Friday Talking Points [300] -- Our 4/20 Acronym Contest Challenge

FTP3Three hundred of these columns? To coin a phrase… far out, man.

We’ll get to patting ourselves on the back in a bit, but first we’d like to propose a party game for this weekend’s big 4/20 festivities across the land. So put this in your (metaphorical) pipe and smoke it.

The rules for this contest are pretty simple. First, you’ve got to picture a day in the future when the Weed Wars are completely over, with marijuana reform having won the biggest victory of all: a complete change in the federal government’s viewpoint. Not just rescheduling, but descheduling, in other words. The feds throw in the towel and decide to treat marijuana not as a dangerous and illegal drug, but as a regulated vice like tobacco and alcohol. In other words, total victory for the reformers.

OK, got that image in your mind? Here’s where you need to get creative. If marijuana is descheduled, what would happen to it, in terms of the federal government? Well, they would take it away from the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and hand it off to the official “vice control” agency. But (and here’s where the contest comes in) then they’d have to rename this agency.

The obvious choice would be to add it to what used to just be called “ATF” or sometimes “BATF” — the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. This name was expanded a while back to include explosives, making “BATFE.” Now, the easiest way to change the name gives us a rather strange acronym for the new Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, Explosives, and Marijuana: “BATFEM.” Um… we’re not sure that’s an improvement over “Batgirl,” really.

So our challenge is to come up with a better acronym. The rules: you can use either “marijuana” or “cannabis,” and you can change “bureau” to “agency” or “commission” or any other governmental collective noun. This means you can add an M or C to the core letters A, T, F, and E; and then use a B or A or C (or whatever) at either end. Got that? So who has a better acronym than BATFEM for the real end to marijuana reform: what to call the bureau or agency that would federally regulate marijuana? This once seemed like pie in the sky — too much to even hope for — but is now within the bounds of possibility. So scramble those letters, and post your entries in the comments! Get creative!

As we’ve noted in these pages for the past few months, 2014 is shaping up to be a pivotal year for marijuana reform. The Colorado and Washington experiments are proceeding apace, the Attorney General is now actually “cautiously optimistic” about the success of these experiments, and the only real question people are asking is “which state will be next?” Alaska may move first, as full legalization is on the ballot there in August.

However, not everyone is on board (just to get serious for a moment). The head of the Drug Enforcement Agency tried his hand at a little scaremongering in front of Congress, warning that with legal marijuana edibles lying around, there was an increased risk of dogs eating it with harmful consequences. The prompted one of the most brutal takedowns of such propaganda we’ve ever read (from the Washington Post), which provides a long list of dogs mercilessly killed by drug raids gone horribly wrong. It’s not for the faint of heart, and neither is this equally-brutal takedown which lists 13 human victims killed by Drug War hysteria.

In non-marijuana news, Vladimir Putin has finally responded to my April Fool’s Day column (well, not really…) by insisting that Alaska is too cold for Russia to want to annex: “Is Alaska really in the Southern Hemisphere? It’s cold there, too. Let’s not get hot-headed.” No word yet on any response (hot-headed or not) from Sarah Palin.

What else? The Pulitzer awards were handed out to the reporters which covered the Edward Snowden story, surprising exactly nobody. The federal government decided — after getting some justifiably bad press — they would no longer attempt to collect questionable “debts” that were over ten years old. Here’s just one of the stories of the folks caught up in this effort:

Mary Grice, a federal worker who lives in Takoma Park, Md., never got the refunds she was expecting to see in her mailbox this year. The government seized her checks because of a $2,996 debt that was supposedly incurred under her father’s Social Security number. Her father died in 1960, when she was 4, and her mother received survivors’ benefits thereafter.

But 37 years passed between when the Social Security agency says it overpaid someone in the Grice family and when Mary Grice’s refund was taken. She was unable to find out from the agency exactly who received the overpayment — her mother or perhaps her father’s first wife, both of whom are no longer living.

There’s a word for this sort of thing: Biblical. “Visiting the sins of the fathers on the sons,” to be blunt, should not be the policy of the federal government, and we’re glad someone woke up and realized this.

We’ve got some idiocy from Republicans to highlight in the talking points, but here is one item up front, just because. Scott Brown, former senator from Massachusetts, would now like to become the future senator from New Hampshire (after getting beaten by Elizabeth Warren in the Bay State). Speaking at a rally for Brown was former New Hampshire governor John Sununu, who made a rather bizarre pitch that tried to tie Senator Jeanne Shaheen (the Democrat Brown is challenging in New Hampshire) to other Democratic senators, saying: “She votes with Elizabeth Warren. She votes with [Ed] Markey. She is the third senator from Massachusetts.” Um, really? You really think that line’s going to work to promote an actual former senator from Massachusetts? I guess John Sununu thinks New Hampshire voters are pretty dumb.

And, finally, some non-idiocy from the Republican Party of Nevada. At their party convention last weekend, they decided to jettison the planks of their party platform which opposed same-sex marriage and abortion. This is an attempt to move the party away from these hot-button social issues, and it bears watching to see if the GOP in other states decides to follow Nevada’s lead or not. We’re guessing “not,” but we could always be wrong….


Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

Obamacare had another very good week, but we’re going to get to that in the talking points as well, so we’ll just mention it here in passing.

John Kerry had a pretty good week as well, pulling together a fragile agreement to de-escalate tensions in Ukraine. It remains to be seen whether it’ll work or not, but the surprise was that anything was agreed to at all — expectations that Kerry could deliver were pretty low, before the announcement.

