Friday Talking Points [340] -- Obama Earning His Nobel

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FTP3President Barack Obama is finally earning his Nobel Peace Prize, it seems. A few months back, he announced a major shift in U.S. policy towards Cuba, ending a half-century of frostiness, and this week the outlines of a deal to avoid a war with Iran were unveiled, thawing a relationship that froze over back in 1979. Both of these foreign policy accomplishments go a long way towards deserving the Nobel Peace Prize Obama was prematurely awarded in 2009. At the time, many (this column included) joked that the Nobel committee was really awarding the prize to Obama for the sole achievement of “not being George W. Bush.” But it seems now that by the time he ends his term in office, Barack Obama will indeed have earned the world’s foremost peacemaker’s prize. Since this is Good Friday, perhaps a Bible quotation is in order: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Of course, President Obama’s critics are already denouncing the deal with Iran, even before the ink was dry in some cases. There seems to be a misconception among Obama’s opposition that there is another acceptable path forward that doesn’t involve an outright war with Iran. Republicans (and some Democrats) in Congress seem to think that if they scuttle this deal, a better one will somehow appear on the horizon. This is wishful thinking, though. “More sanctions will do it!” cry the critics, who are ignoring the lesson Cuba provided.

Right now, seven nations have reached a preliminary agreement: the U.S., Iran, China, Russia, France, the U.K., and Germany. The “P5+1” nations (the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) have built a unified sanctions regime that has been a big incentive in getting Iran to the table. Republicans in Congress want even more sanctions rather than this agreement, because they think upping the pressure on Iran will force them to accept further concessions. But what could easily happen if Congress shoots down a deal and imposes stricter sanctions is that the P5+1 alliance may fall apart. If the rest of the world sees that Congress isn’t going to agree to any deal with Iran, then Russia and China may just decide to lift their sanctions altogether. Why bother restricting trade when absolutely nothing will satisfy the hardliners in the U.S. Congress, after all? If Russia and China bolt the negotiations and end their sanctions, then Iran will actually have less sanctions imposed on it than it does now, even with increased sanctions from America.

This is the end game that Congress could unintentionally create. This is where the Cuban example comes in. Most Americans aren’t even really aware of it, but for the past half-century, America has been going it alone with their economic sanctions on Cuba. Europeans can walk into a tobacco store and buy as many Cuban cigars as they please, and have long been able to do so. Because Cuba has sunny shores, Europeans can easily book a vacation there to escape their winter weather. There are no restrictions upon doing so whatsoever. Cuba is not only free to trade with Europe, but also with Central America, South America, Africa, and Asia. We stand alone among nations in trying to crush the Cuban economy.

For fifty years, our unilateral sanctions just did not work. Fidel Castro outlasted every president since Kennedy. All the U.S. sanctions did was to give Castro an easy excuse for why communism was failing on his island. But it certainly didn’t achieve the goals America set out, by any stretch of the imagination. It may have hindered their economy slightly, but they were always free to trade with the rest of the world, so it didn’t mean much in the long run.

That should be an instructive lesson on Iran. If the rest of the world sees the United States (Congress, in particular) as being so intransigent that it’ll never agree to any deal with Iran, then there would be no point in even holding further negotiations. If China and Russia decide to drop their sanctions, then it would free up the pressure on Iran to a very large degree (China, in particular, would likely buy all the oil Iran wanted to sell them). America (or perhaps America plus a few European countries) wouldn’t have anywhere near the influence over the Iranian economy without Russia and China backing sanctions up. If Iran became similar to Cuba — ultimate sanctions from the U.S., but not from anyone else — then we would have essentially lost any leverage we had over them. So to anyone in Congress advocating unilateral sanctions against Iran, the question should really be: “because that worked so well against Cuba, right?”

The other big political story of the week was the huge victory over legalized bigotry in both Indiana and Arkansas. Because conservatives know full well that in just a few months the Supreme Court is going to legalize marriage equality across every one of these United States, they had the bright idea to codify state-level discrimination against gay weddings. But it didn’t go quite as they had planned. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [340] — Obama Earning His Nobel

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Friday Talking Points [339] -- Best Pi Day Of The Century!

