Friday Talking Points [313] -- Prelude To Silly Season

FTP3Planes have been dropping out of the sky at an alarming rate recently. I don’t know what portents such omens signify, but the media certainly has had no lack of videos of debris fields to show, that’s for sure.

Back in Washington, we have one week to go before the opening of “Silly Season 2014,” an annual event brought on by hordes of political reporters scrambling around, devoid of actual stories, while Congress is away on its six-week vacation. What will the main Silly Season story become, for pundits to endlessly obsess over this August? Your guess is as good as mine. Several candidates have already popped up (“Hey, let’s all talk about impeachment!” for starters), but perhaps some lonely town hall meeting (with some hapless member of Congress) somewhere in the hinterlands will provide the fodder for this year’s Silly Season obsession — hopefully, with an epic rant caught on video!

But before we get there, Congress actually has one more week of “work” scheduled. They’ve got a lot on their plate, and it’s looking like nothing much will get accomplished. “Border crisis!” was the rallying cry a few weeks ago, but the House can’t agree on anything to do to fix it, so they’ll likely not manage to pass anything. Likewise, few expect any action on immigration reform itself. The only thing the House may accomplish is to vote to go ahead and sue President Obama. Such is the state of modern politics. Call it fear of legislating.

House Republicans face a very basic conundrum on the border crisis. Two of their bedrock beliefs are clashing with each other, which is why they can’t agree on any concrete plan. You see, when you want government to do something that you consider worthwhile, you actually have to pay for it. Need more Border Patrol agents? It costs money. More fences? More money. Waiting time for judicial hearings too long? That can be fixed, but it’s going to cost money. However, Republicans believe that smaller government is always better, and budgets should always be cut, not increased. Which is why they’re in such a bind on the border. They really want to live in a magical world where spending less on a problem solves it faster. Since reality doesn’t work like this, they can’t agree on any plan to address the problem. Instead, the House Republicans collectively are going to have a sort of nervous breakdown. That’s what’s on schedule for next week, at any rate.

In hopefully-unrelated news, a Republican staffer was arrested for bringing a handgun to work. Representative Tom Marino’s press secretary is being charged with a felony, and has been placed on unpaid leave in the meantime.

Out in Kentucky a very Republican town came up with a novel idea to fight high gas prices: open a government gas station! That is some original thinking, as we’ve never before heard of such a tactic being used in this fashion by an American town. The town of Somerset is near a popular recreational lake, and the gas stations in town apparently upped their prices to fleece the tourists. Locals weren’t amused. They now seem delighted with the mayor’s plan to sell gas with only a small markup to cover costs — the town is explicitly not trying to make a profit. Local gas station owners aren’t happy, and are calling the move “socialism,” so it’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out. Perhaps more towns will consider the idea, especially after hearing how delighted this town’s customers/constituents are.

Republican hawks got a slap in the face this week, as the House overwhelmingly passed a resolution stating that before President Obama sends any more troops to Iraq, he should consult Congress. Since Congress is unlikely to approve, this was a strongly anti-war vote, with a very bipartisan 370-40 split.

Paul Ryan is attempting to address poverty, once again. What he’s really doing is trolling the media to write “compassionate conservative” columns about him (which, so far, doesn’t seem to be working very well), to bolster his chances to get the Republican presidential nomination.

Let’s see, what else? The chief judge of the 9th Circuit Court wrote some astonishing things about capital punishment this week, stating that using drugs to execute people is “a misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and beautiful” when in fact they are “brutal, savage events” which should not be masked in any way. “I’ve always thought that executions should be executions — not medical procedures,” the judge told the Associated Press. His answer? Firing squads. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [313] — Prelude To Silly Season

Friday Talking Points [312] -- Democrats' 'Middle Class Jumpstart' Agenda

FTP3The media, quite obviously, is currently in a frenzy. Actually, two frenzies, since they’ve now got two wars to cover, one of which has provided shots of a grisly plane crash. This all meant that a lot of oxygen was sucked from the normal political news scene, meaning this week’s column will be somewhat abbreviated. Both wars didn’t really impact America all that much, so there’s not a lot to add to the media cacophony on either one, to put this another way. The biggest political event of the week (for Democrats, at any rate) was Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats rolling out a new campaign agenda — the “Middle Class Jumpstart” — in the tradition of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America.” But we’ll have much more on this later, as we’re turning over the whole talking points portion of the program to this rollout. In other Democratic campaign agenda news, Carl Gibson of the Huffington Post wrote a great article which starkly lays out the difference between two states that charted separate ideological budgetary paths during the recession: Kansas and California. In a nutshell, Kansas decided to massively cut taxes and California not-so-massively raised taxes on the wealthiest. The result? California’s economy (and budget) is now almost fully recovered, and the Kansas economy is now in the toilet. Kansas saw its incoming revenues plummet, and their bond rating was downgraded as a result. This is one of the best evidence-based articles on the aftermath of the philosophical differences between Republicans and Democrats, and is well worth reading in full. The annual liberal blogger/activist Netroots Nation conference is happening this week, but sadly we decided not to attend, so we have no news from Detroit for you (sorry about that). The Senate effectively got within three votes of essentially overturning the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision. Senator Barbara Boxer wrote a wonderful piece on the issue this week, as well. The House — astonishingly — actually passed a much-needed bill to continue funding highway and infrastructure projects, even if it was nothing more than another short-term stopgap bill. Hey, a stopgap is better than stopping the government, right? This should be seen as a clear victory for the Establishment Republicans over the Tea Party, it’s worth mentioning. In funny candidate news, Republican Scott Brown verbally tripped over his carpetbag, once again. Hey Scott, it helps when running for office to remember what state you’re actually in! Ask any rock star, they’ll tell you the crowd does indeed notice when you blow this line. Heh. In Arizona, a Republican congressional candidate was trying to fan the flames of the immigration issue, but instead wrongly identified a busload of Y.M.C.A. campers as Central American children. Whoops! In Kentucky, voters have a fake Senate candidate to consider: Gil Fulbright. His ad his hilarious, and starts with:

