Welcome back (after we took last week off, to digest) to our Friday roundup! We should have two weeks of news to cover, but nothing much of anything strange or startling happened Thanksgiving week, so we’re going to concentrate on just this current week — which still leaves a lot to cover, fear not.
A little-noted anniversary happened this week — because it has been 80 years since Americans came to their senses and passed the Twenty-First Amendment, thus repealing the lunacy of Prohibition. So there’s something to raise a glass to, over the weekend. So to speak.
Also worthy of a toast were the unemployment numbers released today for November. The official unemployment rate dropped to 7.0 percent (down from 7.3 percent), which is indeed something to celebrate, especially if you are one of the 203,000 people who got a new job last month.
The Obamacare website re-launch went impressively well this week, as the mainstream media shifted from “horror story mode” to actually exploring what people think about the larger question of Obamacare itself. Since this is a conversation that is long overdue, this is also something to celebrate.
John Boehner is apparently trying to get Republicans to be more “sensitive” towards women. Which perfectly sums up the bigger problem the GOP has (hint: it’s not just your style, guys, it’s the substance of your policies that needs work!).
As the world mourns the passing of Nelson Mandela, Republicans are trying to do a little revisionist history over their stance towards apartheid and Mandela in the past. Without much success. Ted Cruz tried to say something nice about Mandela, and his fans reacted about as predictably as you’d expect. But the real prizewinner has to be (so far) none other than Rick Santorum, who likened Obamacare to apartheid. Um, yeah, Rick, because they’re so similar in nature, right? Sigh.
In other amusing Republican news, Congress is taking most of December off, but they did find the time to hold some hearings on “the I-word.” Yes, ’tis the season for House Republicans to go to sleep with visions of impeaching Obama dancing in their heads. Those of them brave enough to actually utter the word, that is. The whole Washington Post article describing this wackadoodle effort is priceless and well worth a read, most especially the line: “Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.), before his cocaine arrest and guilty plea, invoked the prospect of impeaching Obama over gun policy.”
Not to be outdone, others in Congress held a hearing to delve into the question of aliens from another world. No, I’m not kidding. Unfortunately. This is what Congress spends its precious time on, so any time a politician uses any form of “we just don’t have time to get a bill passed,” please remind him or her what they do spend their time on.
And finally, to get into the holiday spirit, NORAD will not only track Santa this year, but Santa will be provided with a fighter escort. Slate has a great take on this, if you need a laugh.
President Obama gave a very impressive speech this week on inequality, although not many noticed. Jared Bernstein is one who did, and he’s got a great write-up of Obama’s speech over at Huffington Post, if you’re interested. But one speech isn’t enough, at this point, to hand out an award to Obama — that would require some follow-up policies.
Nelson Mandela is being lauded far and wide, of course, but he is largely outside the scope of American politics at this point, so we’ll let the rest of the media handle his eulogies. I did grow up watching anti-apartheid demonstrators (including, if memory serves, Amy Carter) getting arrested in front of the South African embassy and other symbolic places, but that was three decades ago so it doesn’t really qualify for a weekly award here.
The Obamacare website got fixed this week, but this would have been impressive only if it had been running this smoothly on the first of October, so we just can’t see handing an award out to anyone involved, sorry.
This week’s Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week goes instead to Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is fighting back on the subject of populism in the Democratic Party. There is a growing movement within the Democratic Party to campaign on (and fight for) populist principles, and it is being resisted by the “let’s just suck up to Wall Street — what could possibly go wrong with that?” wing of the party.
What set the fracas off was an op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal (more on this, and the authors, in a bit), which was a full frontal attack on Warren and her plans to increase Social Security benefits. The article took the position: “Nothing would be more disastrous for Democrats.” What would be better for Democrats, apparently, is just getting on board the effort to slash Social Security, according to the authors. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — Defending Populism
This was a big week in the political world, so we’ve got a lot to get through before we get to the big, explosive “nuclear option” story. In fact, it was even a big week just for political anniversaries. Fifty years ago this week, an event of no little importance happened. I speak, of course, tomorrow’s 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of Doctor Who by the BBC.
OK, I apologize for that, but I just wanted everyone to know up front that since I wasn’t alive when John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated, there will be no personal remembrances today. There’s plenty of that sort of thing out there in the wider media universe today, in case you would like to indulge. If truth be told, what actually astonished me this week was how little attention was paid to another historic benchmark: the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. I didn’t see — not once, mind you — a single instance of anyone just broadcasting an uninterrupted recitation of the speech. Even though the entire thing is only about two minutes long. It’s less than 300 words, for Pete’s sake, and Ken Burns (of PBS documentary fame) even put together a nice video of former presidents reciting it. Yet I still didn’t see a single unedited reading of the speech — on its 150th anniversary, no less. Maybe I’m just looking at the wrong media, but I consider this omission pretty damn pathetic, personally. I mean, the speech is two minutes long, people! I saw extended commentary on the speech, mind you, some of it taking up several times the length of time of the actual speech itself, and yet nobody just presented Lincoln’s words (which truly do stand alone in exemplary fashion).
Sigh. Maybe my expectations are just too high. This is the mainstream media we’re talking about, after all. They’ve got more important things to do — like telling each other to ingest human feces. I really, really wish I made that last one up, but sadly, I didn’t have to.
