Friday Talking Points [333] -- Obama Steals GOP's Honeymoon

FTP3I have to apologize right here at the start, because that headline is not original. Credit should go to Chuck Todd of NBC, who stated during the State Of The Union coverage this week that President Obama had stolen the traditional post-election “honeymoon” period with the public right out from under the Republican Party’s feet. We found this such an apt metaphor that we decided to run with it, so: “Thanks, Chuck!”

Most of our article today is going to deal with Obama and his speech, ending with the snappiest portions as this week’s talking points. But before we get to that, let’s take a quick look at what the Republicans have been up to, as well as some other minor political news of the week.

We’ll begin with the Republican responses to the speech, of which there were many. This in and of itself is a sign of the disorganization within their ranks, but we only mention this in passing, for now. Joni Ernst gave an unbelievably short “official” Republican response (clocking in at a mere nine minutes), spending most of the time competing for the “I was born in a log cabin” modest-beginnings prize. Afterward, Salon helpfully pointed out that Ernst’s family has been the recipient of almost a half-million dollars in farm subsidies — which certainly buys a lot of bread bags!

Ted Cruz filmed his own response to the State Of The Union speech, showing once again how not-ready-for-prime-time he is. Somehow, someone on his team posted an outtake where he just stops and stammers “lemme start over” as Ted’s official video. They’ve since removed it, but Huffington Post saved a copy for your enjoyment.

Speaker of the House John Boehner released his own reaction to the speech, where he just sent all the parts he didn’t like down the memory hole. Salon reported that Boehner skipped over such portions as Obama explaining why “I am not a scientist” is a pretty silly argument, but (amusingly enough), within the article Salon chided Boehner’s team for “slopping editing.” Um, if you’re going to criticize sloppy editing, maybe you should write it so that “[sic]” isn’t necessary when copying and pasting, guys? Heh.

Kidding aside, various other Republicans and conservatives responded to Obama’s speech, ranging from snarky to downright vicious.

Up on Capitol Hill, after the speech, Republicans continued the opening stages of their triumphant control of Congress. Here’s how one Republican House member, Charlie Dent, summed up the Republican agenda’s rollout:

Week one, we had a Speaker election that didn’t go as well as a lot of us would have liked. Week two, we spent a lot of time talking about deporting children, a conversation a lot of us didn’t want to have. Week three, we’re debating reportable rape and incest — again, not an issue a lot of us wanted to have a conversation about. I just can’t wait for week four.

That “reportable rape and incest” portion refers to the first legislative black eye for John Boehner — an anti-abortion bill that was so extreme that a whole bunch of Republican women in the House refused to support it. This bill not only defined the legitimacy of rape to a new Republican-Puritan standard, it also (surprise!) had a gratuitous big tax hike for small businesses. What’s not to love, ladies? The entire thing would never have gotten through the Senate unscathed and would have been vetoed in any case, so it falls into the “political theater” category — timed to coincide with the big annual anti-abortion march. In the end, Boehner had to pull the bill, proving that Republicans can’t even manage a legislative stunt properly.

This just in: Republicans care about wage inequality and the poor. No… really! Don’t believe me? Here are a few choice quotes from the past few weeks:

On Fox News after the State of the Union speech, Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) denigrated the administration’s economic track record by doing his best Bernie Sanders impression.

“We’re facing right now a divided America when it comes to the economy. It is true that the top 1 percent are doing great under Barack Obama. Today, the top 1 percent earn a higher share of our national income than any year since 1928,” he said, quoting an oft-cited (by liberals) statistic from the work of economists Piketty and Emmanuel Saez.

Likewise, here’s Mitt Romney, in a speech last week: “Under President Obama, the rich have gotten richer, income inequality has gotten worse and there are more people in poverty than ever before.” Sound-bite highlights from his past presidential campaign, you may recall, included a reference to the “47 percent” who don’t pay federal income taxes and a conclusion that “my job is not to worry about those people.”

Apparently his job description has changed.

Jeb Bush, too, has newfound interest in the lower income groups and deep inequity flourishing in our nation. His State of the Union reaction: “While the last eight years have been pretty good ones for top earners, they’ve been a lost decade for the rest of America.” Sen. Rand Paul, as well: “Income inequality has worsened under this administration. And tonight, President Obama offers more of the same policies — policies that have allowed the poor to get poorer and the rich to get richer.”

I’ve been so personally gobsmacked at this turn of events that I wrote about it twice in the past week, summing up my feelings as: “Up is now down, topsy is getting downright turvy, and Mitt Romney is now a populist!” Later, after sober reflection, I decided to go with a football metaphor: “By doing so, however, [Republicans] are utterly ceding the home-field advantage to Democrats. At this early point, I don’t even think many of them have realized the magnitude of this tactical political error, either.” I mean, it’d be like Democrats deciding to run a presidential election on who could cut more taxes for wealthy people, or something. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [333] — Obama Steals GOP’s Honeymoon

Friday Talking Points [332] -- Getting Ready For Obama's Big Speech

FTP3This was a busy week in politics, as the Republicans in the new Congress began a bout of legislating and President Obama ramped up his agenda in preparation for next Tuesday’s big speech to Congress and the country. So let’s just dive in to the week that was, shall we?

