Friday Talking Points [316] -- Dog Days

FTP3Welcome to the “Dog Days” of summer, at the height of the political Silly Season. This year, one dog did indeed have his day in August, as 7-year-old “Duke” just won a rather bizarre election to become mayor of Cormorant, Minnesota. The strangest thing (to us) was that the “12 people in the village each paid $1 to cast a vote.” Um, didn’t we make poll taxes illegal quite a while back? The job (and the election) are assumably only “ceremonial” (at least we hope so), but still “Dog Elected Mayor,” as a headline, is right up there with “Man Bites Dog.” As for Duke’s mayoralty, well, it’s a “Ruff!” job but someone’s got to do it, we suppose. So to speak (or roll over, or shake… good boy!)

In other news, dumping a bucket of ice water over your head is, apparently, now no longer reserved for winning football coaches, and has instead become an activity for the whole family to enjoy. Or something.

Two separate stories came out this week on — Gasp! — President Obama actually uttering profanity. In one, he called some criticism from opponents “horseshit,” and in another was quoted as saying what guides his foreign policy is a core idea: “Don’t do stupid shit” (although he reportedly cleans this up for public consumption: “Don’t do stupid stuff”). This last story was one of those shiny, shiny objects within the Beltway that the press (on a regular basis) chases after like a pack of rabid hounds, mostly since Hillary Clinton was the source of the quote and — Gasp! — her foreign policy stance is still (as it always has been) more hawkish than Obama’s. Somehow, this was what passed for “news” at the height of this year’s Silly Season.

Over at the Drug Enforcement Agency, some silliness was exposed this week. Or perhaps “rampant incompetence” is a better term, you decide. Seems they paid an Amtrak employee for confidential passenger information that they could easily have gotten for free. From the story:

The Amtrak inspector general’s office said the employee handed over the information “without seeking approval from Amtrak management or the Amtrak Police Department.” The report, released in June, said the company removed the worker from service and filed charges against the individual.

. . .

According to the report, the secretary provided D.E.A. agents with passengers’ “name reservation identification,” which can include travelers’ names, the names of people traveling with them, travel dates, seat numbers, credit card numbers, emergency contact information, baggage information, passport numbers, gender and date of birth.

Under an agreement with the D.E.A., the Amtrak Police Department provides such information for free in exchange for receiving a share of funds seized through resulting investigations. The report said D.E.A.’s purchase of the records deprived Amtrak police of money the department could have received by supplying the data.

This story is interesting for a number of reasons, not least of which is the news that any Amtrak passenger is essentially turning all their personal information over to the government (who knew?), and that the entire venture of arresting (assumably, it being the D.E.A.) drug smugglers is seen as a healthy profit-making operation by both the D.E.A. and Amtrak. But the “rampant incompetence” part is where they paid out taxpayer dollars for information they could have gotten for free. Yet another reason why the head of the D.E.A., Michele Leonhart, needs to be shown the door.

In other marijuana-related news, Oklahoma’s Republican governor has come out in favor of legalizing medicinal cannabis oil for sick children. She also expressed support for the state to conduct medical trials on its effectiveness. But she drew the line at legalizing any other medical marijuana. Perhaps her support for the oil was in response to the petition drive to put medicinal marijuana on the Oklahoma ballot (which is currently facing a deadline to collect signatures, but which is still short of the goal). Meanwhile, in Florida, the political fight over medical marijuana seems to be heating up. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [316] — Dog Days

Friday Talking Points [315] -- Past, Present, and Future

FTP3We’ve got a lot to cover today (as that headline should evince), but before we begin examining the anniversaries, elections, and politics of the week, I’d like to begin instead by promoting a video.

Yes, this is unusual for me, since I normally favor the written word above multimedia showiness, but this is a noteworthy video of a very special song. The story of the Polish band Taraka, and how their song “Give Ukraine A Helping Hand” became an unofficial anthem of the Ukrainian people’s revolution earlier this year (which ran in my Wednesday column, as narrated by the band’s manager and producer) is an incredibly heartwarming one, which is why I wanted to draw attention to it here before getting on with the usual weekly snark-fest. The video which accompanies the English version of the song is powerful, and the song itself sends chills down the spine. I urge everyone to take three minutes and give it a listen. You won’t easily forget it.

My friends are falling, their memories are always with me
Darkness surrounds us, the stars above us are still clear,
Stand by me, your hopes and dreams will give me courage.
Ukraine is calling, so tell me will you care to hear?

Hear our voices in solitude they sorrow,
In our voices the promise of tomorrow
We made our choices, now bow our heads to pray
As a river, we’ll always find our way.