Before we get into weightier matters, it was a rather sad week for three House members. Grace Meng got mugged on the streets of Washington and Creigh Deeds was stabbed by his own son, who then committed suicide. Our thoughts go out to them and their families. The other story was self-inflicted, so we’re not offering any sympathy at all to Republican House member Trey Radel, who (it was announced) had previously been caught buying $250 worth of cocaine on the streets of Washington. He isn’t going to resign after his conviction, mind you, he’s just going to take a bit of time off. Isn’t that nice — a job which allows you to take personal time off to deal with a drug problem? It’d be a little more appropriate if Radel hadn’t earlier voted for a bill to drug test welfare recipients. How about we drug test Congress, first? After all, they get federal money too, right? Let’s see some mandatory pee-in-a-cup tests, on a regular (and unannounced) basis. And how about we start with every member who has ever voted to drug test anyone else, at any time during their career? I mean, the hypocrisy is so thick you can cut it with a razor blade, bag it up, and sell it on the streetcorners for souvenirs. So to speak.
In other “Republicans must be high” news, the House GOP met to discuss their agenda for the upcoming year. Except (you simply can not make this stuff up, folks) that what they gathered to discuss was a blank sheet of paper with “Agenda 2014″ written at the top. Future historians may point back to this as being the moment when the Republican Party just gave up even trying to pretend it was for anything. Reflecting their empty agenda, John Boehner thought it would be a funny to joke that the House “shouldn’t even remain in session in December.” They’ve scheduled a whopping 15 work days for November and December combined, so I guess the best response is: “Who would even notice?” But it’s really not that funny, when you think about it. Even more ironic, the next line in the article reporting this knee-slapper was: “Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, the No. 3 House Republican, told activists last week that there isn’t enough time to complete immigration reform this year.” Sorry, no time for that sort of thing. We’re busy meeting to discuss a blank sheet of paper, maybe we’ll get to it later.
Democrats, meanwhile, got gay marriage approved in two more states (Hawai’i and Illinois), and — much like when the last few states did so — it was barely even newsworthy on the national stage. Think about that for just a moment. We’ve come a long way on the issue when states number 15 and 16 approve gay marriage — and the reaction barely rises above “ho hum.” That, my friends, is what progress feels like.
And finally, before we get to all the really big news of the week, a town in Utah seems to be competing with Congress for sheer laziness. It seems that Wallsburg just plumb forgot to hold an election this year. Whoops! They also spaced out on holding an election a few years ago, for added irony. Maybe they should try the “there’s something in the water” excuse?
We still have two quick Honorable Mention awards to hand out before we get to the big story, though. Both are for introducing legislation, and the first goes to Representative Gwen Moore, for her “Domestic Violence Criminal Disarmament Act,” which would remove guns from domestic violence criminals. The second goes to Representative Louise Slaughter for her “No Budget, No Vacation” bill, which would force Congress to stay in session throughout the holiday season this year, if they don’t get a budget deal together by the mid-December deadline. Maybe that’ll make John Boehner stop joking around about how little they have to do next month. It’s certainly worth a shot.
Whew! We have finally gotten through all the other news of the week and cleared the launch pad for the biggest story of the week: Harry Reid grows a spine! OK, maybe that’s a little harsh, but some people have been waiting for this “nuclear option” moment for a long time now, Harry.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided this week that enough was enough, and he finally pulled the trigger on the “nuclear option” in the Senate. By a 52-48 vote, the rules of the Senate were changed so that executive nominees and judicial nominees (below the Supreme Court level) can no longer be filibustered, but instead will face only majority votes in order to be confirmed.
This is historic. It is the biggest change in the filibuster since 1975. And it is long overdue. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — Harry Reid’s Explosive Week
Let’s see, what happened last week?
Well, of course, there was lots of Obamacare news, but since most Democrats are pretty sick of hearing about it at this point, we’re going to once again largely ignore it today. After pointing out one story which was strangely ignored in the pile-on in the media this week. It seems the profits for the company contracted to build the Obamacare site are way up. How nice for them, eh? Sigh.
Seriously, though, if you want to read my thoughts on Obama’s presser yesterday, or my warning of a possible upcoming disaster on the website, please feel free to do so. But two columns (in what was essentially a four-day week) is enough on the subject for now, I think. Also, we’ve devoted a whole lot of talking points to the issue for the past two months, so we’re going to instead offer up a rant this week on a different subject.
While it’s hard to see, if all your news sources are of the mainstream variety, there were indeed other political stories happening this week.
The most amusing story was a retraction a newspaper printed. A full 150 years after the original editorial ran. The original article contained a paragraph of sneering contempt, not surprising since the paper was a partisan Democratic news outlet (which was more common back then, of course, than it is today), and the speech they snarkily dismissed was from a Republican president. From the original editorial:
We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them, and that they shall be no more repeated or thought of.
The speech the Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Patriot & Union wrote about was the Gettysburg Address, given by President Abraham Lincoln, not too far away from where the paper was located. The Patriot-News (their modern successor) printed an eloquent retraction, full of homage, which began:
Seven score and ten years ago, the forefathers of this media institution brought forth to its audience a judgment so flawed, so tainted by hubris, so lacking in the perspective history would bring, that it cannot remain unaddressed in our archives.
They continue by trashing their own former editors: “Our predecessors, perhaps under the influence of partisanship, or of strong drink, as was common in the profession at the time…” and they finish with rousing praise for the speech:
By today’s words alone, we cannot exalt, we cannot hallow, we cannot venerate this sacred text, for a grateful nation long ago came to view those words with reverence, without guidance from this chagrined member of the mainstream media.
The world will little note nor long remember our emendation of this institution’s record — but we must do as conscience demands.