Hi, I’m Gil Fulbright. The people who run my campaign, they’ve made this commercial — and I’m in it. This campaign — it’s not about me, it’s about crafting a version of me that will appeal to you. A version that visits random worksites with paid actors pointing at things. A version of me that doesn’t find old people loathsome or pointless.

The people behind the effort are making a strong point about money in politics, and doing so in a very funny way, we have to say. Not-as-fake (but still pretty laughable) candidate Thomas Ravenel is running for Senate down in South Carolina. He’s not only been on reality television, but he’s also been previously convicted of drug trafficking. I don’t think Lindsey Graham’s very worried, personally. Speaking of politicians (well, “ex-politicians”) and drugs, there are some highly amusing photos of Tom Tancredo joshing around with some legal marijuana in Colorado, if you haven’t yet seen them. Which brings us to the week’s weed news. Sam Tracy has a great summary of the most-important legislative marijuana news of the week (which is worth checking out) up on Huffington Post, if you’re interested in more detail. Washington, D.C. is still locked in a struggle with Congress over decriminalization, and the White House weighed in strongly on the local government’s side. A unanimous decision was just announced by the U.S. Sentencing Commission that new sentencing standards for non-violent federal drug offenses will actually be applied retroactively — which could give tens of thousands of prisoners shorter sentences to serve. And, finally, a research scientist at the University of Arizona was just fired — coincidentally, right after she received federal approval to study marijuana’s effect on P.T.S.D. in returning soldiers. She describes herself thus: “I am a lifelong Republican, and I am very conservative.” But that hasn’t stopped plenty of liberals from supporting her, by signing a petition to get her reinstated in her job. As of this writing, there are close to 32,000 signatures on the petition, so why not take a minute and add yours to the list? Continue reading Friday Talking Points [312] — Democrats’ ‘Middle Class Jumpstart’ Agenda

Friday Talking Points [310] -- Courtin' Season

FTP3‘Tis the season when the political press all goes a-courtin’. So to speak.

The end of June is an important time on the political calendar, but it is one which most Americans don’t really think about all that much. It’s hard to fault this, since summer is the low ebb of the political season in general, and since Independence Day is just around the corner. But the end of June is also the end of the Supreme Court’s judicial year, when they issue the biggest decisions of the past session. So, let’s take a very quick run through the important decisions handed down in the past week or so, shall we? In other words, “a-courtin’ we will go….”

The biggest news for court-watchers this year is that around half of all the decisions this year have actually been unanimously decided. Seems John Roberts may be trying to push back a bit on the impression that most cases in his court are decided in a 4-5 split, yea or nay. Only the wonkiest of court-watchers have so far noticed, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

The other thing worth noting, before we run through the decisions themselves, is that this week is chock-full of anniversaries. It’s the 50th for the “Freedom Summer” of registering black votes in Mississippi, and it is the one-year anniversary for the Senate passing a comprehensive immigration bill with a strong bipartisan vote. The House has yet to do anything more on the subject than dither, in the meantime. Judicially, though, it has been only a single year since the decisions on gay marriage were handed down. Think about the immense progress marriage equality has achieved since, and it’s easy to forget how monumental these decisions were, only one short year ago. An appeals court just ruled that marriage equality must take place in Utah, of all places. That just wouldn’t have been possible a year ago, and it likely wouldn’t have happened at all if the high court hadn’t ruled against DOMA and Proposition 8. The only question now remaining is: will the case in which the Supreme Court sweepingly tosses out all remaining state laws against marriage equality happen next year or the year after that? That is an immense amount of progress in one year’s time, folks.

From the Supreme Court, there was some good news and some bad news for people across the political spectrum. Aereo lost its case against the broadcast networks, as the Supreme Court ruled that recording shows pulled off individual antennas and then providing them later to mobile devices was, essentially, no different than running a cable company. Massachusetts “buffer zones” around abortion clinics were struck down, unanimously (although different justices used different rationales to arrive at the same conclusion). Many have pointed out the incredible irony of a Supreme Court who says buffer zones are illegal while maintaining their own buffer zone which removes protests from their doorstep (in other words, their own steps aren’t a “free speech zone”).

