Friday Talking Points -- Merry Cliffmas!

The end times are upon us! Maya Rudolph said so, right?

What's that? Mayans? Not Maya Rudolph? Man, I've got to start paying closer attention to these things. I'm still trying to figure out what sort of omen it is that Paul McCartney performed with Nirvana on 12/12/12, personally. Maybe not the end times, but certainly the strange times.

Ahem. I would say "all kidding aside" but we've got so much silliness at the top of the program this week that it wouldn't be strictly accurate. Because no matter what happens with that whole Mayan thing, this will indeed be the last of these columns of 2012. For the next two weeks we will instead be running our annual two-part homage to the McLaughlin Awards, and stating our picks in all the categories, as we cast our eyes backwards over the year that was. Feel free to offer up your own suggestions for the "best" and "worst" of 2012 in the comments, as we've got a lot of categories to fill! For now, though, we'll just have to wish everyone a "Merry Cliffmas!" and watch how the whole fiscal fight works out for the next two weeks along with everyone else.

But first, let's whip through what happened just in the last week. Obama announced that he would be sworn in for the third and fourth times next January, matching Franklin Delano Roosevelt's record. Watch for this to be a burr under the saddle of Rightwingistan as the event draws closer. The reason Obama's getting a double-helping of swearings-in (swearing-ins?) was caused, in the first and second places, by an incompetent Chief Justice who was too vain to write down the words dictated by the Constitution on a 3-by-5 card -- and instead decided to just wing it, four years ago. This necessitated a "do-over" the next day. This time around, the calendar dictates the double ceremony. January 20th falls on a Sunday this year, and the big outdoor inauguration ceremony is traditionally not held on Sundays (even though it'd be a lot easier, being a weekend day and all). But, like I said, look for the calendar to be somehow "Obama's fault" soon, on a talk radio network near you.

Also grist for the crazy mill on the right bank of the stream, this week a bank got robbed by a guy wearing a Mitt Romney mask. The same bank was robbed a while back by someone wearing a Hillary Clinton mask. I leave it as an exercise for the student as to how these jigsaw puzzles will be put together by the ranters and ravers into some sort of anti-Obama conspiracy theory.

Of course, it's not just the rightwing media that deserves scorn, but also our corporate "mainstream" media as well. The one thing they're good at (pun intended) is monomania. In any complex news story, the "journalists" and "pundits" can be counted on to focus on one distracting aspect of the story, to the exclusion of all else. Case in point: the fiscal cliff negotiations. It's all about (the media would have you think) raising the tax rates on the top two percent. This is "balanced" with stories of slashing entitlement spending. That's the whole debate, as far as the media's concerned.

Earlier this week, FAIR pointed out one of the omissions in this discussion. A tax which could bring in between 35 and 350 billion dollars per year seems like a pretty big omission, when you consider that adds up to between $350 billion and $3.5 trillion over a ten year budget. The entire "grand bargain" Boehner and Obama walked away from was only in the $4 trillion range, for comparison. The tax even has a catchy name -- the "Robin Hood" tax. But the silence of the mainstream (read: "corporate") media is deafening.

Also being ignored are two major reports out from Congress. The first proves that higher taxes on the wealthy do not impact the American economy. They just don't. Republicans are all wet, to put this another way, when they try to scare legislators with tales of recession, depression, and woe (if the wealthiest among us are required to pay an extra four percent). They're just flat-out wrong -- historic data prove so. Heard about it in the mainstream media? I thought not. This report actually came out twice -- and the first time was right before the election. But the news blackout continues.

The other report out is the one which proves the pro-torture folks were likewise just flat-out wrong when they asserted that torturing people gains you important intelligence. This report is still secret, so the only thing we have are secondhand reports of what's in the 6,000-page document, but I'd be willing to bet it doesn't get much airplay on the evening news.

Maybe we should try Jedi mind tricks, instead of torture. The Obama White House is the first in history to embrace the internet's accessibility and social aspects fully, but as anyone who does so quickly realizes, there are both a lot of jokers out there and there are also a lot of fanatics of various type. The White House's "ask us anything" page operates with a promise -- if you get over 25,000 signatures for your petition inside of 30 days, you will get an official answer from the White House to your question. Which leads, at times, to demands that America revamp its military by beginning construction (by 2016) of a Death Star. That's right, a literal Darth Vader military platform in space of planetary proportions. This petition to the White House successfully crossed the threshold of 25,000 just before the deadline was up, so in a few weeks we'll get the official Obama administration position on building a Death Star.

Bet the media will cover that one.


