Welcome to yet another weekly wrapup column. Before we begin, a bit of program news — this column will be on hiatus next week, because we’ll be attending the annual Netroots Nation blogger bash in sunny San Jose, California. For anyone who is going, we’ll see you there! For those who aren’t, you’ll have a two-week wait for your next installment of Friday Talking Points.
Last week, Republicans seem to have decided that the whole “autopsy” business after they got beaten so badly in the 2012 elections was just hogwash, and that they should double-down on their demonization and scapegoatery efforts. The “Plum Line” blog over at WashingtonPost.com has a good rundown (although now that the site is disappearing behind a paywall, I may have to reconsider linking to its articles in the future).
Build GOP support among Latinos? Nah, let’s just deport all the DREAM kids, say the Republicans in the House. Bolster our numbers with gay-friendly youth? Hey, here’s a better idea — let’s try overturning the end of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban! How about convincing some women to vote Republican? Hoo boy, don’t even get me started. In fact, I’m going to devote most of the end of the column to this subject, because there were so many stupid things said and done by Republicans this week.
President Obama just announced he’s going to send some weapons to the Syrian rebels, pleasing almost no one. The hawks are screaming Obama’s too late, the doves are bemoaning our new involvement in a Middle East war, and the Syrian rebels would really prefer a no-fly zone to be enforced, but it’s not at all clear Obama will consent to this much military support. Stay tuned.
The news that the National Security Agency is spying on everyone, all the time, was not entirely unexpected, of course, but it did indeed spark a debate over the subject which is long overdue. It was indeed interesting to see which politicians lined up on which side of the issue, since there was considerable crossover, complete with hawkish Democrats and libertarian-minded Tea Partiers staking out positions at odds with their parties.
Let’s see, what else? The Obama administration is spending $180,000 each and every day ($300 million so far) fighting medical marijuana in states which have legalized it. In fact, more than half of the total money spent doing so has occurred on Obama’s watch. Maybe it’s time for some former Choom Gang members to start lobbying their erstwhile buddy? Or perhaps another tactic is the best idea — get serious about some friendly marijuana “product placement” in popular culture. It did wonders for gay rights, that’s for sure.
Democrats scored a big victory over Republicans this week, but it wasn’t in the political arena but rather out on the baseball diamond. Apparently Congress holds a baseball game every year, and this year’s game was a 22-0 rout, as the Democrats “shellacked” (heh) the Republicans. This is the most lopsided score ever, in the half-century history of the game, easily beating the 17-1 GOP victory in 1999 for first place. The more interesting game, given the previous paragraph, will be next week’s softball rematch between the “One Hitters,” a team made up of pro-marijuana activists, and “STOTUS” (or “Softball Team Of The United States”) which is none other than the White House team. Last year, the wacky weed enthusiasts smoked STOTUS (oh, you just knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?) by a whopping score of 25-3. Take me out to the ballgame, indeed.
Representative Jeff Merkley deserves at least an Honorable Mention here, for responding to the NSA scandal by proposing legislation (with a Tea Party cosponsor) to make public the decisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court. Obama says he thinks we should “have a conversation” about what the appropriate spying powers the federal government will be allowed? Fine. Then let’s have some information to fuel that debate.
Representative Elijah Cummings is doing a fine job of exposing what a partisan hack Darrell Issa truly is, and for that he deserves his own Honorable Mention this week. Issa is the Republican chairman of the House committee responsible for overseeing the White House, and has used his position to paint everything under the sun as an evil Obama plot. His most recent attempt is to show somehow that the IRS scandal was really run from the Oval Office. His problem is that this is not where the facts are actually leading, because it did not happen that way. Issa appeared on a Sunday morning chat show and read excerpts from closed-door hearings his committee has been holding, trying to cherry-pick the worst-sounding bits to his advantage. He then stated that the full transcripts would be released.
Elijah Cummings is the ranking Democrat on the committee, and he appeared on television last Sunday to challenge Issa to do just that: release the full transcripts. Cummings pointed out that they had indeed found the culprit in the IRS — and he was a self-described “conservative Republican.” He sent word to Washington (not the other way around) about how the IRS was treating the Tea Party groups. Case closed, right?
Except that now, Issa has had second thoughts and is refusing to release the full transcripts. He knows full well that they will back Cummings up, and the entire scandal will melt like the spring snow. So he’s going to keep hold of the transcripts until further notice, because they don’t say what he would like them to say. Cummings has threatened to release the full transcripts on his own by the end of this week, so we’ll see if he makes good on this threat. If he does, he’ll easily be in the front running for the MIDOTW next week.
Our real Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week is… are you sitting down?… really, you should sit down, this might be something of a shock… (drumroll)… Attorney General Eric Holder.
I told you it was going to be a shock. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — War On Women Continues Apace
Every so often as I sit down to write these Friday columns, the spirit of the rant overtakes me. Instead of our usual Talking Points section this week, I offer up such a rant, on the death of the Fourth Amendment. You have all been warned. I did consider calling this rant an “Ode To Dianne Feinstein,” but then I thought that was too limiting — she certainly isn’t the only one out there singing from the same hymnbook. And I certainly wouldn’t want to have anyone feel left out.