The Environmental Protection Agency mostly won the right to regulate carbon emissions, although they did lose on one technicality about how they go about doing so. This still means they’ll be able to regulate about 97 percent of what they were claiming, so overall it’s an environmental win (the decision could have been a lot worse, to put it mildly).

President Obama got his wrist slapped for recess appointments made while the Senate was “in session.” Those scare quotes are necessary, because what being “in session” means, in this case, is that during their many many weeks-long vacations scattered throughout the year, the Senate calls upon members from nearby states (wouldn’t want to make anyone else fly back, in other words) to drive down to the Capitol once every three days, unlock the chamber, flick on the lights, move to the podium and gavel the Senate into session. After performing this onerous duty (to a completely empty room), the gavel comes down again, and the session is closed. A walk back up the aisle, the lights flicked off, and don’t forget to lock the door. Every three days, this has been happening, in recent years. Because of this, the Senate claims it is not actually in recess, but still in session. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [310] — Courtin’ Season

Friday Talking Points [309] -- Meet Brian Schweitzer

FTP3Today, we’re going to have a special edition of the talking points, where we get to know a Montana politician who seems to be seriously considering taking on Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. But before we do so, it was a busy week otherwise, so let’s just dive right into it. First, a look at what’s going with Republicans.

Three separate Republican scandals were in the news this week, as Wisconsin governor Scott Walker was accused of running a criminal scheme out of his office, Congressman Don Young of Alaska was dinged by the House Ethics Committee for airplane rides he should have paid for himself, and prosecutors seem to be closing in on New Jersey governor Chris Christie. But even with all of that going on, the most shocking thing a Republican did wasn’t actually a scandal per se, merely scandalous.

Thad Cochran faces a runoff election next week to be the Republican nominee for the Senate seat he now holds. It is expected to be a tight race. Cochran is out there fighting for every vote — even the bestiality vote. Yes, you read that right. Here he is, addressing a rural Mississippi audience:

I grew up coming down here for Christmas. My father’s family was here. My mother’s family was from rural Hinds County in Utica. It was fun, it was an adventure to be out there in the country and to see what goes on. Picking up pecans — from that to all kinds of indecent things with animals. And I know some of you know what that is.

Hoo boy. Not much more you can say about that one, is there?

There was news from the Washington Post this week, but not in the ordinary way. Two Post writers made some news of their own, as Dana Milbank annoyed righties by pointing out just how intolerant a recent righty gathering was. Meanwhile, George Will was yanked from a newspaper his column has been running in, for a column he wrote a few weeks ago where he took a rather bizarre position on campus sexual assault.

The news media (at least the televised portion) showed without a shadow of a doubt that they have not learned one single lesson from their coverage in the run-up to the Iraq war. I mean, even Glenn Beck (of all people) now admits that “liberals were right” about going in to Iraq, but the producers of teevee news have yet to realize this, it appears. Last Sunday morning, by my count, the broadcast political interview shows (on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox) had a total of nine Republicans on, which was “balanced” by two Democrats. The likely reason for this is that people like John McCain can be reliably counted upon to rant and rave, which the producers feel makes for “good television.”

This trend continued during the week, as pretty much everyone who got Iraq fundamentally and tragically wrong before we invaded was invited to share their views about what to do now. In what universe is this any way to run the news: “Let’s see… who should we ask what to do now… Oh, hey, I know — how about all the people who got it wrong last time around?”

At least Megyn Kelley (on Fox News, of all places) realized that interviewing Dick Cheney involved quite a bit of tossing reality down the memory hole, as she asked him, point-blank:

Time and time again, history has proven that you got it wrong as well in Iraq, sir. You said there was no doubt Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. You said we would be greeted as liberators, you said the Iraq insurgency was in the last throes, back in 2005, and you said that after our intervention extremists would have to ‘rethink their strategy of jihad.’ Now, with almost $1 trillion spent there, with almost 4,500 American lives lost there, what do you say to those who say you were so wrong about so much at the expense of so many?

Sadly, most of the rest of the media were unaware of the ironies involved. Why else would Paul Bremer be interviewed on CNN? Or Paul Wolfowitz invited on air to share his flawed worldview once again? Huffington Post had some fun with this, suggesting proper captioning for these guests, to inform the viewers. Hey, people who book guests for news shows, here’s a crazy idea: why not invite on the air the people who were right about the desirability of invading Iraq to share their views of the current situation? I’d love to hear what Dennis Kucinich thinks about things, for instance. Or Vice President Biden (more on this in a moment), for that matter.

Let’s see, what else? Hard data is coming in on Obamacare, and most of the numbers are good — much better than the naysayers had predicted. The media largely ignored this news, however. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [309] — Meet Brian Schweitzer

Friday Talking Points [308] -- Selenofriggatriskaidekaphobics Unite!

