are personally motivated, it takes one single week to pass a law. Especially when you buckle down and concentrate, without getting distracted by attending hearings on America’s job crisis (and other subjects which don’t affect you personally). One week. That’s the standard we can now hold you to. We’ll be sure to remember that. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — Helium Brains
Some weeks, I sit down to write this weekly wrapup, and find that there isn’t that much to talk about, because nothing much happened that particular week.
This isn’t one of those weeks.
In fact, too much happened in the past week to adequately pay enough attention to it all. We’ve had multiple stories this week which, in a normal week, would have dominated the headlines and been the subject of extended discussion. Most of these stories have either been pushed to the side, and will never get the attention they deserve, while a few stories have merely been postponed, and will eventually get the focus they have been denied this past week.
The big story, obviously, is the one that is still unfolding as I type this. Two men reportedly planted bombs at the Boston Marathon’s finish line in an act of terrorism. The horror of this tragedy has hung over the week as a dark pall. Yesterday, photos and videos of the suspects were made public, and by last night one of them was dead and one on the run. Boston is currently locked down — an incredible statement, really, when you consider what “locking down” a city of millions involves. The manhunt continues, house by house.
Today, with the identification of the two men, a whole lot of theories about the perpetrators and the reason for the attack were proven wrong. It was not Arabs, it was not Saudis, it was not some “lone wolf” right-wing homegrown domestic terrorist. If the information we have now proves correct, it was two Chechnyans. Which, quite obviously, wasn’t really on much of anybody’s radar screen.
It wasn’t just the theorists and armchair speculators who got some major things wrong this week, it was also many journalists. In the never-ending quest for the scoop to end all scoops, many news organizations got ahead of the facts. This really isn’t all that surprising, because this sort of thing has been happening pretty much since the dawn of journalism, in fact. It’s certainly been around since the advent of the 24/7 cable news cycle — CNN was just as wrong back in 1995 in their reporting on the Oklahoma City bombing as they were this week. But I don’t mean to pick on CNN, as there were plenty of news reports this week which later were shown to be false, and I don’t believe any news organization can honestly say they got all their reporting completely correct throughout the whole week.
Reporting the news is, at heart, taking the chaos of real-life events and presenting them as a story. The story-telling part is really what the news is all about, stripped to its core. When you’re trying to tell a story without knowing crucial parts of it, the human impulse is to fill in the gaps while still keeping the storyline plausible. This, almost inevitably in a situation like we experienced this week, leads to jumping to conclusions and making sweeping assumptions.
I’ve been cautioning everyone all week long to not give in to the impulse of letting imaginations run wild. As the facts come in, there will be more than enough time for analysis. Because this is true, this is really all I have to say about Boston this week. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be inside the cordon and be exposed to such a massive manhunt. My thoughts are not only with the victims and their loved ones, but also with those affected by the ongoing and unfolding story. The citizens crouching in fear in their homes, the police and other frontline responders responsible for bringing an end to this fear, and all the rest of America glued to their television sets, radios, or computer screens, awaiting the final outcome.
Because it has been such an extraordinary week in the news and in politics, I’m going to skip over our normal format and not hand out my “awards” this week, because somehow celebrating and castigating Democrats seems a little… I don’t know, “sophomoric”?… in the midst of the unfolding situation in Boston.
I will say that the most heartening thing I heard all week was one guy who decided to do something positive and proactive. It’s a small thing, really, but it is also the story of how one man decided to do what he could to avoid ugliness later. Jaimie Muehlhausen registered the domain name “bostonmarathonconspiracy.com” and put the following message up on it:
I BOUGHT THIS DOMAIN TO KEEP SOME CONSPIRACY THEORY KOOK FROM OWNING IT.
PLEASE KEEP THE VICTIMS OF THIS EVENT AND THEIR FAMILIES IN YOUR THOUGHTS.
In an email to the site Salon.com, he explained his action:
Sadly, one of my first thoughts was that it would only be a matter of hours before a certain group of people would begin to say it was a government conspiracy; an act of terror on our own people for political gain. It’s sickening, but take a look at the massive numbers of 9/11 conspiracy nuts — people who think Bush and the gang took down the twin towers and ended the lives of nearly 3000 people so we could go to war. The heartless and sick Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists who think the Obama administration killed kindergartners to bolster the gun control debate. And there are plenty of others. Well, I was wrong. It didn’t take hours — it took minutes.
As I said, this is a small thing in the midst of a very large tragedy, but one that deserves applause nonetheless. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — A Very Full Week
In this week’s news, former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died. As a result, Cher fans got a scare. The dangers of hashtag parsing — because “nowthatchersdead” can be broken up two ways. The other pop culture result of the “Iron Lady’s” demise was (you can’t make this stuff up) the song “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead” rocketing to the top of the British charts, even though it is three-quarters of a century old. Make of it what you will.
