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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Democrats: Speak Up!

DDSmall-time Republicans and big-time media money have been able to change the political messaging in this country by openly calling for an agenda of false rebellion in the name of freedom that actually exerts greater control and is more expensive. Many people hear the previous sentence as: “Republicans have changed the political agenda in the name of freedom.” One of the ways Republicans are successful is they offer a complicated subterfuge and dissemble pieces a few at a time. Democrats respond by talking among themselves (as this piece does!) instead of to the country.

Messages that dissemble or only speak to insiders create a disconnect, but only one of these disconnects has leverage with voters, and it is the Republican choice. Republicans confine truth to the background and focus on the places where logic has become disconnected—the places where things terribly wrong can be easily examined, using lies and blame.

In the global pop news of the moment, the Russia seizure of Crimea, a preposterous event in the modern world where respect for the sanctity of borders is the first principle of international relations, Republicans avoid this first principle and the details of Russia’s energy exports being controlled by a state-owned corporation (which means its revenues are paid to the state not the private sector). Republicans avoid the analysis of how important the massive spider-work of Ukraine’s pipelines is to Russia’s efficient transmission of gas and oil to Europe. They avoid the fears Russia has internally of becoming a country influenced by its Muslim population in its southern regions (14 percent of its population).

Instead, Republicans have created a public narrative which comes close to defending Putin’s actions by blaming Obama for not defending America’s imperialism. It is circulating as if Russia is ideologically free of imperialist tendencies. In essence, it seeks to elevate the false illusion of Russian “strength”—which is its criminality—over the policy of President Obama to allow each country to find its internal stability with a minimum of big power influence.

Imperialism is a big idea with a long history, and blame is short and sweet. Blame is the lemonade made from the political lemons handed your opponents—if you are Republican.

But no evidence supports the GOP recipe (except magical thinking!) that Putin or any Russian leaders have based moves or calculated Obama’s response into their positions and military actions.

Beginning with the Russian revolution itself, the partitioning of Germany after World War II, the 1950s invasions of several eastern European countries, the placement of missiles in Cuba, the support of insurgencies in Africa, the invasion of Afghanistan, and most recently Chechnya, Georgia and Ossetia, there is no predictive proof that a country with a long history of using military force within its region, through a variety of governments, under a variety of leaders, is tempered by American or European reaction!

Blame doesn’t need proof, just popular sentiment; blame Obama.

History and facts show the contrary. Russia plays no zero sum, either/or game; it views its interests singularly. Weighing the importance of the pipelines through Ukraine to the West and the sudden toppling of its puppet, Viktor Yushchenko (who cut bait), had far more to do with Putin’s moves than any imagined review of Obama’s policies.

Putin would be insulted at the idea he contemplated or was influenced by Obama’s policies, rather than acting on his own. He would vehemently argue his view is what is best for Russia and Russians faced with a neighbor whose family income had dropped 25% in 20 years and was leaning heavily westward in search of opportunities missing in the 1930s state-owned Russian political economy.

Putin ignored Barack and did what Russians have always done. Republicans did what they have always done: ignore truth and blame Obama.

Even at home, in the face of one of the most magnificent political successes since the passage of social security, by a President whose failure was an avowed goal of the Republican Party and the House of the national legislature, even with seven million people enrolled in health care through the new marketplace, without demonstrations or riots in the streets, with no more upheaval than paid commercials and very long, calm lines of last minute enrollees, Republicans still plan to run against “Obamacare” in November. It will be an ultimate test of blame against truth, dissembling facts against critical thinking, of bias versus logic. Continue reading Democrats: Speak Up!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

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

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

Obama's Ukraine Affair

DDPresident Obama faced his own Ukraine affair last week. He ordered military action against foreign assets controlled by an unstable interim government facing its own domestic factional opposition after deposing a former corrupt leader. Without NATO approval, the President took action on local officials’ requests. The short-term action was successful. The US military didn’t fire a shot.

Did you know about it? I didn’t.

A continual subtheme of “Digging Deeper” is the media’s tragic fail: at a time when news and information really counts, the media has collectively decided to abandon journalism for sensationalism. The media collective pursues profits and revenue as its main purpose; stories rise and fall with the sun. Ratings and rants count for more than facts or the public’s interest. So much so that the media collectively ignored a dramatic use of force in the Mediterranean Sea by a US President already faced with a military crisis in the same geopolitical theatre, albeit further east.