President Obama certainly made some reasonable noises this week on the tricky subject of what to do about all those citizens in Colorado and Washington that voted to legalize recreational use of marijuana. But then, we've heard Obama make reasonable noises before on this subject, only to then turn around and crack down harsher than even Republican presidents have done -- so forgive us if we're kind of skeptical, at this juncture. Words are fine, but let's see what actual policies get written before we even consider any awards.

Senator Patrick Leahy, however, deserves an Honorable Mention at least, for deciding to act as well as speak. Leahy announced he will be holding hearings on the subject of marijuana laws early next year. By doing so, he is putting the country on notice. We've all had fun cracking jokes about the stoners in Colorado and Washington for a few weeks now, and now that it's old news it is time to have a much more serious discussion, as a country, about the "War On (Some) Drugs." The war on weed, in particular, has never worked, is not working now, and will never work -- so maybe it's time to stop pouring billions and billions of taxpayer dollars down this rathole of impossibility and move on, rather than continuing to hope that some day throwing obscene amounts of money at the problem (and obscene numbers of people in jail) is going to change things in the slightest. We will be watching Leahy's hearings closely.

Chris Van Hollen also deserves an Honorable Mention this week, for reasons which will be explained in the talking points section, below.

We have two Most Impressive Democrats Of The Week to hand out this week. The first goes to Senator-Elect Elizabeth Warren, who will officially be on the Senate banking committee (the "United States Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs" to give it the proper title) starting next year. There is only one possible thing to say to Wall Street, in response: "Instant karma's gonna get you...."

The other MIDOTW award goes to Senator Tom Harkin, for an article he published as I was writing last Friday's column (didn't see it last week, in other words). Now, punditary bloggers are free to offer up their own suggestions for what to do about taxes and the fiscal cliff (as I did so earlier this week on taxing the rich), and it makes us feel good and perhaps influences the debate a bit. But none of us can write a line which begins "I have put forward legislation that would...." Senator Harkin can. And so he did.

Harkin's plan for Social Security is to raise benefits by an average of $65 a month, figure COLAs (cost of living adjustments) more generously, and pay for it all -- and insure the program's solvency for decades to come) -- by removing the cap on Social Security earnings. His article explaining this plan is well worth reading -- because so far, I haven't heard a peep over in the "liberal" mainstream media about this plan. Not one peep.

Harkin's plan deserves to be on the table. This idea deserves to be discussed, every time Social Security is discussed. Harkin is right, and he has the prescription for how to fix Social Security permanently, and by doing so increase benefits. For his leadership, Harkin has also earned a Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Call your own senator up today, and ask him or her whether he supports Harkin's bill -- and if not, why not?

[Senator-Elect Elizabeth Warren does not have an official Senate page yet, so you'll have to wait to congratulate her until she's sworn in next year. Congratulate Senator Tom Harkin on his Senate contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts. And you can go to the main Senate page to find the phone number for your own senator, to show your support Harkin's plan.]


It was disappointing indeed to see Susan Rice take herself out of the running for Secretary of State this week. By doing so, she avoids a big fight for Obama early next year, but that's about the only good thing that can be said about this whole sorry faux scandal.

Joe Lieberman gave his goodbye speech in the Senate, but we kicked him around last week, so we'll just try not to pop the champagne corks until he's left the building for the last time. See ya, Joe! Buh-bye! Have fun in your new career as a military lobbyist!

The entire rest of the blogosphere is covering the disappointment many felt after today's school shooting tragedy, when the White House spokesman said he didn't think it was time to talk about gun control. When is it time to talk about gun control in Washington? Never, apparently. Sigh.

But we've got a group award for the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week and (sadly) two groups to hand it out to. Two Democrats in Washington state, and five Democrats in New York state decided to caucus with Republicans in their state legislative chambers, which threw control of both chambers to the Republicans. This is astonishingly disappointing, and downright shameful, folks.

The Washington state senate and the New York state senate will now be in Republican hands -- with plenty of goodies like chairmanships and patronage jobs for the Democrats who joined them. All seven of these self-serving politicos mightily deserve their Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards.

[We were too disgusted to even type any of these jokers' names into a search engine, so you'll have to search their contact information out on your own. We apologize for the lapse.]


Volume 238 (12/14/12)

We've got sort of a mishmash of talking points this week. We're throwing a few fiscal cliff arguments into the mix, because as mentioned this column won't be around during the final seconds of this particular match. Unless it hasn't been resolved by the first Friday in January, of course, which is always an option.

In any case, here is our 238th installment of valiantly attempting to get Democrats to occasionally speak with one voice, and not get lost in the weeds of rhetoric.


