It’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  — CPAC Follies And More
President 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  — Republicans’ Foot-Shooting Party
We’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.
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  — From Russian Panties to Animal Skulls
John 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  — Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah
Americans across the land are banding together to solve one of the country’s most pressing problems, it seems: demanding that Justin Bieber be deported!
Sadly, you just can’t make this stuff up, folks. Senator Mark Warner has now chimed in on this important issue, and there’s now a petition up on the White House website asking President Obama to give Bieber the boot back to Canada.
In other names-in-the-news, Clay Aiken has decided to run for a House seat in North Carolina. As I said, you just can’t make this stuff up.
And, most amusing to us personally, the quiz show Jeopardy! just started a tournament of past champions, and we were bowled over by the fact that one of them was none other than the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Richard Cordray. Sadly, Cordray lost in the first round, but it was kind of cool to see him there. He did not accept any prize money and paid for his own airfare, to keep the whole thing well within government ethics laws. But still, how many high ranking government officials have ever been a Jeopardy! champion to begin with?
Lighter news aside, let’s take a look at the week that was, shall we?
John Boehner either admitted that he lacks leadership skills, or perhaps just that his House party caucus is as unleadable as a bunch of kittens hopped up on catnip. The next big legislative fight (raising the debt ceiling) is just around the corner, and the Republicans can’t seem to agree on what to hold as hostage (since “holding hostages” is just about the only thing they know how to do, at this point). They considered demanding that President Obama approve the Keystone XL pipeline, and then they considered demanding that risk corridors be abolished in the dreaded Obamacare. They couldn’t agree on either one of them (that second one would actually have hiked the deficit by around eight billion dollars). So they then considered restoring the cuts to military pay they made in the last budget deal. But they couldn’t even agree on that among themselves. This led a frustrated Boehner to announce that he “couldn’t get 218 Republican votes” to agree to call Mother Teresa a saint right now. Which just shows how ineffectual a leader Boehner truly is, really.
Over in the Senate, Republicans are more cohesive, especially when it comes to filibustering the extension of unemployment benefits for 1.7 million Americans.
And out on the campaign trail, Republicans have set up fraudulent websites to try to get Democratic donors for House candidates to mistakenly give money to Republican opponents. Seriously, this is about as dirty a trick as we’ve seen in quite some time, and deserves some media attention.
Speaking of dirty tricks, you have to wonder how Republicans are answering poll questions these days, as evidenced by an excellent breakdown of the people who say they’ve been hurt by Obamacare. Overall, 13 percent of the people say they’ve been helped by the new law, 64 percent say it has had no effect on them, and 19 percent say they’ve been harmed by it in one way or another. But when you dig into that 19 percent, the partisanship of the answers becomes apparent. Something to keep in mind when judging the accuracy of that number, that’s for sure. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — Freedom From Job Lock
It was “roll out the agenda” week in Washington, which means we’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get on with it, shall we?
Republicans in the House have announced they are now ready to do something on immigration. I only mention this in passing here, because the entire talking points section is going to be devoted to a warning for Democrats: there will be traps laid by the Republicans, so Democrats have to be vigilant about defusing each one as it pops up.
There was big news from the White House this week, of course — Big Block Of Cheese Day! Just kidding. The real news was made by President Obama’s State Of The Union address, where he laid out his fairly-realistic agenda for the upcoming year. This didn’t please everyone, as evidenced by the wish lists of some in his own party (which amusingly included “announce the resumption of manned space flight, starting with a trip to Mars by Arne Duncan and Bill Gates, where they will try out their education experiments on any inhabitants they find there”). Oh, well, you can’t please everyone.
Of course, any momentous week in politics now regularly brings out some real doozies on the national stage. One Republican congressman, immediately after Obama’s speech, threatened to throw a reporter over a balcony, or perhaps break him in half “like a boy.” On camera. Way to stay classy, GOP! Not to be outdone, another Republican has apparently taken to referring to Hillary Clinton as the “Anti-Christ.” Nothin’ but class from the GOP, this week, it seems.