FTP3I have to begin this week by apologizing for the irreverent nature of that title, but then how often do you get a chance to coin a cool word like “selenofriggatriskaidekaphobia”? The proper answer is that the chance won’t come again until 2049, which explains why we couldn’t resist. The word is a mashup of two phobias, the fear of a full moon (selenophobia) and the fear of Friday the 13th (friggatriskaidekaphobia, not to be confused with fear of the number 13, which is just triskaidekaphobia, of course). The rare occurrence of a full moon on a Friday the 13th won’t happen again for another 35 years, so today’s pretty much it for this generation of selenofriggatriskaidekaphobics, at least. But enough of this looney etymological fun, let’s get on with a week chock-full of political happenings, shall we?

Hillary Clinton apparently has a new book out, as anyone within sight of a television learned this week. This would have been the big story this week, except a whole bunch of other stuff happened which overshadowed Hillary’s book tour. By week’s end, the Clinton news had even moved on to astonishment that Chelsea Clinton was being paid a whopping $600,000 a year to produce the occasional puff piece for NBC News. Nice work, if you can get it, eh?

Another story which faded fast was the Bowe Bergdahl saga, even though his girlfriend released his handwritten journals to the Washington Post, which gave a glimpse inside his troubled mind.

An amendment to weaken “trucker fatigue” standards for professional truck drivers was debated in the Senate, mere days before Tracy Morgan’s limo was hit by a trucker who had reportedly been awake for more than 24 hours. This was indeed an ironic twist of fate, but we refuse to make cheap jokes about an accident which killed one of Morgan’s friends.

The Drug Enforcement Agency, according to a new report, has been intentionally hindering research on marijuana for four decades, which should come as a surprise to nobody. The key takeaway from the story:

[The new report] also criticizes the agency for creating a “regulatory Catch-22″ by arguing there is not enough scientific evidence to support rescheduling marijuana while simultaneously impeding the research that would produce such evidence.

A spokesperson at the DEA declined to comment on the report.

In Nevada, “None of these candidates” won the Democratic primary election for the nomination to run against the well-liked governor, Brian Sandoval. This is partly due to the fact that Sandoval is likely to win re-election no matter who runs against him, but it’s still pretty funny for “none of the above” to win an election (due to Nevada’s quirky ballots, which always include this option).

President Obama is visiting an Indian reservation today (the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Nation), becoming only the third president in American history ever to do so (Clinton did so in 1999, and F.D.R. was the first). From the story, which most of the media is likely to ignore:

Obama is making his first visit as president to an Indian reservation, where he will tout the strides his administration has made with Native Americans, unveil new education and economic measures aimed at Native Americans and speak of the difficult work that remains to pull many tribal members out of crippling poverty and endemic unemployment.

Many tribal leaders say Obama has done more in six years for Native Americans than all of his predecessors combined. The administration has given land back to tribes, worked one-on-one with tribal governments and is cracking down on crime in Indian Country.

“The best thing that’s happened to Indian Country has been President Obama being elected,” said Dave Archambault II, chairman of Standing Rock.

In other Native American news, a television ad called “Proud To Be” was run during a basketball championship game which featured many Native Americans stating what they are proud to be called. The ad ends with: “Native Americans call themselves many things. The one thing they don’t…” which then shows a picture of a Washington Redskins football helmet. You can see the full two-minute version of this powerful ad in the story at Huffington Post.

In international news, Iraq is self-destructing. This led the Wall Street Journal to call for a few airstrikes and some American paratroopers to fix the problem, because we all know how well that turned out the last time, right? The Maliki government has dug its own grave, and now it is about to lie in it. Obama, thankfully, stated that there would be no new American boots on the ground any time soon. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [308] — Selenofriggatriskaidekaphobics Unite!

Friday Talking Points [307] -- An Alternate Reality to Consider

FTP3This week was notable in many respects in the political world, but one subject overwhelmed almost everything else. We’re going to address the prisoner swap and Bowe Bergdahl in an unusual way this week, in lieu of our regular talking points at the end of the column. But first, we’re going to take a very quick look at what else happened this week, and then hand out the weekly awards.

This week marked the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square, the 70th anniversary of D-Day, and the little-remembered 75th anniversary of the United States turning away a refugee ship filled with over 900 Jews fleeing Hitler (the so-called “Voyage of the Damned“). Keeping tight immigration quotas was, politically, more important at the time. D-Day was our nation’s finest hour in World War II, but the story of the M.V. St. Louis was perhaps our most shameful hour. Not to detract from D-Day, but both events are worth remembering this week, for very different reasons.

There was a bizarre scandal over at the Drug Enforcement Agency this week, but the media decided collectively to ignore it, even though it has all kinds of exploitation possibilities. A woman who is “still employed by the DEA, according to a Justice Department press release” and her husband staged the fake kidnapping of American children in Columbia, in an effort to defraud the government. Here are the facts, such as they are, from the press release. Now will someone please tell me why this isn’t newsworthy? It seems to have all the necessary ingredients for a major scandal, but the mainstream media just yawned.