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FTP3Before we get on with all the politics, we have two unrelated announcements. The first is tomorrow’s quirk in the calendar. Actually, today is quirky as well, if you’re a friggatriskaidekaphobe, since it’s Friday the 13th. But tomorrow is much more momentous, because the convergence only comes once a century. Tomorrow morning will mark an extraordinary moment in time for geeks everywhere, in fact. Know a mathematician? Call him or her up tomorrow morning and wish her or him the happiest of Pi Days!

For the uninformed, Pi Day is a yearly celebration of a date on the calendar, for its numerical significance. It ranks up there among geeky holidays with the fourth of May (“Star Wars Day,” since you can go around wishing everyone “May the Fourth be with you!”). The significance is it will be “3/14” (at least in the United States, as Europeans write their dates differently). These are the first three digits in the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, or “pi.”

But this year’s Pi Day will be the best one for the next 100 years, because a whole bunch of digits will come into play. Pi’s value is, to 10 digits: 3.141592653. This year’s Pi Day will be 3/14/15. Taking it a step further, just before 9:30 AM tomorrow morning, the date and time will read: 3/14/15 — 9:26:53. Woo hoo! Best Pi Day of the century!

The admissions office at MIT has taken note, and this year’s acceptance letters will all go out tomorrow. How appropriate!

Mathematical geekiness aside, we have one more announcement to make. This column is going on vacation for the next two weeks. Yes, we will be going on hiatus until April 3, as we travel to the Emerald Isle to experience a thoroughly Irish St. Patrick’s Day. So don’t expect another fresh talking points column for the next two weeks. You have been duly warned.

In an entirely unrelated story, Ireland kind-of, sort-of legalized a whole bunch of drugs this week. A court threw out one of Ireland’s main drug laws, on a technicality that rendered it unconstitutional. Whoops! This meant that ecstasy, crystal meth, and magic mushrooms were all suddenly legal (leprechaun sightings must have gone through the roof, one assumes). The Irish legislature scrambled to pass emergency legislation to fix the problem, but it still must have been a pretty psychedelic week for some in Ireland! By the time I get there, however, I will be completely satisfied as long as Sir Arthur Guinness’s fine product is still widely available (and legal). So to speak.

But it wasn’t all fun and games in the world of international politics last week. Far from it, in fact. Since it is Friday the 13th, a day when many ponder unlucky numbers, we have to wonder what it is about the number 47 that keeps getting Republicans in trouble. First it was Mitt Romney’s infamous dismissal of the “47 percent,” after which he wound up with exactly 47 percent of the vote in the general election. This week, 47 Republican senators decided it would be a good idea to sign an extraordinarily condescending letter to the leaders of Iran’s government. Maybe, in the future, Republicans should try avoiding anything associated with the number 47? Just a suggestion, guys….

The Republicans’ effort to hobble President Obama’s negotiations with Iran failed spectacularly. That much, everyone agrees upon. Perhaps the best commentary on the letter came from Iran’s foreign minister, who dismissed it as an attempt at “propaganda,” and went on to school the Republicans in the way international and U.S. laws and agreements actually work.

The only real difference in the reactions to the senators’ letter was in the terminology used to condemn it. The New York Daily News ran a gigantic headline that stated: “Traitors.” The Wall Street Journal was a little more reserved in its language, but not by much. The New York Times ran an editorial under the headline “Republican Idiocy On Iran.” The Washington Post pointed out that Republicans seem to think they’re running some sort of breakaway nation of their own (calling it “Republicania”).