In other Republican news, the War On Women continues apace in Louisiana, Alaska, and in the House of Representatives. Republicans have apparently settled on the talking point “War on women? What war on women?” which I’d personally like to encourage, because it shows better than anything else just how truly clueless the Republican Party has become on the issue. Senator Barbara Boxer pointed this out rather well in a fantastic open letter to Republicans in which she asks them bluntly: “What century are you living in?”
This is all getting to be too much for some, including former Lieutenant Governor of Nevada Sue Wagner, who just announced she’s leaving the Republican Party. Or, as she put it, “the Republican Party left me” with their insistence on lunacy instead of debating public policy. Fellow ex-Republican Chad Brown was even more eloquent (emphasis in original): “My opinion is the “Duck Dynasty Wing” of the Republican Party has taken over the GOP, and they’re not about to retreat in their war on science and common sense.”
Continuing our coverage of what is shaping up to be the Year Of Marijuana Reform in politics, New Jersey introduced legalization legislation this week, joining a growing number of states where the possibility is being seriously discussed in state government.
Some politicians have woken up and realized the new day we’re living in, such as Heather Mizeur, who is running for governor in Maryland and who welcomed the endorsement of the state’s NORML organization. Her statement said, in part: “Maryland’s marijuana laws have ruined lives, been enforced with racial bias and keep law enforcement from focusing their time and resources on more violent crime. We’re proud to have NORML’s support in the effort to make Maryland the next state to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana.” Marijuana is also going to be a big issue in the Florida governor’s race, now that a medical marijuana ballot initiative has been approved for the voters to consider.
One person definitely not on board with this new reality is the head of the Drug Enforcement Agency, Michele Leonhart, who definitely doesn’t agree with President Obama’s characterization of marijuana being “less dangerous than alcohol.” She ripped into Obama’s remarks in public, which has led to calls for her to resign (or be fired) from both marijuana activists and at least one member of Congress (Representative Steve Cohen), who said resigning would be the “honorable thing” for her to do. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — Avoiding Immigration Traps
Before we get to the marijuana news (and speculation), while Congress was off on yet another week-long vacation, there were a flurry of reports issued from various groups studying various aspects of America. The picture on income inequality is just as bad as everyone thought it was, one of these revealed. A blue-ribbon commission created after last year’s State Of The Union address reported back (just before their year was up) on what could be done to improve voting access in America — which was mostly ignored by politicians and the media alike, sad to say.
President Obama gave a speech last week on national security, spying, and the National Security Agency, which didn’t do much to mollify his critics on the civil liberties side of things. This week, a group formed to study the N.S.A. spying concluded that the sweep of all telephony metadata was just flat-out unconstitutional, didn’t aid in tracking down terrorists, and should be immediately stopped.
In the world of political commentary, right-wing mouthpiece Dinesh D’Souza was indicted for breaking campaign contributions laws. So maybe he’ll be too busy during the next election cycle to put out propaganda movies, who knows?
The Republican War On Women went rolling merrily along, but we’re going to devote most of the talking points this week to that subject, so we’ll just mention it in passing. Here’s a preview: Mike Huckabee has a starring role, this week.
OK, enough of the peripheral issues. Let’s get back to that rather provocative headline, instead.
Will 2014 (or perhaps 2016) become known as the “Year Of The Marijuana Voter”? This question can now be seriously asked, because the issue of radically reforming marijuana laws seems to be growing bigger and more imperative with each passing week. Even though the year is less than four weeks old, consider what has been happening:
Legal recreational marijuana sales to adults are happening in Colorado. They will also soon happen in Washington state. The sky has not yet fallen in Colorado, and it is not expected to fall in Washington, either.
This means that when the two top teams in the National Football League meet for this year’s Super Bowl, their fans back at home will be able to celebrate victory by smoking pot without the fear of immediate arrest for doing so. No matter which team wins.
In the past few weeks, politicians from Chris Christie to Rick Perry to Harry Reid have been signaling they are open to a much more enlightened policy on both medical marijuana and reducing legal penalties for recreational marijuana. That’s a pretty broad spectrum of politicians.
Bill Gates admitted that he voted for legalization in Washington.
The Drug Enforcement Agency is still against marijuana legalization, but then that’s no real big surprise, is it?
Medical marijuana proposals have been launched in the state governments of Tennessee and Alabama, both conservative states in the South.
Outright recreational legalization has been proposed in a growing number of other state governments, including Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and even Oklahoma.