In other D.E.A. news, doctors in Massachusetts are being threatened with the loss of their federally-administered ability to prescribe medicine, to pressure them not to support medical marijuana in the state. This is about as thuggish and jack-booted as government gets, folks. If your political views aren’t the correct ones, we will destroy your career. Someone remind me, why does D.E.A. chief Michele Leonhart still have a job?

Congress is doing what it can to push back, as a law sailed through a Senate committee this week (on a 22-8 vote) which would block the D.E.A.’s ability to crack down on industrial hemp experiments which Congress has already authorized. None other than Mitch McConnell was a co-sponsor of the bill (after a shipment of hemp seeds to Kentucky was briefly blocked), showing how non-partisan an issue denouncing the D.E.A. now is.

Moving along, eight states held a primary election this Tuesday. In San Jose, medicinal marijuana shops were offering free weed for anyone with an “I voted” sticker, which is probably illegal (but then, under federal law, so is their entire business operation). Sooner or later I just know I’m going to see a bumper sticker saying “I smoke pot — and I vote!” At this point, it’s pretty much inevitable.

The biggest news from the primary results is the impending runoff between Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi and his Tea Party challenger. Although, if you dug for it, there was some good news for progressives in this week’s contests, too.

In what was the most far-reaching news of the week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced new pollution rules. This was overshadowed by all the squabbling going on over the prisoner exchange, but President Obama’s legacy as the best president on environmental issues in all our history will indeed be remembered for decades to come. From raising car emissions standards to now doing something about power plants, Obama has made more progress on this than any president since Richard Nixon first set up the E.P.A.

In “Republicans attempt to reach out to voters” news, this week a major Republican gay rights group decided to just close up shop. Yes, sadly, GOProud is no more.

The National Rifle Association released an extraordinary statement about certain people who are demanding the right to carry long guns wherever they want, which included:

Let’s not mince words, not only is it rare, it’s downright weird and certainly not a practical way to go normally about your business while being prepared to defend yourself. To those who are not acquainted with the dubious practice of using public displays of firearms as a means to draw attention to oneself or one’s cause, it can be downright scary. It makes folks who might normally be perfectly open-minded about firearms feel uncomfortable and question the motives of pro-gun advocates.

This was way too reasonable for their supporters, and so by week’s end they had retracted and apologized for exhibiting any shred of sanity on the issue. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [307] — An Alternate Reality to Consider

Friday Talking Points [306] -- End of Reefer Madness?

FTP3It has been a momentous week, with the resignation (read: “firing”) of a cabinet secretary, a presidential speech on America’s foreign and military policy, and the announcement of a timetable to bring home the remaining troops in Afghanistan. Plus all the usual Washington squabbling. But one story risks being buried among all this other newsworthy stuff, and that is the vote which happened late last night in the House of Representatives. Because, with a healthy bipartisan majority, they just voted to end the war on medical marijuana forever. If the Senate follows their lead, this could be one of the biggest turning points in ending the federal War On Weed altogether. In other words, it is a momentous event.

The “Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment” was sponsored by Republican Dana Rohrabacher and Democrat Sam Farr, both from California — the first state in the nation to legalize medical marijuana, almost two decades ago. It uses the traditional congressional “power of the purse” to ban the Justice Department from spending any money on arrests, raids, and prosecutions of medical marijuana providers and patients that comply with their states’ medical marijuana laws. That’s the entire Justice Department, including federal attorneys, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

While the Obama administration began with a promise not to prosecute medical marijuana patients and providers, the reality on the ground has been far different. U.S. Attorneys in some states have used an extremely heavy hand in bringing such prosecutions to court, no matter what the head office was saying (this article, written before the amendment passed, lists a few of these). The head of the D.E.A. has (to put it politely) not exactly jumped on board with laying off medical marijuana providers. Action by Congress, in this case, was necessary to refocus the entire Justice Department away from the drug-warrior mindset when it came to providing medicine to ill patients.

Last night, to the great surprise of even marijuana reform activists, the House voted 219-189 to yank all funding for targeting medical marijuana in states where it is legal (in state law — it still remains illegal under federal law, medicinal or not). A whopping 49 Republicans joined 170 Democrats in voting “yea.” That’s about as bipartisan as it gets, these days. It also raises hopes that its chances in the Senate could be pretty good. House Republicans, by standing behind the idea, have given political cover to Republican senators to vote for the measure, to put this another way. It’s barely even a contentious idea politically any more, as surveys show public support is now at a sky-high 85 percent.

Rohrabacher even invoked a sacred name (for Republicans), showing how to put a conservative spin on the issue: “The heart and soul of the Republican party is that pro-freedom, individual philosophy that Reagan talked about. I think that what we’ve got now and what we have here in the Republican vote last night were people who took a lot of those words and the philosophy of Ronald Reagan to heart.” Those are strong words indeed (again, for Republicans).