European leaders soon joined in the chorus of condemnation. Conservative commentators admitted the entire thing was a fiasco. Cartoonists, of course, had a field day (our favorite so far is Jeff Danziger’s take on Tom Cotton). One retired general rejected the term “traitors,” but didn’t exactly mince his own words:

I would use the word mutinous. I do not believe these senators were trying to sell out America. I do believe they defied the chain of command in what could be construed as an illegal act. What Senator Cotton did is a gross breach of discipline, and especially as a veteran of the Army, he should know better. I have no issue with Senator Cotton, or others, voicing their opinion in opposition to any deal to halt Iran’s nuclear progress. Speaking out on these issues is clearly part of his job. But to directly engage a foreign entity, in this way, undermining the strategy and work of our diplomats and our Commander in Chief, strains the very discipline and structure that our foreign relations depend on, to succeed. The breach of discipline is extremely dangerous, because undermining our diplomatic efforts, at this moment, brings us another step closer to a very costly and perilous war with Iran. I think Senator Cotton recognizes this, and he simply does not care. That’s what disappoints me the most. I expect better from the men and women who wore the uniform.

Remember those halcyon days when all Republicans maintained that “listening to the generals” was the way to deal with questions of war? Ah… memories!

Liberals, of course, were universal in their disgust at the 47 Republicans. A movement quickly began to charge all 47 with violating the Logan Act (a law passed in the era of the Alien and Sedition Acts). The petition to demand charges be brought under the Logan Act at the White House’s website currently has over 275,000 signatures. I wrote about this idea yesterday, pointing out the history of the Logan Act, and why bringing charges would probably not be the best idea, but I realize others differ in their opinions. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [339] — Best Pi Day Of The Century!

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Friday Talking Points [338] -- Obamacare Fails to Kill Jobs, Once Again

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FTP3The February jobs report is out, and — once again — Obamacare has failed to kill all those jobs Republicans warned us about. But we’ll get to all of that later, in the talking points, so you’ll just have to wait for that.

Before we do get to how good the job market has become, let’s take a quick spin around the rest of the week’s political news. There were three major stories vying for media attention this week, so let’s take a look at them first.

Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu gave a campaign speech to Israel’s citizens this week, an event which normally wouldn’t have gotten much press coverage in America, except for the venue he was offered (which might be called “the world’s biggest hustings”): the United States Congress. Most American media utterly failed to grasp what was really going on (Bibi giving a speech to win re-election as prime minister), which was kind of astonishing because it was really staring everyone in the face. All you had to do was look at the timing of the speech. If, as Republicans maintain, the speech was given for the benefit of the American people, then why was it scheduled so it could appear on prime-time television in Israel? Why wasn’t it given in the evening in Washington, when American networks could choose to broadcast it live? The answer is obvious: because that’s not really what the speech was about. It was given on Israeli time to an Israeli audience, because it simply wouldn’t have had the same domestic impact if Bibi had spoken in the middle of the night, Tel Aviv time.

As for the content of the speech, Fareed Zakaria has been doing the best job of deconstructing Netanyahu’s speech, pointing out the fact that he’s been ringing the same exact alarm bell for a quarter-century now — the last time Netanyahu spoke to Congress, he warned Iran was “extremely close” to getting the bomb, and warned: “Ladies and gentlemen, time is running out. This is not a slogan. This is not an overstatement.” That was in 1996. Zakaria also helpfully pointed out this week that Bibi had pretty much no plan for what would happen next if the talks collapsed and no pact was reached, which is also well worth a read.

The second big story was essentially buried by the first. On the very same day Netanyahu spoke in the morning from the House podium (again: in the morning, for the benefit of the Israeli television schedule), John Boehner completely caved on the big fight over the Department of Homeland Security’s budget. He got his caucus together and told them that anything other than passing a clean bill was nothing more than the sheerest delusional fantasy, which (predictably) annoyed all the Republican House members who are incapable of understanding what “not having a veto-proof majority” actually means. But Boehner was smart in his timing, you’ll have to admit, because forcing the bill through right after the Netanyahu speech meant it received far less attention on that evening’s news. This dampened the attention given to Democrats, who have known all along that passing a clean bill was the only possible option open to congressional Republicans in this particular fight. In the end — just as everyone expected — a bill passed with all Democrats and over 70 Republicans voting for it.