Which is followed by their official retraction:
In the editorial about President Abraham Lincoln’s speech delivered Nov. 19, 1863, in Gettysburg, the Patriot & Union failed to recognize its momentous importance, timeless eloquence, and lasting significance. The Patriot-News regrets the error.
OK, so it was a century and a half late, but that’s the most rousing retraction I think I’ve ever read, so you’ve got to give them points for that, at least.
What else? There’s a Secret Service scandal that seems almost irresistible (as media “catnip” stories go), but which has only really been followed in any meaningful way by the Washington Post. The story involves sex in other countries, sexually-suggestive emails sent to female agents, banging on a hotel door, and an agent who seems to have left a bullet cartridge behind in a lady’s room. You’d think that with all those enticing details this story would have been given more attention, but so far most are ignoring it (for some inexplicable reason or another).
I guess the heart-warming Batkid story took up too much time, or something.
Nominee to chair the Federal Reserve Janet Yellen gave some stellar testimony this week in her confirmation hearing, but we’re really not sure if she’s an actual Democrat or not (they’re supposed to be sort of non-partisan folks, in theory), so we just mention it briefly in passing.
Also deserving of brief mention, as well as an Honorable Mention is Vice President Joe Biden, but we’ll get to the reason why in the rant at the end, so you’ll have to wait.
This week, however, we’ve got six — count them, six! — Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards to hand out. Here’s why:
Following an unprecedented three-year wave of state legislative attacks on abortion and family planning services, a group of Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate plan to go on the offensive Wednesday with a historic bill that would make it illegal for states to chip away at women’s reproductive rights.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) will introduce the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013, joined by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Reps. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), Judy Chu (D-Calif.) and Lois Frankel (D-Fla.). The bill would prohibit states from passing so-called Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws, which impose strict and cost-prohibitive building standards on abortion clinics, require women seeking abortions to have ultrasounds, and create other barriers to abortion access.
Blumenthal, speaking in support of his legislation:
In states like Texas and Wisconsin, legislatures are passing bills with the false pretext of protecting health when their only objective is to obstruct and curtail access to safe and legal abortions and reproductive services. These laws are largely unconstitutional, and some measure of certainty and clarity is required to preempt these regulations and laws so women are not deterred in their very personal decisions based on their own values on how they want to use their constitutional rights. The Women’s Health Protection Act will provide a clear and certain response to these regulations and laws that impose unnecessary tests, procedures and restrictions — including requirements for physical layout in clinics — on reproductive services.
Now that is standing up for what you believe in, and showing other Democrats how to fight back! In fact, no other explanation is really even necessary. For going on the offensive, we hereby award Senators Blumenthal, Boxer, and Baldwin, as well as Representatives Fudge, Chu, and Frankel this week’s Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. And we sincerely hope that all other Democrats are standing in line, waiting to sign up to cosponsor this bill.
[Congratulate Senator Tammy Baldwin on her Senate contact page, Senator Richard Blumenthal on his Senate contact page, Senator Barbara Boxer on her Senate contact page, Representative Judy Chu on her House contact page, Representative Lois Frankel on her House contact page, and Representative Marcia Fudge on her House contact page, to let them all know you appreciate their efforts.]
President Obama gave a rather subdued press conference this week, but we don’t feel it merits an award here. A vote in the House on an Obamacare fix proposed by Republicans garnered 39 Democratic votes, but that was less than expected (a full list of Democrats who crossed the aisle is available, if you’re interested).
But we’ve got to go local this week — extremely local — for our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. Because Lafourche Parish (Louisiana) Councilman Lindel Toups won the award hands-down this week. But the astounding thing was that in virtually all the media coverage, his party affiliation wasn’t even mentioned. Even searching local news items failed to prove what party Toups hails from (try a web search of his name yourself, if you don’t believe this). We had to go back and find an election result story, in fact, to see a party appended to his name (“Democratic incumbent Lindel Toups won”), which pretty much every news outlet ignored (even such stalwarts as the Los Angeles Times, mind you). Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — A ‘Regular Disorder’ Rant
Half a year ago, we decided it was time to coin a new political term. We did so in these pages, as a matter of fact, in our “Friday Talking Points ” column. But while the concept is indeed now being noticed more and more by others, our neologism doesn’t seem to be catching on nearly as well. So we’ll repeat the definition we gave it, back in May (once again helpfully pointing anyone who is not aware of the literal, non-political definition of “wedgie” to ask your local sixth-grader to explain and demonstrate, if necessary):
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?”
This week, that example would have read: “Boy, the Republicans are really getting a giant wedgie on gay rights, aren’t they?”
I speak, of course, of the Senate passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (or “ENDA”) on a bipartisan vote of 64-32. That’s pretty impressive, since it’s a perfect 2-to-1 split. Ten Republicans voted for the bill, as well as every Democrat who voted. Astonishingly, when the floor debate happened, not a single Republican rose to speak against the bill, even though 32 of them voted “nay.” Speaker of the House John Boehner is so far saying he’s not in favor of the bill, meaning it likely won’t be coming up for a vote any time soon.
Let’s just deconstruct what is really going on for a moment, shall we?
Pretty much ever since gay rights became a national political issue (say, the 1980s or so), Republicans have been working overtime making political hay out of it. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Republicans were downright eager to put anti-gay ballot measures up for popular vote, and were outspoken (to put it mildly) in their scorn for advancing any gay rights whatsoever. It was a reliable Republican wedge issue of enormous proportions, in fact, for over two whole decades.
Now this wedge has turned. Not only is marriage equality now winning at the ballot box (as well as, this week, in both the Hawai’i and Illinois legislatures), but the public has finally gotten disgusted with the Republican position on the issue of gay rights. The younger the voter, the more this is true. Harry Reid summed this up brilliantly this week, explaining this generational shift in memorable fashion:
I have three adult grandchildren now, in addition to my adult children. For me to feel any different about [gay rights and ENDA in particular], they wouldn’t be proud of their grandfather. It’s just with my five children, it’s a non-issue. But for my three adult grandchildren, it’s a non-non-issue. They can’t imagine why anyone gives a damn.
But the real turn of the wedge can be seen in the dog that didn’t bark on the floors of Congress. When the Senate called for those who wanted to speak out against ENDA, not a single senator stood up to speak. Now that the bill has been handed off to the House, John Boehner will not even bring it up for debate. A Salon article pointed this out this week, ending with: “Yes, gay rights have officially become a wedge issue — that Democrats leverage against Republicans.”
In short, a political wedgie. Republicans are now scared to even bring the issue up, for the most part. That is a downright tectonic shift in their political platform. They’re still just as anti-gay-rights, but they would prefer not to talk about it now — because they are fully aware that it is now a losing issue for them (especially among young voters). This is after essentially creating the issue as wedge way back when, because Democrats used to shy away from even wanting to discuss such things.
There’s a larger picture to see here, too. Democrats (especially in the Senate) have — astonishingly, to some longtime political observers — suddenly seemed to have learned a basic “Politics 101″ lesson: in times of divided government, push your best issues hard and hold the votes and pass the bills that you can — in order to embarrass the other side. This way, you force one of three possible outcomes, all of which are good for you and your party. Pushing the issue could force the other chamber of Congress to hold an open a debate on the merits and then a vote. This rarely happens, but it is a remote possibility. The second possibility is that you force the other party to capitulate, embrace your position, and pass the bill you want to see made into law. This is even rarer (at least, without an intervening election to goad such behavior). But even the third possible outcome is a good one — you pass the bills you can, and then your party uses it as a rhetorical iron-studded club to beat the opposing party’s candidates about the ears, in the upcoming election (and, being Washington, there’s always an upcoming election for them to worry about).
Republicans have been expertly wielding this political weapon for decades now. But for the first time in quite a while, Democrats are discovering the tactic on their own. The Senate has now passed — in true bipartisan fashion, mind you — a big bill on immigration reform and a big bill on non-discrimination for gay people in the workplace. The House is ignoring both. Salon pointed out (in a different article) that, in addition, “Democrats want bills pertaining to minority voting rights and equal pay for women on Boehner’s desk before election season.” To this list might be added a big raise in the minimum wage, which President Obama just explicitly endorsed.
The Republican Party’s 2014 campaign strategy can be summed up in two words, really: “Obamacare bad.” That’s really all they’ve got left to work with. Democrats, on the other hand, are lining up a much better platform which sees a brighter future — “This is what we’ll do if you give us control of the House: immigration reform, equal workplace rights for all, protecting voting rights, equal pay for women, and a minimum wage hike.”
This ain’t exactly rocket science, folks. As mentioned, it’s really just Politics 101. But for much too long, Democrats haven’t really played this game very well. Increasing the pressure on John Boehner and the House Republicans is the smartest thing Democrats could do right now. Much to everyone’s surprise, this appears to be exactly what they are doing right now. The delicious irony is how many of the things on that campaign platform list can be classified as wedgies — issues that Republicans used in elections past to whip up the public in the opposite direction. Wedgies that are digging deeper and more painful each day, relentlessly dividing the two sagging, elephantine hemispheres of the Republican Party.
Well, OK, maybe that was a bit too graphic a metaphorical leap. We apologize for the mental image, really we do. Ahem. Let’s just quickly move along to the awards, shall we?
Both Senators Ted Kennedy and Jeff Merkley deserve at least Honorable Mention awards this week. Kennedy, for being the original champion of the ENDA legislation (he introduced the bill in 1994), and Merkley for stepping in when Kennedy asked him to (when Kennedy knew he wasn’t going to live to see it passed). Both deserve praise for an effort that spanned two decades.
But we also had an election this week, even if it was an off-off-year contest with no overwhelming national implications (no matter what the inside-the-Beltway chattering class thought).
We have to say, New York City Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio’s win on Tuesday was beyond impressive. He won a whopping 73-to-24 percent victory over the sacrificial Republican candidate. That’s almost a 50 percent margin! Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — As The Wedgie Turns
Although it’s been a week heavy on Obamacare, we’re going to (mostly) look forward this week, to the upcoming budget battles. Because buried in the Obamacare stories this week was one very important bit of news which few outside the Beltway even noticed. Which is a shame, because if used correctly it could signal a shift in the conversation in those budget meetings.
To put this another way, while most focused on one broken promise from President Obama this week, he actually made good on an earlier promise — which is nothing short of astounding and deserves a lot of attention.
The promise Obama broke, obviously, was “if you like your health insurance plan, you can keep your health insurance plan.” Thus the pitfalls of talking points — when something complex is boiled down into a soundbite, sometimes important distinctions are not made. It’s easy, on Monday morning, to quarterback this one into a much better promise Obama could have made: “if you like your quality health insurance plan, you can keep your quality health insurance plan.” But, unfortunately, that’s not what Obama said.
Obama apologists are desperately trying to make the case for what Obama really meant when he uttered that statement (on multiple occasions), but this is a losing battle. The other side has two words, which is going to win the public debate on this one: “Obama lied.” At the start of the talking points, we’ll have one example of such an attempt, but you can see what a tough job it truly is by its very length.
No, Team Obama’s just got to take this hit. We’ve always known, after all, that pretty much any unbandaged scraped knee in the entire country was going to be laid at the feet of Obamacare once it got rolling, and truly this is just the beginning. Look for Republicans to dig out all sorts of anecdotes in the coming year, in fact.
But at this point, Obamacare has to stand on its own. If the website gets fixed and if millions sign up, then eventually the public’s going to get used to the program’s existence, one way or another, and scare stories will lose a lot of their punch.
Instead, we’re looking forward to the budget battle. The conference committee which Senate Democrats have been trying to create all year long has finally met for the first time. More on this in a moment. But the problem they confront has new proportions which could change the leverage Democrats will have. Because Obama has now kept a promise he made on the 2008 campaign trail — that he would “halve the deficit” in his first term in office. OK, depending on how you relate federal fiscal years to presidential terms, maybe he’s a year late (and maybe not). But the official news was released this week that the 2013 fiscal year deficit is $680 billion. In 2009, it was $1,413 billion. Here’s a handy chart (in billions of dollars) to show what this means:
No matter what your position on the federal budget or deficit, this is an accomplishment which cannot be ignored. It is going to lessen the “austerity” pressure from Republicans in the budget debates, if Democrats constantly and consistently point it out.
Which brings us back to the committee. There will be 29 members of the committee, and the House Republicans truly got the short end of the stick. Here’s the breakdown of members, by number: House Republicans (4 committee members), House Democrats (3), Senate Democrats (12), Senate Republicans (10). That’s a 22-to-7 split favoring the Senate (where every single budget committee member made it onto the conference committee), where Republicans are more reasonable. And it’s a 15-14 split favoring Democrats. This severely limits Paul Ryan’s ability to hold hostages.
Being Washington, however, the new conference committee met and then after a photo op or two adjourned for an entire month. I mean, it’s not like they’re faced with any sort of deadline or anything, right? Remember this when we do get close up against a deadline, because whiny politicians will then complain: “There’s no time left! Waaah!” We’ll be remembering, at that point, that the first thing the committee did was to take a month off.
Which brings us to Congress in general, and the pathetic amount of “work” they do for their $174,000 taxpayer-funded salaries. John Boehner just released the House calendar for 2014. They’ve penciled in a whopping total of 113 working days. Down from 126 planned days in 2013, and an anemic 107 days in 2012. What this means is that in the next year, House members are going to work a grand total of 22.5 full work weeks, in a 52-week year. Which is pathetic, but the public just seems to accept this as somehow normal. Where is the outrage, folks?
Dana Milbank at the Washington Post certainly seemed impressed by the performance of Kathleen Sebelius at her House committee hearing this week. But no matter how poised Sebelius remained — in the face of repeated Wizard Of Oz references (Sebelius is from Kansas) — she still won’t impress us until she is testifying: “the website is fixed, it is fully functional, and it is signing up millions.” She’s going to have to wait for an award, in other words, until she can report something close to that.
What impressed us in the hearing was Bill Pascrell, Democrat from New Jersey, who unleashed a miniature “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore” sort of rant. Here’s just a sample of what Pascrell had to say, where he is speaking of the difference between how Democrats acted after the Medicare Part D benefit passed and how Republicans have behaved on Obamacare:
What did we do? We went back to our districts, and we told our seniors that although we voted no, we personally believe, and will work with the Bush administration, to make it work. That’s what we did! And how many of you stood up to do that? None! Zero! Zero!
When a Republican tried to peddle the nonsense that there was a Republican alternative to Obamacare, Pascrell responded: “Are you really serious?”
It was a beautiful performance, in our opinion. It’s mystifying why Democrats don’t blatantly point out the missing context from Republican nonsense more often, in fact. It’s not that tough to do. If political cartoonists (Jonathan Richards at the Huffington Post has a great example) can do so while making it simultaneously hilarious, then why do so many Democratic politicians lack this ability? Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — Two Obama Promises
“I will not yield to this monkey court!”
This may be the quotation of the week, from Representative Frank Pallone, describing the House “Obamacare Is So Very, Very Bad” hearings held this week. One immediately wonders whatever happened to the kangaroo courts of old — too foreign a metaphor, perhaps? One is also immediately struck by the idea that Monkey Court would become an instant hit, if it were filmed for television, with live monkeys. I mean, just think of the possibilities!
Ahem. Sorry, it’s been that kind of week.
It was, of course, laughable that Republicans now appear to be overly concerned with making the Obamacare exchange website work properly, when they’ve spent the past two years or so trying to sabotage the rollout by any means necessary. Which doesn’t even include all the “kill Obamacare” votes, either. Republicans have blocked the money meant to be used to implement Obamacare, then they tried to block Health and Human Services from using different money to implement Obamacare, then they successfully intimidated the National Football League into not helping advertise the rollout, then they launched a state-by-state effort to force anyone helping to register people to get a “license” to do so, then they created a multimillion-dollar effort to convince people not to sign up for Obamacare (targeting the young and healthy) in a final effort to cause Obamacare to fail. So it’s not like Republicans haven’t been doing their best to create chaos and confusion around the rollout.
Sadly, while none of the Republican sabotage efforts really worked all that well (they were all designed to keep public interest down, but a major problem with the website rollout was indeed too much interest) it seems that the Obamacare website rollout has managed to be a disaster without any Republican help at all. The major problem? People with no real high-tech experience running an incredibly complex high-tech project. Software project management, as should now be painfully obvious to everyone, should not be attempted by rank amateurs.
The revelation that the fully-integrated system was only tested for two weeks before launch is the key to why the website has failed so badly. Two weeks is simply not enough time to run such tests. In fact, it’s nowhere near enough time. Added to this was the fact that the main architecture of the user interface was radically changed in late September (to not allow “browsing” prices, before signing up), and you have the makings of the disaster that followed. Changing the basic user pathway through the website a week before launch? Insanity! Ask anyone who works in Silicon Valley, they’ll tell you.
Software testing is not a glorious undertaking. It is performed by dedicated folks proud to be called “Software Quality Assurance Engineers.” This is largely thankless work, because if the testers do their job perfectly, when the product is released, nobody notices. It’s only when the bugs show up afterwards that people notice. But testing always is the department to take it on the chin when scheduling the whole project. The most important testing (as is now obvious) is the testing that happens at the very end. But when all the other departments “slip” their schedules, usually the target end date of the project remains the same. This means that the time for testing (being last on the schedule) shrinks and shrinks, throughout the project’s lifespan. I have no idea if this is what happened with the Obamacare website, but it’s a pretty safe bet because this pressure always exists, on pretty much every software project.
The testers themselves have a saying (or, at least, they did awhile ago — the example may have been updated by now) to warn against shrinking the testing schedule in order to meet some arbitrary release date: “The Ford Pinto was released six months ahead of schedule. Does anyone remember that today, or do they remember the major design flaw instead?” [for our younger readers, please do a web search on "Pintos exploding" or perhaps "Pinto gas tank" to fully understand this metaphor].
The Obama administration has just (belatedly) announced that the Obamacare exchange website will be fully operational and smoothly running by late November. This gives them a month to fix all the problems and turn the story into “Obamacare site now fixed!” in the media. This will be a tough job, no doubt, on both the technological side and the public relations or political side. The Republicans are going to have a field day in the meantime, so look for calls for H.H.S. Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to resign to mount from their side of the aisle. As well as continuing episodes of the smash new C-SPAN hit Monkey Court. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — Monkey Business
I don’t know about anyone else, but the image that popped into my head this week was Ted Cruz drunk in . . . → Read More: Friday Talking Points  — … And The Law Won
Now that the budget battle is truly joined, with hourly updates issuing forth from the not-so-hallowed halls of Washington, the cry among the media as I currently write this runs along the lines of: “A deal is in sight — maybe!”
But because I’m not following the minute-by-minute flow (because I have to write this column, and, you know, that space-time continuum thing…), I will instead focus on the aftermath. This aftermath is coming, although I certainly can’t say when. Tonight? Tomorrow? Monday morning? Whenever it happens, the entire political media universe is going to pivot to their old standby: who won and who lost? Because, to the denizens inside the Beltway, everything in politics can be framed as a horserace.
In this particular instance, the storyline will run with one of either two words to describe the perceived loser: “blink” or “cave.” We’re going with the cave metaphor, today. Call it media-political spelunking, if you will. Which brings us to the most important question imaginable (to the mainstream media): Who will inhabit the cave? Who will cave, and who will enjoy the bright, bright media sunlight of perceived victory?
Of course, I can’t completely blame the media. The cave metaphor is actually used most vociferously by ultrapartisans from both sides. No, this is not false equivalence, it is merely a fact. When Republicans such as John Boehner eventually face reality (see: fiscal cliff, Violence Against Women Act, Hurricane Sandy relief), it is the rabid Right which screams “Boehner caved! RINO!” the loudest. When President Obama gets congressional Republicans to vote for and pass an income tax increase for the first time in two decades — but has to move the bar a little on where the tax kicks in — the frenzied Left is the one screaming “Obama caved! He shouldn’t have budged one inch!”
So who will be assigned to the dark, dank depths of the cave this time around? Perhaps Boehner and Obama will both share the cave, who knows? If a deal is reached where Obama agrees to some small legislative adjustment in order to get both an otherwise-clean budget bill and an extension of the debt limit, it’s easy to see the Tea Party going ballistic that Obamacare wasn’t defunded after all, but it’s just as easy to see some on the Left say Obama caved and shouldn’t have given in on a single thing, period. Don’t get me wrong. As I said, I’m not a big fan of false equivalency, I just wonder whether Obama or Boehner will have the “You caved!” label attached, when the dust settles.
My take on the situation is that Obama has been doing a great job for the past two weeks, that the Tea Party has overreached so badly that the brewing fratricide within the Republican Party has now broken out into full-fledged and open civil war, and that the Tea Partiers aren’t going to get any of their major demands at all. Oh, and that the Republican brand has been so damaged by the fight that people are now seriously talking about the possibility that John Boehner will lose control of the House in 2014 to Democrats — something which was downright unimaginable before the House Republicans shut down the government.
The most insane thing in an insane couple of weeks, at least to me, is the major demand that Republicans have — out of desperation — decided upon as their fallback position. “Obama and the Democrats must negotiate on the budget!” This is downright laughable. Democrats have, after all, been trying to form a budget conference committee all year long, only to be blocked over and over again by Republicans (a total of 19 times in the Senate). I compiled an extensive timeline of these facts in a two-part article series this week (on Wednesday and Thursday), as a definitive list, just in case anyone in the mainstream media wanted to review how laughable the Republican “Democrats need to come to the table” claim truly is. If you don’t have time to read these two rather exhaustive articles, I came across a much shorter (and much more amusing) version which brilliantly sums the whole thing up in a Huffington Post comment.
If Boehner can sell his own party on the line: “We’ve exacted a major concession out of Obama, by forcing him to do what Democrats have been begging Republicans to do all year” and thus spin it as some sort of major political victory, then more power to him. Whatever floats the Republican boat, I guess. If this is a good enough face-saving measure for him, then I’m all for it.