If the Senate follows the House’s lead, this will be the beginning of the end of the federal legal battle against medical marijuana — which is now legal at the state level in close to half of the states. Success is by no means guaranteed, however. The amendment has been attached to a budget bill, and there is no guarantee that any budget bills will make it to the president’s desk this year (they may be rolled into some giant omnibus bill, or Congress may punt until after the election or even next year). The Senate may not even take up the amendment at any point. There are all sorts of ways it could be derailed, in fact.

Even if it does survive in a bill Obama can sign, it is still only the first step. The ultimate goal, in this particular case, is “rescheduling” marijuana so we can end the federal legal fiction that it has no accepted medicinal value. Attorney General Eric Holder can do so with his signature, but he has indicated that he’d like Congress to buy into the idea as well. Last night’s vote means that this could indeed happen in the near future. In addition to the other marijuana reforms either Holder or Congress has approved (sentencing reforms, allowing recreational legalization in two states to proceed, hemp production, allowing medical research on marijuana, etc.), we are now standing on the brink of ending the “reefer madness” altogether. No, not the “madness” of the “reefer fiend” so famously propagandized in the movie of the same name, but rather the madness of treating marijuana more harshly than drugs like methamphetamine. It is, indeed, madness to believe that weed is more harmful to society than crystal meth. And that is the madness that could be about to end. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [306] — End of Reefer Madness?

Friday Talking Points [305] -- From Bears to Zombies

FTP3Before we begin, our sincere condolences to the George W. Bush family for the loss of former White House pet Miss Beazley, who died this week. As always, we are strictly non-partisan in our love for “First Dogs” and “First Cats,” because we feel the president’s (any president’s) humanity can only be improved by having a pet to play with on occasion (the photo of Bush with Miss Beazley which accompanies that article shows exactly what we’re talking about). As Harry Truman famously put it: “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” Our thoughts are with the Bush family in their time of loss.

OK, on to the more partisan slant on this week’s news. We can even begin with a fairly non-partisan attack, on pretty much the entire Washington political class as well as all the media (excepting the Washington Post) for completely ignoring a story about Northrop Grumman overcharging the taxpayers to the tune of $100 million. While prominently reported by the Post, the story was quickly ignored by just about everyone else. Which is a travesty, really. The contract in question was for counter-narcoterrorism, ironically (since we complain about “corruption” in all those other countries so often), and included one employee who billed $176,900 for 1,208 hours in a 12-day period. In other words, more than 100 hours per day. To fight all those corrupt regimes down south, it is assumed. Still waiting for a congressional committee to be announced to look into this, but I’m not exactly holding my breath.

Nancy Pelosi named the five Democratic House members who will sit on the Benghazi committee this week (Elijah Cummings, Adam Smith, Adam Schiff, Linda Sanchez, and Tammy Duckworth). While Alan Grayson had previously expressed an interest, Cummings is the logical choice for the ranking member, since he’s been such a burr in the side of Darrell Issa and already knows the material that will be discussed (all five members have served on committees which have previously investigated the matter, in fact).

Republican Alan West greeted this announcement by questioning Tammy Duckworth’s “loyalties,” a classy move if ever there was one. Let’s take a look at their respective military records, shall we? Duckworth: one of first women to fly combat missions for the Army, helicopter hit by RPG, helicopter landed with Duckworth’s help even though she sustained injuries which led to both legs and an arm being amputated. West: forced to resign to avoid a court martial for beating up and then firing a gun next to the head of an Iraqi detainee under his custody. ‘Nuff said.

Speaking of Benghazi, John F. Kennedy Jr. wrote an eye-opening look at the difference in the way two tragedies were treated by the president’s opposition party. His comparison of Benghazi and the barracks bombing in Beirut is well worth a read (example: Ronald Reagan’s response to questions as to why the Marines didn’t have ammo or protective barriers in place was: “Anyone who ever had a kitchen done over knows that it never gets done as soon as you wish it would be”).

Gay marriage is becoming legal in so many states, it’s hard to keep up these days. As federal court after federal court strikes down laws against marriage equality, some (such as Pennsylvania’s Republican governor) have realized it’s a losing battle and thrown in the rainbow-colored towel, while others (such as Utah’s Republican governor) are still warning of impending anarchy. For those keeping track: 19 states and D.C. now have full marriage equality. This week, that is. Stay tuned.

Fifty United States senators have signed a letter to the National Football League calling for the Washington [Ethnic Slurs] football team to change their name. No Republicans signed the letter, which was circulated among Democrats only (to be fair). The N.F.L. punted (so to speak), in the midst of all their other current scandals and lawsuits.

John Conyers first lost his bid to have his name on the ballot, and then (late today) it was announced that he had won in federal court, and his name would be back on the ballot. Even if Conyers had lost his legal bid, it’s a fair bet he would have handily won as a write-in candidate, since his constituents so strongly support him.