After the bill was signed by President Obama, even Ted Cruz (of all people) admitted the entire exercise had been folly all along:

Unfortunately, [the Republican] leadership’s plan was never to win this fight. Since December, the outcome has been baked in the cake. It was abundantly clear to anyone watching that leadership in both houses intended to capitulate on the fight against amnesty. It was a strategy doomed to failure. It’s an old adage in Washington: Never take a hostage you’re not prepared to shoot. There was no chance, zero, that Republicans were going to fail to fund the Department of Homeland Security because Republicans care deeply about homeland security.

Which is, of course, what Democrats have been saying since Republicans demanded to have this fight in the first place. But lest you think Cruz has suddenly seen the light on the stupidity of holding hostages during such negotiations, he suggested instead choosing a different hostage next time: “[We] should have focused on the EPA, or the IRS or the Department of Labor. Now, those are departments which a majority would be prepared to allow funding to temporarily expire in order to use as leverage.”

These next fights might come sooner than anyone thinks, Huffington Post reports, as the freshman hardliners in the GOP are eyeing “a transportation funding debate, a mid-year fight over the future of the Export-Import Bank, and a battle over raising the debt limit and approving a budget” to stage their next legislative tantrums. Not to suggest that the GOP is incapable of doing anything but lurching from self-induced crisis to self-induced crisis, mind you. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [338] — Obamacare Fails to Kill Jobs, Once Again

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Friday Talking Points [337] -- D.C. Smoke-In History

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FTP3Before we get to anything else…

Mr. Spock is dead. Long live Mr. Spock!

That may be a rather illogical construct, but it just seemed the most appropriate thing to say. The fictional character the late Leonard Nimoy played often used “Live long and prosper” as his favored salutation, which is just a rephrasing of the basic sentiment, really. Nimoy will be missed by fans all over the world, who agree with President Obama’s simple statement: “I loved Spock.” We all did, which is why Spock will live on in many hearts. Long live Mr. Spock!

We’re only going to briefly touch upon the illogical world of politics this week, as we bring you a very special edition of our Friday Talking Points. Mostly this is due to the fact that I tried (twice) to write about the fiasco in Congress over the Department of Homeland Security budget, but both times had to delete what I had written because events were moving so fast and so unexpectedly while I was busy writing. So, instead, I am throwing up my hands in frustration and will be following the late-night developments tonight, along with everyone else.

The real reason the introductory parts of this column are going to be extremely short, though, is that the end of this column is so insanely long. You have been warned. I don’t think in all the years of diverging from this column’s primary purpose that I’ve ever written such a historical timeline, but that is what we’re offering up today, to mark the legalization of recreational marijuana in Washington D.C. this week. Because we felt honor needed to be given where it was due, in the midst of all the other celebrations.

If this attempt at telling a story bores you, or you otherwise would like to hear some rip-snortin’ Democratic talking points, we would instead direct your attention to Senator Elizabeth Warren’s most recent (and most excellent) viral video. That should satisfy any craving for hearing how to properly frame political issues, while tossing down a major gauntlet to the Republicans.

OK, let’s get on with things by quickly running through an award or two, before we get to the main event.


Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

Muriel Bowser, the mayor of Washington D.C., deserves at least an Honorable Mention, for standing strong in the face of threats of jail time from House Republicans, for allowing the will of the voters (70 percent of them) to become law this week. But we’ve got much more on marijuana in D.C. to come, so we’ll just mention it briefly here.

The winner of the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week is Chicago mayoral candidate Jesús “Chuy” Garcia, who forced Rahm Emanuel into a runoff despite being heavily outspent in a crowded field. Garcia got 34 percent of the vote to Emanuel’s 45 percent, so Rahm may win the runoff anyway, but we can’t help but wallow in a bit of schadenfreude over Rahm’s problems (since we’re still waiting for an apology for all the nasty things Rahm called lefty bloggers in years past).

In any case, Garcia’s story is an impressive one so far, and maybe he’s even got a shot at dethroning Rahm. For his success in embarrassing Emanuel alone, he is certainly worthy of this week’s MIDOTW award.

[Congratulate Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” Garcia on his contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week

We have no award for Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week, which is always a good sign.