And while it’s not exactly award-worthy, we have to at least mention the fact that Chelsea Clinton is pregnant. This is going to be a photo-op goldmine for Hillary, for the next few years. “This is my family” images with Baby Clinton should be seen as both inevitable and soon-to-be-adorable, at this point. Like I said, the news that Hillary will be a grandmother isn’t exactly award-worthy, but it will indeed positively influence her upcoming campaign. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [300] — Our 4/20 Acronym Contest Challenge

Friday Talking Points [299] -- Happy 50th, Civil Rights Act Of 1964!

FTP3We have some “old business” to take care of here, first, before we begin. Last week, the subtitle of this column was “And Counting,” which referred to the 7.1 million signup figure reached by the Obamacare exchanges. Our point was for all Democrats to always tack this phrase onto any stat quoted about Obamacare, to make a very basic point. We’re happy to report that one week later, the official number has now changed. Which means the new slogan is:

“Obamacare signups: 7.5 million. And counting.”

OK, enough of that, let’s get on with the week that was. Tax time is right around the corner, and the I.R.S. is in the news again, and not in a good way. Seems due to a clause someone (nobody will admit to it) in Congress tacked on to a bill awhile back, the federal government can now go back further than 10 years to collect unpaid debts. Doesn’t sound so controversial, until you hear what “unpaid debts” really means to them: some ancient overpayment from the government (on Social Security, for instance) that they don’t even have records to prove — which were overpaid not to the people the I.R.S. is now going after, but instead, to their parents. Wow. I mean, just… wow. Paul Ryan better hope his family’s paperwork was in order.

This week was a big week for women’s rights, as the Senate pushed for an Equal Pay Act to “celebrate” Equal Pay Day. It was filibustered (of course), which just sets Democrats up in the upcoming campaign to push home the fact that one party cares about women’s rights and one party clearly does not. Republican responses to the whole issue ran from disrespectful to disdainful to insulting all the way up to kissing the women’s vote goodbye completely. When asked what Republicans would do instead on equal pay, the response was: pretty much nothing at all. Democrats are, reportedly, ready and willing to take this case to the voters out on the campaign trail. To top off this week in the ongoing War On Women, a Republican House member was caught on security camera (in his own office, no less) sucking face with a married underling. By week’s end, the aide was out of work, but Representative Vance McAllister — a “family values” kind of guy — was defiantly still in office.

Let’s see, what else? Two key pages of the Senate report on torture leaked out, so check them out if you want a preview (the two pages are a bullet list of conclusions) of the firestorm that is just around the corner, if the 400-page summary is ever released to the public. From just two pages, it seems pretty damning.

Charles Krauthammer offered up some sage advice for his fellow Republicans this week, on the subject of Benghazi, which can be summed up as: get over it — put it behind you. The chances Darrell Issa will follow Krauthammer’s advice are in the slim-to-none category, however.

The House passed Paul Ryan’s budget this week, and Democrats seem downright eager to use it out on the campaign trail, which is always a good sign. So far, President Obama’s had a crack at it, and Elizabeth Warren took the fight to Ryan’s home ground. This is who the GOP are — that’s the main message Democrats need to get across. So far, they seem to be doing a pretty good job of it.

Attorney General Eric Holder had an eventful week in front of Congress. After getting into a testy exchange with Louie “Aspersions On My Asparagus” Gohmert, Holder got in the final word: “Good luck with your asparagus.”

Kidding aside, though, Holder did get some pointed questions from the left as well as from the right. In particular, on why he refuses to reschedule marijuana — which could easily be one of those “my pen and my phone” executive actions Obama and Holder could take (the federal Controlled Dangerous Substances Act which set up the schedules clearly says the Attorney General can move a substance from one schedule to another with just a signature). Holder’s answers were less than responsive, shall we say, and basically consisted of “we’d be happy to work with Congress to do so” — which dodges the point entirely. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [299] — Happy 50th, Civil Rights Act Of 1964!

Friday Talking Points [298] -- 'And Counting'

FTP3Today we’re turning over the whole talking points section to the president, because he certainly deserves a victory lap after announcing this week that — against all odds, and against all the slings and arrows of misfortune — 7.1 million people signed up for health insurance on the Obamacare exchanges.

Because this will pre-empt our normal talking points, I’d like to point one thing out up front. Democrats, from this point on, should adopt a very simple technique to disarm Republican squabbles about Obamacare numbers. To every figure quoted for people gaining health insurance, Democrats should end with “…and counting.” This is an easy miniature talking point to insert into any discussion of the numbers, using just two little words to point out a basic fact: these numbers are only going to grow over time. The deadline for signups was extended for just about everybody, so another two weeks of data will be announced later this month. After that, people will still be using the exchanges to buy insurance when their life situation changes (getting married, new job, whatever) outside of the open enrollment period. Which means the number will be even higher than 7.1 million by the start of the next open enrollment period later this year.

It’s an easy way to make a big point. “The figure for signups is 7.1 million… and counting….” So every Democrat out on the campaign trail or on television should use these significant two words as often as possible when talking about Obamacare’s numbers in the next few months.

OK, enough of that. Let’s take an extremely quick look at the political news of the week, before we get to our awards and our special edition of the talking points. First, some Republican follies (since April Fool’s Day fell during the past week, it’s only appropriate). Fox News actually apologized for running a misleading graph in the days before the Obamacare number was announced. Will wonders never cease? Except, of course, I doubt they ran the graph again when Obama actually met the target of 7 million. Even so, “Fox News apologizes” isn’t the normal sort of headline we’re used to seeing.