Let’s begin with the most serious news, about terrorism and other stupidity. In non-partisan fashion, we must absolutely condemn the Ohio bartender who was arrested this week for threatening to kill John Boehner. Now, we’re not fans of Boehner by a long shot, but violence to solve political problems (in general) and assassination (in particular) should always be universally condemned by all, no matter the political figure involved.

Also worth condemning is a story that has so far gotten little media attention — today will be the second weekly flogging of a Saudi Arabian blogger, for the crime of criticizing his government and (supposedly) Islam. During his trial, not only was he sentenced to a heavy fine, a long jail term, and 1,000 lashes with a cane, his lawyer was also sentenced to 15 years in prison just for attempting to defend his client. It should need no pointing out that Saudi Arabia is supposed to be one of America’s closest allies in the region, and yet we routinely ignore stories like this about our so-called friends. Medea Benjamin of Code Pink is speaking out about it, but precious few others are doing the same.

Last weekend, there was an enormous street protest over the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris. The United States was represented by our ambassador to France. Apparently, this wasn’t good enough for some Republicans. Although not a single French government official or media outlet complained about the absence of President Obama at the march, Republicans here at home (none of whom attended the march either, by the way) tried to make it some sort of international snub of epic proportions. One Republican even went out of his way to compare Obama — unfavorably — to Hitler. That this makes no sense at all was largely ignored, as the media largely went along for this ride (although at least one conservative writer had sense enough not to board the crazy train, to her credit).

This is yet another example of Republicans attempting to hold Obama to a standard that no former president has ever before met, trying to make a scandal out of absolutely nothing. What other American president has ever, in the past century, joined in a street march? None, to the best of my knowledge, have ever done so. Ever. Neither J.F.K. nor L.B.J. ever marched with Martin Luther King, or any other Civil Rights protest. Not one. No sitting president ever marched for women’s suffrage, for labor rights, for gay rights, against any war, against nuclear weapons, for or against abortion, against apartheid, against Wall Street, or for any other reason. The closest historical event was a bizarre attempt by Richard Nixon to reach out to anti-war protestors at the Lincoln Memorial, at 4:00 in the morning. That’s the only one we’re aware of, and it doesn’t really come close to “joining in a march in support,” really. If there were a long history of presidents attending marches, if there had been one single Republican there, or if (at the very least) the French themselves had complained, then this might have been some sort of gaffe or faux pas. Since none of those things were true, it simply wasn’t. I ranted further on this subject earlier in the week, if you’re interested in reading more.

Back on Capitol Hill, the House began its session with a flurry of activity, starting off with muscling through a change which might slash Social Security benefits for disabled people by 20 percent by the end of the year. Rand Paul even took the time to gratuitously insult the disabled, by basically calling all of them scam artists with fake back pain. Compassionate conservatism strikes again!

The House also found the time to give Wall Street a big wet kiss and a present wrapped up in a bow. No surprise there, really. They’re also working on a bill to change the Obamacare requirement for businesses to provide workers with health insurance if they work more than 30 hours a week. If they really wanted to help workers, they would have voted to lower this bar, but instead they’re going to raise it to 40 hours a week — which would add over $50 billion to the deficit they’re usually so worried about. But stories like that may be a thing of the past soon, because the House also voted to start using their own special brand of voodoo math to score all their proposals, meaning “tax cuts will pay for themselves” and unicorns farting rainbows will soon be flying over the United States Capitol.

House Republicans also passed a bill to not only stop Obama from his new immigration plan, but also to strip all the children in D.A.C.A. (what used to be called the DREAM Act kids) of their new status as well. But the saner Republicans have realized that now might not be the time to threaten shutting down the Homeland Security Department, meaning an enormous battle is about to be fought between House and Senate Republicans. This time around, John Boehner is freed up to take the Tea Party’s very hardline stance, and then try to shift all the blame for any compromise to Mitch McConnell. In other words, February should be a fun month to watch Republicans badmouth each other. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [332] — Getting Ready For Obama’s Big Speech

Friday Talking Points [331] -- Nous Sommes Charlie Hebdo

FTP3Je suis Charlie. In fact, let’s go even further: Nous sommes Charlie Hebdo. Because we are all Charlie, this week.

However, I have to say, most of the American media cravenly allowed the terrorists to dictate their editorial policy this week, which is truly disappointing. People got killed for these cartoons. And the American mainstream media, for the most part (there were a few notable exceptions), refused to show viewers or readers the cartoons in question. Out of fear. That’s pathetic.

The proper response to terrorist pressure on cartoonists is to give the cartoons in question the widest audience possible in the largest number of media outlets possible — that is true solidarity with Charlie Hebdo. Kudos to the Huffington Post for not cowering in fear, and actually running the cartoons, which were a major part of the breaking news story.

What made me really pause and think this week, though, was another story in Huffington Post, about a Saudi Arabian blogger who got a sentence of 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes because he “insulted Islam on a liberal forum.” The whippings will begin today, and continue for the next 20 weeks (50 lashes per week). This sentence, I hasten to point out, comes from a government that the United States considers one of our closest allies in the region. So nous sommes Charlie, to be sure; but I am Raif Baddawi, as well. Freedom of expression — and the freedom to write a blog post critical of any aspect of society — should be considered absolutes, in my opinion. No matter who is trying to forcefully restrict this basic human right, friend or foe.

In domestic news, unemployment is down once again, job growth continues, gas prices are down, the stock market’s booming, and the rate of uninsured Americans continues to plummet (down to 12.9 percent from a pre-Obamacare high of 18.0 percent) as a direct result of Obamacare. The continuing good economic news (and Obama’s rising job approval polling) even got a begruduging acknowledgement from the Wall Street Journal.

At the beginning of the week, I wrote a piece which tried to convince Democrats to start taking some credit for all of this, before Republicans try to horn in and grab all the credit for themselves. Not two days later, Mitch McConnell tried to do exactly that. Sometimes I hit the jackpot in the “being prophetic” department, but usually not this quickly!

McConnell was soundly ridiculed, of course. Mo Elleithee, communications director for the Democratic National Committee, had the best response:

Hahahahahahahahahahaha. That Mitch McConnell is one funny guy. He likes to remind people all the time that he’s not a scientist. Now we know he’s not a mathematician or an economist either. The fact is, under President Obama we’ve had 57 straight months of private sector job growth leading to nearly 11 million jobs added. All Republicans have given us is a government shutdown that cost the economy $24 billion. I get why he wants to take credit for the economic recovery. But maybe he should first do something to help contribute to it.

Republicans are so funny. I mean, they always follow pretty much the same playbook: predict doom and gloom, and then when it doesn’t happen, claim all the credit. Think this is too harsh? Here’s a quick look back at four predictions Republicans were making back in 2012 about how disastrous a second Obama term would be — gas was supposed to be almost $5.50 a gallon, unemployment was supposed to have stayed at eight percent, and the stock market and the economy were supposed to have crashed by now. Good thing we didn’t re-elect Obama, eh?

Back in reality, President Obama is in the midst of unveiling a few policy ideas in preparation for his upcoming State Of The Union speech. Today’s proposal is to make community college free for everyone. Can’t see Republicans supporting that, but it’ll be a dandy issue to run on for all Democrats, come 2016. In a few weeks, the White House will announce a far-reaching and long-overdue rule change on who is entitled to mandatory overtime — and the even-better news is that Congress won’t have much of a say about it.

Speaking of Congress, the 114th such gathering got sworn in this week, and got down to the serious business of passing bills that Obama is absolutely guaranteed to veto. However, we’re going to make a conscious decision to punt discussing Congress, for the most part, until next week. Until then, Richard Zombeck has a pretty good rundown of all the mischief Republicans have been up to, and Salon’s got a good explanation of why almost all of these efforts will be doomed to fail. We apologize for not getting into these issues, but then this column has been on hiatus for three weeks (two for our year-end awards columns, and last week we ran our monthly “Obama Poll Watch” article because we were still exhausted from the holiday season), so we’ve just got too much else to cover today. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [331] — Nous Sommes Charlie Hebdo

My 2014 'McLaughlin Awards' [Part 2]

FTP3Welcome 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.

 

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   Destined For Political Stardom

There was one obvious choice on the Democratic side for the Destined For Political Stardom award: Elizabeth Warren. After the midterm election, she was granted “a seat at the table” in the Senate leadership — they actually made up a new leadership position just to let Warren have a voice in the direction of Senate Democrats over the next two years. But in actual fact, we awarded Warren the Destined For Political Stardom award way back in 2011, and the way we see it, she’s just fulfilling that previous award, so we’re going to go with a less-prominent candidate.

There were two we considered this year, beginning with Julián Castro, who is definitely an up-and-comer in the Democratic Party. In 2009, he became the youngest mayor ever of one of the 50 largest American cities, and he has won re-election as San Antonio’s mayor twice since then. He was the first Latino to give the keynote address to the Democratic National Convention. This year, he was called by President Obama to join his cabinet as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He seems to be in a race to political stardom with his own twin brother Joaquín, who is currently serving in the House of Representatives.

But while America’s own Castro brothers are impressive indeed, and both seem destined for some kind of political stardom, we instead chose a Californian who seems likely to step into the shoes (so to speak) of either Dianne Feinstein or Barbara Boxer: Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom.

You may remember Newsom’s name from back when he was mayor of San Francisco. In 2004 — very early on in the struggle — he defied state law and instructed the city’s clerks to start issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. This bold act put him at the forefront of the marriage equality fight, and in normal times he would probably be sitting in the governor’s office by now. These are not normal times in California, though, as we have our version of F.D.R.: Jerry Brown — who just won an unprecedented (and, due to term limits, never-to-be-repeated) fourth term as governor of the Golden State.

California’s Senate delegation has been stable since 1992. In 2016, Barbara Boxer will either run for another term or decide to retire (she will turn 76 years old in 2016). What is even more likely, however, is that Dianne Feinstein will decline to run for re-election in 2018. Feinstein’s already the oldest current member of the Senate, and she will be 85 years old in 2018. One way or another, in the next few years California will likely have an open Senate seat. Whenever it happens, Gavin Newsom will likely immediately become the frontrunner, in an election he’ll probably win with ease. Newsom already achieved minor stardom on the national stage with his bold move on gay weddings, but we think he’s Destined For Political Stardom on an even bigger stage.