With that out of the way, let’s get on to politics back here at home. From the past, we had two important anniversaries this week. Noam Chomsky wrote a few days ago about the anniversary of the Enola Gay dropping the first atomic bomb (“Little Boy”) on Hiroshima, Japan, which happened 69 years ago this week. Forty years ago today, President Richard Nixon addressed the nation to announce he would be resigning the presidency the next day (August 9, 1974) — the only time in American history this has happened. President Barack Obama also took the nation into the past today, as he announced the United States is dropping bombs on Iraq once again. That’s a pretty heavy-duty amount of the past to contemplate, in one week.

In the near future, America will be confronted with another slice of the recent past, as a Senate report on torture will soon be released to the public. The document to be made public is a shorter version of their full 6,000-page report, and Senator Dianne Feinstein (whose committee performed the review) is still fighting with the White House and the C.I.A. over what redactions are necessary before its release. Within the next few weeks, this is going to be big, big news.

If the news admits what it is, of course. There has long been a timidity in mainstream media to call torture “torture,” which some have been railing against for years. In a surprise pre-emptive move, the New York Times has now announced that it will indeed use the dictionary correctly, and call what is so obviously torture by its proper name, so perhaps other mainstream media will follow their lead, who knows?

In news from the present week, primary season keeps rolling along, and the midterm elections loom on the horizon (we’re under 100 days out from election day, folks). This has generated a whole lot of stories this week (although not as many from town halls as you might expect), so we’ll just whip through them in shorthand fashion.

For those keeping score at home, the Senate contests now stand at: “Establishment Republicans 6 — Tea Partiers 0.” The guy who posted x-rays of gunshot victims online with “amusing” comments was defeated in the Kansas primary. He wasn’t the only extremist to lose a contest this week. Also in the “Whew!” category: Victoria Jackson lost the minor political race she had jumped into.

One Tea Party guy did win a primary in Michigan, and then gave a notable victory speech where, rather than offer up bland words about his opponent, he instead ripped into the guy from the podium. In Mississippi, the Republican Party rejected calls from the Tea Party loser in the Senate race to just overturn the election results and hand him the nomination. Oh, and the guy that had previously made the claim that Thad Cochran had paid for black votes reversed himself and now says that the Tea Partier’s campaign actually gave him thousands of dollars to make up the claim. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [315] — Past, Present, and Future

Friday Talking Points [314] -- Boehner's 'Keystone Kops' House

FTP3As I write this, the House has still not managed to pass a bill to deal with the border crisis. They’ve been trying for a few days now, but have been locked in a serious battle between Tea Party hardliners and Republicans from more moderate districts. The Tea Partiers are demanding the harshest possible bill, and the moderates are the ones who actually demanded that Speaker John Boehner attempt to do his job and get a bill through before they all fly home for a lavish five-week vacation. Moderate Republicans know that “we couldn’t pass anything” is going to be a tough sell back home. When Boehner tries to make the bill extreme enough to appease the Tea Party hardliners, he loses moderate votes. When he tries to make it appealing enough to the moderates to vote for it, he loses Tea Party votes. Stay tuned, as the last act in this Keystone Kops drama has yet to take place!

Think this is overstating the case? Then you probably didn’t hear what Michele Bachmann recently had to say about the border crisis:

President Obama is trying to bring all of those foreign nationals, those illegal aliens to the country and he has said that he will put them in the foster care system…. [W]e can’t imagine doing this, but if you have a hospital and they are going to get millions of dollars in government grants if they can conduct medical research on somebody, and a ward of the state can’t say “no” — a little kid can’t say “no” if they’re a ward of the state — so here you could have this institution getting millions of dollars from our government to do medical experimentation and a kid can’t even say “no.” It’s sick.

Um, OK, Michele. Got it. President Barack Obama is Dr. Josef Mengele, and he’s nefariously allowing children to come into the United States so that he can secretly run medical experiments on them. Personally, I think “Keystone Kops” is actually understating the case.

Apparently, Eric Cantor agrees. Earlier this week, he stepped down as House Majority Leader (as a result of being successfully primaried by a Tea Partier), but by the end of the week he announced he will resign from his seat in Congress as well, in a few weeks, rather than sticking around until January. Can’t say I blame him, as sometimes “getting out of Dodge” is the only sane answer when faced with an insane situation.

Pundits struggled to stay abreast of the craziness emanating from the House floor. Here’s Dana Milbank of the Washington Post, trying to explain what went on yesterday:

All morning, GOP leaders had been predicting that they had sufficient Republican votes to pass [Speaker John] Boehner’s border bill. But then conservatives, under pressure from [Senator Ted] Cruz and far-right interest groups, began to go squishy, and the new [House Majority Leader], Kevin McCarthy, announced that he was pulling the border bill from the floor and that members could depart early for their five-week summer break.