Paul Ryan put out his budget, which truly deserves a full slate of talking points from Democrats sooner or later (we’ll get to it in the coming weeks, never fear, there’s plenty of time to do so). It’s easy enough to criticize Ryan’s budget. For instance, Ryan cuts Medicare by the same amount he demonized Obama for cutting, out on the campaign trail — and that’s just the most obvious thing to point out. But Ryan got some criticism from an unexpected direction, as Sarah Palin (remember her?) ripped into Ryan for not cutting enough and not cutting faster, and called his budget a “joke” and “the definition of insanity.”

OK, since it’s been four or five years, let’s check in on the ongoing Republican effort to come up with a bill that would replace Obamacare, should they ever successfully repeal it. Here is John Boehner speaking about the progress of this effort: “The president can go out there and tout about all the people he’s signed up. Our job is to show the American people we have better solutions, and we’re working to build a consensus to do that. And when we have something to talk about, we’ll show you.”

Wow. When they have something, they’ll show us. Not exactly confidence-building, is it? I guess we’ll have to check back in another four or five years — maybe they’ll have a bill by then, eh?

Republican War On Women update: the Heritage Foundation held a fun seminar to explain how Republicans need to convince women that the thing they should really do is to get married. You just can’t make this stuff up, folks. The whole story’s hilarious, especially where the Heritage “lectures director” opens the session by addressing the audience (which was “small and mostly male, many of them apparently Heritage interns”) with: “Wow. Where are all the ladies?” Where, indeed. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [298] — ‘And Counting’

Friday Talking Points [297] -- Democrats Unveil 2014 Strategy

FTP3I spent most of my time (and my columns) this week on reviewing Betty Medsger’s new book The Burglary (with both a two-part review of the book and an interview with the author), which meant I wasn’t focusing as closely as I usually do on current politics. So let’s rectify that immediately, starting with our weekly roundup of what’s been going on outside of the literary world.

The Supreme Court heard arguments in two cases where corporations are requiring certain women to wear a scarlet “A” on their uniforms… um, no wait… that can’t be right… let me check my notes….

The Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases (joking aside) are going to set a precedent, one way or another, on corporate “rights” versus the rights of actual citizens. The liberal women on the Supreme Court asked some very pointed questions about where, exactly, this would take us as a country; but it’s looking like this is going to be one of those 5-4 decisions, so all eyes will be on Justice Kennedy, the assumed swing vote. There were many excellent articles written this week pointing out the possible ramifications of the cases, to which I added my own point of view for what to expect next in the courts, if Hobby Lobby wins.

Plans to reform the National Security Agency were introduced by both the White House and Congress this week, the culmination of President Obama calling for a quick review of N.S.A. spying a few months ago. None of this would ever have happened without Edward Snowden, of course, which led Glenn Greenwald to take a well-deserved victory lap, of sorts.

New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, released a report that totally exonerated him on the whole “Bridgegate” scandal, which was no surprise since he hired the law firm to write the report in the first place (using a cool million of the New Jersey taxpayers’ dollars to pay for it). I’d like to propose that everyone immediately start calling this the “Nothing To See Here, Move Along…” report. It’s only fitting, really.

[We have to issue a warning here, because our next paragraph is going to contain an ugly and derogatory slur. It has been intentionally included to show precisely how bigoted the person in question was. Consider yourselves warned.]

Fred Phelps, leader of a church which displayed its un-Christian bigotry for all to see (both on a website named for one of their favorite and most-hateful slogans — “God Hates Fags” — as well as on even-worse slogans on signs they held up at military funerals), died this week. One local gay rights organization showed how truly classy they were by staging a counter-demonstration to one of the church’s, and holding up a banner stating: “Sorry for your loss.” One might almost call it a parable about how Christian love is supposed to work, in fact. Meanwhile, the vice-mayor of Maricopa, Arizona, was the poster boy for how not to react to news of Phelps’s death: by praising a satirical obituary for Phelps which ran in The Onion. Clueless about both Phelps and the fact that he was praising a fake news article, Ed Farrell at least had the intelligence to quickly back away from his position, offering up a sweeping condemnation of his own actions (as far as political apologies go, this is one of the best ones we’ve ever seen, to be fair): “I had no idea who this Phelps guy was, I had no idea about the publication The Onion…. I had no clue about this guy; he’s an idiot. I can’t believe that I posted what I posted… shame on me.”

In Michigan, gay couples were allowed a brief window to get married, which hundreds quickly did. The window slammed shut almost immediately, though, which sets up an inherently unequal legal situation, much like Proposition 8 did in California.

In marijuana news, the National Cannabis Industry Association has hired a full-time lobbyist in Washington. Make all the “suits and ties” jokes you want, but this could be crucial to getting very specific changes made to federal law without reviving the Drug War hysteria over the issue. This could solve problems like the one faced right now by Utah. Utah just legalized a form of medical marijuana, but only for its citizens to possess it. With no way to legally acquire it, they could always go next door to Colorado (where it’s legal), but then they’d be faced with a strange problem. It’d be legal (by state law) for them to own it in either Colorado or Utah, but it’d be illegal to transport across the border. Getting commonsense changes to federal laws to solve such problems may be a lot easier with a lobbyist working on them.

Let’s see, what else? The Obamacare website has now signed up over six million people, four days before the deadline. Obama extended this deadline a few weeks, so hitting the original target of seven million may actually be within reach, now. Those millions, of course, aren’t the only ones directly benefiting from Obamacare, as a quick look at this handy graph shows.