To me, that’s news.

Anytime the US authorizes the use of military force beyond our national borders, it is a real confrontation and situations can rapidly escalate and spiral out of control. Recent history is replete with small operations turned long-term. In fact we are still unwinding two wars that transferred billions annually to private contractors and corrupt governments without achieving any central policy aims.

Drones are cruel, but they are cheaper. They don’t require the massive movement of troops and materiel, the building of bases, the horrendous cost in lives that marked the warfare of the last decade.

Last week, the President ordered his favorite go-to force, a team of Navy SEALs, to board and seize control of a rogue ship, an oil tanker, the Morning Glory, sailing illegally under a North Korean flag, loaded with oil pumped from Libyan facilities at Sidra (in eastern Libya), after it illegally loaded at the Es-sider oil terminal.

Sidra and the terminal are blockaded on the ground and controlled by a rival faction to Libya’s interim government. This is one of several factions that oppose the recognized governing coalition and, with other dissident groups, has crippled Libya’s oil industry by strikes and sporadic fighting.

In fact, Sidra has 19 storage tanks with total capacity of 6.2 million barrels, mainly owned by Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) and a trio of US companies: Hess, ConocoPhillips and Marathon Oil. According to one industry analyst, diminishing confidence in reliable local production may motivate Marathon to sell its stake in the joint venture.

Somehow, the Morning Glory was loaded with $20 million worth of oil (some estimates say $34 million) from the NOC storage facility and it sailed away from Sidra toward an unknown destination. Morning Glory was the first vessel to have loaded oil from a rebel-held port since the separatist revolt against the central government in Tripoli erupted in July 2013.

Rana Jawal, with the BBC, offered this analysis:

Washington made clear it supports Libya’s elected authorities with the Navy Seals operation.

The US has sent a clear message to both potential traders of illicit oil and to the armed groups blocking Libya’s terminals that it will not permit the sale of oil from rebel-held areas.

Libya matters to the US partly because a failed state would be viewed as yet another failed US adventure abroad, after it backed the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi.

The intervention will also help to dispel at least one of the many suspicions and rumours among Libyans – that the West will deal with anyone to get hold of crude oil.

It may also restore some of the Libyan government’s credibility with people here, which has been lost over the past year. However, the dangers of this blockade escalating into an armed confrontation remain and it hinges on the government’s next move.

It also cost Libya’s interim Prime Minister Ali Zeidan his job. He was replaced by the Defense Minister Abdullah al-Thani, who received a two-week appointment, which was renewed this week. The new Prime Minister was tasked with coming up with a plan to reopen the Libyan’s eastern oil ports. Libya is currently shipping 275,000 barrels a month, down from 1.6 million barrels last July.

Three takeaways: One, Libya, to a degree greater than Ukraine, exhibits the factional fighting and contention for power and revenue seen throughout the region from North Africa to Eastern Europe to Asia Minor. The completing groups attempt to take advantage of regime change or current instability. They are usually centered around Islamists and several nativist parties who seem intent on relying on arms to settle their differences. Ukraine is the first state to be directly exploited by a former super power. Elsewhere, the groups effect more of a standstill (Syria) than clear winners. Even in Egypt, after winning the election, the Islamists were forced to take a step back.

Two, this factionalism is destabilizing a number of domestic economies. As conditions become more perilous, the conflicts may spiral into cycles of violence involving not only the assets of the political economy but also civilian lives and families, as is already the case in Syria, and to a degree, in Egypt.

Three, the US has no magic wand by which to determine its desired outcomes in local fights, nor can it afford to finance or interfere in every insurgency. Yet its commitment, when made, should not be in half steps. Especially in offering non-military aid. The US commitment to food aid is woefully insufficient and is adding to destabilization by placing unsustainable burdens on countries who are neighbors to states in conflict. A model for creating temporary jobs from mobile production facilities is badly needed in refugee camps. Continue reading Obama’s Ukraine Affair

Sunday Talks, 3/23/14

On ABC’s This Week, FiveThirtyEight.com editor-in-chief and ABC News special contributor Nate Silver will offer his analysis for the 2014 election. Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), ABC News’ Cokie Roberts, and Foreign . . . → Read More: Sunday Talks, 3/23/14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russia's Cold War Makes Crimea a Hot Spot

DDVladimir Putin is an authentic throwback. No country, not China or North Korea—or the US—has made the bold move he accomplished in under a month. As the head of state of Russia’s government, he ordered and executed the grab of another state’s sovereignty by passive force of arms, using a series of sham excuses and a phony plebiscite to install Russian hegemony over a territory that a week ago belonged to Ukraine.