What followed was as close as Congress gets to one of those fistfights in the Taiwanese parliament. Mainstream Republicans besieged Boehner and McCarthy on the House floor, noisily demanding that they do something about the border crisis before going on holiday. Half an hour later, McCarthy announced that “additional votes are possible today.”

Boos and jeers rained down on the new leader. The speaker pro tempore, Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), banged the gavel violently for order. Some lawmakers had to be called back from National Airport.

Set it to some old-timey piano music, and film it in black-and-white, and what you’ve got is indeed the Keystone Kops.

What the House Republicans could all agree upon is that they’re ready to sue the president. Not impeach him, mind you (perish the thought!), just sue him. More on that in a bit. Especially, on the ridiculousness of voting one day to sue the president for taking action on his own, and then the next day begging Obama to act because House Republicans are so incapable of action (the hypocrisy of this was so obvious even some conservatives had to point it out). Obama, meanwhile, warned Republicans that if they go off on a month-long vacation without putting a bill on his desk, then he will be forced to act on his own. When he does, you can surely expect howls of rage from Republicans about Obama doing exactly what they are now calling upon him to do. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [314] — Boehner’s ‘Keystone Kops’ House

Friday Talking Points [313] -- Prelude To Silly Season

FTP3Planes have been dropping out of the sky at an alarming rate recently. I don’t know what portents such omens signify, but the media certainly has had no lack of videos of debris fields to show, that’s for sure.

Back in Washington, we have one week to go before the opening of “Silly Season 2014,” an annual event brought on by hordes of political reporters scrambling around, devoid of actual stories, while Congress is away on its six-week vacation. What will the main Silly Season story become, for pundits to endlessly obsess over this August? Your guess is as good as mine. Several candidates have already popped up (“Hey, let’s all talk about impeachment!” for starters), but perhaps some lonely town hall meeting (with some hapless member of Congress) somewhere in the hinterlands will provide the fodder for this year’s Silly Season obsession — hopefully, with an epic rant caught on video!

But before we get there, Congress actually has one more week of “work” scheduled. They’ve got a lot on their plate, and it’s looking like nothing much will get accomplished. “Border crisis!” was the rallying cry a few weeks ago, but the House can’t agree on anything to do to fix it, so they’ll likely not manage to pass anything. Likewise, few expect any action on immigration reform itself. The only thing the House may accomplish is to vote to go ahead and sue President Obama. Such is the state of modern politics. Call it fear of legislating.

House Republicans face a very basic conundrum on the border crisis. Two of their bedrock beliefs are clashing with each other, which is why they can’t agree on any concrete plan. You see, when you want government to do something that you consider worthwhile, you actually have to pay for it. Need more Border Patrol agents? It costs money. More fences? More money. Waiting time for judicial hearings too long? That can be fixed, but it’s going to cost money. However, Republicans believe that smaller government is always better, and budgets should always be cut, not increased. Which is why they’re in such a bind on the border. They really want to live in a magical world where spending less on a problem solves it faster. Since reality doesn’t work like this, they can’t agree on any plan to address the problem. Instead, the House Republicans collectively are going to have a sort of nervous breakdown. That’s what’s on schedule for next week, at any rate.

In hopefully-unrelated news, a Republican staffer was arrested for bringing a handgun to work. Representative Tom Marino’s press secretary is being charged with a felony, and has been placed on unpaid leave in the meantime.

Out in Kentucky a very Republican town came up with a novel idea to fight high gas prices: open a government gas station! That is some original thinking, as we’ve never before heard of such a tactic being used in this fashion by an American town. The town of Somerset is near a popular recreational lake, and the gas stations in town apparently upped their prices to fleece the tourists. Locals weren’t amused. They now seem delighted with the mayor’s plan to sell gas with only a small markup to cover costs — the town is explicitly not trying to make a profit. Local gas station owners aren’t happy, and are calling the move “socialism,” so it’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out. Perhaps more towns will consider the idea, especially after hearing how delighted this town’s customers/constituents are.

Republican hawks got a slap in the face this week, as the House overwhelmingly passed a resolution stating that before President Obama sends any more troops to Iraq, he should consult Congress. Since Congress is unlikely to approve, this was a strongly anti-war vote, with a very bipartisan 370-40 split.

Paul Ryan is attempting to address poverty, once again. What he’s really doing is trolling the media to write “compassionate conservative” columns about him (which, so far, doesn’t seem to be working very well), to bolster his chances to get the Republican presidential nomination.