Back home, the New York City bribery scandal where a Democrat tried to buy his way onto the Republican ballot for mayor has taken a bizarre twist. Not just a “sex with a young staffer” sort of twist, but also a “bizarre religious practices” twist as well. Only in New York, we suppose, could a Republican “Theodist” get elected.
Speaking of Ding Dongs and the New York City mayor’s office (how’s that for an awesome segue?), Anthony Weiner is now exploring his own… um…. chances of winning the mayor’s race, apparently. Late night comics everywhere are rejoicing, one assumes. I mean, look how easy it was for a non-professional comedian to put together a joke about it, using only Margaret Thatcher and Republican weirdness as a launching point!
In more serious news, the civil war happening in the Republican Party seems to be getting much more vicious and a lot more personal. This week, there were insinuated death threats against not only the daughter of a former Republican presidential candidate, but also against sixteen sitting Republican senators. Both threats came from Republicans. So much for the conservative myth that Democrats are the only ones who ever fight dirty in politics, eh? I mean, it’s pretty hard to justify death threats in just about any context, folks. More on this in the talking points….
Democrats are having a struggle within their own party, but it’s nowhere near as vicious as what Republicans are doing these days. When President Obama put out his budget this week, there has been growing pushback from the liberal side of the Democratic Party, who does not want any reduction in Social Security benefits at all (this is nothing new, this indeed used to be a bedrock position of the entire Democratic Party). But this fight is going to take place much later, as the budget negotiations happen later in the spring and into the summer, so we’ll just mention it in passing for now.
We’re going to wrap up this week the same way we wrapped up last week, since yet another deadline slipped another week. Now, they tell us, a final bill will be introduced on Monday. Or maybe Tuesday. In any case, suckers that we are, we are taking them at their word again, and will close with the announcement: “Up next week — immigration reform!”
Senator Joe Manchin deserves at least a Honorable Mention this week, for crafting a gun control bill that could actually gain enough Republican support to pass. Now, this bill isn’t perfect by a long shot, and only addresses the background check part of the problem. There will still be loopholes — it in no way mandates “universal” background checks at all. But Manchin does deserve credit for putting something together with Republican Pat Toomey, because Manchin is seen as one of the most gun-friendly Democrats in the Senate (especially after his campaign ad of him shooting a law he didn’t like with a rifle).
Likewise, President Obama deserves at least an Honorable Mention for not giving up on the issue. Two weeks ago, the inside-the-Beltway chattering classes had all agreed that gun control was dead and had no chance. Obama refused to accept the conventional wisdom of the D.C. cocktail party circuit, however, and kept pushing. The surviving family members of the Sandy Hook shooting came to Washington and did a full-court press to lobby the Senate to pass something and not just let this opportunity slip away. Because of Obama and the family members, we are now where we are. The Senate overcame a filibuster attempt by Republicans just to begin debate on the issue, which is astounding enough, these days. Now, I should mention that there is no guarantee of success for the bill, even in the Senate. And the House is going to be one tough nut to crack on the issue. Gun control legislation may happen this year, and then again it may not. Obama is pushing it anyway, which is a big change from his first term: he is now unafraid of political legislative failure. During his first four years, he dropped pretty much every contentious issue (other than healthcare reform), because he didn’t want to risk political failure. Obviously, this is changing, and it’s a change for the better no matter what happens on gun control.
But our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to Representatives Earl Blumenauer, Steve Cohen, and Jared Polis. Together with three Republicans, they have just introduced the “Respect State Marijuana Laws Act” in the House. Earlier this week, I took Barack Obama and Eric Holder to task for sitting on their hands for five months after Colorado and Washington passed state referenda to legalize recreational marijuana use by adults. Obama and Holder refuse to say what the federal government’s policy will be in regards to these two new state laws, which I find completely unacceptable after five whole months. It seems some House members agree, and have directly taken on the problem with their new legislation. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — Ding Dong
We’ve got a lot to cover this week, so we’re going to try to get through everything in a rather foreshortened format. At least, that’s the goal (I have lost count of the times I’ve started one of these columns with “It’s going to be shorter this time, dammit!” and then wound up with the usual tome’s-worth of text when I get to the end).
First, some “old business” to start. For anyone who missed it, and is still in a foolish mood, some House Democrats put together an amusing “House of Fools” website to poke fun at Republicans.