And, to close, House Republicans now say it’s just too late to pass an extension of unemployment benefits. This, after they spent time this week trying to strip President Obama of the power to create National Monuments. Way to prioritize, guys….


Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

We have two Honorable Mention awards before we get to the main event this week. The first one goes to a Democrat who supported a Republican’s bill in the House, because the bill is such a great idea that we do not care who proposed it. Democratic Representative Raul Ruiz joined Republican Paul Gosar in sponsoring legislation which would prohibit members of Congress flying — on the taxpayers’ dime — in first class. Gosar introduced the bill, saying: “Members of Congress are servants of the people and should not be considered a privileged class.” We could not agree more, and applaud Ruiz for supporting the effort.

The second Honorable Mention goes to Vice President Joe Biden, for having a planet named after him (kind of). That’s both “kind of a planet” and “kind of named after him,” which is why Joe didn’t outright win the MIDOTW for such a feat. The heavenly body in question is a “dwarf planet” (or a “trans-Neptunian object”) and was given the designation 2012 VP 113 — which led the discoverer to decide to use the name “Biden” for it, in the meantime (get it? “VP”?). But, alas, naming objects in the sky is a long process which weeds out all sorts of amusing names, as evidenced by the trans-Neptunian object which caused all the trouble in the first place, years ago (and, also, the downgrade of Pluto). Now named “Eris” (for, appropriately, the goddess of discord), this object was originally casually referred to by its discoverer as “Xena” (and, of course, when a moon was also discovered, it was whimsically named “Gabby”). What this all means is that Planet Biden (or Dwarf Planet Biden, perhaps) is not going to keep this name for long. But still, even for a short period, it’s a pretty impressive thing to have a whole planet named for you, we have to admit. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [297] — Democrats Unveil 2014 Strategy

Friday Talking Points [296] -- Breaking News! Well... Not Really.

FTP3Things have apparently gone too far for Chuck Todd of NBC News. After weeks of breathless lead-story coverage of the missing airplane — with pretty much zero new facts to report — Chuck finally expressed his feelings on Twitter:

Wait, so when did finding NOTHING get characterized as “breaking news”?

He followed this up with a few other thoughts, including:

Another day of “breaking news” based on finding nothing or in other words, “not breaking news”

Since we’re beginning with parodying the mainstream media, we have to start by offering up a riff on a Saturday Night Live “Weekend Update” sketch:

“Really, Chuck? Really? You’re just noticing this now? I mean… really? Have you ever actually listened to Brian Williams?!? The man simply could not exist without at least twelve superlatives in every single sentence he reads on the air. Really!”

Ahem. Perhaps that was unseemly of me. Especially since I do agree with Chuck Todd’s point. Apropos of nothing, I even think he would be a much better host of Meet The Press than David Gregory, just to show you I bear him no ill will. But Todd’s right — wasting the first five minutes of every news broadcast for weeks on end by saying “we still know nothing, folks” is one of the more tedious aspects of the “newsfotainment” industry. I get that. Believe me, I do. Keeping track of such idiocy is a thankless job, like the effort it took to create a complete list of why the Crimean situation is just the most recent of a long list of “the biggest test of Obama’s presidency,” for instance.

But it’s really nothing new to point out the ludicrous nature of what is billed as “breaking news.” In fact, I can end precisely where I began this rant. Back in its infancy in the 1970s, “Weekend Update” had a running joke parodying such “breaking news” idiocy. Chevy Chase would be handed a piece of paper (which just goes to show you how long ago this was) at his news desk, and he would glance at it and then report: “This just in… Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead!

What Chuck Todd is complaining about — breaking news on television which is not breaking, nor news — has been with us for quite some time. Sad to say, it’s nothing new, and not news to me (pun intended).

On the national political front, we have reached some sort of milestone where the announcement of yet another state to either pass a law to legalize some form of medical marijuana or have their anti-marriage-equality laws struck down by a judge is barely even newsworthy anymore. That’s actually a good thing, folks — it is so common now to hear of such things that, really, all you need to hear at this point is the running tally. “State anti-gay-marriage laws struck down as unconstitutional” now stands at five, in addition to the 17 states (plus D.C.) where gay marriage is already the law. “States with some form of medical marijuana laws” now stands at 20 (plus D.C.), but there are 15-20 additional states where some form (some of them severely limited) of medical marijuana law has at least been introduced. Other than for the residents of the states in question, it’s barely even news anymore. Which, as I said, is a great thing — how commonplace such events have become.

What was newsworthy in the marijuana department was the Department of Health and Human Services approving the first (or at least, the “first in anyone’s memory,” as I have to admit I haven’t checked this…) serious medical study of marijuana’s benefits, for returning soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder. I wrote earlier this week about why this is such a big deal, because it represents a turn towards both sanity and science in our national drug policy. Wait, I’m being handed a piece of paper…

This just in… recreational marijuana use in Colorado is now supported by a bigger percentage than when Coloradans (Coloradoans?) voted on it — by a margin of 57 percent for, to 35 percent against. Looks like the skies still have not fallen in the Rocky Mountain state, folks!

Sorry, but I couldn’t resist. Not exactly breaking news, eh? Moving right along…

Since I’m going to mostly lay off snarking on Republicans in the talking points this week, we’ll have to take care of it up front. Republicans all patted themselves on the back this week for fixing their party’s problems. No, really! It’s been one year since their “autopsy” or “post-mortem” of the 2012 elections, and ask any Republican and they’ll tell you all the problems are now gone and the party’s completely fixed. Except, of course, for all the proof that it hasn’t changed one scintilla of their ideological problems.