Let’s see, what else? The chief judge of the 9th Circuit Court wrote some astonishing things about capital punishment this week, stating that using drugs to execute people is “a misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and beautiful” when in fact they are “brutal, savage events” which should not be masked in any way. “I’ve always thought that executions should be executions — not medical procedures,” the judge told the Associated Press. His answer? Firing squads. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [313] — Prelude To Silly Season

Friday Talking Points [312] -- Democrats' 'Middle Class Jumpstart' Agenda

FTP3The media, quite obviously, is currently in a frenzy. Actually, two frenzies, since they’ve now got two wars to cover, one of which has provided shots of a grisly plane crash. This all meant that a lot of oxygen was sucked from the normal political news scene, meaning this week’s column will be somewhat abbreviated. Both wars didn’t really impact America all that much, so there’s not a lot to add to the media cacophony on either one, to put this another way. The biggest political event of the week (for Democrats, at any rate) was Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats rolling out a new campaign agenda — the “Middle Class Jumpstart” — in the tradition of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America.” But we’ll have much more on this later, as we’re turning over the whole talking points portion of the program to this rollout. In other Democratic campaign agenda news, Carl Gibson of the Huffington Post wrote a great article which starkly lays out the difference between two states that charted separate ideological budgetary paths during the recession: Kansas and California. In a nutshell, Kansas decided to massively cut taxes and California not-so-massively raised taxes on the wealthiest. The result? California’s economy (and budget) is now almost fully recovered, and the Kansas economy is now in the toilet. Kansas saw its incoming revenues plummet, and their bond rating was downgraded as a result. This is one of the best evidence-based articles on the aftermath of the philosophical differences between Republicans and Democrats, and is well worth reading in full. The annual liberal blogger/activist Netroots Nation conference is happening this week, but sadly we decided not to attend, so we have no news from Detroit for you (sorry about that). The Senate effectively got within three votes of essentially overturning the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision. Senator Barbara Boxer wrote a wonderful piece on the issue this week, as well. The House — astonishingly — actually passed a much-needed bill to continue funding highway and infrastructure projects, even if it was nothing more than another short-term stopgap bill. Hey, a stopgap is better than stopping the government, right? This should be seen as a clear victory for the Establishment Republicans over the Tea Party, it’s worth mentioning. In funny candidate news, Republican Scott Brown verbally tripped over his carpetbag, once again. Hey Scott, it helps when running for office to remember what state you’re actually in! Ask any rock star, they’ll tell you the crowd does indeed notice when you blow this line. Heh. In Arizona, a Republican congressional candidate was trying to fan the flames of the immigration issue, but instead wrongly identified a busload of Y.M.C.A. campers as Central American children. Whoops! In Kentucky, voters have a fake Senate candidate to consider: Gil Fulbright. His ad his hilarious, and starts with:

Hi, I’m Gil Fulbright. The people who run my campaign, they’ve made this commercial — and I’m in it. This campaign — it’s not about me, it’s about crafting a version of me that will appeal to you. A version that visits random worksites with paid actors pointing at things. A version of me that doesn’t find old people loathsome or pointless.

The people behind the effort are making a strong point about money in politics, and doing so in a very funny way, we have to say. Not-as-fake (but still pretty laughable) candidate Thomas Ravenel is running for Senate down in South Carolina. He’s not only been on reality television, but he’s also been previously convicted of drug trafficking. I don’t think Lindsey Graham’s very worried, personally. Speaking of politicians (well, “ex-politicians”) and drugs, there are some highly amusing photos of Tom Tancredo joshing around with some legal marijuana in Colorado, if you haven’t yet seen them. Which brings us to the week’s weed news. Sam Tracy has a great summary of the most-important legislative marijuana news of the week (which is worth checking out) up on Huffington Post, if you’re interested in more detail. Washington, D.C. is still locked in a struggle with Congress over decriminalization, and the White House weighed in strongly on the local government’s side. A unanimous decision was just announced by the U.S. Sentencing Commission that new sentencing standards for non-violent federal drug offenses will actually be applied retroactively — which could give tens of thousands of prisoners shorter sentences to serve. And, finally, a research scientist at the University of Arizona was just fired — coincidentally, right after she received federal approval to study marijuana’s effect on P.T.S.D. in returning soldiers. She describes herself thus: “I am a lifelong Republican, and I am very conservative.” But that hasn’t stopped plenty of liberals from supporting her, by signing a petition to get her reinstated in her job. As of this writing, there are close to 32,000 signatures on the petition, so why not take a minute and add yours to the list? Continue reading Friday Talking Points [312] — Democrats’ ‘Middle Class Jumpstart’ Agenda

Friday Talking Points [310] -- Courtin' Season

FTP3‘Tis the season when the political press all goes a-courtin’. So to speak.

