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

Friday Talking Points [314] -- Boehner's 'Keystone Kops' House

FTP3As I write this, the House has still not managed to pass a bill to deal with the border crisis. They’ve been trying for a few days now, but have been locked in a serious battle between Tea Party hardliners and Republicans from more moderate districts. The Tea Partiers are demanding the harshest possible bill, and the moderates are the ones who actually demanded that Speaker John Boehner attempt to do his job and get a bill through before they all fly home for a lavish five-week vacation. Moderate Republicans know that “we couldn’t pass anything” is going to be a tough sell back home. When Boehner tries to make the bill extreme enough to appease the Tea Party hardliners, he loses moderate votes. When he tries to make it appealing enough to the moderates to vote for it, he loses Tea Party votes. Stay tuned, as the last act in this Keystone Kops drama has yet to take place!

Think this is overstating the case? Then you probably didn’t hear what Michele Bachmann recently had to say about the border crisis:

President Obama is trying to bring all of those foreign nationals, those illegal aliens to the country and he has said that he will put them in the foster care system…. [W]e can’t imagine doing this, but if you have a hospital and they are going to get millions of dollars in government grants if they can conduct medical research on somebody, and a ward of the state can’t say “no” — a little kid can’t say “no” if they’re a ward of the state — so here you could have this institution getting millions of dollars from our government to do medical experimentation and a kid can’t even say “no.” It’s sick.

Um, OK, Michele. Got it. President Barack Obama is Dr. Josef Mengele, and he’s nefariously allowing children to come into the United States so that he can secretly run medical experiments on them. Personally, I think “Keystone Kops” is actually understating the case.

Apparently, Eric Cantor agrees. Earlier this week, he stepped down as House Majority Leader (as a result of being successfully primaried by a Tea Partier), but by the end of the week he announced he will resign from his seat in Congress as well, in a few weeks, rather than sticking around until January. Can’t say I blame him, as sometimes “getting out of Dodge” is the only sane answer when faced with an insane situation.

Pundits struggled to stay abreast of the craziness emanating from the House floor. Here’s Dana Milbank of the Washington Post, trying to explain what went on yesterday:

All morning, GOP leaders had been predicting that they had sufficient Republican votes to pass [Speaker John] Boehner’s border bill. But then conservatives, under pressure from [Senator Ted] Cruz and far-right interest groups, began to go squishy, and the new [House Majority Leader], Kevin McCarthy, announced that he was pulling the border bill from the floor and that members could depart early for their five-week summer break.

What followed was as close as Congress gets to one of those fistfights in the Taiwanese parliament. Mainstream Republicans besieged Boehner and McCarthy on the House floor, noisily demanding that they do something about the border crisis before going on holiday. Half an hour later, McCarthy announced that “additional votes are possible today.”

Boos and jeers rained down on the new leader. The speaker pro tempore, Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), banged the gavel violently for order. Some lawmakers had to be called back from National Airport.

Set it to some old-timey piano music, and film it in black-and-white, and what you’ve got is indeed the Keystone Kops.

What the House Republicans could all agree upon is that they’re ready to sue the president. Not impeach him, mind you (perish the thought!), just sue him. More on that in a bit. Especially, on the ridiculousness of voting one day to sue the president for taking action on his own, and then the next day begging Obama to act because House Republicans are so incapable of action (the hypocrisy of this was so obvious even some conservatives had to point it out). Obama, meanwhile, warned Republicans that if they go off on a month-long vacation without putting a bill on his desk, then he will be forced to act on his own. When he does, you can surely expect howls of rage from Republicans about Obama doing exactly what they are now calling upon him to do. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [314] — Boehner’s ‘Keystone Kops’ House

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