In a handful of other states, ballot initiatives are being filed to get outright legalization on the ballot for this year’s election. California has already seen four separate ballot measures filed for 2014 alone.
President of the United States Barack Obama just stated in an interview that he considers marijuana to be “less dangerous than alcohol,” and “not very different” than tobacco cigarettes. While the White House did then walk back his comments a tiny bit (stating Obama still doesn’t support the concept of legalization), they didn’t contradict Obama’s key points in the interview.
In fact, Attorney General Eric Holder followed up Obama’s comments by announcing that the Justice Department was going to start allowing legal businesses (legal under their state’s laws) that sell marijuana (both medicinally and recreationally) to have access to American banks, just like every other legal business in the country. This is a huge tangible step forward. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — 2014 The Year Of The Marijuana Voter?
Before we begin this week’s political wrapup, please be advised that President Obama’s speech on reforming the National Security Agency won’t be covered here today. Obama just gave the speech this morning, and we feel it is too important to offer up snap judgments, preferring instead to let it percolate for a few days before commenting on the substance of the speech or the newly-announced policies.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the sillier stories of the week, just for fun. Previously, I have complained about the term “Bridgegate,” as I’m not a big fan of appending “-gate” on every scandal, so I have to applaud the most amusing headline I’ve yet read on the Chris Christie story, from Robert J. Elisberg on the Huffington Post: “Merry Christiemess.” A little seasonal-specific, but catchy and to the point!
If you think American news stories can be downright silly at times, consider what the official Iranian news agency is telling its citizens: the United States is secretly run by Nazi space aliens. Kind of puts things in perspective, eh?
Congress is heading off on yet another vacation period, because it’s not like they have a bunch of stuff which they haven’t gotten around to doing, such as restoring unemployment benefits for over a million Americans. Sigh. In the same vein, some Republicans are rumored to be pushing for the idea that their party not pass a budget this year, because then the Democrats would say mean things about them in the campaign. You’ll note that they’re not in favor of actually stopping any of their mean policies, just hopefully distracting the public during an election year.
What else? We had a report this week from the Senate which seemed to suggest that a large portion of the responsibility for the American ambassador being killed in Benghazi actually rests with the ambassador himself, who repeatedly nixed beefing up security right before the attack. The F.B.I., meanwhile, stated that it found no criminal wrongdoing at the I.R.S., which is going to get nowhere near as much attention as the now disproven “the Obama administration is targeting conservatives” theme in the media at large.
In other news… Jerry Brown is apparently not running for president in 2016.
In the marijuana news, the airport in Colorado Springs is now setting out “pot amnesty boxes,” for those people a little too… um… enthusiastic about legalized recreational marijuana — so enthusiastic that they forget that it’s against the law to carry pot in the airport, or onto a plane. Forgot you had a bag of weed in your pocket, at the security check-in? No problem, just deposit your weed in the pot amnesty box, sir or madam. As many have pointed out, this is going to be a nice benefit to whomever’s job it is to empty the boxes at the end of the day. Kidding aside, though, it’s a lot more humane system than having a federal officer arrest you (and fine you $2,500), so kudos to Colorado Springs for thinking it up.
We’ve got one marijuana story that’s a little more far-reaching, but we’re saving it for the talking points. So we’ll just end on the silliest one of the week, instead: so many stoners were ripping off the freeway mileage sign which read “MILE 420″ that the state highway officials decided to get cute to avoid future thefts. So, between mile marker 419 and 421, drivers in Colorado will now be presented with a sign (you just can’t make this stuff up, folks) which reads “MILE 419.99″ — which will assumably be less of a target for mischief.
Does President Obama’s speech qualify him for either the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week or perhaps the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week? Well, once again, we’re going to punt on this question for now (if we decide either award is merited, we’ll deal with it next week, how’s that?).
Instead we’re awarding the coveted MIDOTW award to Senator Patrick Leahy and Representative John Conyers this week, for introducing a bill to fix the portions of the Voting Rights Act that were thrown out by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court did have a point — the states and localities that were listed as being suspect in their upholding of voting rights were put on this list with data from the 1970s. That’s pretty old data. So the bill Leahy and Conyers introduced updates the list, as well as the criteria for being included (and removed) from the list.