If we’ve missed an obvious candidate, please let us know your thoughts, down in the comments.


Friday Talking Points

Volume 337 (2/27/15)

The 1960s gave birth to the concept of the “sit-in,” as well as other related protest events such as “teach-ins” or even “die-ins.” But today we’re going to focus on one particular event which isn’t all that well known outside of the Washington Beltway: the “smoke-in.” Specifically, the annual D.C. Smoke-In held every year on July Fourth.

Nowadays, with three states and D.C. having legalized recreational marijuana (just this week, Alaska and D.C. joined Colorado and Washington state), the concept of a public smoke-in seems almost retro and quaint. But those who participated over the last four decades were risking arrest and drastic punishment for what they bravely did — breaking the law in protest of the unjust nature of the marijuana laws. So while many District residents celebrated in various ways this week (while some others cluelessly went in search of the “pot parties”), we instead would like to salute those who put their own freedom on the line each year in a dramatic display of civil disobedience.

This has included fights over who got to use the prime location for the rally, and (most memorably) James Watt shooting himself in the foot by attempting to ban the Beach Boys from the Independence Day celebrations. Every participant in the decades-long history of the Smoke-In has their own stories to tell, of course. What follows is just a few of them, in honor of all who stood up for what they believed in. They all helped usher in the new freedom D.C. residents now enjoy, which is why we’re dedicating today’s column to the history of the event. Sit back and enjoy. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [337] — D.C. Smoke-In History

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Friday Talking Points [336] -- GOP's Government Shutdown Showdown

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FTP3Hello and welcome back to our Friday political news roundup. I must apologize for not writing one of these columns last week, but I was under the weather and far too sick to type (or think coherently). So the events covered today really encompass the previous two weeks, just to warn everyone in advance. Also, this intro is going to move along at an accelerated clip, because there is a lot to cover. Our awards this week are backwards, and then we’ve got a rant on the Republicans in Congress who are getting ready to have another government shutdown (because the last one worked so well, right?). But enough overview, let’s get on with things.

Congress woke up and realized that they should start debate on Obama’s war on the Islamic State. Hey, only nine or ten months late, but better late than never, right? It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out in the next few weeks.

Health and Human Services just announced that there will be a special one-time grace period for people to sign up for health insurance right around the deadline for filing income taxes. I wrote about this earlier in the week, and am glad to see they made the right call. This is for people who were unaware that not only will they be penalized on their 2014 taxes for not having health insurance, but because the open enrollment period just ended they’d have been locked into paying the penalty next year as well. With the new grace period, they’ll be able to avoid the penalty next year, which is a good thing because it’ll motivate more people to sign up. Obamacare already signed up almost 12 million people this time around (up from 7 million last year), and this will help boost those numbers.

Labor seems to be making something of a comeback, as strikes and lockouts are happening for oil refinery workers and those who unload container ships on West Coast ports. So far, the media hasn’t paid this much attention, but we’ll see where it all goes in the next few weeks.

Gay people are getting married in Alabama and Texas, which at one time might have been a truly shocking headline, but these days it’s almost commonplace to read about. The Alabama case got interesting when the chief justice of the state supreme court tried to have a showdown with the U.S. Supreme Court, but was smacked down in the end. By July, the headline is going to read “U.S. Supreme Court Legalizes All Gay Marriages Everywhere,” of course, but we’ve all still got a few more months of state-level news before that happens.

A federal judge in Texas blocked the implementation of President Obama’s new immigration policy, but that’ll really become bigger news next week, in the heat of the fight over the Homeland Security budget (which we’ll get to in the talking points section).

News from the campaign trail: Jeb Bush gave a not-ready-for-prime-time speech on foreign policy this week. Spoiler alert: he wants his brother’s foreign policy team, because they did such a bang-up job last time. Also, the Bush team went a little too transparent in a dump of emails from when Jeb was Florida’s governor. Problem was, they forgot to strip out such information as addresses and even Social Security numbers. Whoops! And Jeb’s supposed to be the smart one?!?