The end of June is an important time on the political calendar, but it is one which most Americans don’t really think about all that much. It’s hard to fault this, since summer is the low ebb of the political season in general, and since Independence Day is just around the corner. But the end of June is also the end of the Supreme Court’s judicial year, when they issue the biggest decisions of the past session. So, let’s take a very quick run through the important decisions handed down in the past week or so, shall we? In other words, “a-courtin’ we will go….”

The biggest news for court-watchers this year is that around half of all the decisions this year have actually been unanimously decided. Seems John Roberts may be trying to push back a bit on the impression that most cases in his court are decided in a 4-5 split, yea or nay. Only the wonkiest of court-watchers have so far noticed, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

The other thing worth noting, before we run through the decisions themselves, is that this week is chock-full of anniversaries. It’s the 50th for the “Freedom Summer” of registering black votes in Mississippi, and it is the one-year anniversary for the Senate passing a comprehensive immigration bill with a strong bipartisan vote. The House has yet to do anything more on the subject than dither, in the meantime. Judicially, though, it has been only a single year since the decisions on gay marriage were handed down. Think about the immense progress marriage equality has achieved since, and it’s easy to forget how monumental these decisions were, only one short year ago. An appeals court just ruled that marriage equality must take place in Utah, of all places. That just wouldn’t have been possible a year ago, and it likely wouldn’t have happened at all if the high court hadn’t ruled against DOMA and Proposition 8. The only question now remaining is: will the case in which the Supreme Court sweepingly tosses out all remaining state laws against marriage equality happen next year or the year after that? That is an immense amount of progress in one year’s time, folks.

From the Supreme Court, there was some good news and some bad news for people across the political spectrum. Aereo lost its case against the broadcast networks, as the Supreme Court ruled that recording shows pulled off individual antennas and then providing them later to mobile devices was, essentially, no different than running a cable company. Massachusetts “buffer zones” around abortion clinics were struck down, unanimously (although different justices used different rationales to arrive at the same conclusion). Many have pointed out the incredible irony of a Supreme Court who says buffer zones are illegal while maintaining their own buffer zone which removes protests from their doorstep (in other words, their own steps aren’t a “free speech zone”).

The Environmental Protection Agency mostly won the right to regulate carbon emissions, although they did lose on one technicality about how they go about doing so. This still means they’ll be able to regulate about 97 percent of what they were claiming, so overall it’s an environmental win (the decision could have been a lot worse, to put it mildly).

President Obama got his wrist slapped for recess appointments made while the Senate was “in session.” Those scare quotes are necessary, because what being “in session” means, in this case, is that during their many many weeks-long vacations scattered throughout the year, the Senate calls upon members from nearby states (wouldn’t want to make anyone else fly back, in other words) to drive down to the Capitol once every three days, unlock the chamber, flick on the lights, move to the podium and gavel the Senate into session. After performing this onerous duty (to a completely empty room), the gavel comes down again, and the session is closed. A walk back up the aisle, the lights flicked off, and don’t forget to lock the door. Every three days, this has been happening, in recent years. Because of this, the Senate claims it is not actually in recess, but still in session. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [310] — Courtin’ Season

Friday Talking Points [309] -- Meet Brian Schweitzer

FTP3Today, we’re going to have a special edition of the talking points, where we get to know a Montana politician who seems to be seriously considering taking on Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. But before we do so, it was a busy week otherwise, so let’s just dive right into it. First, a look at what’s going with Republicans.

Three separate Republican scandals were in the news this week, as Wisconsin governor Scott Walker was accused of running a criminal scheme out of his office, Congressman Don Young of Alaska was dinged by the House Ethics Committee for airplane rides he should have paid for himself, and prosecutors seem to be closing in on New Jersey governor Chris Christie. But even with all of that going on, the most shocking thing a Republican did wasn’t actually a scandal per se, merely scandalous.

Thad Cochran faces a runoff election next week to be the Republican nominee for the Senate seat he now holds. It is expected to be a tight race. Cochran is out there fighting for every vote — even the bestiality vote. Yes, you read that right. Here he is, addressing a rural Mississippi audience:

I grew up coming down here for Christmas. My father’s family was here. My mother’s family was from rural Hinds County in Utica. It was fun, it was an adventure to be out there in the country and to see what goes on. Picking up pecans — from that to all kinds of indecent things with animals. And I know some of you know what that is.

Hoo boy. Not much more you can say about that one, is there?