The bill has at least five Republican co-sponsors in the House, but as of the announcement, no Republican senator has signed on to it. It’ll take a major push to pass the bill in both houses, but it is a push worth attempting. While voting rights are a potent issue for Democrats, the bill does not address (it specifically exempts, as a matter of fact) the “voter ID laws” proliferating currently in statehouses across the country. This was the only way any Republican support could be gained, meaning that the bill isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s a lot better than where we are now, after the Supreme Court threw out a major portion of the Voting Rights Act. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — In Other News…
Welcome back to our regular Friday roundup of politics! We’ve been on hiatus for quite a while now, since we took two weeks off to dole out our year-end awards, and then last week we were just sick as a dog, which precluded all rational thought (much less trying to type coherently). So we’ve got a lot to cover this week, and our apologies in advance for all the stuff we’re bound to have missed in the past month.
Of course, the big news at the end of this week was New Jersey’s Chris Christie trying to navigate a bridge over some very troubled waters, but our guess is that this story is going to stick around for some time to come, so we’re only going to mention it in passing (although we did write yesterday of our disappointment that we seem to have returned to labeling political scandals with the “-gate” suffix). Is Christie now no longer a viable candidate for the 2016 Republican nomination? Is “Bullygate” more appropriate than “Bridgegate”? Well, we’ll have plenty of time to contemplate all of that in the weeks to come, that’s for sure.
Liz Cheney dropped out of the Wyoming Senate race, which may be a sign of trouble for Tea Party candidates everywhere, or it may just be a sign that Wyoming Republicans don’t take kindly to carpetbaggers who don’t even know how to properly get a fishing license. Either way, we’re relieved we won’t have to listen to Liz expounding on all sorts of subjects about which she knows very little, in the upcoming months.
The mainstream media, in the past few weeks, have proved once again that “the weather” is the ultimate shiny, shiny object which the kittenish news anchors cannot resist, no matter how normal the story truly is. I mean, how many times can America realistically believe that “It Gets Cold In Winter” is some sort of breaking story? Look for the groundbreaking followup series “It Gets Hot In Summer,” which will run in six months’ time, just like clockwork.
The most fascinating news story was the opening of the legal recreational marijuana marketplace in Colorado, of course. This story wasn’t fascinating just because it actually was newsworthy, but also for the secondary effect that Serious People in Washington are now forced to stop with the endless stoner jokes and actually address the failed policy of the War On Weed.
This led to some monumental hypocrisy, it should be noted, from such luminaries from the Washington cocktail party circuit (irony intended) as David Brooks, Ruth Marcus, and Joe Scarborough. Here is their argument, in a nutshell:
I smoked a little pot when I was young and reckless.
I did not get arrested.
We should keep on arresting people for smoking pot today. Because.
There’s a longer and funnier translation (“condensed for maximum stoner hilarity”) of the Brooks and Marcus columns available, if this was too brief, I should add.
At heart, this is just a continuing chapter in the endless story of “Why Baby Boomers Are So Special, Because Of Their Specialness,” really. You see, when they were young, smoking pot was a lark, really. Now that they are parents with children, smoking pot is immoral and evil and must be stamped out. As long as suburban children don’t go to jail, the way that inner-city children do for the same crime.
Part of this is intellectual inertia. The War On (Some) Drugs has been going on for so long now, and has been used so effectively against Democrats and liberals (painted as “soft on crime!”), that even now — with legal weed being sold in an American state — the knee-jerk reaction is still the most prevalent. This is the same type of idiocy that led to banning needle exchanges during the height of the AIDS crisis — because it “would send the wrong message to kids.” Sending the message “letting people needlessly die is good because it gives me political cover” was such a better message for the kiddies, after all.
In any case, there was one prominent pundit who did get it right. E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post summed up the reality of the situation perfectly, because he took the time to look at some hard data which unequivocally shows the racial disparity of how drug laws (marijuana laws in particular) are enforced in the real world. Which led him to the conclusion that the “lock them all up” philosophy has just failed. If you’d like to read something a lot more reasonable than the hypocrisy of Brooks and Marcus, this is the column you should read. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — Bullygate
Welcome back to our annual year-end awards column!
