Friday Talking Points [324] -- Don't Panic

FTP3That headline, of course, quotes the cover to the fictional Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy: “Don’t Panic.” This week, it seems like timely advice, as the news media and American politicians go into full-blown panic mode over one death and two illnesses within the United States.

We’ll get to all that in a bit, since we will be pre-empting our talking points this week for my own “Don’t panic!” rant (which, for science-fiction fans who were already thrilled with this week’s title, will also quote the learned philosopher Ellen Ripley). But first let’s quickly run through some other political news, before we get to the idiocy of the “travel ban fever” running rampant among American politicians.

The biggest news from any of the myriad state-level candidate debates held in the past week came out of Florida, where Governor Rick Scott refused to appear (for seven agonizingly long minutes) on stage with Charlie Crist’s fan. No, really. “Fangate” became a thing this week.

Late-night comic Craig Ferguson, tried to helpfully explain the political theater to his audience by quipping (this is from memory, I should mention, and not a transcript): “There’s a difference, of course, between a politician and a fan. One oscillates back and forth and blows a steady stream of hot air in your face… and the other is a fan.”

Late-night humor aside, the ad wars are getting fierce, in the home stretch of the 2014 campaign, including one Republican virtual clone of the infamous Willie Horton ad, now running in Nebraska. Outside of the ad wars, Republicans are showing they know how to charm the lady voters, once again, as state lawmaker Steve Vaillancourt of New Hampshire offered his thoughts on a House race in his state: “Let’s be honest. Does anyone not believe that Congressman Annie Kuster is as ugly as sin? And I hope I haven’t offended sin.” He also compared her to a “drag queen.” This provoked one of the best responses I’ve ever heard in politics, from Jess McIntosh of EMILY’s List: “This is a lawmaker? Like, a person who makes laws? This person has no business anywhere near laws that affect women or other human beings.” Well said!

In other crazy and offensive things said by Republicans (always a fertile field, it seems), President Obama is either secretly leading Africa instead of the United States, or just plain crazy (according to that noted expert on sanity, Donald Trump). And an elected Republican official in Missouri is trying to talk the American military into launching a coup against Obama. No, really. She responded to the uproar her comments caused by stating: “Something innocent and simple got twisted into a disaster because it’s an election.” Um, no. In fact, a disaster got elected to an innocent and simple job because of a previous election. She’s up for re-election this year, too (so get out and vote, non-seditious people of Jefferson County, Missouri!).

Federal judge and wife-beater Mark Fuller has still inexplicably not been impeached.

A candidate for Senate died, and the mainstream media largely yawned and ignored it. Doug Butzier was the Libertarian candidate in a race that could be decided by a razor-thin margin in Iowa, so you’d think more people would be analyzing the possible effect, but sadly, this has not happened.

It’s a new week, so Marco Rubio has a brand-new ISIS-fighting strategy! Which completely contradicts all his other positions on the issue, but hey, who’s counting?

John McCain called for Obama to appoint a “Ebola czar,” which he promptly did. Wonder how long it’ll be before McCain and other Republicans start complaining about all of Obama’s czars again? Here’s McCain, tweeting from 2009: “Obama has more czars than the Romanovs – who ruled Russia for 3 centuries. Romanovs 18, cyberczar makes 20.” How quickly we all forget, eh?

Sam Stein of the Huffington Post has been doing an exemplary job reporting on how we got to where we are now on public health and Ebola, first getting a stunning interview with the head of the National Institutes of Health. You’d think a statement like: “Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine [for Ebola] in time for this that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been ready,” would have raised some interest in other parts of the media, but not so much. Stein followed this scoop up with a deeper dive into why we were so unprepared for Ebola, which is also a heck of a lot better journalism than anything you see on television these days.

And finally, just to end on a light note (don’t panic!), President Obama’s credit card just got declined. Don’t you hate it when that happens?

 

Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

Senator Bob Casey from Pennsylvania deserves at least an Honorable Mention this week, for focusing in on actually doing something productive which might wind up doing some good in the midst of the Ebola panic. Rather than beating the “travel ban” drums, Casey instead called for more money for the “Hospital Preparedness Program,” which as you can see (from the chart) has had its budget slashed in recent years. Bravo to Senator Casey for being just about the only person in Washington who has proposed something useful that might actually be quite proactive in the future, instead of demagoguing and scapegoating along with the rest of the political world.

But the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to Charlie Crist and his campaign team. After “Fangate,” the Florida Democratic Party wasted not a second of time in getting a hilarious ad up on the air. The ad ends with quite possibly the funniest thing we’ve yet heard in the 2014 election cycle: “Next debate airs Tuesday. It’s going to be cool.” Crist’s campaign is also now going to send donors a hand-held fan if they donate at least five bucks. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [324] — Don’t Panic

Friday Talking Points [323] -- Is There Anybody Out There?

FTP3I address this desperate attempt at communication to any remaining survivors in America of the apocalyptic scourge that is Ebola. Is there anybody still out there? Because, according to my television for the past few weeks, the death rates have been climbing so high that hundreds of millions of Americans should be pushing up the daisies by now. So, with full sorrow for the uncounted lives lost over the past few weeks, I humbly wonder whether anyone is left on the internet to read this lonely missive.

What’s that? There’s only been one death? No… wait, that can’t be right….

The American news media, already a shadow of its former self, has discovered once again that there is simply no reason not to operate in full-blown panic mode, all the time. Instead of “the apocalyptic scourge that is Ebola,” we have “the scourge that is media hyperventilating over Ebola in apocalyptic tones.” Panic draws eyeballs to the screen. Panic sells. This spills over into the world of politics on an even more primitive level, one that harkens back to Machiavelli: “fear works.” It is easier for politicians to get the populace to fear than it is to love. ‘Twas always thus.