There was news from the Washington Post this week, but not in the ordinary way. Two Post writers made some news of their own, as Dana Milbank annoyed righties by pointing out just how intolerant a recent righty gathering was. Meanwhile, George Will was yanked from a newspaper his column has been running in, for a column he wrote a few weeks ago where he took a rather bizarre position on campus sexual assault.

The news media (at least the televised portion) showed without a shadow of a doubt that they have not learned one single lesson from their coverage in the run-up to the Iraq war. I mean, even Glenn Beck (of all people) now admits that “liberals were right” about going in to Iraq, but the producers of teevee news have yet to realize this, it appears. Last Sunday morning, by my count, the broadcast political interview shows (on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox) had a total of nine Republicans on, which was “balanced” by two Democrats. The likely reason for this is that people like John McCain can be reliably counted upon to rant and rave, which the producers feel makes for “good television.”

This trend continued during the week, as pretty much everyone who got Iraq fundamentally and tragically wrong before we invaded was invited to share their views about what to do now. In what universe is this any way to run the news: “Let’s see… who should we ask what to do now… Oh, hey, I know — how about all the people who got it wrong last time around?”

At least Megyn Kelley (on Fox News, of all places) realized that interviewing Dick Cheney involved quite a bit of tossing reality down the memory hole, as she asked him, point-blank:

Time and time again, history has proven that you got it wrong as well in Iraq, sir. You said there was no doubt Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. You said we would be greeted as liberators, you said the Iraq insurgency was in the last throes, back in 2005, and you said that after our intervention extremists would have to ‘rethink their strategy of jihad.’ Now, with almost $1 trillion spent there, with almost 4,500 American lives lost there, what do you say to those who say you were so wrong about so much at the expense of so many?

Sadly, most of the rest of the media were unaware of the ironies involved. Why else would Paul Bremer be interviewed on CNN? Or Paul Wolfowitz invited on air to share his flawed worldview once again? Huffington Post had some fun with this, suggesting proper captioning for these guests, to inform the viewers. Hey, people who book guests for news shows, here’s a crazy idea: why not invite on the air the people who were right about the desirability of invading Iraq to share their views of the current situation? I’d love to hear what Dennis Kucinich thinks about things, for instance. Or Vice President Biden (more on this in a moment), for that matter.

Let’s see, what else? Hard data is coming in on Obamacare, and most of the numbers are good — much better than the naysayers had predicted. The media largely ignored this news, however. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [309] — Meet Brian Schweitzer

Friday Talking Points [308] -- Selenofriggatriskaidekaphobics Unite!

FTP3I have to begin this week by apologizing for the irreverent nature of that title, but then how often do you get a chance to coin a cool word like “selenofriggatriskaidekaphobia”? The proper answer is that the chance won’t come again until 2049, which explains why we couldn’t resist. The word is a mashup of two phobias, the fear of a full moon (selenophobia) and the fear of Friday the 13th (friggatriskaidekaphobia, not to be confused with fear of the number 13, which is just triskaidekaphobia, of course). The rare occurrence of a full moon on a Friday the 13th won’t happen again for another 35 years, so today’s pretty much it for this generation of selenofriggatriskaidekaphobics, at least. But enough of this looney etymological fun, let’s get on with a week chock-full of political happenings, shall we?

Hillary Clinton apparently has a new book out, as anyone within sight of a television learned this week. This would have been the big story this week, except a whole bunch of other stuff happened which overshadowed Hillary’s book tour. By week’s end, the Clinton news had even moved on to astonishment that Chelsea Clinton was being paid a whopping $600,000 a year to produce the occasional puff piece for NBC News. Nice work, if you can get it, eh?

Another story which faded fast was the Bowe Bergdahl saga, even though his girlfriend released his handwritten journals to the Washington Post, which gave a glimpse inside his troubled mind.

An amendment to weaken “trucker fatigue” standards for professional truck drivers was debated in the Senate, mere days before Tracy Morgan’s limo was hit by a trucker who had reportedly been awake for more than 24 hours. This was indeed an ironic twist of fate, but we refuse to make cheap jokes about an accident which killed one of Morgan’s friends.

The Drug Enforcement Agency, according to a new report, has been intentionally hindering research on marijuana for four decades, which should come as a surprise to nobody. The key takeaway from the story:

[The new report] also criticizes the agency for creating a “regulatory Catch-22″ by arguing there is not enough scientific evidence to support rescheduling marijuana while simultaneously impeding the research that would produce such evidence.

A spokesperson at the DEA declined to comment on the report.