“But, but…” the GOP will protest, “we hired some women to talk to women, and stuff!” Well, let’s see, “how’s that workin’ out for ya?” as one prominent GOP woman would put it. Not so good, as a woman hired by a new GOP outreach PAC explained that women are just so “extremely busy” that they all believe that things like laws to give them equal pay aren’t, you know, “practical” or “real-world solutions.” Um, right. Yeah, that’s the way to perform some outreach, or something. Rush Limbaugh joined in the outreach to women effort this week by ridiculing the notion of a museum for women, saying: “We already have, ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know how many museums for women all over the country. They are called malls.” He later clarified, “Hey, I could have said brothel, but I didn’t.” Um, Rush? You just did. Way to stay classy, while reaching out to the ladies. Meanwhile, an anti-abortion group attacked Representative Gary Peters, in Michigan, by posting on their site that he “[w]ants to make sure abortion is accessible and cheap for his daughters.” Classy all around, guys.

And it’s not just women’s outreach where Republicans continue to shine. They put together some ads geared towards hipster youth (which have already been hilariously spoofed). A Republican House candidate won her primary this week, even though she believes that gay marriage and abortion cause “tornadoes, autism and dementia,” because they anger God. So there’s a few more “outreach” boxes for Republicans to check off.

But what took the proverbial cake this week was that a Republican state congressman, while speaking out against the expansion of Medicaid (of all things), used the term “tar baby” to describe it. He apologized the next day, saying he “meant nothing racial.” Hoo boy. He’s from Virginia, so this excuse is pretty unbelievable. Democrats were quick to denounce this language, of course.

What’s ironic here is that while the term “tar baby” itself has quite obviously moved into the realm of “metaphors which cannot be used anymore, due to their secondary meaning (whether meant or unintended by the speaker),” it is also a perfect description of what the Republican politician is now entangled in. The story refers to a baby made out of tar, where the stronger you fight against it, the stronger it sticks and pulls you further in. No matter how you struggle, you can’t extricate yourself. Which is exactly what should happen to any politician to ever use this term even again, so be warned! Need a handy substitute which paints the same metaphorical picture? Try “quicksand” instead.

But, according to national Republicans, the party’s all fixed now. What’s that? Oh, wait… breaking news… Republicans outreach efforts crash and burn… film at eleven! Continue reading Friday Talking Points [296] — Breaking News! Well… Not Really.

Friday Talking Points [295] -- Happy Pi Day!

FTP3Today is 3/14, therefore a happy Pi Day to all! Next year will be even more fun, though, since it’ll be 3/14/15….

Moving right along… a lot happened in the world of politics this week, including Democrats being disappointed in a special House election down in Florida and the president appearing between two ferns (which caused some underwear-bunching on the right, so to speak). We’ll get to all of that later, though. First, let’s take a run around the rest of the news from the week, shall we?

Setting a level for hypocrisy usually not so blatantly shown by Democrats, Senator Dianne Feinstein is hopping mad that the government spied on her computers. The irony is so thick you can spread it on toast. Previously known as a champion for pretty much any spying the N.S.A. felt like doing, on every American, Feinstein doesn’t have a whole lot of moral high ground to stand on, no matter how much high dudgeon she’s currently showing. Edward Snowden immediately called Feinstein onto the carpet for her hypocrisy.

But after the raft of manure she deservedly got for her “laws for me, but not for thee” elitist view of the Fourth Amendment, Feinstein certainly does have a point. Maybe what America needs is a second “Church Committee,” in fact, to investigate how the intelligence services of the country should be operating. And while the dustup between Feinstein and the C.I.A. is what’s in the news now, this is truly all a sideshow to the real subject matter at hand — the impending 6,000-page report from Feinstein’s committee, on how America used torture after 9/11. That is going to be an explosive report, if the American public ever hears what is in it, that is.

Marijuana made the news in several ways over the past week, so let’s just hit the high points (so to speak… ahem). In California, the state Democratic Party just included a plank in its platform which calls for “the legalization, regulation and taxation of pot in a manner similar to that of tobacco or alcohol.” Gavin Newsom, who is now California’s lieutenant governor, pushed for the inclusion.

Sanjay Gupta used another of his shows to call for nationwide legalization of medical marijuana, after speaking with “marijuana refugees” who have moved to Colorado to secure medicine for their children to avoid seizures. Gupta felt compelled to revisit the subject on his show: “This refugee situation that is developing, I thought it would be a bit apocryphal, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t being led down some false path — but I met with these families and it is real. Are you really going to arrest a person for taking their medicine back to their state? This is not the society that I think most people would think we are and yet it’s absolutely happening. It’s heartbreaking.”

In Colorado, the state appeals court ruled that people convicted under previous state marijuana laws should probably be let go, now that the laws have changed. It’s pointless to hold someone in prison, after all, for doing something that is now legal. Eric Holder made the news for calling for reducing mandatory minimum sentences federally to cut down sentences for all non-violent drug offenses, as well.

And it was lobbying week in Washington for the marijuana lobby. Yes, there now is such a thing. In past years, they haven’t made much of a splash on Capitol Hill, but this year they’ve been drawing much more serious attention. After all, Colorado has shown that there are millions of dollars in tax revenue to be had out there, just for the asking. The concept of a “marijuana lobby” might be an odd one to contemplate, but it is indeed as important as the other drug reform efforts taking place. Members of Congress need to hear how even small changes in current law could help this new industry grow and prosper. There are all sorts of hurdles and needless obstacles to creating a real marijuana marketplace, and they need to be removed, one by one. Lobbyists are exactly what is needed to get this job done. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [295] — Happy Pi Day!