What this means is there’s a lot to cover here in the introductory summary of the week’s events. So forgive me if this all seems a little jumbled-together and in shorthand.
First up, we have the ongoing Republican War On Women, as usual. Here’s a good wrapup of the sorts of things Republicans have been saying and doing, just in the past week. If this were a normal week, I would have ended the whole column with the bizarre tale of a Republican politician whose wife thinks he is being stalked online by strippers. You just know there’s a lot more to that story than meets the eye, right?
The Big Brass from the Pentagon got their turn on the hot seat this week in a congressional hearing, during which they all strongly stated that they think commanders need to retain the magic power to make military rape convictions disappear for anyone under their command (more on this in a bit). The most telling part of this hearing was when only one of the branches of the military (the Coast Guard) could even point to a single commander who had ever faced any discipline themselves over misuse of this magic power. As for the rest of their answers, they were best summed up as “stunningly bad.”
The Obama administration lost a court battle this week it really shouldn’t even be fighting in the first place, and a federal appeals court ruled that until the Obama appeal is heard, the morning-after pill will be legally available to all without regard to age. I wrote about this subject earlier this week, if you’re interested in the details.
In Texas, a Tea Party spokesman uttered a “Washington gaffe,” defined as “accidentally speaking the truth in politics.” Here’s his quote: “I’m going to be real honest with you. The Republican Party doesn’t want black people to vote if they are going to vote 9-to-1 for Democrats.” Well, thanks for clearing that up! He later tried to walk his quote back, but it’s the type of thing it’s tough to walk away from, really.
Unsurprisingly, marijuana arrests are unbelievably racially unequal, according to a new report. Could’ve knocked me over with a feather, right?
In atheist news, the woman who politely informed Wolf Blitzer what an absolute buffoon he was being (hint to Wolf: if you want to call yourself a “journalist,” don’t put words in people’s mouths!) by leaning on her to say she “thanked the Lord” for not killing her with a tornado (that did kill many of her neighbors, including children). She informed Blitzer that she was an atheist, and now the atheist community is helping her out by donating money for her, since assumably she doesn’t have a church group to do so for her. While that’s a feel-good story, the reaction of a Republican to the idea of “atheist chaplains” in the military (to give support to soldiers who may not want to talk to a religious counselor) was not exactly good news.
Immigration is finally getting its day in Washington, and (as expected), the Republicans are throwing shovelfuls of dirt on the grave of their chances of ever attracting any future Latino votes. Jeff Sessions insists that “virtually nobody” is being deported, while over in the House Steve King got an amendment passed that would treat the “Dreamers” the same as violent criminals. Way to boost Latino support, GOP! Can’t wait to see what happens in the Senate next week, guys! Obama spokesman Jay Carney immediately shot back with a veto threat (should such a thing ever make it through the Senate): “It’s wrong. It’s not who we are. And it will not become law.”
OK, that’s it for this week. Oh, wait — one more. Some counties in Colorado are apparently considering seceding from the state, now that them dang Libruls have taken over in Denver. You just can’t make this stuff up, folks!
OK, we’ve got to keep going with the shorthand-style here, because we’ve still got a lot to cover before we get to that rant. We begin with a list of folks who all have earned (for various reasons) at least an Honorable Mention this week:
Senator Frank Lautenberg died this week, which means New Jersey’s Chris Christie has named a Republican who will occupy his seat in the Senate for the next five months or so.
Both former Senator Russ Feingold and current Senator Dick Durbin got in a hearty “I told you so!” this week, when the news on the National Security Agency’s breathtaking vacuum-cleaner approach to phone records was made public.
Obama stuck his thumb in the eye of the Senate Republicans this week — twice — in terms of nominations. He announced Susan Rice would be becoming his National Security Advisor (a position which does not require Senate confirmation), and nominated three lawyers to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals all at once. This is going to set up a gigantic battle in the Senate in July, so stay tuned.
Patrick Leahy cosponsored an incredibly sane bill which would significantly dial back the entire concept of “mandatory minimums,” but what was truly surprising about it (for me) is that I found myself agreeing with George Will on the matter. And Rand Paul, to boot.
But perhaps the most impressive of the Honorable Mention awards this week is Representative John Dingell, who has now broken the all-time longevity record in Congress, besting Robert Byrd by serving a whopping 57 years, 5 months, and 26 days as of today. When Dingell began serving his term, America was a far different nation — one where segregation was still the law of the land, in fact. He took office just in time to see Eisenhower’s second presidential campaign, to put it another way.
But our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week is none other than Senator Claire McCaskill, who is getting very proactive about the whole “rape in the military” problem, in specific the “commanders overturning military verdicts” thing. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — Rest In Peace, Fourth Amendment
If that title drew you in, I have to warn you up front that the ranting contest suggestion is at the very bottom of this article, so feel free to just scroll down to it if that’s all you’re here for. Full disclosure, and all of that — I just didn’t have any better title for this weekly wrapup, sorry. Enough navel-gazing, though, let’s get on with it.
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed into law this week the first regulations setting up a legal recreational marijuana market since the Drug War began. This marks a historic milestone (legal weed won’t actually become reality until next year), but even though it is now seven months from when the state’s voters approved the idea, there is still no word from the Justice Department on how the disparity between the state’s new laws and federal laws will be handled by the feds. I guess Eric Holder’s got other things to do, or something. Maybe he just “spaced out” on the whole thing, who knows?
Holder has been busy this week holding off-the-record meetings with the press about how the Justice Department can be more transparent about upholding the First Amendment’s freedom of the press. Insert your own oxymoronic joke here, I guess. The icing on the irony cake was that information about the meetings was leaked to the press in advance by an unnamed source. A few major media organizations refused to even attend the meetings unless they were on the record, so bully for them for standing on principle. Since I wasn’t invited, I wrote a column about what I’d say to Holder instead.
Barack Obama appeared in a boosterism ad for the Jersey shore this week (it’s hard to call it anything else, really), and played boardwalk arcade games with New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie. Has anyone actually told him what happened to Charlie Crist after he got too close to Obama? Anyone hoping for Christie to win the 2016 Republican presidential nomination has got to have mixed feelings about the photo op, I suppose. Both Christie and Obama actually looked like they were enjoying themselves, though.
Obama’s standing up today for keeping student loan rates low, rejecting the bill House Republicans passed as too hard on students. This is one of those political fights with a built-in timeline, which means (in today’s Washington) that something may actually get done. We’ll see whether the final bill is closer to Obama’s ideas or the House’s. Personally, I think Elizabeth Warren’s got the right idea: set the student loan rates the exact same as the federal government charges banks to borrow money. It’s only fair, right?
The other brewing fracas is over a wily scheme President Obama has come up with to… um, do exactly what the Constitution mandates he do. Why is this news? No reason, except that Republicans want to change the rules in the middle of the game and are inexplicably (as usual) charging that Obama is the one tampering with the rules. They floated the talking point that Obama was engaging in “court-packing,” and the entire media pretty much loudly laughed at this description (myself included, I have to admit).
Former senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole gave an extraordinary interview on Fox News last Sunday morning, in which he sadly admitted that neither he nor Ronald Reagan nor Richard Nixon could get elected in today’s Republican Party. He then went on to give his party some sage advice, but we’re going to save that for the Friday Talking Points part of the program. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — So You Think You Can Rant?
Some weeks, not much happens in political news, and other weeks it seems like almost too much happens. This was one of the latter types of week.
While last week was a week of scandals on the television news, this week most of them faded into the background a bit. Benghazi, of course, is going to be Republicans’ backup “scandal” right through the 2016 election, since they’re not even really targeting Barack Obama anymore, but rather Hillary Clinton. The IRS scandal was briefly in the news as one woman refused to answer Congress’ questions and then was put on administrative leave. But the scandal still hasn’t touched the White House in any meaningful way, so it appears Republicans are somewhat losing interest in it, other than as a dandy way to raise campaign cash from their base, of course. The AP and Fox News scandal actually did get more scandalous this week, but Republicans aren’t really interested in pushing this scandal, leaving it up to the media to protect one of their own.
President Obama gave a major speech yesterday, the timing of which was assumably chosen to “pivot” off of all the scandals (and the non-scandals). He spoke on foreign policy, war, drones, and Guantanamo Bay. This was enough to enrage a few Republicans, which meant it certainly worked as a political distraction. It was also enough to enrage the co-founder of Code Pink, who made her displeasure known while Obama was trying to speak.
Of course, there was a killer tornado in Oklahoma this week, which was the main story all week long in the news. Brian Williams rolled up his shirt sleeves and… well, to tell you the truth, I can’t even bring myself to finish the rest of that sentence. Wolf Blitzer tried hard to get a survivor of the tornado to “thank the Lord” on air, until she politely informed him that she was an atheist — which was an amusing takedown of a “journalist” trying to shove his own interpretation of a story onto an actual victim.
The Senate actually accomplished a first step towards a comprehensive immigration bill, which didn’t get the attention it really deserved. But we’re at the start of a very long fight, so there will be time enough for the fur to fly later, I suppose. Gay spouses weren’t included in the bill the committee approved, but they did weaken the rules on H-1B visas at the tech industry’s bequest. Again, this is just the start of the horse trading on the bill, so who knows what it’ll look like at the end of the process?
The Boy Scouts decided that gays will now be allowed into scouting, right up until they turn 18 years old. This solution annoyed pretty much everybody, so we’ll see whether they revisit this half-a-loaf decision later.
What else? Anthony Weiner decided to run for New York City mayor, much to the delight of late night comics everywhere. He then immediately found himself in yet another photo scandal — although a lot less titillating than his last one. On his website, he had a photo of a city skyline, but someone forgot to check what city, and it turned out to be Pittsburgh instead of The Big Apple. Whoops!
OK, that’s enough recapping, let’s move on to the awards, shall we?
I can’t help but think that one of the biggest reasons the politics of gay rights has moved forward in public acceptance so impressively has been due to the millions of gay people who, in the past few decades, have decided to “come out” to the world as who they are. It’s a lot easier to demonize and scapegoat a group of people if there is no human face to confront. As more and more Americans got to know someone who is gay, it has become harder and harder to deny them their humanity and their rights. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — Pivoting To Other News
Things have gotten so bad in Washington that both pundits and Republicans are beginning to use the “N-word” to describe the president. No, no… not that N-word! Instead, Obama is now actively being compared to Nixon. This comparison is patently…
…WE INTERRUPT THIS COLUMN FOR BREAKING NEWS — We here at FTP News Network have obtained exclusive before-and-after photos of Angelina Jolie’s breasts! In these side-by-side shots, the viewer can easily see the transformation of two of the most famous breasts on the planet. As the camera zooms in and pans around our 3-D representation, we will utter pious thoughts on cancer screening which you won’t pay the slightest attention to. Later, we’ll have our resident nipple expert in to discuss what you’re seeing now…
Sheesh. Now, before anyone gets too irate, allow me to state that the preceding paragraph is (1) entirely fictional — we have no exclusive shots of anyone’s breasts, sorry; and (2) intended to satirize the media’s take on any news item with the word “breast” in it — and not Angelina Jolie, Angelina Jolie’s breasts, breast cancer, any cancer, cancer screening, or medical decisions by anyone.
Seriously, consider that there is one medical procedure which gets shown on television in pretty much any breast story: mammogram images. Are pale silhouettes of any other body part ever routinely shown on television news, for any reason? I don’t recall any testicular cancer or prostate cancer stories with such graphics, personally. Nor X-rays displayed after a story about someone getting injured. Not only are the mammogram images seemingly mandatory, but television news will also gratuitously throw in an image of a woman undergoing the procedure, just for kicks. What woman really wants a video of her boobs getting squashed by a machine to be on the news, after all? This was all on full display this week with the Angelina Jolie story, complete with CGI shots of (you just can’t make this stuff up) how “the nipples were saved.”
Am I the only one who has noticed this? Seems like there’d be a cries of “blatant sexism!” but if there have been, I guess I haven’t noticed.
But back to the political news. Scandal! Scandal! Scandal! That’s the type of week it’s been, and the only way to see a silver lining is to point out that if you’re going to have several scandals erupt, you might as well schedule them all for the same week — because Washington reporters are infamous for not being able to follow more than one story at a time. When the reporters hit “scandal overload,” then just imagine how the rest of the country feels.
For instance, while there really have been at least four scandals this week, the media have mostly focused on only three. None of these (Republican bloviating aside) have risen to the Nixonian level, but all have certainly been grist for the mill this week. Here are my snap judgments as to how all three scandals will play out (the fourth one I’ll deal with in a minute…).
First, Benghazi. The “scandal” this week was based on some emails Republicans leaked to the media. The White House countered by releasing the actual text of the emails, which showed that the Republicans had lied to the press by significantly editing the text. This continues their long tradition of hyping the “scandal,” and it truly seems like nobody outside the Fox News universe is even paying attention anymore. This “scandal” isn’t going to impact Obama much (if it were going to, it already would have — and it has not), but the target has now shifted to tarnishing Hillary Clinton in pre-emptive fashion. So expect to hear a lot more about Benghazi, with little in the way of actual news contained within. Benghazi will remain the Republican “go-to” scandal for years, when they can’t dig up anything else.
Second, the IRS. Obama moved pretty quickly on this one, and his damage control may indeed work. This scandal was the easiest one to fix, when it gets right down to it. Two IRS leaders have already been cashiered, and they likely won’t be the last ones to get their walking papers. Fire those responsible in any way (all the way up and down the chain of command), institute strict rules so it cannot happen again, and the scandal goes away. That’s assuming there isn’t some sort of “other shoe to drop” in terms of the known facts, of course, but so far this scandal looks like the one which won’t go much further after the initial outrage.
Third, the AP phone records to identify leaks. This scandal may generate more outrage than the other ones, because the press was the target. Whenever the press is the target of governmental overreach, they tend to close ranks and defend their own. So this scandal will be the only one without the taint of partisanship, really. The Republicans’ hands are somewhat tied on this one, because they themselves demanded aggressive investigation over the leaks when they happened. So it’ll be hard for them to say they’re shocked that the Justice Department did exactly what they demanded, in the end. The White House damage control on this one is just getting going, after a rather pathetic appearance by Attorney General Eric Holder before a congressional committee (which, bizarrely, involved asparagus… more on this at the end). Now the White House seems to have pivoted to arguing the case on its merits — making the case of how dire this leak was to national security, and how irresponsible it was for the media to have reported on it. This isn’t going to make them friends in the media, but it may convince the public. Of all the scandals, this is the toughest to predict the outcome — again, because the outrage is mostly going to come from the media itself. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — Scandalpalooza!
Being a student of the political lexicon, I would like to propose a new definition for an old term — a term we’ve all used since roughly the second grade. I refer, of course, to the “wedgie.” For those who are astoundingly unaware of what this term literally means, I would refer you to your local second-grader (pick any boy age 7 or 8 and ask him… and after he rolls around the floor screaming with laughter for awhile, he’ll explain and even demonstrate the “wedgie” for you, I’m sure). Ahem.
But I propose a new definition for the wedgie, one in the adult political realm which has nothing to do with underwear (to clarify: the definition has nothing to do with underwear — the adult political realm often has all too much to do with underwear). My new proposed definition:
Wedgie: When a political party’s “wedge” issue turns on them and instead of dividing the other party, begins to divide their own.
Usage: “Boy, the Republicans are really getting a giant wedgie on immigration, aren’t they?”
You’ll have to forgive my irreverence, but we’ve been waiting for this fight to be joined for a long time. The immigration bill was supposed to be debated in February, and has been slipping ever since, but we’re now finally in the thick of it. Patrick Leahy’s Senate committee is voting on proposed amendments to the bill, and they’ll be doing so for weeks to come, because there are 300 of them so far (77 by Chuck Grassley alone!).
This has intensified the struggle within the Republican Party between the nativists and the realists who can read demographic data. More on that in a bit. But what’s amusing is that the wedge has turned so quickly, in historic terms. Starting in the 1990s, Republicans have scapegoated Latinos mercilessly on the immigration issue, and have won many elections because they have successfully driven a wedge between Democratic voters (in the same way they used “tough on crime” in the 1980s).
Now, however, Latinos have truly come into their own as a political force in American politics, and Republicans are on the brink of losing this entire bloc for another generation or so. Which is why there’s a comprehensive immigration bill even being discussed, right now. Unfortunately for those trying to drag the Republican Party into coming to some kind of terms with the new reality, there are still quite a few Republican politicians (and — more importantly — a whale of a lot of Republican primary voters) who are still echoing the old party line and will not budge one inch. Listen for the cries of “Amnesty!” to identify them.
And so the wedge turns. Republicans are giving themselves a wedgie. And it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving group, could it?
To be scrupulously fair, however, we must also point out that Democrats have their own immigration wedgie in their near future. Sooner or later, an amendment will be proposed to allow gays to sponsor their spouses for immigration. This will be kind of a double-reverse wedgie, as two Democratic goals come into contention. But for this week, it’s been mostly Republican-on-Republican infighting.
Senator Elizabeth Warren is making all kinds of sense with the first bill she’s introduced as a senator. Here are the facts, in a nutshell. The federal government loans money to students for their education. The interest rate currently charged is 3.4%. If Congress doesn’t act, this will go up to 6.8%. The federal government also loans money to large corporate banks. It charges them 0.75% interest. So why should students pay up to 800% more on their loans than giant Wall Street banks?
Senator Warren’s bill would fix this disparity, by charging students the exact same rate as we charge the banks. Here’s what she had to say about her bill: “As a country, every time we advance money to the big banks at low interest rates, we invest in those banks. We should be making at least that same kind of investment in our students.”
This is exactly why Democrats across the land cheered Warren’s victory in her Senate race. This is exactly the kind of thing we had all hoped for from Senator Warren. For making her very first bill such a commonsense measure, and for stripping away all the governmental nonsense to make a very salient point, we are happy to award the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week to Senator Warren.
[Congratulate Senator Elizabeth Warren on her Senate contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts, and you can show support for her bill by becoming a citizen co-sponsor of the legislation.]
Well, if we had a “Democrat Who Disappointed The Most Other Democrats” award to hand out, it would have to go to Elizabeth Colbert Busch, who did better in the vote than Obama (in the district) by five percent, but who also still lost a South Carolina special House race to Mark Sanford. Our only consolation is that we now will be able to make Sanford jokes for the next year and a half, my favorite so far being: “Mark Sanford (R-Appalachian Trail).”
Don’t like that one? Feel free to make your own. The most historic joke about South Carolina was when it was notably described by one of its own sons as “too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum.”
Kidding aside, we’ve got a pretty revolting Democrat in our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week category. The story starts nine years ago, when the mayor of Jersey City, Jerry Healy, got drunk and wound up naked on his front porch, where a photo was snapped of him, wallowing in his own crapulence. As if this weren’t bad enough, this week Healy offered an explanation for how the photo happened which just defies comment:
A nude photo of Jersey City Mayor Jerry Healy that surfaced years ago is making headlines again following Healy’s new explanation behind it. The photo, which shows Healy sitting naked on his front porch, was first published nine years ago. However, in a newspaper interview this weekend, Healy said a group of Hispanic girls drew his attention by making noise outside his home. Then, he said, they touched him and did “filthy” things.
It’s rare that a story strikes us speechless here, but this one certainly qualifies. There’s nothing in the way of chastisement which can even be offered up, as the story indeed speaks for itself. Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week is the mildest way we can put our own feelings towards Healy, in fact.
[Contact Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy on his official city contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.] Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — Wedgies For All!
Before I get into our main subject, allow me a moment of frivolity. I’d like to be the first (because I’m a day early) to wish everyone a Happy Star Wars Day! Yes, tomorrow is unofficially known as Star Wars Day, because (get ready to groan if you haven’t heard this one before) it is the fourth of May. Put another way, “May the 4th,” as in (I’m warning you, this is pretty cringeworthy) “May the fourth be with you.”
But this year’s Star Wars Day is a big one, because the original film (“Episode IV” to be fully accurate) is going to be dubbed into Navajo. They’re having casting calls today and tomorrow to fill the parts, and they’ve already translated the script. That’s pretty cool, I have to say. The people behind the effort did this to raise awareness of their language especially among their youth. Which, as I said, is a pretty great idea. I might just get a copy of the Navajo Star Wars when it comes out, just to hear what it sounds like. I have driven through the Southwest and tuned my radio into Navajo stations just for the novelty of hearing a Native American language spoken on the airwaves, so I could see sitting through a movie (where I pretty much know all the dialog anyway) just to hear it in such a unique and interesting format. So, more power to the people who put this together, or (more properly) “May the Force be with them!
In other Native American news, I read with interest this week a proposal put forth by Tim Giago, a Native American journalist, to build a museum at the site of the historically-significant Wounded Knee to present the history of the decimation of Native Americans throughout the Americas. While a quick look at a map suggests that such a museum might draw more visitors if it was located at the Crazy Horse Monument site (which is a lot closer to South Dakota’s main tourist draw, Mount Rushmore), the Wounded Knee site isn’t all that out of the way, especially for any tourists driving through Badlands National Park. The historic significance of the site is an excellent argument for building such a “Holocaust Museum of the Indigenous People” upon the site of a massacre.
In other early American news, there is now solid proof that the first English permanent settlement in America almost immediately resorted to cannibalism. It’s been in the historical record all along, including one man who “slew his wife as she slept in his bosom, cut her in pieces, salted her and fed upon her till he had clean devoured all parts saving her head,” but apparently some anthropologists hadn’t been convinced. Now there’s proof, in the form of bones from a teenage girl who was (to put it bluntly) butchered for her flesh after she was dead. Nothing like making a good first impression, when Europe first settled America! This is why children’s schoolbooks have one whale of a lot more about Plymouth Rock than they do about Jamestown, incidentally.
OK, this is a pretty bizarre introduction to this week’s news, but hey, I’m just passing along what was reported, folks. In more modern (but equally stunning) news, a professional pundit was fired because he wrote an opinion piece that was factually inaccurate and pretty ignorant all around. Is that even a thing? “Journalists” can get fired for saying things which are false (things which five minutes of fact-checking would have proven laughably wrong), and for other stupid comments? Really? Wow, I had no idea. Could’ve knocked me over with a feather…. Of course, while Howard Kurtz no longer is welcome on the Politico site, he’s still got a television program on CNN, so I guess the universe isn’t tilting as radically as a first glance might imply.
OK, that’s enough, let’s get on with it….
There are two winners of the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week, even though the impressive thing they did didn’t happen last week. The impressive results (so far) did, though.
Senators Mary Landrieu and Kay Hagan are both Democrats from two rather reddish states (Louisiana and North Carolina) with plenty of rural gun owners within them. They both went ahead and voted for expanded background checks anyway. Well, the polls are now in, and they both increased their approval significantly by voting the way they did.
This is important for a number of reasons, not least that it might convince a few more senators to vote for the bill if it is brought back up again (which may, indeed, happen — especially if Democrats see it as a winning campaign issue). But the real significance is that this is the first time the old Washington conventional wisdom has been proven wrong — voting for gun control is not suicidal for “purple state” Democrats. It’s not the “third rail” it used to be.
So while the award properly belongs to the people of Louisiana and North Carolina who are showing strong support for their senators, we simply don’t have enough awards to send to them all, so we’re instead sending both Mary Landrieu and Kay Hagan awards, for their courageous votes which caused the bump in their poll numbers.
Other Democrats (and Republicans, too), please take note.
[Congratulate Senator Kay Hagan on her Senate contact page, and Senator Mary Landrieu on her Senate contact page, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]
While some on our Friday Talking Points Awards Committee argued strenuously to give the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award to either Kathleen Sebelius or Eric Holder this week, we must instead give it to their boss: President Barack Obama.
Last week, President Obama appeared before a Planned Parenthood meeting and gave a rousing speech, promising his administration would fight for women’s rights as hard as they possibly could. It was, from all reports, a good speech and got lots of applause. This week, Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services (led by Sebelius) suddenly announced they were relaxing — but not removing — age restrictions on the Plan B “morning after” birth control pill. They insisted that it was purely coincidental that their decision to allow younger women to have better access to the pill came five days before a deadline to comply with a court order where a federal judge blasted the “politics over science” policy of the Obama administration, and which would have completely removed the age restrictions of Plan B — making it as available (if not as cheap) as condoms. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — Most Disappointing Plan B
Every so often, I write an article (mostly) in tongue-in-cheek fashion, where (usually out of frustration) I offer up some sort of reductio ad absurdum solution to all the world’s ills. This game is also known as “If I ran the world, things would be different, dammit!” by its proper name. This vents my frustration, and (if I’ve done the job right) provides a bit of amusement for the readers. Every so often, after I write one of these, it (largely, or in part) comes true. Leaving me to ponder what’s wackier, the errant thoughts in my head, or life itself.
That was all a prelude to the breaking news today: “Congress moves at lightspeed, to fix a problem that would have hit them personally, as they take yet another weeklong vacation instead of doing the nation’s business.” Could’ve knocked me over with a feather. Ahem.
Back at the end of February, I wrote, rather cynically, of how I would implement the sequester, were it up to me. This consisted of one simple idea, really: “sequester the living heck out of Washington’s National Airport.” Let Congress see the results of austerity right in their faces, as they fly home every weekend. I ended this article with a prediction:
The problem with many in Congress (and I am not even discriminating by party, here) is that they get incredibly out of touch with how the decisions they make in the halls of Congress actually affect Americans’ lives. For once, shouldn’t they be the first ones to feel the impact of their actions (or, in this case, inaction)? It seems entirely fitting and reasonable to me to move cuts which make life tough for Congress to the front of the line in the budget wars. Bringing the Washington area airports (starting with National) to a crawl would indeed hit home. In fact, it would hit them on their way home.