With that out of the way, we’re going to take a quick overview of what the media considers the big stories of the week, and we’re going to end up in the Talking Points section with all the stories you may have missed due to the media being distracted by this stuff, just for fun.
President Obama just waded into some brackish waters in the sexism swamp by how he referred to California’s attorney general at a fundraiser. Note to politicians: since the late 1970s, it has no longer been acceptable to comment upon professional women’s appearance in any way, shape, or form. Obama immediately apologized, but be on the lookout for some late-night comedians making a few funny jokes tonight.
Obama also made a gesture this week, to give up five percent of his income in solidarity with the pain the sequester cuts are causing to hundreds of thousands of workers. Which prompted me to suggest yesterday how the federal budget could easily be cut to save fifty times the money Obama will be saving, by abolishing the offices of the congressional chaplains.
In more substantive budget news, Obama sent his budget over to Congress. While the House has passed Paul Ryan’s “drown it in a bathtub” budget, and the Senate has passed a much-more-reasonable Democratic budget, neither one has a prayer of actually making it into law. Obama has now essentially put on the table the offer he made to John Boehner over a year ago, and it is being attacked from left and right. But if any budget does actually pass this year, it’s going to look a lot closer to Obama’s proposal than either the House or the Senate version — something that may get lost in the frenzy of commentary over the next week or so.
Cindy McCain, most-recent wife of Senator John “You Kids Get Off My Lawn!” McCain, is going to star in a pro-gay marriage play about California’s Proposition 8. Our hats are off to Cindy, and we wish her the best of reviews as she trods the boards.
Unemployment is down to 7.6 percent. North Korea is in a frenzy of saber-rattling.
Up next week, as Congress returns from a multi-week vacation: immigration.
OK, that’s enough for now, let’s get on with the awards.
This is an odd one for me to comment on, because I feel I am not qualified to really take any sort of position on the issue.
Nevada state lawmaker Lucy Flores testified recently on a sex education bill. She offered up her own experience of getting an abortion when she was 16 years old. Since then, she has been receiving threats for doing so.
This seems to me to be not only worthy of a Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award, but also of a sort of “Profiles In Courage” status, as well. Because it must have taken a lot of courage to do what Flores did, knowing that there would be a backlash.
I would never presume to suggest that any woman follow Flores’s example, in the same way I would not presume to tell any closeted gay person to come out. These are very personal decisions, and how each person deals with them is a matter for them to decide, not some pundit who knows nothing about their lives. The sheer number of gays who have come out in the open has indeed changed the political debate in this country, because it’s getting harder and harder to find people who have never had a personal interaction with an “out” gay person these days. Some pro-choice groups have tried to get a similar thing going by encouraging women who have had abortions to speak out about the experience. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — What The Media Missed
While it certainly was (quoting the Flintstones theme) a “gay old time” in Washington this week, I have already spent the whole week on the subject, so I’m really only going to mention it in passing. I did run a column from last December this week where I predicted the outcome of both cases at the Supreme Court, if you’re interested in grading my predictions — and I might point out that it seems that many other pundits have now come around to this way of thinking, especially after watching the oral arguments.
But while we were all court-watching, there was some other political news happening this week. We start off with an embarrassing item. Now, I’m as big a Star Trek fan as the next guy, but hearing that the I.R.S. spent $60,000 on a Star Trek spoof training video was a bit much even for me. Sure, that’s not just “peanuts” when it comes to federal budgeting, it’s in fact “one grain of salt on one single peanut.” But still, guys, it’s like you’re painting a target on yourselves (right before tax season, to make it worse) saying: “Oh, please cut our budget… pretty please?!”
The strangest thing to us is if we were asked to list “federal agencies you might expect to make a Star Trek spoof video,” the I.R.S. would be way way down on our personal list. I mean, number one would probably be the folks over at N.A.S.A., wouldn’t you think?
Moving right along, President Barack Obama did one very smart thing this week. He appointed the first woman to ever head the Secret Service. This was a smart move because the agency quite obviously has some “macho” problems (such as hotel visits from prostitutes, for instance) that need fixing. Naming a woman to head the agency sends a clear signal that it is time for the agency to reform itself and set only the highest standards for their agents, both on and off the job. This is one of the nation’s elite law enforcement groups, and we think it’s high time for a woman to be in charge of it.
The big news towards the end of the week was “stupid things Republicans say,” of course, but we’re saving most of that for the “Talking Points” part of the program. The biggest fray was over a Congressman from Alaska who apparently grew up in Central California in a time where bigotry was acceptable. Now, this isn’t that damning a thing, since many folks grew up where various strains of bigotry were acceptable in polite society. The big difference is, most of us have realized that such bigotry was, in fact, wrong and demeaning and mean-spirited if not downright evil. Most of us have also realized that using the same terminology that was bandied about by some folks in the past is no longer acceptable in any way shape or form, here in 2013.