 

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   Destined For Political Oblivion

Plenty to choose from in this category, from minor celebrities who (wrongly) thought they might enter politics (Victoria Jackson, Clay Aiken) to people retiring from politics (Michele Bachmann) to politicians who may be headed for a loss in the next election (Harry Reid) to a convicted felon currently serving in Congress (Michael Grimm). All perhaps worthy of the Destined For Political Oblivion award this year.

Instead, though, we’re going to hand the award to someone who has already made his exit from political office. Not so much for being beaten in the primary by a Tea Partier, but for how far he had to fall. Eric Cantor became the first House Majority Leader in American history to lose a primary election to a challenger. He really should have won, by any measure of conventional wisdom. He outspent his opponent Dave Brat by a stunning 40-to-1. Cantor thought he would win by a large margin (say, 30 points), but wound up getting beaten. The most shocking factoid from the campaign finance reports: Cantor spent more on campaign steak dinners than Brat spent for his entire campaign.

After a loss of that magnitude, Eric Cantor — once thought of as a future Speaker of the House — more than earned the 2014 Destined For Political Oblivion award.

 

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   Best Political Theater

The field of nominees in this category was pretty big, too, and varied in nature. There were the St. Louis Rams players who ran on the field with their hands up (to bolster the “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” protests) — that was pretty good political theater from a place where you don’t normally expect politics to arise.

Also from the world of sports (kind of), there was the hilarious South Park Redskins episode, which (as usual) turned the entire issue on its head in ironic fashion.

In the world of congressional hearings (always ripe for political theater), there was the shaming of the drug warriors in a House hearing on marijuana, which surely deserves at least some sort of “biggest hypocrisy exposed by political theater” award.

Our runner-up in this category was President Obama’s appearance on the “Between Two Ferns” video web series. The interview by Zach Galifianakis was both hilarious and effective, which is why it was arguably the Best Political Theater of the year. Released towards the end of Obamacare’s first open enrollment sign-up period, it did exactly what Obama intended — it got the Obamacare message out to young people, as evidenced by an enormous spike in HealthCare.gov traffic immediately afterwards. At the very least, it was the most effective political theater of the year.

Call us juvenile if you will, though, but we’re going to give Best Political Theater to an ad from a losing candidate in the midterm primaries. Mostly because it was the funniest campaign ad we saw all year long. Continue reading My 2014 ‘McLaughlin Awards’ [Part 2]

My 2014 'McLaughlin Awards' [Part 1]

FTP3Welcome everyone to our year-end awards columns!

As we do every year, we are pre-empting our “Friday Talking Points” columns for the next two weeks, to bring you our best and worst of 2014. And, yes, we are going to continue our supercilious and no-doubt-annoying habit of using the editorial “we” throughout these two columns, so thanks for asking! Heh.

As always, we are using a slightly-modified version of a category list created by the The McLaughlin Group for their own year-end shows, as an homage (which sounds ever so much better than saying we’re just ripping off McLaughlin’s categories… ahem).

This will be a very long column (just to warn everyone) with lots of short little awards explanations, so let’s get right to it. Feel free to disagree with any or all of these picks in the comments, as usual, and propose your own winners for everyone’s consideration. I will admit that there is a sort of running theme to this year’s awards, due to one issue that remained in the background for most Americans but on which such significant political progress was made this year that it deserved multiple awards. Enough of a teaser for you to read all the way through to Person Of The Year? We certainly hope so.

 

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   Biggest Winner Of 2014

Loath as we are to admit it, there was no single Biggest Winner Of 2014, because the award must be handed, collectively, to the Republican Party. A case could be made for Mitch McConnell, since he will win the biggest prize of any Republican next year: control of the United States Senate. But this would leave out other Republican victories, such as holding more House of Representative seats than at any time since Herbert Hoover was president, or their increase in control of governors’ offices and state legislatures.

The GOP won big this November. Really big. So big that this award was one of the easiest to call. The Biggest Winner Of 2014 was the entire Republican Party.

 

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   Biggest Loser Of 2014

Hmm… let’s see… Scottish independence?

Kidding aside, you’d think this would also be an easy one to pick. The converse award should go to the Democratic Party, for their ineffectual campaign about nothing. Or perhaps Harry Reid, for losing the Senate.

But we’re going to tack in a different direction, and give the Biggest Loser award to the Tea Party, for the second year running. The Tea Party lost almost every important primary challenge (with the notable exception of Eric Cantor’s takedown), and they lost a huge amount of power within the corridors of Capitol Hill as well. Oh, sure, folks like Ted Cruz still get lots of camera time bloviating about this or that, but when the votes are counted, the Tea Party has lost significant support from within the Republican ranks. For instance, although there was a raise in the debt ceiling and extensions of the federal budget this year, there was no government shutdown. That right there is a measure of their waning support within Congress.

There was even a period this year, during primary season, when the conventional Washington wisdom (an oxymoron if ever there was one) was that the Tea Party was over and done with. This was nonsense, of course. The Tea Party will be around in some form or another for years to come, but it is impossible to ignore how much real power they lost this year. Making them the Biggest Losers Of 2014. The Tea Party’s highest point will likely be measured as the shutdown last October — since then, it’s all been downhill.