In Nevada, “None of these candidates” won the Democratic primary election for the nomination to run against the well-liked governor, Brian Sandoval. This is partly due to the fact that Sandoval is likely to win re-election no matter who runs against him, but it’s still pretty funny for “none of the above” to win an election (due to Nevada’s quirky ballots, which always include this option).

President Obama is visiting an Indian reservation today (the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Nation), becoming only the third president in American history ever to do so (Clinton did so in 1999, and F.D.R. was the first). From the story, which most of the media is likely to ignore:

Obama is making his first visit as president to an Indian reservation, where he will tout the strides his administration has made with Native Americans, unveil new education and economic measures aimed at Native Americans and speak of the difficult work that remains to pull many tribal members out of crippling poverty and endemic unemployment.

Many tribal leaders say Obama has done more in six years for Native Americans than all of his predecessors combined. The administration has given land back to tribes, worked one-on-one with tribal governments and is cracking down on crime in Indian Country.

“The best thing that’s happened to Indian Country has been President Obama being elected,” said Dave Archambault II, chairman of Standing Rock.

In other Native American news, a television ad called “Proud To Be” was run during a basketball championship game which featured many Native Americans stating what they are proud to be called. The ad ends with: “Native Americans call themselves many things. The one thing they don’t…” which then shows a picture of a Washington Redskins football helmet. You can see the full two-minute version of this powerful ad in the story at Huffington Post.

In international news, Iraq is self-destructing. This led the Wall Street Journal to call for a few airstrikes and some American paratroopers to fix the problem, because we all know how well that turned out the last time, right? The Maliki government has dug its own grave, and now it is about to lie in it. Obama, thankfully, stated that there would be no new American boots on the ground any time soon. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [308] — Selenofriggatriskaidekaphobics Unite!

Friday Talking Points [307] -- An Alternate Reality to Consider

FTP3This week was notable in many respects in the political world, but one subject overwhelmed almost everything else. We’re going to address the prisoner swap and Bowe Bergdahl in an unusual way this week, in lieu of our regular talking points at the end of the column. But first, we’re going to take a very quick look at what else happened this week, and then hand out the weekly awards.

This week marked the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square, the 70th anniversary of D-Day, and the little-remembered 75th anniversary of the United States turning away a refugee ship filled with over 900 Jews fleeing Hitler (the so-called “Voyage of the Damned“). Keeping tight immigration quotas was, politically, more important at the time. D-Day was our nation’s finest hour in World War II, but the story of the M.V. St. Louis was perhaps our most shameful hour. Not to detract from D-Day, but both events are worth remembering this week, for very different reasons.

There was a bizarre scandal over at the Drug Enforcement Agency this week, but the media decided collectively to ignore it, even though it has all kinds of exploitation possibilities. A woman who is “still employed by the DEA, according to a Justice Department press release” and her husband staged the fake kidnapping of American children in Columbia, in an effort to defraud the government. Here are the facts, such as they are, from the press release. Now will someone please tell me why this isn’t newsworthy? It seems to have all the necessary ingredients for a major scandal, but the mainstream media just yawned.

In other D.E.A. news, doctors in Massachusetts are being threatened with the loss of their federally-administered ability to prescribe medicine, to pressure them not to support medical marijuana in the state. This is about as thuggish and jack-booted as government gets, folks. If your political views aren’t the correct ones, we will destroy your career. Someone remind me, why does D.E.A. chief Michele Leonhart still have a job?

Congress is doing what it can to push back, as a law sailed through a Senate committee this week (on a 22-8 vote) which would block the D.E.A.’s ability to crack down on industrial hemp experiments which Congress has already authorized. None other than Mitch McConnell was a co-sponsor of the bill (after a shipment of hemp seeds to Kentucky was briefly blocked), showing how non-partisan an issue denouncing the D.E.A. now is.

Moving along, eight states held a primary election this Tuesday. In San Jose, medicinal marijuana shops were offering free weed for anyone with an “I voted” sticker, which is probably illegal (but then, under federal law, so is their entire business operation). Sooner or later I just know I’m going to see a bumper sticker saying “I smoke pot — and I vote!” At this point, it’s pretty much inevitable.

The biggest news from the primary results is the impending runoff between Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi and his Tea Party challenger. Although, if you dug for it, there was some good news for progressives in this week’s contests, too.

In what was the most far-reaching news of the week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced new pollution rules. This was overshadowed by all the squabbling going on over the prisoner exchange, but President Obama’s legacy as the best president on environmental issues in all our history will indeed be remembered for decades to come. From raising car emissions standards to now doing something about power plants, Obama has made more progress on this than any president since Richard Nixon first set up the E.P.A.