In a week filled with pearl-clutching, there will always be one Republican who stands above the pack in fear-mongering. This week, that dubious prize goes to the executive director of the South Carolina Republican Party, who tweeted the following suggestions for a rational response to Ebola:

People with Ebola in the US need to be humanely put down immediately.

The protocol for a positive Ebola test should be immediate humane execution and sanitization of the whole area. That will save lives.

Ready for the delicious irony? This is a guy who calls himself pro-life. This is one small step away from Monty Python’s famous “Bring out your dead” sketch, in fact. Nothing like “compassionate conservatism,” is there?

Phyllis Schlafly, who is apparently still around, was quick to identify the real problem:

Obama doesn’t want America to believe that we’re exceptional. He wants us to be just like everybody else, and if Africa is suffering from Ebola, we ought to join the group and be suffering from it, too. That’s his attitude.

Other Republicans were quick to jump on board a conspiracy theory making the rounds in Rightwingistan: that ISIS fighters are already streaming across America’s southern border. Haven’t heard this one? Here’s Tom Cotton, Republican running for the Senate in Arkansas:

The problem is with Mark Pryor and Barack Obama refusing to enforce our immigration laws, and refusing to secure our border. I’ll change that when I’m in the United States Senate. And I would add, it’s not just an immigration problem. We now know that it’s a security problem. Groups like the Islamic State collaborate with drug cartels in Mexico who have clearly shown they’re willing to expand outside the drug trade into human trafficking and potentially even terrorism. They could infiltrate our defenseless border and attack us right here in places like Arkansas.

Here’s Duncan Hunter, House member from California, who has a list right there in his hand of ten ISIS fighters who have already been detained at the border:

If you really want to protect Americans from ISIS, you secure the southern border — it’s that simple. They caught them at the border, therefore we know that ISIS is coming across the border. If they catch five or ten of them then you know there’s going to be dozens more that did not get caught by the border patrol. ISIS doesn’t have a navy, they don’t have an air force, they don’t have nuclear weapons. The only way that ISIS is going to harm Americans is by coming through the southern border — which they already have.

This led the Department of Homeland Security to try to interject some reality into this dark world of paranoid Republican fantasy, by issuing a complete denial:

The suggestion that individuals who have ties to ISIL have been apprehended at the Southwest border is categorically false, and not supported by any credible intelligence or the facts on the ground. DHS continues to have no credible intelligence to suggest terrorist organizations are actively plotting to cross the southwest border.

But, you know, that doesn’t mean Republicans can’t go out and campaign on the non-existent threat. Hey, it’s a free country, right? Salon had some fun with this, plus the three other “Be afraid! Be very afraid!” themes that seem to be the sum total of the Republican Party’s campaign playbook:

You don’t have to use all four. It’s more like ordering a combo platter at a restaurant: mix-and-match a plate of two or three different items out of a possible total of four.

You can say that ISIS is trying to infiltrate the country through its porous border; that Ebola-stricken Africans are trying to infiltrate the country through its porous border; that Ebola-stricken ISIS members are trying to infiltrate the country through its porous border; that ISIS is trying to infiltrate the White House and its vulnerable security perimeter; that Ebola-stricken Africans are trying to infiltrate the White House and its vulnerable security perimeter, etc. All of these things are happening, or they’re not, but they could.

President Obama, most generously, is too incompetent to stop any of these things from happening; more likely, he wants them to happen and is abetting their happening, since his end-game is and has always been destruction of the country from the inside.

We don’t think that any Republican Senate candidate has threaded the needle between all four yet — as in, “Ebola-stricken Africans are teaming up with ISIS in Mexico, crossing the porous border, and marching to Washington to infiltrate the White House and its vulnerable security perimeter.” Has any candidate said this yet? If not, first one one [sic] wins a combo platter at Sizzler.

You know what might help in this crisis-to-end-all-crises? Having a Surgeon General in office. President Obama nominated someone for the job last November, but his confirmation has been blocked ever since. For purely ideological reasons. This needs a little more attention from the media, especially considering their absolute obsession with Ebola right now. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [323] — Is There Anybody Out There?

Friday Talking Points [322] -- Games the Whole Family Can Play

FTP3Since we devoted last week’s column to Eric Holder’s record, we’ve got two weeks worth of stuff to cover today, so we’re going to have to whip through things in a whirlwind fashion. But we have included not just one… not just two… but three reader-participation contests in this week’s edition, for those who want to join in the fun in the comments. Ready for all that? Buckle up, then, here we go.

We got some good economic news, as it was revealed that the American economy grew a whopping 4.6 percent in the last quarter, and the unemployment rate went down to 5.9 percent. This probably won’t make much of an impact in the midterms, but both represent continuing good news on the economic front.

The head of the Secret Service abruptly resigned, after she got grilled by Congress over several disconcerting lapses which happened on her watch. She fell on her sword immediately, to her credit, rather than drawing the story out day after day.

The air war continues against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, which incidentally brings us to our first contest. Rather than “the war against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq,” why isn’t there a catchy name for this new war? All the Pentagon could come up with was “Operation Inherent Resolve,” which led Jason Linkins at the Huffington Post to suggest an impressive fifty of his own ideas for a war moniker. Can you do better (in quality, if not in quantity)? What would you suggest we call this new war? My only idea is the rather snarky “Operation Here We Go Again,” so let’s hear your ideas in the comments.