 

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   Best Politician

Again, it brings us no personal pleasure, but we have to give Best Politician to Mitch McConnell. Mitch was in big trouble heading into this election. His approval ratings were in the toilet in Kentucky, and he faced a Tea Party primary challenge and then a formidable Democrat in the general. He did what politicians often do in such situations — he raised a mountain of cash. He used this war chest to win the nomination handily, and then chalk up a comfortable margin in the general election. Continue reading My 2014 ‘McLaughlin Awards’ [Part 1]

Friday Talking Points [330] -- How Bad Laws Get Made

FTP3Before we begin, a quick program note is necessary. This column will go on hiatus for the next two weeks, as we bring you instead our traditional year-end “best of/worst of” columns. So join us back here in the new year, after the holidays, when Friday Talking Points resumes on the second of January.

There were two big things going on in the political world this week: the release of the Senate torture report, and the cromnibus bill which kept the government open. For the most part, we’re going to cover the torture report at the end, in a very unusual talking points section.

Which leaves us with the subject of how bad laws get made. How do bad laws get made? Quickly, for the most part.

No, that’s not a joke. The worst laws nearly all have one thing in common: they are rushed through very quickly, usually because Congress is facing some self-imposed deadline (which is being generous, because what that last bit really should read is: “because Congress wants to scarper off to enjoy yet another multi-week vacation.”

This week is no different. Congress wants to leave for the rest of the year. Unfortunately for them, they have something like an entire year’s worth of business to take care of, that they’ve been studiously avoiding, all year long. So in one week, a political debate that should have been spread out over months was squeezed in.

What this means — what it almost always means — is that some very bad laws will be enacted under the guise of the must-pass budget bill. There are a whole lot of stinky riders on this cromnibus, to put it in more urban terms. Many of these bad ideas won’t fully see the light of day for awhile. This is by design. Remember when Republicans got so upset because a Democratic bill was “too long” and they weren’t given enough time to read it to figure out everything that was in it? Well, they seem to have gotten over such whiny behavior, because that’s exactly what the House did this week. They produced a monster bill, with many unrelated gifts in it for people with effective lobbyists. They hustled it through because they knew that Democrats wouldn’t likely shut the government down over each little odious addition to the main bill. They were right, too.

Of course, Democrats aren’t a whole lot better. Harry Reid could have passed all the regular budget bills in the Senate — or, at the very least, put them up for a vote and forced Republicans to filibuster them. He had all year to do so, and he didn’t. He didn’t because he didn’t want any “contentious votes” in an election year. This is nothing short of political cowardice. If Democrats truly do believe they are acting in good faith for the people of America, then they should be proud to toss their markers on the table before an election, to show the differences between the parties’ priorities. They did not do so, and Harry Reid hasn’t done so for many years. So there’s plenty of blame to go around.

The stinkiest of the cromnibus riders — the two issues some Democrats did actually mount a defense against — are a big giveaway to Wall Street, and a provision that essentially guts one of the few remaining limits on campaign contributions. These were the high-profile items, but there are plenty of other bad ideas which will now become law contained within the monster bill. Cutting funding for women, infants, and children, for instance. We’ll all be learning about the full breadth of the bad new laws in the coming days and weeks, no doubt. The answer to the future question: “How the heck did that become law?” will be: “It snuck on the cromnibus.”

One particular rider worth mentioning is a blatant effort to overturn the will of the voters. D.C. voters, in particular, who just voted to the tune of 7-in-10 in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana. That’s a pretty hefty margin of support, wouldn’t you say? But Republicans — even those who normally rant and rave about “states’ rights” — decided that the federal government needed to step in and ban this new law from taking effect. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [330] — How Bad Laws Get Made

Friday Talking Points [329] -- 'Tis the Season

FTP3It is indeed the season. Yes, it’s that magical time of year when the wee folk of Capitol Hill actually get something done. These brief bursts of activity only happen very rarely, of course, and always immediately proceed another one of the many, many long vacations Congress takes during the year.

Before the end of next week (so they can take a full three weeks off for the end of the year, of course), Congress has a lot on its plate to deal with. The House began the circus by boldly passing yet another “we hate that Obama is president” bill, showing what it considers crucially important to them.

The dangerous thing about these sprees of actual bill-passing, however, is that because there is so much frenetic legislative activity, it’s easier to hide unpopular things in the midst of the frenzy. Both parties are guilty of this sort of thing, mostly because the public is so easily distracted. It’s hard to get as outraged at a dozen things happening simultaneously, so most of them will escape any kind of scrutiny at all. Hey, ’tis the season, right?

Here’s just one example out of many: John McCain is pushing a rider to the defense authorization bill (the funding for the Pentagon, in other words) that would allow Native American lands to be turned over to a mining company (who, incidentally, co-owns another big mine with Iran). Thought screwing the Indians out of their land was a thing of the past? Think again! An Apache spokesman responded by stating: “Since time immemorial [our] people have gone there. That’s part of our ancestral homeland. We’ve had dancers in that area forever — sunrise dancers — and coming-of-age ceremonies for our young girls that become women. They’ll seal that off. They’ll seal us off from the acorn grounds, and the medicinal plants in the area, and our prayer areas.” Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! This happened during a week when an independent study was unveiled which concluded that Native American youth and education are in “a state of emergency.” Maybe they can all get jobs working the mines, or something.