Rand Paul wants to change his state’s election law so that he can run for Senate and president at the same time. Boy, that just oozes confidence about his chances to get the Republican nomination, doesn’t it?

Scott Walker had his own not-quite-ready moment overseas, when he was asked about his views on evolution. His answer: “I’m going to punt on that one as well.” What wasn’t widely reported in the American press (due to the embarrassment factor, no doubt) was the questioner’s response to Walker [PDF transcript]. First, it was an incredulous: “No, really?” and then the Brit moderator commented: “any British politician, right- or left-wing, would laugh and say: ‘Yes, of course, evolution is true.'” Ah, to have such sane and science-based politics — where such things aren’t even seen as partisan!

Marijuana news: Vermont may become the first state to legalize recreational marijuana not through a voter initiative but through the state’s legislature. The nation’s new drug czar actually supports Washington DC’s legalization law, even though (by law) he must be awfully circumspect in how he speaks of it. The Drug Policy Alliance so far thinks the new drug czar is a lot better than the previous one, as well.

At least one U.S. Attorney doesn’t seem to have gotten all the Justice Department memos on not prosecuting state-legal marijuana operations, but this is no surprise because she’s been pretty gung-ho all along. Debbie Wasserman Schultz seems to be offering up her support for medical marijuana to the highest bidder (pun not intended). Anyone got a bunch of Democratic donation money? Give D.W.S. a call, quick! And finally, Jamaica’s senate passed a decriminalization bill on Bob Marley’s birthday, which couldn’t have been more appropriate. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [336] — GOP’s Government Shutdown Showdown

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Friday Talking Points [335] -- Live, From The Moon

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FTP3NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams (or, as we affectionately refer to him, “BriWi”) was ruthlessly mocked online this week, after a war story he told turned out to be a complete fabrication. Our headline today refers to the funniest mockery we’ve yet seen on the subject, titled “That one live shot I did from the moon,” for no other reason than it makes a funny headline. We really have no news to report from the moon, although (as usual) there are quite a few bits of lunacy to report from the political world. As for BriWi, well, we’ll see what happens next. Perhaps it’s time to give Lester Holt a shot at the big chair? It’s a little hard to feel too sorry for BriWi, since he reportedly rakes in $10 million a year to read the news to America every night. Nice work if you can get it, eh? Or hold onto it, for that matter.

Speaking of jobs, there’s a new jobs report out and it has some pretty amazing good news. But we’ll have much more on that a bit later, down in the talking points.

Let’s get back to the lunacy, instead. Mitch McConnell is apparently unsatisfied with the concept of throwing fellow Republicans under a bus, as evidenced by a joke he just cracked (to be fair, Ted Cruz set himself up for this one):

McConnell noted that Cruz — the anti-Obamacare crusader who spearheaded the 2013 government shutdown, thereby earning the enmity of many fellow Republicans — had once proclaimed that he would throw himself in front of a moving train, if that’s what killing health reform would take.

“That idea has some merit to it,” a wry McConnell jabbed.

Heh. In other news from congressional Republicans, Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina thinks there are too many onerous federal regulations, which deny him the freedom to eat food prepared by people who don’t wash their hands in the bathroom. Or something. It’s hard to tell, especially considering that he was complaining about a regulation which mandates restaurants put up a sign, which he would fix by creating a regulation to put up a different sign. No, really. Here’s the story:

Tillis said he was at a Starbucks in 2010 talking to a woman about regulations and where businesses should be allowed to opt out. His coffee companion challenged him, asking whether employees there should be required to wash their hands.

“As a matter of fact I think this is one where I think I can illustrate the point,” he recalled telling her. “I don’t have any problem with Starbucks if they choose to opt out of this policy as long as they post a sign that says we don’t require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restroom. The market will take care of that. It’s one example.”

Um, OK. If I ever meet Tillis, I don’t think I’ll be shaking his hand, that’s all I can say.