Also worth mentioning from Huffington Post was a great article from Bob Cesca to remind us all of what Republican blowhards were saying on the subject of criticizing the president during wartime, from a few years back when a different man sat in the Oval Office’s chair. A handy reference, when listening to Republicans these days. Another handy reference (and a more serious one) for wartime comes from the Washington Post, which ran a fantastic collection of nine ways to look at the mind-boggling “friend or enemy” complexities in the Middle East.

President Obama is getting a good response from the public in the polling on the war, which proves that even in a “war-weary public” there is still a “rally ’round the president” effect.

The Republican stance on the war can politely be called “incoherent.” And that’s me bending over backwards to be polite, mind you. For instance, Senate candidate Scott Brown has the answer to defeat the Islamic State — seal America’s southern border! No, really, that’s his answer. Marco Rubio is very annoyed at President Obama’s war plan, and has his own ideas about what to do:

To confront the Islamic State terrorists, we need a sustained air campaign targeting their leadership, sources of income and supply routes, wherever they exist. We must increase our efforts to equip and capacitate non-jihadists in Syria to fight the terrorist group. And we must arm and support forces in Iraq confronting it, including responsible Iraqi partners and the Kurds. In addition, we must persuade nations in the region threatened by the Islamic State to participate in real efforts to defeat it.

The keener-eyed reader will immediately notice that Rubio’s plan is exactly what President Obama is already doing. One hundred percent the same. In other words, Rubio is annoyed at Obama for doing exactly what Rubio would do. “Incoherent” only begins to define such a stance.

Doug Lamborn, Republican House member from Colorado, does have a different idea about what should happen, but that certainly doesn’t make it a better idea. His plan? “A lot of us are talking to the generals behind the scenes, saying, ‘Hey, if you disagree with the policy that the White House has given you, let’s have a resignation.’” That’s right, he wants a mass resignation of America’s generals, in the middle of a war. Lamborn calls on them to “go out in a blaze of glory.”

Now, for just one tiny moment, let’s imagine that, say, Nancy Pelosi had suggested such a thing, back in 2003 or so. Let’s all imagine what the Republican response would have been, shall we? Think the words “treasonous” or “aiding the enemy” or “traitor” would have been used? Yeah, me too.

In the world of politics, the midterm congressional elections loom over us, and the polling took a turn in the direction of Republicans in some key states this week. There was some good polling news for Democrats from Michigan, though, so things are still in flux. In Kansas, a judge ruled that the Democrat who dropped out of the Senate race will not appear on the ballot, which makes a defeat of Republican Pat Roberts a lot more possible.

Which brings us to our second contest. Sarah Palin was back in the news, first for her family getting into a public brawl (you just can’t make this stuff up, folks!), and then for winging in to Kansas in an effort to salvage Pat Roberts with Tea Party voters. Palin, in an appearance, coined a new “Palinism” that we are still scratching our heads over. Here’s the full quote, as Palin compares Roberts to Independent candidate Greg Orman:

He’s not wishy-washy on the fence like you know who, the other guy. I am so thankful because we need those with that stiff spine, with the principles that are so invicted [sic] within them, that they take a side.

“Invicted”? Um… what? Now, I have previously (gasp!) actually defended Sarah Palin when the point she was trying to make was misunderstood by pretty much everyone, but I have to admit, I have no freakin’ idea what she meant to say here. Any guesses? The closest I could even come up with was “invested” but that doesn’t really work. So our second contest is: What Was Sarah Really Trying To Say? Good luck. Serious answers and funny ones will both be appreciated.

In other news from outer space (how’s that for a segue?), America is apparently keeping old nuclear weapons around because we might need them to shoot down asteroids. That’s so cool they could make a movie about it… oh, wait.

And finally, our third contest for you to enjoy (got those entries in for the first two yet?). Because a Republican organization is actually (again, can’t make this up) running a campaign designed to get everyone to think warm and fuzzy thoughts about Republicans. No, really. The ad campaign is called “Republicans Are People, Too,” and features such thoughts as:

“Republicans read the New York Times”

“Republicans have tattoos and beards”

“Republicans enjoy gourmet cooking”

and, most amusingly:

“Republicans have feelings”

Awww… isn’t that cute? They have feelings, the poor dears. Let’s try to add to their list, shall we? How about “Republicans have mighty thin skins,” for starters? Or maybe “Republicans can dish it out, but sure can’t take it thrown back at them.” Or perhaps “Republicans are totally OK not caring about you,” to capture the full flavor of Republicanism. The possibilities are endless, folks, so please let me know what you’d add to the touchy-feely Republican ad campaign. Points will be awarded for snark, points for originality, and points for accuracy. A game the whole family can play! Continue reading Friday Talking Points [322] — Games the Whole Family Can Play

Friday Talking Points [321] -- Eric Holder's Record

FTP3We have to pre-empt the usual Friday Talking Points column this week, because when we started writing about Eric Holder in the awards section, it just kind of grew and grew as a subject until it essentially consumed the rest of the column. We still have our notes on all the political foibles and foofaroo from the past week, and we promise we’ll keep this list handy and try to review parts of it in next week’s column, mostly because some of the stories were real doozies (like the Kansas governor’s race, where the Republican is now basing his whole campaign on “my Democratic opponent once visited a strip club,” while simultaneously presiding over a state which is about to hold a sex-toy auction because they really, really need the money after the Republican incumbent’s disastrous implementation of “pure” conservative economic theory, which consisted of: “Cut all taxes! There, all done — just sit back and wait for the boom times!”). But we digress.

The news that Attorney General Eric Holder would be stepping down sent a shockwave through Washington (even though he had admitted earlier in the year to an interviewer that he would likely step down before next January). Democrats (and pundits) immediately started whispering about who would be named to replace Holder, while Republicans — laughably — tried to make the case that no replacement should get a vote in the Senate during the lame-duck period (good luck with that one, guys). One thing worth remembering: Harry Reid’s “nuclear option” is looking pretty good right about now, isn’t it? If Republicans could filibuster Holder’s replacement, then he might still be still in his job when Obama leaves office in 2017.

Holder certainly had a momentous term in office. Depending on when he is officially replaced, his will either be the fourth-longest or third-longest record as Attorney General in American history. Liberals found him lacking on civil liberties issues (especially in Obama’s first term), and conservatives just despised him because he was serving a president they really, really hated (he’s also the first Attorney General to be found in contempt of Congress by the House).

On the whole, was his term worth praising or condemning? We have to say that “both” is the only real answer to that question. Because it has many facets, we are going to spend the rest of the article examining his legacy. As we said, we’ll return to our usual, more lighthearted fare next week, but for now let’s weigh Eric Holder’s leadership at the Justice Department, as seen through the eyes of this column.

 

Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week

This is going to be a rather unique awards section this week, for two reasons. The first is that it will be a “lifetime achievement” review (or, more accurately “term in office” review) of one person’s accomplishments, good and bad. The second reason this is unusual is that it will actually be a review of accomplishments on the scale of “bad to good,” as we switch the order of presentation of our awards for one week. This is really necessary, because of the timeline involved.

Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement that he will soon be stepping down from his job as America’s Top Cop brought mixed reactions from the left. Some choose to focus on only the good he has accomplished, while some insisted that the bad outweighed any good. We’re going to take a more comprehensive look, and have to say right here at the start that Holder seems to have balanced it all out fairly well.

But the story of Eric Holder’s term in office is really more of a bad-to-good transition, which is why we’re going to review his record of winning the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards first. Holder won the MDDOTW six times since this column began, and five of these occurred during Obama’s first term in office. In contrast, Holder won eight Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards, but only two of them during Obama’s first term. So you can see the progression, and why we had to flip the order of the two awards sections this week.

On the all-time Friday Talking Points “Hall Of Fame/Hall Of Shame” list, Holder’s six MDDOTW awards puts him (currently) in a five-way tie for eighth place, with the following unsavory characters: Jay “Rocky IV” Rockefeller IV, Charlie Rangel, Blanche Lincoln, and Rod “Blaggy” Blagojevich.

The first-ever MDDOTW Holder won was way back in FTP [73], for continuing the Bush policy on state secrets in three separate lawsuits. Holder had many other instances of continuing Bush’s national security policies, but this was the only one which earned him our award. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [321] — Eric Holder’s Record

Friday Talking Points [320] -- Congress Briefly Interrupts 3-Month Vacation to 'Work'

FTP3Congress followed up their recent five-week vacation with almost two whole weeks of actually doing their jobs, so to reward themselves they’re now going to take off on another vacation. Until mid-November. The American people will show their disgust at this pathetic work ethic by returning upwards of ninety percent of them to office, if this year is anything like a typical one. The big question on everyone’s mind is whether the Democrats will hold onto control of the Senate, which will mean two years of gridlock with the Republican House, or whether Republicans will gain control of the Senate, which will mean two years of gridlock with both the Tea Party and the president.

Sorry to start off on a negative note, but there is indeed little positive to be seen in the biannual frenzy of congressional campaigning which is about to begin in earnest. There is one bit of comic relief to be found in this midterm dance, and it is coming from an unexpected state: Kansas. The Democratic Senate candidate just won a court case which will keep his name off the ballot. The Republican official in charge of elections, after arguing in this court case that he legally needed to print the ballots starting today, is now saying he’s going to wait a week so that the Democrats can call a convention and name a replacement to the ballot. Democrats are not going to do this, however, so like I said we’ve got at least one more week of amusement from the heartland in store. The “What’s the matter with Kansas?” jokes just write themselves, don’t they?

Little noticed outside of Baltimore, we just celebrated the bicentennial of our national anthem. I wrote about this earlier in the week, and last weekend the anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore (or the Battle of Fort McHenry) was celebrated in the city, even if the rain put somewhat of a damper on the day.

The coalition against the Islamic State began to come together this week, although (amusingly) both Syria’s Assad and Iran tried to join, but were rebuffed. Insert your own witty “enemy of my enemy” quip here.

An act of terrorism happened against a United States congressman, and the suspected perpetrator was quickly arrested. You’d think this sort of thing would attract more media attention, but, sadly, you would be wrong.

The United States Air Force very quietly changed a rule last October, to mandate that anyone enlisting or re-enlisting use the phrase “…so help me God” in their oath. When the matter was noticed and legal action begun, the Air Force last week very quietly reversed their position and brought it back into line with every other branch of the armed services — meaning the phrase is now optional (as it should be).

A court down in Florida ruled that it was OK for schoolchildren to be given religious books, so the Satanic Temple announced it would be joining in the fun and handing out copies of The Satanic Children’s Big Book Of Activities. Hey, fair’s fair — if it’s OK for one side of the debate, it has to be OK for everyone, right?

In other church/state news, a teenager in Pennsylvania is facing two years in jail for desecrating a statue of Jesus — not by physically harming or altering it, mind you, but merely by taking (and publicly posting) a photograph of him in an amusing (to him, obviously) position with the statue. I could have sworn America decided “blasphemy” laws were unconstitutional a long time ago, but I guess I would be wrong. In related “teens posting stupid stuff online which comes back to bite them” news, a 19-year-old Republican candidate for state government in Wisconsin had to withdraw from his race after disgusting and racist comments were uncovered from his past online postings.

Moving back to politics, Hillary Clinton went to a steak fry in Iowa, followed by 200 “journalists” who were there to report on the experience for the rest of the world. Jason Linkins at the Huffington Post has a hilarious write-up, which is well worth a read if you want a chuckle. I had to follow up on his column yesterday, by proclaiming Hillary the perfect Schrödinger’s candidate, for those who enjoy a bit of quantum physics with their political commentary.

Republicans have been busy little beavers in Washington, during their two weeks of “work” in the midst of three solid months of vacation, by conducting all the important business of the nation. Ha! Not really — instead, they found time to vote on a bunch of bills they had already passed, and to also tackle the important issue of the handful of people who have withdrawn federal dollars inside a marijuana shop in Colorado. No really — that was more important than voting on whether President Obama had the legal authority to start another war or not. You just can’t make this stuff up, folks.

The best example of “our tax dollars at work” from last week, though, had to have been the group who attempted to turn in a half-million signatures in support of restoring the Voting Rights Act. The civil rights group thought they’d turn it in to House Speaker John Boehner’s office, since he’s the one who could make such a thing happen. On Wednesday, during business hours, they could not turn in their signatures, because Boehner’s office door was locked and nobody responded to a knock.

Nice work if you can get it, eh?

 

Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

A few weeks ago, this column came out strongly for providing all cops with body cameras to record every interaction they have with the public. At the time, there was a petition on the White House website asking President Obama to come out in favor of the idea. We are happy to report that the White House has now done so. This is an idea whose time has come, and what studies have been done seem to show that members of the public and cops themselves both act a lot better when they know that their actions are being filmed. Seems like a win-win all around, so President Obama deserves at least an Honorable Mention for getting behind the idea.

While not technically a Democratic organization, we are going to bend the rules (as we are wont to do, at times) and hand out an Honorable Mention to the Marijuana Policy Project, for their recent advertising campaign in Colorado. Colorado has already legalized recreational marijuana use, but M.P.P. has now begun an ad campaign to educate people (tourists especially) as to what marijuana will actually do to you. This is most important when it comes to “edibles,” or marijuana products that are eaten and not smoked. While many people have had some experience with smoked marijuana (and therefore are able to regulate their dosage), the world of edibles is currently unregulated and unrestrained — meaning strength varies wildly from one candy bar to another. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [320] — Congress Briefly Interrupts 3-Month Vacation To ‘Work’

Friday Talking Points [319] -- Slouching Off to War

FTP3This is a special edition of this column, for a number of reasons. The first is that we’re back after a one-week vacation hiatus, but the most special reason (to us, at least) is that this is the seventh anniversary of the launching of the “Friday Talking Points” column, which first appeared both on my site and the Huffington Post on September 14, 2007. The more mathematically-astute among you may notice that 52 times 7 equals a lot more columns than 319. This is true. Twice a year we are pre-empted by our year-end awards columns, and then the rest of the time we were just on vacation or otherwise doing something else. Like last week, for instance. This has led us to count the column’s birthdays using the calendar, rather than the metric of “every 52 columns.”

Back in 2007, I thought it would be a good idea to write congressional Democrats a memo, in the hopes they could begin to learn a skill Republicans seem to be born with: the ability to stay on-topic and present your political ideas and agenda items succinctly and memorably to the public. I had grown tired of watching the Sunday political shows where Republicans all sang off the same songsheet while Democrats were easily led into the weeds with long rambling tangents to what they should have been saying that particular week. This early effort grew, in the following weeks and months, into the format we now use weekly: a quick rundown of amusing items in the political news of the week, the awarding of the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week and the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week, and then seven numerated talking points suggested for all Democrats to use to explain the Democratic position to all and sundry (especially on Sundry morning talk shows… so to speak…).

Since that time, I cannot with any hard data prove that Democrats have gotten better at this skill, but on a purely subjective level, it seems they have made at least some steps in the right direction. Being in the minority in the House once again seems to have sharpened the Democratic edge a bit. But the column keeps going because there are still improvements to be made, and so it’s my humble duty to try to help in the only way I can, every Friday.

In any case, join us in some virtual birthday cake as we celebrate our seventh anniversary!

birthday cake

This column is also going to be an unusual one because we’re not handing out awards this week, nor are we providing our usual talking points. Instead, as we are sometimes wont to do, we are going off on a rant.

This is not a week for politics. This is a week to discuss America at war. That is about as serious as it gets, and because of this we’re not going to give a rundown of all the other events from the past two weeks, and we feel our normal Democratic-slanted awards and talking points are not germane to the discussion this week. So, just to warn everyone up front, this is going to be a very different column. We will return to our usual format next week, have no fear.

 

Friday Talking Points

Volume 319 (9/12/14)

America is slouching off to war, again.

We have already been dropping bombs for a month, but President Obama appeared on primetime television this week to announce to the American people that we’re about to be dropping a whole lot more bombs in the coming weeks. This is serious stuff.

However, you wouldn’t know it from within the halls of Congress. Which is beyond pathetic — it is downright unpatriotic. Congress is shirking its clear duty, and putting their own jobs and political rear ends before the country’s needs. If that isn’t unpatriotic, I don’t know what is.

Don’t get me wrong — I am not here to either advocate for or speak out against this war (at least, not today). And I am certainly not saying every member of Congress should immediately vote for full-on war or be labeled a traitor. Far from it. What I am saying instead is that every member of Congress should stand up and be counted no matter what their position is. Pro-war? Fine. Anti-war? No problem. But “we don’t want to hold a contentious vote right before an election” is nothing short of political cowardice. And unpatriotic, to boot.

A true patriot would right now be forcefully advocating for whatever position they held — either pro or con. A politician who loved his or her country and was doing the duty voters had elected him or her to perform would either be debating how this war is necessary and just or why it is a gigantic mistake. Either way, we should be having floor debates on the subject in both the House and Senate. Right now.

But we aren’t. Not really. Congress is attempting to pass some sort of mealy-mouthed “we’re kinda behind the president” bill, but they are not debating a new “Authorization for Use of Military Force” (A.U.M.F.). Even an A.U.M.F. is only a halfway measure, looked at constitutionally, and Congress can’t even be bothered with that, it seems.

If you think I’m being a bit too harsh on Congress, I would direct you to a rare moment of candor from a House Republican, Jack Kingston of Georgia. He was quoted, in response to the president’s speech, talking about the political realities both for his own Republican Party and for Democrats:

A lot of people would like to stay on the sideline and say, “Just bomb the place and tell us about it later.” It’s an election year. A lot of Democrats don’t know how it would play in their party, and Republicans don’t want to change anything. We like the path we’re on now. We can denounce it if it goes bad, and praise it if it goes well and ask what took him [President Obama] so long.

What he is describing is nothing short of unpatriotic political cowardice, on both sides of the aisle. But Democrats aren’t really much better. Here is Democratic House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, also being a bit more candid than he probably realized, talking about the difference between the timing of voting some money for some rebels versus voting on an actual A.U.M.F. (emphasis added, to note his timetable):

I think at some point in time, when we come back from the elections, I think there will be a consideration of a larger authorization for the use of force. I think you’re going to see a very robust discussion of exactly that exact issue, among the American people, and that after the election, we’ll come back into session better informed of the public’s view and our constituents’ attitude about what they think ought to be done.

In short: once we’ve performed our real job — getting re-elected — then we’ll come back and maybe hold a vote on a possibly-endless war. I said it before and I’ll say it again: this is unpatriotic political cowardice of the first order.

The only way to cure such craven shirking of duty is to expose it and demand better. Some in the media have taken up this banner. Hopefully more will do so, from both the left and the right. Here is my favorite (and seriously snarky) example, from Salon:

Many members of Congress don’t want to vote on authorizing war powers for President Obama in Iraq and Syria before the election. The objections are twofold.

1) A vote on anything meaningful? Yikes! *Sweats, looks sideways, tugs collar*

2) A vote would entail co-ownership of the strategy, meaning that if/when things go bad, members of Congress could be held responsible. Sure, it’s fun to throw around cartoonishly hawkish rhetoric about how “we’re in the most dangerous position we’ve ever been in as a nation” or how ISIS represents “an existential threat to America,” but that’s just the thing: It’s rhetoric! Rhetoric is cheap — it costs nothing, in fact — while having to back up that rhetoric with actions is like a whole other thing.

Strict constitutionalists have been demanding actual war resolutions pretty much ever since World War II ended, but no Congress since has passed one. The Constitution is pretty clear on the subject, in fact. The president, as commander-in-chief, is allowed to react swiftly to military attack and order troops into the field without Congress authorizing it beforehand. Congress, however, is supposed to hold up its end of this power-sharing, by formally declaring war for long and open-ended conflicts.

In modern times, the A.U.M.F. has stood in for a declaration of war. But an A.U.M.F. is even better than what the Constitution asks, because it can be written in all sorts of ways — very narrowly-targeted or wide-reaching and open-ended. In other words, Congress doesn’t just have to vote “yea” or “nay” on war, they can micromanage it to a certain degree. This is what they are now refusing to do — until, perhaps, after they get re-elected… if there’s time, that is. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [319] — Slouching Off to War

Friday Talking Points [318] -- The Gender Gap

FTP3President Obama gave a press conference recently, and — since it is still the political Silly Season — got a lot of media attention. For what he was wearing. No, seriously. Washington was all a-twitter (or even a-Twitter) because Obama wore a suit that was not dark blue or black. While some may smack their heads over the idiocy of what passes as the Washington press corps, the right thing to do is to celebrate how males have finally reached sartorial equality with women, when viewed by political “journalists.” This is not a backhanded compliment, I hasten to point out, it is meant as a backhanded insult. Because it is always insulting to a politician to focus on what she (or, now, he) is wearing, instead of reporting on the substance of her words and actions. This has been going on for women in politics for exactly as long as women have been in American politics, right up to Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits and Sarah Palin’s shopping spree. All women know this — they will be judged on what they wear, sometimes more than what they say or do. Especially female politicians. President Obama is just getting a tiny taste of what women have had to put up with in the political arena since Day One. So I choose to celebrate this new equality (of the idiocy of the political press), and the closing of this particular part of the gender gap.

Men, of course, have it easier than women when choosing what to don each morning, for two big reasons. One is the fact that they’re men, meaning reporters report on what they say and do a lot more than how they look. The second is that there simply aren’t that many “acceptable, serious” choices for what men are supposed to wear in the business or political world. Should I wear the dark blue suit, or the black suit with barely-visible pinstripes? That’s about the range of choices, really. There are only two acceptable areas for expressing any sort of originality or personality: the tie, and the flag pin. And the flag pin’s a fairly recent addition. Women, on the other hand, have no hard-and-fast rules limiting their choices, which serves to make the choice itself much harder (given the wider range of choice offered) — to say nothing of the standard they’ll be held to once they actually do get dressed.