Friday Talking Points [294] -- CPAC Follies And More

FTP3It’s been a busy week in politics — even without all the CPAC follies — so let’s get right to it.

In the House, Republican Darrell Issa, who chairs the Investigate Obama Until We Find Something To Impeach Him Over Committee (I think that’s what it’s called, at any rate…) held a hearing over the alleged abuses at the Internal Revenue Service.

Reportedly, he was recalling Lois Lerner to testify because she was going to answer questions. How do I know this? Because Issa himself told me, on one of last Sunday’s political talk shows. But when she did appear, she took the Fifth again. Behind the scenes, her lawyer had been working on a deal with Issa in exchange for testimony, but the deal fell apart. This annoyed Issa no end, and after asking her question after question, he abruptly gaveled the hearing to a close and tried to walk out.

Representative Elijah Cummings tried to speak, but Issa continually cut off his microphone and tried to beat a hasty retreat from the room. Cummings kept on speaking, getting visibly more annoyed at being silenced in such a fashion. Watch the video, it’s pretty cringe-worthy.

This is a new low in Congress, where Republicans now apparently feel that they are the only ones who will be allowed to speak. So much for all that “democracy” stuff, I guess. Issa reportedly apologized to Cummings after realizing what a bully he had been… but then described what Cummings did in an interview as a “hissy fit” — so maybe he hasn’t really seen the light quite yet.

In other news from the Republican House, Paul Ryan would like you to think that he cares about poor people. He’s not going to do anything for them, of course, he just wants you to think he cares, that’s all. In fact, if he had his way, he would make life much harder for poor people, to “free” them from what he calls a “poverty trap.” Tough love, in other words. Or, in more-accurate terms, a giant “Tough luck!” to all poor people.

Ryan released a report which purported to show how spending federal money on poverty programs has been useless. The only problem is that Ryan cherry-picked his data to make his case so shamelessly that it was eviscerated by pretty much all and sundry (examples abound, from New York magazine, Salon and Salon again, while Huffington Post ran a very comprehensive wrapup of links to all others who performed brutal takedowns of Ryan’s “facts.”)

The Ukraine erupted in crisis during the past week, as Russia’s Vladimir Putin essentially grabbed the Crimea in his own hissy fit. President Obama, of course, has very limited options for dealing with Russia over the Crimea, in precisely the same way that President George W. Bush had very limited options to react to Russia moving troops into Georgia. Back then, nobody complained much about Bush’s actions, because they knew there was little the United States could (or would) do to change the situation on the ground in any meaningful way.

Now, of course, with a Democrat in the White House, Republicans loudly criticize President Obama, essentially saying it is Obama’s fault that Putin did what he did. Carping Republicans have no better answer for what to do now (other than insisting that Obama take actions which he’s already taken, which doesn’t really count), but that doesn’t stop them from declaring that it’s all Obama’s fault anyway.

Here’s a news flash for all these Republicans: the United States is not going to threaten Russia militarily. It’s just not going to happen. Bush knew this, and Obama knows it. So what, exactly, is the big complaint?

Lindsey Graham (of course) took this to the extreme, laying the blame for the Crimea on (wait for it…) Benghazi. This was too much for Michelle Malkin, who chastised Graham publicly, tweeting: “UGH. @grahamblog, you are an embarrassment to all who truly care about Benghazi. Just stop”.

Hillary Clinton got caught in a pushback of her own, by pointing out the similarities of Putin going into the Crimea “to protect the Russians there” and Hitler doing the same thing for the Germans in his land-grabs leading up to World War II. This comparison annoyed some, apparently.

This was also CPAC week, which is a big get-together of conservatives and their lunatic fringe, and is also a showcase for any Republican eyeing a 2016 presidential run. Call it the audition process for who gets to be in the clown car, next time around. Think I’m being too harsh? Hey, Donald Trump was a featured speaker (who mistakenly referred to Jimmy Carter as dead) — that pretty much sums it up right there.

Several sites have amusing “best of” lists from CPAC, or have highlighted the most bizarre statements spoken there. My favorite is a photo of a session on minority outreach, which shows an absolute sea of empty chairs. Guess that minority outreach thing just isn’t that popular among the conservative faithful, eh? Continue reading Friday Talking Points [294] — CPAC Follies And More

Friday Talking Points [293] -- Republicans' Foot-Shooting Party

FTP3President Obama is giving an address on the situation in the Ukraine as this is being written, so we’re going to wait until next week to draw any conclusions for American domestic politics, just to warn everyone up front.

Instead, we’re mostly going to focus on what appears to be an astonishing amount of Republican self-inflicted political wounds from the past week. It’s as if someone somewhere gave Republicans an order: “Stick your foot way out, now… ready… aim… fire!” Even when Republicans weren’t shooting at their own feet this week, it appears they were conducting a circular firing squad instead. The 2014 campaign, in other words, is off to a raucous start… and it’s only February.

The Republican midterm strategy was supposed to be pretty simple. The big issue to run on was hatred of Obamacare, and to show that Republicans actually had their own ideas (instead of just being the party of “Hell no!” all the time) the House was going to pass a comprehensive replacement plan to take the place of Obamacare, as well as passing an overhaul of the tax code to show Republican tax priorities weren’t just tilted towards the ultra-wealthy. That was the plan.