The media became obsessed with their new realization that there are a whole bunch of parents in this country who don’t want to vaccinate their kids (even though this has been going on for quite some time now). This exposed all sorts of looney-tunes behavior, but several were swift to point out that “anti-vaxxers” have been around since at least Thomas Jefferson’s time, so it’s really nothing new, just a continuation of prior lunacy. Several Republican presidential candidates added to the debate with their own special brand of moonbattery. Should be a fun primary season, if this is where we’re going to start!

Paul Ryan began constructing the 2016 Republican budget by immediately blowing a $100 billion hole in the deficit. Other Republicans went along for the ride, ignoring Republicans’ traditional anti-deficit stance. Must have been a full moon, or something.

Republicans in Congress celebrated Groundhog Day by imitating the movie of the same name. The House was busy repealing Obamacare, for the 56th time (no, that’s not an exaggeration), although it seems they were pretty lackluster in doing so. Perhaps after another 50 or so votes, they’ll have realized the pointlessness of their actions? Nancy Pelosi, in a great speech this week, memorably pointed out that Republicans are doing nothing short of baying at the moon with all these votes.

Over in the Senate, the bill to fund the Homeland Security Department (that the House had loaded up with all their “we’re angry with Obama over immigration” extremism) failed to pass (one Republican even crossed the aisle and voted with the Democrats, against the bill). And then it failed to pass again. And then it failed to pass a third time. Happy Groundhog week, everyone!

Susan Collins of Maine offered to strip out some of the extremist language from the bill (but leave the rest untouched), but Democrats quickly shot down that idea. Sooner or later, a “clean” bill will pass both houses, but we’ve got a lot more meaningless and futile votes to get through before we get to that point of sanity. John Boehner seems a bit delighted at the fact that Mitch McConnell is the one now taking the heat for congressional Republicans’ failure to put any sort of bill on Obama’s desk. Here he is, answering the question of whether he knew what McConnell’s endgame for the bill would be:

No. Listen, he’s got a tough job. He’s got a tough job over there, and I’ve got a tough job over here. God bless him and good luck. What can you say?

Empathy’s not Boehner’s strong suit, it seems, after being the number one Tea Party scapegoat for years. Now he’ll be able to offload some of that Tea Party angst onto McConnell, and he certainly doesn’t sound too unhappy at that prospect.

Let’s see, what else falls into the lunatic category this week? Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore is once again contemplating nullification of federal law, this time not over the Ten Commandments (which got him removed from office previously), but over same-sex marriage. He’s leading the charge to just flat-out ignore federal rulings he doesn’t like (which he calls “judicial tyranny”) and have the Alabama judiciary chart their own course. You’d think knowing what was in the U.S. Constitution would be a requirement for such a position in any state, but apparently you’d be wrong.

House Republican Aaron Schock has been having a pretty miserable week. First, the Washington Post poked some fun at his office-decorating style (reminiscent of Downton Abbey), then ethical issues were raised over how the decorations were paid for, and finally one of his senior advisors was forced to resign. For being a racist. Think that’s too harsh a description? Well, you decide: it seems Benjamin Cole spent his spare time filming black people walking in front of his house in DC, and then commenting on Facebook that what he had witnessed were the “mating rituals” of animals who had escaped from the National Zoo. By week’s end, he was gone from that lovely Downton Abbey office.

Fox News, meanwhile, made an editorial decision to show the whole video of a Jordanian pilot being burned alive by the Islamic State. Does anyone really think they would have made the same decision if that had been an American military pilot?

That’s probably enough lunacy for one week’s time. Instead, we’ll end on a happy note here, with an update on marijuana reform news. Over 100 Native American tribes are now expressing interest in entering the marijuana business, now that the Justice Department has given them the legal green light to do so. Also, Ted Cruz, Republican presidential wannabe, admitted to smoking pot as a student. This news made barely a ripple politically, which just goes to show you how far we’ve come from Bill Clinton trying to have it both ways with his laughable “I didn’t inhale” stance, two decades ago. Now the public’s response is: “He smoked pot as a kid? Well, who didn’t?” Progress indeed. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [335] — Live, From The Moon

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Friday Talking Points [334] -- Sarah Palin, Under The Republican Bus

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FTP3That headline certainly does promise a large amount of schadenfreude over the misfortunes of a certain former vice presidential nominee (and half-term governor of Alaska), doesn’t it? Well, that’ll all have to wait for the end of this column, where we will be supplanting our normal talking points section with a few choice conservative reviews of Sarah Palin’s recent speech in Iowa. But before we dive into this snarktastic dessert of vicious quips, we’ve first got to get through the meat and potatoes of the politics of the week.