In “Republicans attempt to reach out to voters” news, this week a major Republican gay rights group decided to just close up shop. Yes, sadly, GOProud is no more.

The National Rifle Association released an extraordinary statement about certain people who are demanding the right to carry long guns wherever they want, which included:

Let’s not mince words, not only is it rare, it’s downright weird and certainly not a practical way to go normally about your business while being prepared to defend yourself. To those who are not acquainted with the dubious practice of using public displays of firearms as a means to draw attention to oneself or one’s cause, it can be downright scary. It makes folks who might normally be perfectly open-minded about firearms feel uncomfortable and question the motives of pro-gun advocates.

This was way too reasonable for their supporters, and so by week’s end they had retracted and apologized for exhibiting any shred of sanity on the issue. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [307] — An Alternate Reality to Consider

Friday Talking Points [306] -- End of Reefer Madness?

FTP3It has been a momentous week, with the resignation (read: “firing”) of a cabinet secretary, a presidential speech on America’s foreign and military policy, and the announcement of a timetable to bring home the remaining troops in Afghanistan. Plus all the usual Washington squabbling. But one story risks being buried among all this other newsworthy stuff, and that is the vote which happened late last night in the House of Representatives. Because, with a healthy bipartisan majority, they just voted to end the war on medical marijuana forever. If the Senate follows their lead, this could be one of the biggest turning points in ending the federal War On Weed altogether. In other words, it is a momentous event.

The “Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment” was sponsored by Republican Dana Rohrabacher and Democrat Sam Farr, both from California — the first state in the nation to legalize medical marijuana, almost two decades ago. It uses the traditional congressional “power of the purse” to ban the Justice Department from spending any money on arrests, raids, and prosecutions of medical marijuana providers and patients that comply with their states’ medical marijuana laws. That’s the entire Justice Department, including federal attorneys, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

While the Obama administration began with a promise not to prosecute medical marijuana patients and providers, the reality on the ground has been far different. U.S. Attorneys in some states have used an extremely heavy hand in bringing such prosecutions to court, no matter what the head office was saying (this article, written before the amendment passed, lists a few of these). The head of the D.E.A. has (to put it politely) not exactly jumped on board with laying off medical marijuana providers. Action by Congress, in this case, was necessary to refocus the entire Justice Department away from the drug-warrior mindset when it came to providing medicine to ill patients.

Last night, to the great surprise of even marijuana reform activists, the House voted 219-189 to yank all funding for targeting medical marijuana in states where it is legal (in state law — it still remains illegal under federal law, medicinal or not). A whopping 49 Republicans joined 170 Democrats in voting “yea.” That’s about as bipartisan as it gets, these days. It also raises hopes that its chances in the Senate could be pretty good. House Republicans, by standing behind the idea, have given political cover to Republican senators to vote for the measure, to put this another way. It’s barely even a contentious idea politically any more, as surveys show public support is now at a sky-high 85 percent.

Rohrabacher even invoked a sacred name (for Republicans), showing how to put a conservative spin on the issue: “The heart and soul of the Republican party is that pro-freedom, individual philosophy that Reagan talked about. I think that what we’ve got now and what we have here in the Republican vote last night were people who took a lot of those words and the philosophy of Ronald Reagan to heart.” Those are strong words indeed (again, for Republicans).

If the Senate follows the House’s lead, this will be the beginning of the end of the federal legal battle against medical marijuana — which is now legal at the state level in close to half of the states. Success is by no means guaranteed, however. The amendment has been attached to a budget bill, and there is no guarantee that any budget bills will make it to the president’s desk this year (they may be rolled into some giant omnibus bill, or Congress may punt until after the election or even next year). The Senate may not even take up the amendment at any point. There are all sorts of ways it could be derailed, in fact.

Even if it does survive in a bill Obama can sign, it is still only the first step. The ultimate goal, in this particular case, is “rescheduling” marijuana so we can end the federal legal fiction that it has no accepted medicinal value. Attorney General Eric Holder can do so with his signature, but he has indicated that he’d like Congress to buy into the idea as well. Last night’s vote means that this could indeed happen in the near future. In addition to the other marijuana reforms either Holder or Congress has approved (sentencing reforms, allowing recreational legalization in two states to proceed, hemp production, allowing medical research on marijuana, etc.), we are now standing on the brink of ending the “reefer madness” altogether. No, not the “madness” of the “reefer fiend” so famously propagandized in the movie of the same name, but rather the madness of treating marijuana more harshly than drugs like methamphetamine. It is, indeed, madness to believe that weed is more harmful to society than crystal meth. And that is the madness that could be about to end. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [306] — End of Reefer Madness?