The public (at least those outside of the Beltway region) would probably support such a move. Obama could pitch it as: “Want to slash federal spending? OK, you first!” I’m sure a lot of folks would see the justice in such an approach. In my opinion, it’s certainly worth a try. Want the sequester to happen? Fine. Then we’ll just sequester National Airport into the ground, until it (or you) screams for mercy.
I bet it would take less than three weeks for Congress to crack.
Well, I was right and I was wrong, as it turns out. It didn’t take Congress three weeks to crack, it took one single week — coupled with the fifth time this year they’re taking a weeklong vacation. The House is currently scheduled to work a whopping 126 days for the entire year, but that’s a frustration for another day.
Seeing as how I wrote the article in a rather unserious frame of mind, I also didn’t foresee what should really have been obvious — that Congress would not tackle fixing the sequester, but that they’d rather fix only the part which affected them personally. Cancer patients, Head Start teachers, and all the rest of the Americans without a powerful lobby? You’re on your own, sorry.
The real message of this week is a simple one: for all the talk about how “Congress is broken” and “Congress can’t do anything,” the hard cold truth is that Congress is indeed capable of moving very quickly indeed — when it wants to. Inside of one week they put a bill on President Obama’s desk. That’s the yardstick to measure all other legislation — legislation which affects other Americans than “those in Congress” — when you hear either Harry Reid or John Boehner moan about “process” or some other wonky way of describing “sitting on our fat asses and not producing legislation.” Sorry guys, but when you are personally motivated, it takes one single week to pass a law. Especially when you buckle down and concentrate, without getting distracted by attending hearings on America’s job crisis (and other subjects which don’t affect you personally). One week. That’s the standard we can now hold you to. We’ll be sure to remember that. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — Helium Brains
Some weeks, I sit down to write this weekly wrapup, and find that there isn’t that much to talk about, because nothing much happened that particular week.
This isn’t one of those weeks.
In fact, too much happened in the past week to adequately pay enough attention to it all. We’ve had multiple stories this week which, in a normal week, would have dominated the headlines and been the subject of extended discussion. Most of these stories have either been pushed to the side, and will never get the attention they deserve, while a few stories have merely been postponed, and will eventually get the focus they have been denied this past week.
The big story, obviously, is the one that is still unfolding as I type this. Two men reportedly planted bombs at the Boston Marathon’s finish line in an act of terrorism. The horror of this tragedy has hung over the week as a dark pall. Yesterday, photos and videos of the suspects were made public, and by last night one of them was dead and one on the run. Boston is currently locked down — an incredible statement, really, when you consider what “locking down” a city of millions involves. The manhunt continues, house by house.
Today, with the identification of the two men, a whole lot of theories about the perpetrators and the reason for the attack were proven wrong. It was not Arabs, it was not Saudis, it was not some “lone wolf” right-wing homegrown domestic terrorist. If the information we have now proves correct, it was two Chechnyans. Which, quite obviously, wasn’t really on much of anybody’s radar screen.
It wasn’t just the theorists and armchair speculators who got some major things wrong this week, it was also many journalists. In the never-ending quest for the scoop to end all scoops, many news organizations got ahead of the facts. This really isn’t all that surprising, because this sort of thing has been happening pretty much since the dawn of journalism, in fact. It’s certainly been around since the advent of the 24/7 cable news cycle — CNN was just as wrong back in 1995 in their reporting on the Oklahoma City bombing as they were this week. But I don’t mean to pick on CNN, as there were plenty of news reports this week which later were shown to be false, and I don’t believe any news organization can honestly say they got all their reporting completely correct throughout the whole week.
Reporting the news is, at heart, taking the chaos of real-life events and presenting them as a story. The story-telling part is really what the news is all about, stripped to its core. When you’re trying to tell a story without knowing crucial parts of it, the human impulse is to fill in the gaps while still keeping the storyline plausible. This, almost inevitably in a situation like we experienced this week, leads to jumping to conclusions and making sweeping assumptions.
I’ve been cautioning everyone all week long to not give in to the impulse of letting imaginations run wild. As the facts come in, there will be more than enough time for analysis. Because this is true, this is really all I have to say about Boston this week. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be inside the cordon and be exposed to such a massive manhunt. My thoughts are not only with the victims and their loved ones, but also with those affected by the ongoing and unfolding story. The citizens crouching in fear in their homes, the police and other frontline responders responsible for bringing an end to this fear, and all the rest of America glued to their television sets, radios, or computer screens, awaiting the final outcome.
Because it has been such an extraordinary week in the news and in politics, I’m going to skip over our normal format and not hand out my “awards” this week, because somehow celebrating and castigating Democrats seems a little… I don’t know, “sophomoric”?… in the midst of the unfolding situation in Boston.
I will say that the most heartening thing I heard all week was one guy who decided to do something positive and proactive. It’s a small thing, really, but it is also the story of how one man decided to do what he could to avoid ugliness later. Jaimie Muehlhausen registered the domain name “bostonmarathonconspiracy.com” and put the following message up on it:
I BOUGHT THIS DOMAIN TO KEEP SOME CONSPIRACY THEORY KOOK FROM OWNING IT.