Of course, what Congress really has to accomplish before the end of the year is to pass a budget and to change the tax code (because it is the last chance they will have to do so before everyone files for the 2014 tax year). The big budget battle is scheduled for next week, so stay tuned for that. The big tax battle is happening now, mostly behind closed doors. Because both of these are big, complicated bills, the lobbyists are in a frenzy to insert all sorts of goodies they hope nobody will notice. Such as gutting the Dodd-Frank financial reform law that kept big banks from gambling on derivatives with taxpayer-insured funds. Just to show you how bipartisan this kowtowing to Wall Street is, the provision (written by a Citigroup lobbyist) was inserted into a budget debate by Representative Jim Himes, a Democrat from Connecticut. When it was last attempted, it passed the House with 70 Democratic “aye” votes (122 Democrats, to their credit, voted against it).

Then there are the more-visible tax shenanigans happening to “temporarily extend” tax breaks for everyone who can afford a lobbyist (translation: not you and me), such as NASCAR track owners (you just can’t make this stuff up). Harry Reid tried to put together a package to make many of these tax breaks permanent, but President Obama shot that idea down with a veto threat (because Harry threw wind energy tax breaks, the Earned-Income Credit, and the Child Tax Credit under the bus).

But it’s not just Democrats who are ignoring key principles their party is supposed to believe in and fight for. Republicans were going to go along with the deal, even though it added 450 billion dollars to our national debt over the next decade. So much for the deficit hawks, eh? This $450 billion would not be paid for or offset in any way, meaning it’s all essentially borrowed money. Not one single peep was heard from the entire Republican Party over all this deficit spending — not one. I imagine there’d be a bit of an outcry once the Republican base got wind of it (if it had passed John Boehner’s House) but so far… nothing. Again, so much for bedrock party principles.

It’s easy to blame the mainstream media for not adequately covering this stuff, but in the spirit of the season, we’re going to let them off the hook, because there were so many other stories that they also were busily and studiously ignoring — like the one where an ultra-right-wing anti-immigrant homegrown terrorist shot up a Texas city in the name of his twisted concept of religion. The religion? Christianity, not Islam. If the same thing had happened and the guy had been carrying a Koran, imagine how different the news coverage would have been (and the sheer volume of it)!

Speaking of Islamic terrorism, yet another congressional investigation run by a Republican wrapped up and released its findings on the Benghazi attack. These findings amounted to: “Everything Fox News has ever said about Benghazi is completely false and there is no evidence for any of their conspiracy theories.” Yet another big story the mainstream media (including the non-Fox media) largely chose to ignore, after breathlessly reporting on every rumor and crackpot theory for two years. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [329] — ‘Tis the Season

Friday Talking Points [328] -- Obama's Gutsy Move

FTP3When Congress wouldn’t pass a bill, the president had to act on immigration and deportation policy, to keep families intact — a measure that affected 40 percent of the undocumented immigrants in the United States. The president in question was George H. W. Bush, and the year was 1990. Congress, at the time, was run by the opposition party. What did they do in response? They passed a bill, which Bush later signed.

Last night, President Obama announced he’s acting on immigration and deportation policy, to keep families intact, which will affect the same 40 percent of undocumented immigrants here. Congress is soon to be run completely by Obama’s opposition party. What will they do in response?

There are a lot of possible answers to that question, but very far down on the list would be “pass a bill which Obama can sign.” That was never going to happen — it wouldn’t have happened if Obama hadn’t acted, it wouldn’t have happened before the end of the year, it wouldn’t have happened next year with a new Congress. And now it is definitely not going to happen. Nothing has changed on that front.

What is different is that this time Obama realizes this fact. Ever since his re-election, Obama has been coming around to the position that Republicans in Congress are simply not good-faith negotiators, because no matter what deal he hammers out with John Boehner, Boehner can never produce the votes from within his caucus to pass such a deal. So Obama has largely stopped banging his head against this brick wall.

Instead, he is setting the agenda in Washington in a breathtaking way. Since the midterm election, Obama has come out strongly for net neutrality, sealed the first deal that China has ever agreed to on curbing emissions, and now he’s announced a new immigration and deportation policy which will affect the lives of millions of families for the better.

Republicans react to each of these presidential announcements, but they have already lost all the momentum they gained in their midterm electoral victory. Instead of setting the agenda themselves, on their own terms, they are reduced to reactionary moves each time Obama acts. The one thing for certain: nobody’s arguing whether Obama is “relevant,” the way they normally do at the start of a president’s seventh year in office. Obama is more relevant than ever. In fact, if the tough negotiations don’t fall apart this weekend, Obama may have a new treaty which curbs Iran’s nuclear ambitions as early as next Monday to announce, as well (this is a long shot, admittedly). Obama is rolling out new initiatives by the week, and Republicans have been caught flatfooted.

Obama’s move on immigration was certainly provocative, in the literal sense of “provoking a reaction.” His speech was short and to the point, and he tossed down a few gauntlets in front of congressional Republicans, defying them to act on their own. He knows full well they won’t, because their leaders cannot control the wilder factionalists within their ranks. “Pass a bill,” Obama challenged, secure in the knowledge that they won’t be able to.

This is because Republicans don’t have a policy of their own. As a party, they cannot agree on what America should do to solve the immigration problem. About the only thing they come close to agreeing on is to “secure the border,” but the House can’t even get its act together to pass a bill which does that. Obama has now shifted the debate to what should be done about the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are already here — a subject the Republicans aren’t even close to agreeing on any particular plan or action. Self-deportation? Round everyone up and ship them back to their country of origin? Allow them to stay and work, but never become citizens? A path to citizenship? Anything? Republicans have no plan — they don’t even have a bad plan, they simply have nothing.