That plan is getting pretty tattered around the edges. Already some Republican strategists are beginning to (very quietly, one assumes) question putting all their eggs in the “Everyone hates all of Obamacare!” basket. Especially since the Republican alternative to Obamacare now looks like it’s going to die an ignoble death in committee, if it even gets that far. One month ago, Republicans were united behind the idea, now John Boehner won’t even commit to holding a vote on it this year. They’re going to look at a bunch of ideas, Boehner said. I mean, it’s not like they’ve had four or five years to look at these ideas or anything.

The Republican tax code overhaul was announced this week as well, with little fanfare. House Ways and Means Committee chair Dave Camp announced the plan, but couldn’t get anyone else to even stand next to him in support. His plan actually could have been the basis for honest negotiations with Democrats, even though major changes would have been necessary to gain Democratic support. But it was a forthright starting bid in the negotiating process. As such, it was immediately shot down by his fellow Republicans. Mitch McConnell pronounced it dead on arrival. John Boehner, when asked about the details of the plan, responded (you can’t make this stuff up, folks): “Blah, blah, blah, blah.” When asked if it would reach the floor for a vote, Boehner replied: “Ah, Jesus.” Dana Milbank of the Washington Post has the snarkiest take on the whole drama. Then Wall Street found out that the plan would institute some sort of “bank tax,” which led to heavy-handed threats to stop all Republican campaign donations, immediately.

Added to this disarray is the ongoing Tea Party versus Establishment Republican battles over the Senate (which I wrote about this week, a day before the AP reported a similar story). The Tea Party, not to be deterred, celebrated its fifth anniversary this week, although attendance was reportedly pretty sparse. Remember when they could turn out thousands of people for a rally in Washington? Now a couple hundred people are all that show up. How times have changed, eh?

Before we get on with the “Republicans saying stupid things” list, let’s take a quick look at the marijuana news this week. The Washington Post ran an astonishingly detailed story on the evolution of public acceptance of marijuana (with a fantastic chart) this week, and has also held a serious back-and-forth debate on its op-ed pages as well, which is one indication that the political class is beginning to take the issue a bit more seriously than before. Lincoln Chafee, governor of Rhode Island, has a great idea which could go over very big with the East Coast public (especially right about now): “pot for potholes.” Legalize recreational marijuana and then take the tax revenues and spend it on fixing the roads. Brilliant! In the not-so-brilliant category, however, is the Maryland cop who was giving testimony to his state legislature, and quoted a story from fake news site The Daily Current with the entirely-fictional statistic that “37 deaths” occurred “from overdose on marijuana” on the first day Colorado legalized recreational marijuana. For the record, total deaths in all of human history for marijuana overdoses: zero. Annapolis police chief Michael Pristoop eventually was forced to retract his statement and apologize for repeating an “urban myth.” Continue reading Friday Talking Points [293] — Republicans’ Foot-Shooting Party

Friday Talking Points [292] -- From Russian Panties to Animal Skulls

FTP3We’ve got a lot to get to in our weekly roundup of politics this week, it seems.

For those watching the Olympics (or trying to, in and amongst the soap opera that is NBC’s coverage, and the accompanying forty bazillion commercial breaks) and wondering what’s going on in Russian politics, well, we direct you to the panty protests. Not the most important issue of the week, but quite possibly the most bizarre (and that’s even in a week that saw members of Pussy Riot getting horsewhipped by Cossacks, mind you).

This week, President Obama issued a handwritten apology to an art history professor, for denigrating the value of an art history college degree in a speech. This, for some reason (as if he really needs one) made Marco Rubio angry. A handwritten apology from the president must be nice — we’re still waiting for our apology for pretty much everything nasty Rahm Emanuel ever said (although we’re not exactly holding our breath, on that one).

Johns Hopkins released a study proving that background checks for buying guns works exactly the way they are supposed to, but (speaking of not holding our breath) the media and the politicians pretty much ignored it.

A New York state senator introduced a bill banning killer whales in waterparks from the state, and he apparently plagiarized a student’s article posted on the Huffington Post. Well, I’m not sure if “plagiarizing” is the right word, really, since he wasn’t trying to sell the work as his own in any way, he just used part of it in the text of the bill (justifying its necessity). We would like to issue a blanket permission for all Democratic lawmakers, in response: please feel free to quote liberally from any of these columns in any legislation you wish. Dropping us a note informing of such an occurrence would be nice, but is not necessary.

In marijuana news (which has become a weekly staple, on these pages), Doug Gansler, Maryland’s attorney general, seems to think that medical marijuana’s acceptance is pretty much as inevitable as gay marriage, at this point. Gansler’s running for governor, in a field with other Democrats. As time goes on, more and more Democrats are going to have to accept the fact that marijuana is now (1) a potent and valid political issue, and (2) worth supporting, because public attitudes are changing fast.

New York is moving closer to legalizing medical marijuana (beyond just a pilot program), and even two Republicans have now joined the effort — so it’s not just Democrats who are waking up to the new political reality. And in Colorado, the governor just admitted that pot sales (and therefore pot tax revenues) are going to be higher than expected. Feel free to make your own “higher than expected” joke, here.

Or, perhaps, insert your own “munchies” joke instead, because we’re moving on to news from the world of pizza. Chevron decided to compensate citizens affected by one of their fracking wells blowing up by delivering coupons for a free pizza and bottle of soda to affected residents. You just can’t make this stuff up, folks. In more positive pizza news from Arizona, one pizza parlor showed its displeasure of the state government passing a “religious freedom” law (which would allow business owners to discriminate against gay people) by posting a sign in the window reading “We reserve the right to refuse service to Arizona legislators.” Bravo! I’d like a slice with extra snark, please….