But the media should really try to get it right. Obama agreeing to talks which his side has been trying to make happen all year is no concession at all. Unless it’s a concession from Boehner, that is. Boehner needs something to save face, and it’s conceivable that Obama will toss him some sort of legislative scrap or another in the negotiation. But if the scrap is tiny enough, and if the main selling point for Boehner is that he “forced Obama to the table,” then Boehner’s the one who will be stumbling around in the cavernous dark and hoping his flashlight batteries hold out — not the president. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — Who Will Inhabit The Cave?
Well, I have to admit — I never thought John Boehner was stupid enough to shut the government down over Obamacare. Shows what I know, right? Sigh.
I think the stupidest thing about a very stupid week for the Republicans, though, was how they stomped all over a news story they’ve been salivating over for four years now. Because the shutdown coincided with the launch of the Obamacare exchanges, we’ve heard a whole lot of news stories about the shutdown, but the exchanges (as Salon.com puts it) now have the chance to make a “second first impression.” The fracas over the shutdown all but drowned out the stories of glitches on the exchanges. Which, as mentioned, the Republicans have been itching to hear for years. Whoops!
Now, in a former lifetime, I tested computer software for a living. It paid better than this job, but I have to say it wasn’t anywhere near as fun. In any case, I fully expected there to be some technical problems with the launch of such a huge computer system. There always are. It’s the big secret that keeps software testers in business, actually: bug-free software does not exist. Especially with online sites. So I’ve known all along there would be problems. But, thanks to the shutdown, most media haven’t focused on them nearly as much as they would have if the shutdown didn’t exist (with the exception, no doubt, of Fox News, which I haven’t watched all week).
Instead, we’ve been focusing on John Boehner, who more and more has taken on the aspect of a trapped feral weasel, looking desperately for a way out of the situation he created. He’s not quite ready to gnaw his own leg off to escape the trap, but it looks like he’s getting close.
Republicans have already tossed Ted Cruz to the wolves. Republican wolves, it should be noted. First, the Republican senators gave Cruz an earful in a closed-door caucus meeting. But the best anti-Cruz rant of the week came from John Podhoretz — not generally known for being “squishy” or anything short of rabidly conservative. Podhoretz accurately sums up Ted Cruz as forcing the Republican party to “look silly at best and crazy at worst.” He had much more to say on the subject, as well, including calling the Cruzians “blind fools.” More on this in a bit.
Think “blind fools” is too strong a term? I don’t. Here’s Republican House member Marlin Stutzman from Indiana, helpfully explaining what the GOP overall strategy is: “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.” Got that? They have no clue what their fallback position will be. Blind fools indeed.
Over in the mainstream media, the New York Times came up with a fantastic new term that everyone should really start using immediately: “banana Republicans.” It’s pretty self-explanatory, don’t you think? Works for me.
All throughout the week, the number of House Republicans who were publicly calling for a clean budget bill rose, and now stands between 20 and 24 members (depending on which list you use). What this means is that a clear majority of the House of Representatives (you know, like the Constitution says) are now on public record that they’d vote for a clean bill. Boehner still is refusing this route, but Nancy Pelosi is apparently trying to force Boehner’s hand with a parliamentary maneuver.
If Pelosi can get enough signatures on a demand to vote on a clean continuing resolution bill — a process the wonkier call a “discharge petition” — then Boehner will have no choice but to let the House vote. This is a tricky maneuver, however, with lots of arcane rules. But Democrats now have a plan to work within these rules to force a vote. It may work, it may not — but if Pelosi has a demand for a vote signed by over half the House to wave around, it will certainly change the politics of the situation for the better, that’s for sure. It may be hard to get Republicans to actually sign such a piece of paper, but we’ll see — it’s the best move Democrats can make right now, no matter what happens.
And finally, before we get on with the awards and the talking points, comes the news that there will be an ad during a football game this weekend targeting John Boehner in his own district. The ad’s concept is sheer brilliance: John Boehner is having a tantrum, just like all babies do. Couldn’t have framed it better myself. Well done indeed! Now that’s the way to frame things, folks.
Two political moves in the midst of the shutdown deserve special mention this week, before we get on to the main award. The first is a group of Democrats, backed by Nancy Pelosi, who got tired of waiting on the Republican stall tactics, and just went ahead and introduced a House version of comprehensive immigration reform. This was in the background this week, but will likely become a much bigger story later in the year, when pressure rises on Republicans to allow a vote on the House floor. Honorable Mentions all around, for every Democrat involved in this effort.
The second is an issue which I’ve brought up again and again and again, all the way back to 2007. It’s an idea which has worked wonders in California (after being passed as a referendum by the voters). It’s a simple concept: if a budget is not in place on time, then lawmakers don’t get paid. No budget? No pay. Easy!
So we’ve got to give at least an Honorable Mention this week to Representative Rick Nolan, for making a big push on his “No Government — No Pay Act.” In politics, you strike while the iron is hot. The time for passing such an idea is indeed right now, when the public is angry at Congress. I’ve moved on to suggesting that this should be introduced as a full-on constitutional amendment, myself, but have to salute Nolan for trying to get it passed as a law for now. The politics are perfect — who in their right mind would be against such a concept? Well, besides a few clueless Republicans (more on them in the talking points), of course. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — Shutdown Follies
Talk about missing the point. And no, I do not refer to the mindless mainstream media (who apparently don’t know the difference between “a filibuster” and “a 21-hour ego trip”).