In marijuana news, a man in Texas is facing a sentence of life in jail for selling pot brownies. Because they don’t weigh the illegal chemical, they weigh the whole brownie. An effort is underway to pressure Congress to change some of this problem by passing the Smart Sentencing Act, in the form of a “Dancing on the Ashes of the Drug War” video, complete with a tool you can use to send a letter supporting the bill to your members of Congress. And Kentucky has (astonishingly) quickly gotten the feds to back down on industrial hemp, and the package of hemp seeds which had been confiscated finally got delivered.

F.B.I. Director James Comey seemed to be saying that his agency was softening their stance on “not hiring anyone who has used marijuana within the last three years,” in order to recruit the best and smartest computer experts in their war on cybercrime. Comey was quoted saying “I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cyber criminals and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview,” but then he had to quickly walk this back, stating he had only been trying to be funny in the interview. Which means, as an upshot, that the War On Drugs is more crucial than hiring the best people to prevent hackers from attacking the United States. J. Edgar Hoover would be proud of this “purist” attitude, one can safely assume. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [305] — From Bears to Zombies

Friday Talking Points [304] -- Brain Damage

FTP3Karl Rove successfully manipulated the entire news media this week, so we are going to play along today. Rove’s specialty is to take what could be considered a reasonable idea, and then twist it beyond recognition while dragging it through the swampiest mud he can dream up. Well, that’s admittedly a terrible (and mixed) metaphor, but I think you get the general idea.

This week, Rove spoke out about the non-controversial idea: “Hillary Clinton will likely face scrutiny on her age and health if she runs for president” — which is true, and would be true for anyone of her age and medical history. The problem was, ol’ Karl decided to take a detour through the looney bin. Speaking of what Republicans used to deride as her “Benghazi flu” (the fall Hillary Clinton suffered which put her in the hospital for three days), Rove insinuated:

Thirty days in the hospital? And when she reappears, she’s wearing glasses that are only for people who have traumatic brain injury? We need to know what’s up with that.

Classic Rove, really. Later, he insisted that he never said anything like “Hillary Clinton is brain damaged,” which only served to fuel the fires by causing everyone else to start using the term. Karl is a virtuoso at this sort of thing, and he largely succeeded in his real goal.

But we have noticed a lack, in the media, of a reference which really should be quite obvious. And so we aim to rectify this omission, by surrounding our introductory news blurbs this week with the lyrics from the Pink Floyd song “Brain Damage,” the penultimate song on their masterpiece album Dark Side Of The Moon. Enjoy!

The lunatic is on the grass
The lunatic is on the grass
Remembering games and daisy chains and laughs
Got to keep the loonies on the path

While Democrats have mostly been disappointed in their eagerness to see Tea Party lunatics win Republican nominations for high office in the primaries this year, California may buck the trend. Tim Donnelly, leading the polls for the Republican side of the governor’s race so far, may provide some amusement if he wins the chance to lose massively to the popular Democratic governor this November. Jerry Brown’s re-election to a record-breaking fourth term leading the Golden State is not in jeopardy at all, rest assured. So why not have the Republican candidate be a guy who founded a “Minuteman” vigilante border-protection group, compares Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler and Kim Jong Il, voted against a bill to ban state-run stores from selling Confederate flag items, and is currently on probation for bringing a loaded gun into an airport in his briefcase? His better-funded Republican foe seems to recognize the danger, and has launched a new ad with Donnelly’s face pasted over the old anti-John Kerry “windsurfing/flip-flop” ad. So it looks like there’ll be plenty of lunacy to watch, at least until the June primary!

Or, if that’s not enough for you, you can check out the gubernatorial debate among Idaho Republicans, which may indeed qualify for the looniest film clips of the entire election cycle. In addition to the two “normal” candidates, we also have on the stage a biker and a religious extremist, both seemingly right out of central casting (“Send over two random lunatics to spice up the debate, will you?”). The whole video can be seen on the Idaho Public Television site, in all its loony-tunes splendor.

The lunatic is in the hall
The lunatics are in my hall
The paper holds their folded faces to the floor
And every day the paper boy brings more

Every day the paper boy brings more, indeed. I wrote an article earlier this week about tomb robbing (of all things), but I had no idea a modern example would pop up in the news so quickly. President James A. Garfield’s tomb, located in a cemetery in the suburbs of Cleveland, was broken into this week. The thieves ignored a cash donations box, and instead stole some relatively-worthless commemorative spoons from Garfield’s inauguration. Amusingly, according to the cemetery’s spokeswoman, the burglars also left behind “a broken stained-glass window, a T-shirt, two cigarette butts and, of course, an empty bottle of Fireball cinnamon whiskey.” Continue reading Friday Talking Points [304] — Brain Damage

Friday Talking Points [303] -- Benghazi Frenzy!

FTP3OK, I fully admit I wrote that headline with the express purpose of putting two “Z” words next to each other, just because. I did (in my own defense) reject “Lazy-Crazy Benghazi Frenzy!” as too over-the-top, however.

Ahem. Where was I? Oh, right, last week’s news….

Sarah Palin, for some reason, was in the news last week. No, really. Although, we have to say, the mighty have indeed fallen when this news consisted of an interview with the television show Extra, which exists solely because some folks find reading People magazine to be too intellectually challenging. Seems perfect for Palin, doesn’t it?