As Silly Season winds to a close, there were a smattering of “Obama’s on vacation — how dare he!?!” stories, as usual. Obama has taken less than a third of the days off that President Bush did (the reigning champion of presidential vacation time), but that certainly doesn’t stop pundits from complaining every time Obama picks up a golf club. Bob Cesca did an exemplary job of researching another president’s vacationing (while important events were simultaneously happening), complete with some photos of Ronald Reagan not wearing a dark blue suit.

In other “quick looks into the past” news, President Obama announced he would — only 151 years late — award the Medal of Honor to a soldier from the Civil War who showed leadership on the battlefields of Gettysburg. Oh, and we hope everyone marked the bicentennial which happened this week, 200 years after Washington D.C. was burned in a key British victory in the War of 1812. This didn’t get a lot of attention in the American press (understandably), but will likely be mentioned in passing when we all hear about the bicentennial of the battle for Baltimore two weeks from now — which gave us our national anthem.

But enough of these detours into history. After all, we’ve got an election right around the corner! Labor Day is the traditional kickoff to the serious meat of campaign season, and for the wonkier among us there is an interesting article (with interactive map) at the Washington Post site which reports that over a billion dollars will be cumulatively spent this year on ballot propositions alone. This article highlights a few of these races, which could become important as goads for each party to increase turnout among their base. It’s wonky, but it’s also a fascinating thing to keep your eyes on as we head into campaign season.

Republicans are already campaigning their little hearts out, which always provides some amusing moments. In Pennsylvania, the Republican governor is fighting for his political life, and so he thought he’d do a little outreach to women — with predictable results. Two years ago, Tom Corbett responded to the forced-ultrasound debate in his state by suggesting women should just “close your eyes.” Stay classy, Tom! Continue reading Friday Talking Points [318] — The Gender Gap

Friday Talking Points [317] -- Big and Little Brother

FTP3A lot happened in the world of politics this week. People are still dumping buckets of ice water over their heads, for instance. There are actually multiple scandals happening to various governors right now, but since none of them involve sex, the media is mostly ignoring them (with the exception of Rick Perry, perhaps, since the media has been swooning over him ever since he put on a pair of glasses). But we’re going to ignore most of it all this week, to focus instead on the aftermath and ramifications of what has been happening in Ferguson, Missouri for the past few weeks.

The news from Ferguson was the dominant story of the week. It even reached international proportions, as both Egypt and Russia got in a few digs at American police and protesters. I discussed this Cold War phenomenon way back in FTP [273] in more depth — the old game America and the Soviets would play with each other, casually pointing out the bad things they did to their own citizens, on the world stage.

Putin’s preposterous posturing aside, however, there seems to be one tangible proposal emerging from the chaos of Ferguson. Oh, sure, the nation is (once again) having that “discussion about race” which always happens after these events, but in the past pretty much nothing has ever really changed as a result. This time might just be different. Because there is a growing movement to require police officers to wear cameras all the time, while performing their duties. A new petition on the White House site calling for this change has (as of this writing) over 140,000 signatures — well past the 100,000 threshold that is supposed to generate an official response. So we’ll see what President Obama has to say about the idea soon, one assumes.

The idea is a simple one to understand, but it does have complexities. Enacting a “Michael Brown law” wouldn’t be as easy as it first might appear. There are both technological problems (how long would the videos be retained?) and implementation problems (could the cops wearing the cameras ever turn them off?) to be considered before drafting any such law.

But the basic idea seems to be a sound one. It would turn the tables on “Big Brother,” in a way. For years, I’ve been pointing out how the “Little Brother” effect has been growing (by which I mean citizens videotaping cops behaving badly, as well as wider geopolitical aspects of everyone now having a video camera/phone in their pocket). Here in America, citizens have a constitutional right to photograph or videotape police officers doing their jobs, as long as they aren’t interfering with the officers’ actions (standing in the path of a running cop, for instance). Not every police officer is aware of this, though, which has led to cops trying to stop people filming them and even confiscating cameras or forcing people to erase data. Hopefully, these incidents will become rarer in the future. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [317] — Big and Little Brother

Friday Talking Points [316] -- Dog Days

FTP3Welcome to the “Dog Days” of summer, at the height of the political Silly Season. This year, one dog did indeed have his day in August, as 7-year-old “Duke” just won a rather bizarre election to become mayor of Cormorant, Minnesota. The strangest thing (to us) was that the “12 people in the village each paid $1 to cast a vote.” Um, didn’t we make poll taxes illegal quite a while back? The job (and the election) are assumably only “ceremonial” (at least we hope so), but still “Dog Elected Mayor,” as a headline, is right up there with “Man Bites Dog.” As for Duke’s mayoralty, well, it’s a “Ruff!” job but someone’s got to do it, we suppose. So to speak (or roll over, or shake… good boy!)

In other news, dumping a bucket of ice water over your head is, apparently, now no longer reserved for winning football coaches, and has instead become an activity for the whole family to enjoy. Or something.

Two separate stories came out this week on — Gasp! — President Obama actually uttering profanity. In one, he called some criticism from opponents “horseshit,” and in another was quoted as saying what guides his foreign policy is a core idea: “Don’t do stupid shit” (although he reportedly cleans this up for public consumption: “Don’t do stupid stuff”). This last story was one of those shiny, shiny objects within the Beltway that the press (on a regular basis) chases after like a pack of rabid hounds, mostly since Hillary Clinton was the source of the quote and — Gasp! — her foreign policy stance is still (as it always has been) more hawkish than Obama’s. Somehow, this was what passed for “news” at the height of this year’s Silly Season.