No, the big point missed in the midst of Senator Ted Cruz’s talkfest was the moral of the story he read. By now, most people have heard that Cruz read, in its entirety, the classic Dr. Seuss children’s book Green Eggs And Ham — tucking his own kids into bed, long-distance, via C-SPAN. Cruz then doubled down on his point-missing by comparing Obamacare to the story’s green eggs and ham. Cruz really has no excuse for this monumentally idiotic mistake, since (as mentioned) he read the whole story from the Senate floor.
Don’t remember the story? Haven’t heard it in a while? Rather than subject yourself to Cruz reading the story, instead why not take two minutes to listen to what would qualify (if it existed) for the “All-Time Greatest Reading Of Green Eggs And Ham Ever, Bar None, Period, End Of Discussion” award. This refers, of course, to the eulogy given (the week Seuss died) on Saturday Night Live‘s “Weekend Update.” By none other than the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Seriously, if you’ve never seen it before, you owe it to yourself to check it out, as it is priceless (you can thank me later).
The protagonist of the story is beset by a character named “Sam-I-Am,” who repeatedly tries what in advertising is called “the hard sell” — for a plate of green eggs and ham. The protagonist refuses to eat this dish multiple times, until finally — in order to make Sam-I-Am leave him alone — he breaks down and tries a forkful. Whereupon he discovers that he does like green eggs and ham, after all — he just needed to get past his fear of something new and actually try them. The moral, as with all Seussian morals, is so easy to draw a child understands it.
Ted Cruz, though — quite obviously — does not.
He even tried to equate Obamacare with green eggs and ham. Totally, completely, utterly missing the point that perhaps if America tried a little Obamacare, they wouldn’t find it so objectionable. I mean, there simply is no other possible interpretation of the storyline. Coupled with the fact (which even Republicans are pointing out on the Senate floor, mind you) that Cruz’s only goal this week was to get his mug on television (again: it was not a filibuster!), we feel it is entirely appropriate to henceforth ridicule Cruz with the moniker “Senator Ham-I-Am.” Feel free to use this liberally, in future discussions of Ted Cruz.
We cannot claim ownership of the term, though. We got it from the brilliant Washington Post cartoonist Tom Toles. Since the Post seems to have done away with permalinks to Toles’s cartoons, the one referred to (if this link doesn’t work) is Ted Cruz facing Uncle Sam, who is offering him some Obamacare on a fork. Toles struggles with his fake Seuss dialog (it’s not as easy to write as you would think — try it some time to see!), but he does end it well with:
I do not like it here or there,
I do not like Obamacare.
I do not like it, Sam-I-Am,
I like to grandstand, Ham-I-Am.
To which Uncle Sam is responding: “Just try it.” Because, after all, that is the moral of the story.
Increasingly, the condemnation of Ted Cruz is coming from within his own party. The term “civil war” is cropping up to describe the intra-party viciousness. Leading this effort are Senators John McCain and Bob Corker — who (accurately) pointed out this week — on the Senate floor — that the only thing that seems to matter to Cruz is getting himself on television. Cruz is also brewing rebellion by publicly undercutting the Speaker of the House and trying to form his own “Cruz Caucus” in the House. But it’s not just Boehner who is feeling the wrath of the Cruzites (Cruzians?), Fox News has also come under attack from three Tea Party media stars: Sarah Palin, Mike Lee, and Rush Limbaugh. They’re eating their own, folks. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer political party, really. Stores in blue states are reporting shortages of popcorn on the shelves, as Democrats just sit back and watch the fur fly (well, no, that’s not actually true, we just thought it’d be funny, that’s all).
If you only read one anti-Cruz rant this week from Republicans, though, the best one by far was written directly to Tea Party voters from a former senior John McCain advisor — it is nothing short of brutal. Enjoy!
One non-Cruz subject worth bringing up is the Republicans’ continued failure to “reach out” to the demographic groups which shellacked them in the last election. Completely deaf and dumb to the irony involved, one group came up with the creepiest anti-Obamacare ad imaginable, with a “shades of that creepy ‘Burger King’ mask” Uncle Sam inserting himself (pun, unfortunately, intended) into a woman’s Pap smear exam. While Republicans continue to try to pass laws which actually do insert the government into women’s reproductive healthcare, across the land, now women are supposed to believe that Obamacare is doing the same thing? Way to “reach out,” Republicans!
A Republican official in Arizona led the effort to “reach out” to minorities this week, using the phrase “shucking and jiving” to describe the President of the United States. So the GOP’s got that minority outreach covered, there. Or maybe not.
It’s Hispanic Heritage Month, so the House GOP thought it’d be a good idea to put out a video. A video where “immigration” was not even mentioned once. Way to “reach out” to another minority! The video was resoundingly ridiculed in the comments, to no one’s real surprise. Maybe the House Republicans didn’t mention immigration because the real immigration reform news is that two Republicans who were supposed to be in one of those “gangs” on coming up with a House immigration reform bill decided to throw in the towel on the effort — increasing the chances that nothing is going to happen this year. Now that’s the way to get Latinos to vote for you, guys! Way to re-brand your party!
And finally, we close this intro with yet another for the “you can’t make this stuff up folks” file. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy invited all his fellow Republicans to a movie tonight, right before they’re going to have to deal with the Senate’s budget bill. The movie he chose? Prisoners. Which is about holding hostages.
Maybe Obamacare has some cure in it for the irony-impaired. We’ll all find out next Tuesday, won’t we? Sigh. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — Ted Cruz: Senator Ham-I-Am