PLEASE KEEP THE VICTIMS OF THIS EVENT AND THEIR FAMILIES IN YOUR THOUGHTS.
In an email to the site Salon.com, he explained his action:
Sadly, one of my first thoughts was that it would only be a matter of hours before a certain group of people would begin to say it was a government conspiracy; an act of terror on our own people for political gain. It’s sickening, but take a look at the massive numbers of 9/11 conspiracy nuts — people who think Bush and the gang took down the twin towers and ended the lives of nearly 3000 people so we could go to war. The heartless and sick Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists who think the Obama administration killed kindergartners to bolster the gun control debate. And there are plenty of others. Well, I was wrong. It didn’t take hours — it took minutes.
As I said, this is a small thing in the midst of a very large tragedy, but one that deserves applause nonetheless. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — A Very Full Week
In this week’s news, former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died. As a result, Cher fans got a scare. The dangers of hashtag parsing — because “nowthatchersdead” can be broken up two ways. The other pop culture result of the “Iron Lady’s” demise was (you can’t make this stuff up) the song “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead” rocketing to the top of the British charts, even though it is three-quarters of a century old. Make of it what you will.
Back home, the New York City bribery scandal where a Democrat tried to buy his way onto the Republican ballot for mayor has taken a bizarre twist. Not just a “sex with a young staffer” sort of twist, but also a “bizarre religious practices” twist as well. Only in New York, we suppose, could a Republican “Theodist” get elected.
Speaking of Ding Dongs and the New York City mayor’s office (how’s that for an awesome segue?), Anthony Weiner is now exploring his own… um…. chances of winning the mayor’s race, apparently. Late night comics everywhere are rejoicing, one assumes. I mean, look how easy it was for a non-professional comedian to put together a joke about it, using only Margaret Thatcher and Republican weirdness as a launching point!
In more serious news, the civil war happening in the Republican Party seems to be getting much more vicious and a lot more personal. This week, there were insinuated death threats against not only the daughter of a former Republican presidential candidate, but also against sixteen sitting Republican senators. Both threats came from Republicans. So much for the conservative myth that Democrats are the only ones who ever fight dirty in politics, eh? I mean, it’s pretty hard to justify death threats in just about any context, folks. More on this in the talking points….
Democrats are having a struggle within their own party, but it’s nowhere near as vicious as what Republicans are doing these days. When President Obama put out his budget this week, there has been growing pushback from the liberal side of the Democratic Party, who does not want any reduction in Social Security benefits at all (this is nothing new, this indeed used to be a bedrock position of the entire Democratic Party). But this fight is going to take place much later, as the budget negotiations happen later in the spring and into the summer, so we’ll just mention it in passing for now.
We’re going to wrap up this week the same way we wrapped up last week, since yet another deadline slipped another week. Now, they tell us, a final bill will be introduced on Monday. Or maybe Tuesday. In any case, suckers that we are, we are taking them at their word again, and will close with the announcement: “Up next week — immigration reform!”
Senator Joe Manchin deserves at least a Honorable Mention this week, for crafting a gun control bill that could actually gain enough Republican support to pass. Now, this bill isn’t perfect by a long shot, and only addresses the background check part of the problem. There will still be loopholes — it in no way mandates “universal” background checks at all. But Manchin does deserve credit for putting something together with Republican Pat Toomey, because Manchin is seen as one of the most gun-friendly Democrats in the Senate (especially after his campaign ad of him shooting a law he didn’t like with a rifle).
Likewise, President Obama deserves at least an Honorable Mention for not giving up on the issue. Two weeks ago, the inside-the-Beltway chattering classes had all agreed that gun control was dead and had no chance. Obama refused to accept the conventional wisdom of the D.C. cocktail party circuit, however, and kept pushing. The surviving family members of the Sandy Hook shooting came to Washington and did a full-court press to lobby the Senate to pass something and not just let this opportunity slip away. Because of Obama and the family members, we are now where we are. The Senate overcame a filibuster attempt by Republicans just to begin debate on the issue, which is astounding enough, these days. Now, I should mention that there is no guarantee of success for the bill, even in the Senate. And the House is going to be one tough nut to crack on the issue. Gun control legislation may happen this year, and then again it may not. Obama is pushing it anyway, which is a big change from his first term: he is now unafraid of political legislative failure. During his first four years, he dropped pretty much every contentious issue (other than healthcare reform), because he didn’t want to risk political failure. Obviously, this is changing, and it’s a change for the better no matter what happens on gun control.
But our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to Representatives Earl Blumenauer, Steve Cohen, and Jared Polis. Together with three Republicans, they have just introduced the “Respect State Marijuana Laws Act” in the House. Earlier this week, I took Barack Obama and Eric Holder to task for sitting on their hands for five months after Colorado and Washington passed state referenda to legalize recreational marijuana use by adults. Obama and Holder refuse to say what the federal government’s policy will be in regards to these two new state laws, which I find completely unacceptable after five whole months. It seems some House members agree, and have directly taken on the problem with their new legislation. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — Ding Dong