Part 1 of this column ran last week, just in case you missed it. We’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s jump right in with no further introduction.
Destined For Political Stardom
At the risk of later being seen as overly optimistic, we’re going to hand the Destined For Political Stardom award to the newly-elected mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio. De Blasio not only won convincingly both in the Democratic primary (over such luminaries as Anthony Weiner, but more on him in a bit) and in the general election itself, which he carried by almost fifty points. That’s a pretty impressive beginning, you’ve got to admit.
De Blasio’s campaign was cheered on by progressives, since he ran a full-throated campaign on the subject of inequality, which is seen in more stark contrast in New York (Manhattan, especially) than perhaps anywhere else in the country. How successful Bill de Blasio will be is an open question right now, but so far he certainly seems to have his priorities straight, and it’s easy to see him using this as a steppingstone to higher and higher office. So, optimistically wishing de Blasio the best, we feel he is indeed Destined For Political Stardom.
Destined For Political Oblivion
We have some old business to take care of in this award, to begin with. We’d like to note Sarah Palin’s continued slide to political oblivion, as she and Fox News even parted ways this past year. We wish her well on her diminished career as tourism booster for the state of Alaska, though. You betcha.
We’d also like to thank former President Bush for voluntarily entering political oblivion and firmly keeping himself out of the political fray. The only news from Bush these days is about his paintings, which is, as we said, appreciated.
As for guessing the future, we would dearly love to see Trey Radel, coke-sniffing Republican House member from Florida, on his way to political oblivion, but we’ll see how he rides the whole scandal out. In the same “wait and see” category, we include the mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, who it seems is partial to smoking cocaine rather than snorting it. While normally these would be career-ending events in any politician’s career, we have a longer memory than most and still remember Marion Barry’s triumphant comeback from a similar situation, so we’re reserving judgment for now on Radel and Ford.
As for politicians on their way out, we could always give Destined For Political Oblivion to Michele Bachmann, but we prefer to wait until she’s actually gone from Congress at the end of next year (we feel it’s a bit premature now). Likewise, we’d love to give it to Liz Cheney, but who knows — she might actually win a Senate seat (probably not, but still…). In contrast, we have ex-mayor of San Diego, serial groper Bob Filner, who won’t be entering political oblivion in the future — but only because he’s already there. Likewise, Anthony Weiner, who attempted the most disastrous comeback attempt we think we’ve ever seen — where even more scandal erupted after he tried to re-enter politics.
In intangibles, Barack Obama announced in 2013′s State Of The Union address, the formation of a blue-ribbon commission on the right to vote — which was then never heard from again. Instant oblivion! On the other side of the aisle, the Republicans had a navel-gazing exercise (which they actually called a “post-mortem” or an “autopsy”) to figure out what had gone wrong for them in 2012, which concluded that they really didn’t need to change any of their policies at all. Maybe “oblivious” is a better word for that one….
Instead of all these tempting nominees, we’re going with a movement which can now be said to have completely run its course — the anti-gay-rights movement. Born in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a wedge issue for Republicans to use against Democrats, the anti-gay-rights movement was quite successful for a period of roughly two decades. The crowning achievement of this movement was passing laws in something like four out of five states “in defense of marriage” — to deny marriage equality to gay couples. Many of these were passed at the ballot box, where they did a dandy job of increasing conservative voter turnout at the polls.
But the entire movement is now Destined For Political Oblivion. Not only has it hit its high-water mark (now starting to ebb) in state laws, the Supreme Court has clearly indicated the future, much to the anti-gay-rights movement’s dismay. Gay rights — and marriage equality in particular — have now passed the tipping point, politically. The advancement of gay rights is now, indeed, unstoppable. Which means that no matter how successful it has been in the past, the movement against gay rights is now Destined For Political Oblivion.
Best Political Theater
Not really “political theater,” but certainly melodramatic, Senator Bob Menendez proposed to his sweetheart in the Capitol’s rotunda, which deserves some sort of mention (she said “yes”).
This was a year of many a filibuster, what with Rand Paul (drones) and Ted Cruz (Obamacare) in the Senate, and Wendy Davis (abortion and women’s rights) down in Texas, pink sneakers and all. Continue reading My 2013 ‘McLaughlin Awards’ [Part 2]