Speaking of the shallow swamps of the superficial, the annual “let’s mash-up Hollywood stars and Washington wonks” dinner party was held last week as well. Joel McHale did a pretty good job of roasting everyone, so check out the video if you missed it.

White House security has had a pretty rough week, as first a confused tourist tailgated the president’s daughters’ motorcade right through the checkpoint, and then two people chucked mysterious items over the White House fence. But the disturbing security news this week was actually bipartisan, as a man was also arrested for making death threats against John Boehner (for not extending unemployment benefits).

Moving on, we have several Republicans saying such vile things about their political opponents that their own fellow Republicans had to denounce them. First, there was the Tennessee state representative who blogged: “Democrats bragging about the number of mandatory sign ups for Obamacare is like Germans bragging about the number of manditory [sic] sign ups for ‘train rides’ for Jews in the 40s.” Even after his fellow Tennessee Republicans condemned the language, he issued the most non-apology apology we’ve ever read, expressing his “regret that some people miss the point of my post. It was not to offend. It was to warn. In no way was my post meant to diminish or detract from the pain, suffering and loss of human life that occurred during this dark time in human history. Instead the post was meant to draw attention to the loss of freedom that we are currently experiencing.”

Out in California, Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly caught some heat from within his party after he accused a fellow Republican in the race of supporting Sharia law. Because when the guy was a senior Treasury official, he participated in a forum to “inform the policy community about Islamic financial services, which are an increasingly important part of the global financial industry.” This prompted an impressive denunciation from none other than Darrell Issa, who issued a scathing statement: “There is no place in any public discussion for this type of hateful and ignorant garbage. As far as I’m concerned, this type of stupidity disqualifies Tim Donnelly from being fit to hold any office, anywhere. Donnelly is no longer a viable option for California voters. It is crap like this that gives Republicans a bad name and there is no place in the Republican Party or in this race for someone like Tim Donnelly.” We’re not big fans of Issa in general, but have to compliment him on not holding back at all in his condemnation.

North Carolina’s primary election generated some news this week. We speak, of course, of whether Clay Aiken won the Democratic nomination to run for a House seat this November. Even if he does manage to emerge victorious (the vote count is so close a recount may be in the cards), the district is pretty conservative, so it’s a long shot at best (although the media would certainly love covering the race).

Seriously, though, the big race in North Carolina was Thom Tillis winning enough Republican primary votes to avoid a runoff with a Tea Party candidate (which would have cost him time and money). This is being touted as a big victory for the Establishment Republican wing of the party, but in reality Tillis is pretty close to a Tea Partier himself, when you take a look at his views. So pronouncements that the Tea Party is now dead are a bit premature, to say the least.

Senator Kay Hagen, whom Tillis is running to defeat, has pivoted from using anti-Obamacare fliers (in an attempt to scare Republican voters in the primary) to now giving a full-throated defense of the Medicaid expansion part of Obamacare. This is a potent issue for Democrats to use, in red states that turned down the expansion money, so other vulnerable Democratic candidates should take note.

Republicans as a whole seem to be pivoting away from their stated singular campaign theme of “Obamacare is the root of all the country’s problems.” There was a noticeable change this week, beginning with the Republicans holding a hearing where insurance company executives told them their made-up numbers were just flat-out wrong. This was followed by a politer-than-expected hearing for the woman nominated to lead the Health and Human Services Department (the replacement for Kathleen Sebelius). Add to this the fact that Republican candidates for Senate are getting more and more reluctant to even take a stand on whether expanding Medicaid is a good idea or not. And the Obamacare data keeps getting better, meaning that more and more Republican scare stories are fast being debunked. What it all signifies is a clear shift away from the “all Obamacare, all the time” strategy that was supposed to sweep Republicans to victory this year.

What was even more noticeable was what Republicans shifted to instead: Benghazi! Or, more accurately: “Benghazi! Benghazi! Benghazi!” Yes, the Republicans are doubling down on holding yet another investigation — in the hopes that this time an actual scandal will emerge, somehow. Also, to tarnish Hillary Clinton (always a worthy motive in Republicanland). Watch for this Benghazi frenzy to play out all summer long, since Republicans quite obviously have nothing positive to offer the voters this year.

OK, this is running long, so let’s just quickly review the marijuana and religious news, and then get on with the awards. Five Nobel Prize winners (in economics) made public a letter calling for a global end to the drug war, which was also signed by former Reagan cabinet member George Shultz. In Colorado, state legislators moved to provide an alternate banking system that will allow marijuana-based businesses to have a bank account just like any other business (a step which was necessary because although the federal Justice Department tried to issue guidelines for banks, they didn’t go far enough and the banks are still refusing to allow marijuana entrepreneurs access to banking). While states are moving forward, the federal government still seriously lags in the legal sphere, which leads to situations where people charged with marijuana crimes can’t even speak about their medical use in federal courts. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [303] — Benghazi Frenzy!