In other news from the Wild West, a Republican state representative in Colorado left a hearing on concealed handgun permits, but he apparently left a handbag behind… with his loaded handgun in it. The jokes just write themselves, on that one.

Anyone who read What’s The Matter With Kansas? will want to check out an article by the author where he updates his opinion with a look at the current state of affairs in the Sunflower State.

And finally, to end on this Western theme we seem to have moseyed into, George W. Bush is now channeling his inner Georgia O’Keeffe by creating paintings of animal skulls. Make of that what you will.


Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

What with Congress on yet another weeklong taxpayer-funded vacation, there wasn’t much happening in Washington this week that caught our eye in the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week category.

So (to use a question format, for reasons which will become apparent in a moment): who was the most impressive Democrat in the news this week? Continue reading Friday Talking Points [292] — From Russian Panties to Animal Skulls

Friday Talking Points [291] -- Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah

FTP3John Boehner has a song in his heart. That song is “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,” which he was heard quoting from as he was busy passing a clean debt ceiling bill in his House. He followed up with another lyric from the tune: “Plenty of sunshine coming my way.” Mr. Boehner is, of course, being amusingly ironic. He does not, in fact, have a song in his heart, and he is not looking for beams of sunshine heading his way from his fellow Republicans.

Boehner passed the clean debt ceiling bill with 193 Democratic votes and only 28 Republican votes, after all. He ignored the self-imposed “Hastert Rule,” surprisingly early in the legislative fight — two whole weeks before the crisis was scheduled to hit. He did so because the Tea Party faction in his party informed him that he didn’t even have the votes for the usual round of hostage-taking — Republicans, on their own, couldn’t pass any bill. Boehner, realizing the futility of his position, then gave President Obama exactly what he asked for by going ahead and passing a clean bill with mostly Democratic support. Beams of sunshine did not follow, from his fellow Republicans.

The most amusing response was the circulation of bizarre threats via email to House Republicans. The email (with an anonymous sender) told Republicans who voted for the bill to expect outside groups to mobilize against them. One anonymous Republican in the House pointed out that the email addresses it was sent to were closely-guarded official emails of the representatives, and concluded that the sender “[has] got to be another member. Probably one of the crazy ones.” That characterization comes from a fellow Republican, mind you.

In the weekly roundup of marijuana news, the farm bill that Obama has now signed did indeed legalize industrial hemp-growing experiments in states that have approved the idea. Eighteen members of Congress signed a letter asking Obama to reschedule marijuana to reflect the reality that it is not, in fact, more dangerous than cocaine or methamphetamine. Rescheduling truly is an idea whose time has come, but it’s not going to happen without some political pressure, so it was good to see these Congressmen stepping up to the plate. Check out the letter, and check out the list of who signed it (and then, if your representative isn’t on the list, call them up and ask them why not) over at the Huffington Post.

Meanwhile, Representative Steve Cohen has introduced the “Unmuzzle the Drug Czar Act” which would remove the restrictions Congress put on the Office of National Drug Control Policy which, in essence, add up to “the O.N.D.C.P. can never never never never say one tiny good thing about marijuana, the end, forever.” During last week’s epic testimony by the assistant drug czar (see last week’s column for a rundown), Cohen asked about this restriction, only to get the answer from the poor sap testifying that he didn’t “know the background” of such muzzling. He also was unfamiliar with the name Harry Anslinger, the report Nixon commissioned (and then buried) on marijuana law, how many people had died through marijuana overdoses, and even whether marijuana was more dangerous than heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine. Or maybe not — his entire testimony may have been muzzled by precisely the clause in the O.N.D.C.P.’s budget that Cohen is now trying to remove. Anyone who believes in free speech and who is against tax dollars going to censor scientific facts from being uttered by high government officials should heartily cheer Cohen’s legislation.

Marco Rubio, however, is being coy on the subject without the benefit of a legal reason to do so. When asked at an education forum this week whether he had ever smoked the evil weed, he responded: “If I tell you that I haven’t, you won’t believe me. And if I tell you that I did, then kids will look up to me and say, ‘Well, I can smoke marijuana because look how he made it.’ ” Not exactly the best non-denial denial ever uttered, but it’s definitely better than “I didn’t inhale,” so you’ve got to give Rubio at least that, we suppose.

On another subject, a while back the New Yorker pointed out how low the Public Broadcasting System had sunk in terms of sucking up to fatcat donors at the expense of the truth, and this week brings more confirmation that, as Salon put it, the network should now be called the Plutocratic Broadcasting System. From the Pando story which originally broke the news:

On December 18th, the Public Broadcasting Service’s flagship station WNET issued a press release announcing the launch of a new two-year news series entitled “The Pension Peril.” The series, promoting cuts to public employee pensions, is airing on hundreds of PBS outlets all over the nation. It has been presented as objective news on major PBS programs including the PBS News Hour.

However, neither the WNET press release nor the broadcasted segments explicitly disclosed who is financing the series. Pando has exclusively confirmed that “The Pension Peril” is secretly funded by former Enron trader John Arnold, a billionaire political powerbroker who is actively trying to shape the very pension policy that the series claims to be dispassionately covering.

So you might think about that the next time pledge drive season comes around (which seems to be roughly every three weeks, these days). Maybe just pick up the phone to your local PBS station and tell them why you won’t be donating any money to them, since their editorial policies seem so far from what they should be. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [291] — Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah