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

Friday Talking Points [325] -- McConnell For Sale!

FTP3A program note, before we get started: there will be no Friday Talking Points column next week. We have to make room for our traditional Hallowe’en column, where we try to scare the pants off of everyone across the political spectrum with spooky tales of what the upcoming election might mean (plus, we get to show off our politically-inspired Jack-o-lanterns). So don’t miss that, but the Friday Talking Points column won’t be back until after the election.

Campaign season has reached its peak, and is getting downright frenetic in all the big battleground Senate races. One of these is Kentucky, where first Democrats thought their candidate didn’t have a chance, but then Alison Lundergan Grimes got some good polling numbers so the money is now flowing back in. Maybe some of it should go towards exposing what is supposed to — no, really! — be a pro-Mitch McConnell ad. An organization called the National Association of Realtors Congressional Fund tried to give McConnell a boost with a mailer. The only problem? Well, it’s how they chose to present their message:

In large letters, you see “Mitch McConnell.”

Below that, a sign with even larger letters: “FOR SALE.”

Check the link out for the image of the mailer — it’s (pun intended) priceless!

A reader of ours in Kentucky also pointed out pointed out that the black line under the words “FOR SALE” is a flap on the mailer — when you lift it up the word “SOLD” appears.

Now, everyone knows that the public really prefers to elect politicians who are bought and paid for, right? How could the positive message: “Mitch McConnell — FOR SALE” not resonate with the voters? Maybe this is a cautionary story about how groups like this are not supposed to coordinate with campaigns — which often leaves them to come up with their own ads, which can occasionally be off message. I mean, who in their right mind would think “FOR SALE” is a valid (again, pun intended) selling point to the voters?

In other bad campaign advertising news, we have a “Sharknado” ad attacking Gary Peters in Michigan. The idea’s not that bad for what they trying to accomplish (they’re trying to tie him to a loan shark), but the execution is pretty pathetic. Hire a better cartoonist next time, guys.

In Minnesota, Republicans are running an ad exploiting the death of a 4-year-old child without ever asking the family’s permission. Stay classy, GOP ad creators!

Up in Alaska, Republican Don Young is saying some insulting things on the subject of suicide, and then when asked to respond to the controversy, saying even more insulting things. Now that’s the way to win voters over!

Down in Georgia, a Republican House candidate showed how Godwin’s Law relates to politics, by comparing public schools in America to Hitler’s Third Reich. Here’s the full quote: “Obviously, if we have government — which is what the public school is — if we have government indoctrinating what students are learning, then we have a problem. This took place in Germany, friends. I’m not trying to say we are necessarily headed in that direction, but it is undeniable that one of the first things Hitler did was to grab, so to speak, the minds of the youth.”

Over in Wisconsin, a co-chair of the Republican National Committee showed how to respect a state’s voters — by calling them stupid. The full quote: “I don’t want to say anything about your Wisconsin voters but, some of them might not be as sharp as a knife.” Hoo boy.

North Carolina Republicans are fighting hard to keep college students from being able to easily cast their ballots. This is a prime example to use when arguing with anyone who swears the GOP is just interested in “voter fraud” and not outright voter suppression. How does making college kids travel further to vote have anything to do with “fraud,” guys?

And finally (for campaign news this week), Republicans are now — are you sitting down? — portraying themselves as the saviors of Social Security. That’s right, groups (like Karl Rove’s) are attacking Democrats from the left for even considering the Bowles-Simpson plan a few years back. Democrats would have had to accept such “entitlement reform” in exchange for Republicans accepting some tax increases — that’s the way the “Grand Bargain” was supposed to work. It fell apart because Republicans would not accept it — for the higher taxes, not for the Social Security changes. They were all for changing Social Security in fact, and now they’re trying to flim-flam the public into believing it was the Democrats who were pushing for such changes. My guess is the public’s just not that stupid, personally. Mitch McConnell apparently missed the memo, though, and is bizarrely out there bragging that he was trying to be “bipartisan” in passing George W. Bush’s idea to privatize Social Security, showing that Republican logic is impossible to understand (“We’re saviors of Social Security, except for Mitch!” maybe?)

Speaking of swimming against the tide in Republicanland, Michael Gerson wrote an interesting article about how the GOP may misread a Senate victory. Warning his fellow Republicans not to get too exuberant if they win, he writes some sobering thoughts, looking ahead to the national situation the GOP will face in the next election: “At the presidential level, the GOP brand is offensive to many rising demographic groups. Republicans are often perceived as indifferent to working-class struggles (because they sometimes are). The GOP appeal seems designed for a vanishing electorate.”

In other sober news, this week saw a brief respite from Ebola panic on the nightly news, but then OH MY GOD ALL OF NEW YORK CITY IS GOING TO DIE!!! So I guess we’re going for another trip on this insane merry-go-round. Buckle up, folks!

On the political side of Ebola, Think Progress has a great piece on all the politicians who use the cop-out “I’m not a scientist…” when talking about climate change, but then feel fully qualified to talk about Ebola and spread false information about it. Those dots needed to be connected, so hats off to Think Progress for doing so. To be fair, though, some Democrats are also fond of this cop-out.

Republicans came very close to admitting that all the political hay they’re making over Ebola is precisely that — a campaign issue to grandstand, not a serious crisis that needs an immediate response. Here’s the quote: “In reality, Republicans are not planning a legislative response, at least for now, Republican leadership aides said Monday. They merely want their voices heard.” Got that? They are not planning a legislative response for now. In other words, the issue will likely die right after the election is over. They’re telling everyone to panic, but also that it’s not important enough for them to act now. Cynical politics at its worst, or par for the course — you decide.

Ebola is not exactly an “October Surprise,” properly defined, since neither political party caused the Ebola outbreak to embarrass the other side. But it is October, and it is a surprise that the issue is so central in the heart of an election. What is being absolutely lost is that the system now appears to be working just fine, and none of the idiotic political responses would have changed things in New York City one tiny bit. The latest Ebola patient is an American, needs no visa to come here, did not take a direct flight from the affected country (since such flights do not actually exist), was self-monitoring his temperature, and immediately when he became symptomatic called the health authorities and was successfully quarantined. Not only is this precisely the way things are supposed to work, but none of the proposed travel bans would have affected him at all — but try telling that to the politicians. Or the media. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [325] — McConnell For Sale!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Republicans read the New York Times”

“Republicans have tattoos and beards”

“Republicans enjoy gourmet cooking”

and, most amusingly:

“Republicans have feelings”

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

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

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

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

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

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


Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week

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

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

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

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

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