That basket of facts alone is worthy of sharper focus and penetrating discussions, but US politicians, Russian specialists, and media keep talking around it. The story wanders away to ask what Putin will do next. (Will he invade Ukraine—ignoring that he already has!) Those who see news as prophecy ask how will Europe and the US respond—all without any real sense of the gravity of what Putin has already done. His announcement that Crimea is now under Russian political and military control, and his signing an agreement to annex a territory that a week ago had only local officials without sovereign power to enter into an agreement to turn its territory and governance over to another country, is monumental.

Except Native Americans, no nation has achieved a land grab from another country without a protracted armed struggle in more than a century.

Even five years ago, when Russia recognized the independence of the small territory of South Ossetia from Georgia, it did not annex it.

What makes Putin’s announcement so precedent-setting is that it began without threats or troops, as part of the debate about Ukraine’s internal affairs, in the name of a Ukrainian president who was deposed by the shadow of his own fears. Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych, had been under siege from Ukraine’s population, who wanted a closer alignment with the West, especially in trade, finance and travel.

Instead, Yanukovych turned toward Russia. Especially after Putin offered him a $15 billion loan agreement, to finance his government and his wildly out-of-line corruption. Citizens took to the streets. Unprepared, inept, Yanukovych caved and left the country voluntarily, landing in Russia where he held press conference near Ukraine’s border, asserting he still held the presidency and his overthrow was illegal. He held his press conference on February 28th, promising to fight for Ukraine.

In the meantime, Ukrainians were busy touring his off-the-books house and private zoo. He hasn’t been heard from again. He played no role in the present Russian action, except to provide a reason for Russia to ignore the interim government and claim it threatened Crimea and was anti-Russian, putting Crimean citizens of Russian heritage at risk.

Yanukovych’s ouster, however, saved Russia $15 billion and gained them Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula—in less than three weeks. (Of course, he loses his house.)

Here are five reasons to focus not only on the next moves for all sides, but where the state of affairs is now: Continue reading Russia’s Cold War Makes Crimea a Hot Spot

Stormy Monday, 3/17/14

StormyMondayEven before yesterday’s secession “referendum” in Crimea, Washington and the European Union had declared that the process didn’t pass the smell test. Sure as dammit, there was an off-putting spoor to exit polls suggesting 93% support for breaking away from Ukraine and joining Russia. European foreign ministers gather today in Brussels to discuss freezing Russian assets, with a Thursday conclave of EU leaders also scheduled.

Stateside, John Kerry has been spending a lot of time on the phone with Russian foreign minister Lavrov, much as Secretary Kerry’s boss has been chatting a lot with Lavrov’s. In Congress, bipartisan pressure continues to build for sanctions against Russia; the Senate Foreign Relations Committee cleared a sanctions bill last week that also guarantees $1 billion in loans to Ukraine. Just back from a meaningless but self-aggrandizing Ukraine junket, and ever the bilge – er, bridge over troubled water, John McCain yesterday unhelpfully described Russia as “a gas station masquerading as a country.” Hmm. What with “that one” in the White House for a second term, poor Senator McCain is running out of wars. Shill, baby, shill.

Fred Phelps, former capo of the Westboro Baptist church, reportedly begins the week “close to death.” Which would be a shame, except that he’s Fred Phelps.

Cyberspace could be in for a rude shock this week if Republicans make good on their excited bleating about deploying some spanking new “.gop” websites. Wow! Talk about seismic shifts: same stale, dim, destructive ideas, totally new domain!

The search continues for Malaysia Airlines’ Flight 370, amid new suspicions that the plane’s disappearance was linked to a 9/11-style plot to attack India. Michael McCaul, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Peter King, one of his fellow Republican doofuses thereon, continue to insist that a terrorism connection is unlikely, which leads me to suspect that it’s very likely. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 3/17/14

Sunday Talks, 3/16/14

On ABC’s This Week, House Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee Chair Rep. Peter King, (R-NY) will talk about the mysterious disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines flight. Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Chris Murphy, (D-CT) will talk . . . → Read More: Sunday Talks, 3/16/14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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