The biggest question hanging over Washington right now is how crazy the Republican response is going to be. The Republican leaders are desperately trying to head off any radicals from making odious and offensive statements in public, but my guess is they won’t be successful in this effort. It won’t take long before some Republican officeholder somewhere says something incredibly offensive, at least if recent history is any guide.

What else (other than exposing their extremism on the issue) will Republicans attempt to do? Well, there’s always the “shut down the government in a temper tantrum” route. Again, Republican leaders are desperately trying to nip this knee-jerk action in the bud, as well as any even-more-extreme reactions (like impeachment). “We’re suing him in court!” John Boehner offers up to the Tea Party, but that may not be red enough meat for them, at the end of the day.

The redder the meat for Tea Partiers, though, the more it looks to the middle-of-the-road American like nothing short of petulance and whining. Rather than attempting to set their own agenda in Congress next year, Republicans will be consumed with rage, caught in a loop of reacting to President Obama’s actions. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [328] — Obama’s Gutsy Move

Friday Talking Points [327] -- The Calm Between The Storms

FTP3What walks like a duck and quacks like a duck but seems to have serious mobility problems?

That’s right — we have entered the season of the lame duck! So far, it’s shaping up to pretty spec-quack-ular. OK, I apologize. I’ll stop, now.

Lame jokes aside, the lame-duck Congress has a lot on its plate. Other than passing a flurry of bills with precisely zero chance of becoming law, the Senate has a whole bunch of confirmations they need to get through before the end of the year (since pretty much nobody’s going to be confirmed in the next two years). But the heavy lift for both houses of Congress is going to be passing a budget bill. They have to do this before December 11, if reports are correct, because that is precisely how far Congress kicked the can the last time they put off regular budgeting — conveniently beyond the election, in other words. Well, that time has now come, and it will be interesting to see what is the result.

There are really only three possible outcomes, and which one is chosen will be instructive as to how much control Republican congressional leaders can be expected to have over their own fractious caucuses. In other words, it’ll be pretty easy to see who is in the driver’s seat soon — Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, or the Tea Party.

The first possibility is they could pass a budget which takes us all the way through the end of the federal fiscal year (next October). The second possibility is they could punt only a few months, by passing a continuing resolution which takes us only to March or maybe April. And the third possibility is that they can’t manage to pass anything, and we have a government shutdown fight before the end of this year.

Now, mind you, we are going to have another government shutdown fight. Bet on it, no matter how many times Boehner or McConnell lies about it to the press right now. It is inevitable. The Tea Party will, indeed, demand it sooner or later. The only question is when it will happen — sooner, later, or much later.

If it happens next September and October, this is (believe it or not) a solid win for the Establishment Republicans over the Tea Party. If it happens in early Spring, it will signify that the Tea Party and Establishment Republicans are both about equally as powerful. But if it happens in the next few weeks, then the Tea Party will be driving the Republican bus for the next two years, and we are in for a wild ride indeed.

The Establishment Republican faction, which includes most of its leadership (but not all), wants to put off the budget battle for as long as possible, because they already know the Tea Partiers are going to demand that Republicans paint themselves into the shutdown corner once again — and they remember how badly it went for them last time around. The Tea Partiers, on the other hand, are convinced they have a mandate from the voters to shut the government down as soon as possible, because they retain the fantasy that doing so will give them the upper hand with President Obama. Those who do not remember history, in other words, will be the ones begging for a replay. But if the Establishment Republicans can’t even get a continuing resolution that takes us to the next Congress, then it will mean that Ted Cruz is essentially de facto Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader. Like I said, buckle your seatbelts.

Of course, this struggle isn’t happening in a vacuum. Democrats are showing some fractures in the party lines as well, as evidenced by the tense vote for Harry Reid to become Senate Minority Leader next year. While the Republicans battle Tea Partiers in their own ranks, it seems that there was somewhat of a revolt among Senate Democrats over the direction Reid is leading them in. Reid did emerge victorious, but at least six Democrats didn’t vote for him (possibly more, those are just the ones who went public with their vote). To assuage the grumbling in the ranks, Reid created two leadership positions out of thin air, and handed one to a moderate Democrat from a purple state (Jon Tester of Montana), and one to a liberal darling (Elizabeth Warren). They will both “have a seat at the table” and thus help set Democrats’ direction in the Senate. This is the only time Reid has faced such pushback from within his own caucus, it’s worth noting. Whether Tester and Warren have any actual power and input in the coming years remains to be seen, but at least their voices will be heard on a regular basis by the likes of Reid, Charles Schumer, and Dick Durbin. Hopefully, this will improve Democratic tactics and priorities for the coming two years.

What’s really riling up Republicans in Congress, however, isn’t a leadership scuffle by Senate Democrats, but rather fears of President Obama’s newfound resolve to get some things done. This is somewhat pent up, since Obama didn’t want to rock Democrats’ boat during election season, but now that that is over, he has been freed up to move independently once again. He began with a new nomination for Attorney General, and then surprised everyone by unveiling a climate change agreement with China. This weekend will mark the start of the second open enrollment period on the Obamacare exchanges — which will go much better than last time around, because it would be almost impossible not to be better than the initial rollout disaster, really. Add to this the possibility that Obama may soon have a big announcement on a deal with Iran to curb their nuclear program (they’ll either cut a deal or the talks will fall apart in the next two weeks), and you can see November is going to be a productive month for the president.