Don Young apparently hadn’t learned this lesson yet, as evidenced by his casual use of the term “wetbacks” in a radio interview. As I said, I’ll address this later, but what we found notable was an article in the Washington Post which charted Young’s previous odd and dubious behavior. Which included a line (you just can’t make this stuff up, folks) which just begged to be included here in our intro, and which we leave you with as a wrapup for this week: “Young brandished an 18-inch-long walrus penis bone and pounded it into his hand for emphasis.”
It was indeed impressive to see a whole passel of office-holding Democrats come out in full support of gay marriage this week, in advance of the Supreme Court’s arguments. By doing so, they are all following President Obama’s leadership on the issue, after he proved that Democrats can support gay marriage even during a fierce campaign and still win. Of course, some give most of this credit to Joe Biden, and they do indeed have a case. Either way, though, it’s heartening to see that the Democratic politicians are catching up to where the voters are leading on the issue.
Bernie Sanders had a pretty good week, getting a vote to protect Social Security through the Senate and introducing a new bill to take on the whole “Too Big To Fail” concept on Wall Street. So we’ve got to at least give him an Honorable Mention.
But the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week goes to Kentucky’s governor, Steve Beshear. His legislature passed a “religious freedom” bill whose sole purpose seems to be to give businesses legal cover to be as discriminatory as they feel like being, because of “religion.” This seems like a novel new way for Republicans to alienate gay people (and those who support their rights), so this legislative effort will likely soon spread to other red states, if the recent past is any judge.
Beshear, however, vetoed this bill. It didn’t matter, and he knew it wouldn’t. They had enough votes to override his veto, and they had those votes before he did so. The bill is, quite obviously, a “wedge issue” to pit those who support religious freedom against those who support gay rights. In Kentucky, the safe course was to just sign the bill, and not risk political blowback by vetoing it. Beshear chose to stand up for what he thought was right, even though the only result of doing so was to risk his own political skin. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — Don Young Shows GOP How Not To Reach Out To Minorities
Welcome to the 250th Friday Talking Points column!
If we had had our act together, we could have run some “looking back” or “best of” nostalgia today, but we in fact do not have our act together, and so we’ll just have to muddle along with the usual weekly thing.
A lot happened last week, but most of the action took place over in Republicanland. Senator Rob Portman announced that — after having thought the matter over for a mere two years after his son came out to him — he would now support gay marriage. I suppose that’s a little too snarky, though, especially since Hillary Clinton also announced her support this week. Better late than never, one supposes….
The sequester was set in stone for the next six months, so America is now going to learn what “budget cutting” really means. Paul Ryan doubled down on the slash-and-burn budgeting, and the House passed his budget for the next fiscal year, while the Senate is expected to pass a Democratic budget shortly. Neither will make it into law, but the conference committee should be interesting — keep an eye on who gets named to that committee, as the membership will be crucial to shape any sort of deal.
Reince Priebus, chair of the Republican National Committee, put out an “autopsy” of the rotting corpse of the Republican Party’s 2012 campaign. This led me this week to write one of the few columns where the title becomes obvious long before I figure out what to say in the text. Because, as has been pointed out before, when you remove the vowels from Reince’s name, you are left with: “RNC PR BS,” which summed up the contents of the “autopsy” perfectly. The continuing civil war within the Republican Party shows no signs of abating any time soon, so it’ll be fun to watch for months to come, folks! Next up on the Republican battlefield: immigration reform. Watch the fur fly!
President Obama’s off in Israel, which seems to be going well so far. No big summit news or anything, but nobody really expected any to begin with, so that’s not really any surprise. Obama is slowly (very slowly) formulating a drone policy that will move some drone control to the Pentagon from the C.I.A., but that’s not really much of a policy change on how we actually use them.
That’s about it for this week, except for one amusing petition we can fully support, and urge you to as well. In fact, we’ve voiced this opinion before, starting back in FTP  (in the last talking point). Now, there is a new petition up on the White House site that everyone can sign. Here’s the petition:
Since most politicians’ campaigns are largely funded by wealthy companies and individuals, it would give voters a better sense of who the candidate they are voting for is actually representing if the company’s logo, or individual’s name, was prominently displayed upon the candidate’s clothing at all public appearances and campaign events. Once elected, the candidate would be required to continue to wear those “sponsor’s” names during all official duties and visits to constituents. The size of a logo or name would vary with the size of a donation. For example, a $1 million dollar contribution would warrant a patch of about 4″ by 8″ on the chest, while a free meal from a lobbyist would be represented by a quarter-sized button. Individual donations under $1000 are exempt.