Over at the Drug Enforcement Agency, some silliness was exposed this week. Or perhaps “rampant incompetence” is a better term, you decide. Seems they paid an Amtrak employee for confidential passenger information that they could easily have gotten for free. From the story:

The Amtrak inspector general’s office said the employee handed over the information “without seeking approval from Amtrak management or the Amtrak Police Department.” The report, released in June, said the company removed the worker from service and filed charges against the individual.

. . .

According to the report, the secretary provided D.E.A. agents with passengers’ “name reservation identification,” which can include travelers’ names, the names of people traveling with them, travel dates, seat numbers, credit card numbers, emergency contact information, baggage information, passport numbers, gender and date of birth.

Under an agreement with the D.E.A., the Amtrak Police Department provides such information for free in exchange for receiving a share of funds seized through resulting investigations. The report said D.E.A.’s purchase of the records deprived Amtrak police of money the department could have received by supplying the data.

This story is interesting for a number of reasons, not least of which is the news that any Amtrak passenger is essentially turning all their personal information over to the government (who knew?), and that the entire venture of arresting (assumably, it being the D.E.A.) drug smugglers is seen as a healthy profit-making operation by both the D.E.A. and Amtrak. But the “rampant incompetence” part is where they paid out taxpayer dollars for information they could have gotten for free. Yet another reason why the head of the D.E.A., Michele Leonhart, needs to be shown the door.

In other marijuana-related news, Oklahoma’s Republican governor has come out in favor of legalizing medicinal cannabis oil for sick children. She also expressed support for the state to conduct medical trials on its effectiveness. But she drew the line at legalizing any other medical marijuana. Perhaps her support for the oil was in response to the petition drive to put medicinal marijuana on the Oklahoma ballot (which is currently facing a deadline to collect signatures, but which is still short of the goal). Meanwhile, in Florida, the political fight over medical marijuana seems to be heating up. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [316] — Dog Days

Friday Talking Points [315] -- Past, Present, and Future

FTP3We’ve got a lot to cover today (as that headline should evince), but before we begin examining the anniversaries, elections, and politics of the week, I’d like to begin instead by promoting a video.

Yes, this is unusual for me, since I normally favor the written word above multimedia showiness, but this is a noteworthy video of a very special song. The story of the Polish band Taraka, and how their song “Give Ukraine A Helping Hand” became an unofficial anthem of the Ukrainian people’s revolution earlier this year (which ran in my Wednesday column, as narrated by the band’s manager and producer) is an incredibly heartwarming one, which is why I wanted to draw attention to it here before getting on with the usual weekly snark-fest. The video which accompanies the English version of the song is powerful, and the song itself sends chills down the spine. I urge everyone to take three minutes and give it a listen. You won’t easily forget it.

My friends are falling, their memories are always with me
Darkness surrounds us, the stars above us are still clear,
Stand by me, your hopes and dreams will give me courage.
Ukraine is calling, so tell me will you care to hear?

Hear our voices in solitude they sorrow,
In our voices the promise of tomorrow
We made our choices, now bow our heads to pray
As a river, we’ll always find our way.

 

With that out of the way, let’s get on to politics back here at home. From the past, we had two important anniversaries this week. Noam Chomsky wrote a few days ago about the anniversary of the Enola Gay dropping the first atomic bomb (“Little Boy”) on Hiroshima, Japan, which happened 69 years ago this week. Forty years ago today, President Richard Nixon addressed the nation to announce he would be resigning the presidency the next day (August 9, 1974) — the only time in American history this has happened. President Barack Obama also took the nation into the past today, as he announced the United States is dropping bombs on Iraq once again. That’s a pretty heavy-duty amount of the past to contemplate, in one week.

In the near future, America will be confronted with another slice of the recent past, as a Senate report on torture will soon be released to the public. The document to be made public is a shorter version of their full 6,000-page report, and Senator Dianne Feinstein (whose committee performed the review) is still fighting with the White House and the C.I.A. over what redactions are necessary before its release. Within the next few weeks, this is going to be big, big news.

If the news admits what it is, of course. There has long been a timidity in mainstream media to call torture “torture,” which some have been railing against for years. In a surprise pre-emptive move, the New York Times has now announced that it will indeed use the dictionary correctly, and call what is so obviously torture by its proper name, so perhaps other mainstream media will follow their lead, who knows?

In news from the present week, primary season keeps rolling along, and the midterm elections loom on the horizon (we’re under 100 days out from election day, folks). This has generated a whole lot of stories this week (although not as many from town halls as you might expect), so we’ll just whip through them in shorthand fashion.

For those keeping score at home, the Senate contests now stand at: “Establishment Republicans 6 — Tea Partiers 0.” The guy who posted x-rays of gunshot victims online with “amusing” comments was defeated in the Kansas primary. He wasn’t the only extremist to lose a contest this week. Also in the “Whew!” category: Victoria Jackson lost the minor political race she had jumped into.

One Tea Party guy did win a primary in Michigan, and then gave a notable victory speech where, rather than offer up bland words about his opponent, he instead ripped into the guy from the podium. In Mississippi, the Republican Party rejected calls from the Tea Party loser in the Senate race to just overturn the election results and hand him the nomination. Oh, and the guy that had previously made the claim that Thad Cochran had paid for black votes reversed himself and now says that the Tea Partier’s campaign actually gave him thousands of dollars to make up the claim. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [315] — Past, Present, and Future