The big news this morning was, of course, Mitt Romney flip-flopping on his presidential ambitions. “Just kidding!” Romney essentially told the world (forcing the Daily Beast to hastily run a retraction of their “Mitt’s Running!” story, amusingly enough). Anyone who had been looking forward to Mitt 3.0, out there telling us all how conservatives would solve poverty and the income gap by giving rich people raises is undoubtedly disappointed at the news. I mean, we all could have had so much fun during the campaign doing things like comparing our own houses to Mitt’s palatial spread in California, but now that rug has been yanked out from under us all. Oh, the disappointment!

Under the big circus tent that is now the United States Congress, Republicans followed up on their failure to pass a severe abortion bill by unexpectedly yanking their severe border security bill in the House. The bill, which even the infamous Draco would have been impressed with (one assumes), was deemed insufficiently severe by the uber-extremists on the immigration issue within the Republican House. Look for a moat full of alligators to be added to the next bill, in an effort to secure enough votes for passage, we suppose. Conservatives were even openly bragging about killing the bill, which only goes to confirm that they do not care about actual legislation, and consider their jobs to be nothing more than the sheerest of political posturing. Looks like a long two years, folks.

This lurch towards the Tea Party was also noticeable in the umpteenth Benghazi committee, which is now in danger of falling apart through sheer partisanship. John Boehner also came out and promised once again (as he did almost exactly a year ago) that the House would soon be voting — any day now! — on a Republican bill to replace the dreaded Obamacare. But if Republicans can’t even get behind a severe border security or anti-abortion bill, does anyone truly expect they’ll be able to do so on healthcare reform? Especially since they’ve been promising to do so for approximately six years now?

Let’s see… in other silliness, Michelle Obama appeared with her head uncovered in Saudi Arabia, which almost became fodder for another fake “scandal” whipped up by Republicans, except that it was quickly discovered that Laura Bush had previously done the same thing. Thankfully, this non-scandal ended before it really even got going.

In other news, while the media were breathlessly reporting the same big story they break every single winter (to wit: “It Snows In Wintertime! Who Knew?!?”), at risk of their own lives, a man was convicted under the 1917 Espionage Act for leaking government secrets to the media. He faces 80 years in federal prison, but the snow was so much more interesting to report on, so you may not have seen this story on your teevee.

There were bales (to coin a phrase) of marijuana news this week, it seemed, so we’ll just run through these items quickly. Three ex-Super Bowl champs wrote a heartfelt open letter to the NFL, urging the league to rethink its outdated marijuana policies. Marijuana was the fastest-growing industry in America last year (I commented on this news earlier in the week). Colorado is getting so much tax money from weed that they may be legally forced to refund some of it (prompting one enthusiast to reply: “I don’t care if they write me a check, or refund it in my taxes, or just give me a free joint next time I come in. The taxes are too high, and they should give it back”). The Denver airport, however, has banned marijuana-themed souvenirs for tourists from their stores, for reasons that surpass understanding. Jamaica is about to decriminalize marijuana and could move quickly to full legalization, now that the United States isn’t throwing its weight around internationally on the subject any more. Perhaps it’s time for Obama to pardon Tommy Chong? It would seem appropriate, at this point. And Paul Ollinger of the Huffington Post wrote the funniest article I’ve seen in a while, with a title that really needs no further explanation: “Apple’s $178 Billion in Cash Would Buy SO MUCH WEED.” Even the metric he uses in his calculations is hilarious, so check it out. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [334] — Sarah Palin, Under The Republican Bus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apparently his job description has changed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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