Since the White House upped the bar which generates a response, the petition has a long way to go (it’s just over 15,000 at this writing, it needs to get to 100,000). So click on over and show your support for this great idea! Sure, it’ll never happen for various reasons, but it would be fun to see their response nonetheless.
We’ve got to at least give an Honorable Mention to John Hickenlooper for signing some very tough gun legislation in Colorado, proving that even the Mountain West — traditionally a very gun-friendly region — can lead the rest of the states on the path to saner gun laws.
But our real Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week is Elizabeth Colbert Busch, sister of comedian Stephen Colbert, who just won a primary for a special House election in South Carolina. This seat was open as a result of Jim DeMint pulling “a Sarah Palin” and walking away from the Senate to take a cushy job as “conservative emeritus” (or something). In any case, Busch won the primary handily, and will now take on Mark “hiking the Appalachian Trail” Sanford in the general election in May. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — Happy Sestercentennial Column!
Our column’s subtitle this week is a silent homage to guitarist Alvin Lee of the band Ten Years After, who sadly died this past week. Anyone who has seen the movie Woodstock knows of Lee’s incredible talent on the electric guitar, and we just wanted to begin by noting that Alvin Lee is “Goin’ Home” for the last time. Requiescat In Pace.
Transitioning from Alvin Lee’s death to current political news is tough to do, but not impossible. We offer up a “six-degrees-from” sort of segue, to do so: Alvin Lee was the lead in Ten Years After. Former Republican Senator Norm Coleman (the guy Al Franken beat out) was also a former roadie for Ten Years After. During Franken’s campaign, I wrote an article titled “When Hippies Go Bad,” doing my part to expose the hypocrisy of Norm Coleman. This week it was revealed that Louisiana is paying tax dollars for history books which use all sorts of derogatory names for hippies (and warn they listened to rock bands which worshipped Satan). Mike Huckabee, when running for president, opined: “If you think that Medicare is expensive now, wait until 10,000 aging hippies a day find out they can get free drugs. Then, it’s really going to get expensive in a hurry.” And with that, we’re back to the budget, Medicare, and Paul Ryan. Voilà!
Paul Ryan introduced his version of the Republican budget this week, and it seems Ryan has agreed that two or three of President Obama’s biggest budget victories actually do significantly cut the deficit, and are therefore worth including in the Republican plans for the future. Remember that $716 billion that Ryan and running mate Mitt Romney made so much political hay over, in all their “Mediscare” ads during the campaign? Hey presto — it’s back in Ryan’s budget! Guess Ryan and Romney were just flat-out lying about how they’d restore every dime of that $716 billion, eh? Also included in the recent Ryan budget are the tax increases Obama got through the fiscal cliff showdown. So now the Republicans are fully on board with those, too, rather than all their nonsense about how it was going to kill the American economy. Also notable, Ryan’s budget does not directly attack Obamacare, and just assumes it will be implemented as designed. Another issue Republicans have now accepted as reality, apparently.
If you thought that previous segue was too convoluted, here’s a much easier one: ten years after we decided to go to war with Iraq, a final report was released which showed that America wasted at least eight billion dollars in the reconstruction effort (out of $60 billion total). Note that “at least” — the real figure could be much, much higher. Talk about “waste, fraud, and abuse” in government. In any case, it allowed me to get that “ten years after” reference in, ahead of the flood of stories we will be experiencing in the next two weeks over the Iraq War’s anniversary.
Let’s see what’s going on in the world of Republican-on-Republican attacks (always a fun place to observe from afar). We have the Virginia governor’s race and the Iowa Senate race, which will both be providing all kinds of amusing stories over the next year or so. We had Rand Paul mount his first-ever filibuster, and then the spectacle of John McCain denouncing him the next day for doing so. Maybe McCain’s afraid all the Sunday morning shows will be calling up Rand Paul to be on teevee more than they’ll be calling him… or something… it’s always hard to tell what McCain’s thinking at any particular moment. And finally, we all enjoyed the deliciousness of watching Jeb Bush twist slowly in the wind on immigration. Bush wrote a book a while back (which is just now being released) in which he staked out a position that was actually more moderate than the position Republicans were holding when he wrote it. Now, however, the ground under the GOP position has shifted, and Bush now looks like a right-wing reactionary — which was not his intended effect. So he had to kick off his book tour by disavowing the position he took in the book. A book specifically about immigration. So it wasn’t even a Republican-on-Republican attack in this case, it was Jeb Bush-on-Jeb Bush. Delightful to observe! Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — I’d Love To Change The World