But it’s not what Obama has done in the past week that is causing Republican rage, but what he’s about to do. Because the major issue Obama postponed until after the election is his big change in deportation policy. We’re kind of in the calm between two storms right now. The election cloudburst is over, but there is another storm about to break (and this doesn’t even count the storm the media will soon be egging on in Ferguson, Missouri, either).

President Obama is going to be announcing a new executive policy on immigration before the end of the year. He might do it as early as next week, he might do it right around Thanksgiving, he might wait until after the budget issue is resolved in December, and he might just push it back until Christmas. But whenever he acts, it’s pretty clear by now that there is no question that he is indeed going to act. The only remaining question really is how big he will go — how many millions of people will be affected, in other words. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [327] — The Calm Between The Storms

Friday Talking Points [326] -- A Democratic Economic Platform For Next Time

FTP3Not a fun week to be a Democrat, was it?

President Obama called the 2010 midterms a “shellacking.” He demurred on providing a label for the 2014 midterms, but others sprang into the void. The most notable label so far (the one seemingly most repeated, at any rate) is that Democrats suffered an “ass-kicking” this past Tuesday night. At this point, I won’t quibble over terms. Democrats got beat, and they got beat pretty badly.

Some called this election “the Seinfeld election,” since it was essentially “an election about nothing.” This is somewhat of an oversimplification, but it does point out how the two parties pretty much had a handshake agreement that they weren’t going to lay out any sort of economic agenda for average Americans at all, they were just going to fling mud for the entire cycle. Republicans have always been better at flinging mud, and so they won. But they didn’t beat any sort of shining Democratic agenda, because it largely didn’t exist. If I had to use a television metaphor from Seinfeld, I think I’d have to call it “the Soup Nazi election,” because it was mostly anger and pique that drove the voters (“No elected office for you!“) than anything else.

Democrats need a coherent message on helping the middle class in today’s economy, and they need to all be singing from the same songbook next time around. Many have pointed this out, but what I’m going to do in the talking points section of today’s column is to take the idea one step further and lay out what I think Democrats should consider running on next time around. The 2016 election will have a presidential contest, so it should be easier for Democrats to rally around one platform (assuming the Democratic nominee articulates this platform, of course). This is the platform I’d humbly suggest they use. But more on that in a bit.

The inside-the-Beltway punditocracy is doing what it always does after an election (these days, at least), proclaiming that a spirit of “gettin’ stuff done” now prevails across Washington, with wide-eyed predictions that Congress and the president will now start working together for the betterment of all. Insert your own “What are they smoking now that weed’s legal in DC, and how can I get some?” joke here, as it would be entirely appropriate.

My prediction of what will get done in Washington in the next year is: not much. Or maybe: the barest of minimums. Other than a few minor issues that Republicans and Obama already agree upon, my guess is that there will be no grand bargains struck. There’s a very simple reason why I feel this is true, and it is that the Republicans don’t have a whole lot of motivation to get a lot of things done. For better or for worse, any large changes are going to be laid at the feet of President Obama (as President Clinton is still held responsible for welfare reform, for instance), and included as part of his “legacy.” Are Republicans really all that eager to add to the Obama legacy? Probably not.

That’s the big picture, but the smaller picture shows the same thing. Republicans in Congress just won a smashing electoral success by essentially doing nothing but mercilessly block Obama’s agenda. That, to put it another way, is a winning formula for them with their base voters. Many Republicans — including many who will be running for president in 2016 — are going to be goading the Republican Party to just coast for two more years on absolute obstructionism, after which (they will say) Republicans will capture the White House and hold onto both houses of Congress. Why mess with a good thing?

Republicans don’t really have much of an agenda, other than being against stuff. Obamacare? They’re against it. What do they want done instead? Nobody knows, because the House has not acted, despite Republicans holding the majority for the last four years. Immigration reform? They’re against that, too. What would they do instead? Again, no bill from the House. On issue after issue, Republicans have skated on being against everything Democrats are for, without ever having to put on the table what they’d do instead. This is because they know that the minute they do propose something, a large portion of their own party is going to be obsessively against it.

The House is the place to look if you want to see how things are going to work in the next two years. John Boehner can’t get anything done not because President Obama won’t compromise with him, but because his own Tea Partiers won’t compromise with him — not one tiny bit. So why should we expect Mitch McConnell to have any better luck over in the Senate? McConnell is not only going to have to attempt to corral unruly Tea Partiers (as Boehner has been doing), but with the added complication that a number of them will be actively running for the presidency next year (Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul, to name just three off the top of my head). Each potential candidate will be trying to stake out their own absolutist position on every single issue, and you can bet that they’re not going to be interested in compromising with President Obama, Senate Democrats — or even Mitch McConnell. Their campaign theme — for all of them — will be: “Why settle now for a compromise? If you just vote for me we can have all of what we want after 2016 — no retreat, no compromise, no surrender!” Continue reading Friday Talking Points [326] — A Democratic Economic Platform For Next Time