   "Never" shouldn't be the time to talk about guns

This talking point is being made by so many today that it really needs no explanation. For me, the point was best made over a week ago by fellow Huffington Post blogger Will Bunch, who commented about the reaction Bob Costas got for even talking about the subject of guns, right after a football player shot first his girlfriend and then himself. Sadly, Bunch's column points out exactly where we are now with incredible clarity.

So if Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were afraid to talk about guns (and they were), no wonder America was so shocked when Bob Costas spoke Sunday night, shocked that a man in his position didn't know the right time to talk about guns in this great nation.


Call me crazy, but I'm not sure that's how it should be.


   The GOP's War On Women continues

Really, you'd think some Republicans would have learned their lessons by now. There was that whole election thing, after all. But House Republicans seem not to have gotten the memo.

"I find it disgusting that House Republicans are refusing to let women in America's armed services be covered by their insurance for an abortion after they have been raped. That's right -- women in uniform who are the victims of rape are forced to pay for their own abortions because their insurance doesn't cover it. Other forms of insurance for federal employees do cover abortions for rape victims, but House Republicans are insisting that the women who wear our country's uniform dig into their own pocket because they are the victim of a horrific crime. The War On Women continues, apparently. Way to 'support the troops,' Republicans."


   Time is running out

Repeating this over and over again is going to make Republicans sweat. Obama has drawn the line in the sand, and if time runs out it'll be to his advantage. So make them sweat!

"Every day that goes by we get a little closer to the fiscal cliff. But I notice that John Boehner is taking the weekend off, and I bet Congress will still make all their flights for their vacations in the next few weeks. Time is running out, and Republicans seem to be wasting a lot of it. Last week, Boehner let all of the House out of school for the weekend on Wednesday, for Pete's sake! John Boehner likes to use the term 'slow-walking' but it's pretty obvious to the American people who is slow-walking and dragging his feet not to cut a deal. It's time to deal, John. Time is running out."


   GOP wrong on taxes

What does it take to get Democrats to bludgeon Republicans? I mean, here the Congressional Research Office just handed the Democrats a beauty of a blunt instrument, and it's just begging to be swung a few times by Democrats on television, if only to wake the media up a bit.

"The folks Congress relies upon for factual research looked into the question of any relationship between raising taxes on the wealthy and the growth of the American economy. Republicans repeat their mantra that raising taxes will spell doom for the economy, so we wanted to check who was right. After looking all the way back to World War II, the researchers report that there is little or no effect at all -- they said it was 'negligible' at worst. Got that? History proves Republicans wrong on whether raising taxes on the wealthy will impact the economy in a negative way. It won't. Period. The data are in. Examining the history shows that it is absolutely false to claim otherwise."


   Scrap the cap

Tom Harkin's plan is another thing worth bringing up, because it's no use waiting for the blow-dried "anchorperson" type to ever mention such a thing.

"Solving Social Security is simple, and we do not have to raise retirement ages or cut benefits to do so. In fact, we can even raise benefits and have better COLAs if we do save Social Security by using Senator Tom Harkin's proposed legislation. All we'd have to do is 'scrap the cap.' Remove the cap on earnings that most American workers don't even realize exists, and in one fell swoop the program is solvent past the year 2050. It's a simple step, it's a step most Americans would agree is fair, and nobody's benefits would have to be cut. Which makes me wonder why journalists never even seem to mention it as a possibility, when discussing possible changes in the program. Scrap the cap. That's all you have to do. Ask Tom Harkin, he'll tell you."


   Boehner's worried about his job

This one is truly brilliant. Just on sheer usefulness alone. Chris Van Hollen, a prominent Democratic voice in the House, this week introduced a wonderful bit of spin into the fiscal cliff talks. This is going to come in handy in January, if we do go over the cliff, folks.

"Is John Boehner really putting all his cards on the table? Or is he more worried about winning re-election as Speaker of the House, as Chris Van Hollen claims? The leadership election takes place on the third day of January. If Boehner refuses to deal and sends us over the fiscal cliff, then he will look strong to his caucus, whereas if he cuts a deal on taxes before then there may be a insurgent push from within his own party to deny him the Speaker's chair for the next two years. If Boehner waits until after the third of January to cut a deal -- which then happens after he's been re-elected Speaker, then I think it'll be plain to all of America that the man is really more interested in power-grasping and his own political career than about what happens to anyone else in the country should we go off the fiscal cliff."


   Happy Hobbitmas!

While it will not actually be in the first movie (Three movies? Really?), there's a scene from The Hobbit worth quoting this week, from the original Tolkien, as a cautionary tale to anyone overconfident of one particular outcome of the fiscal cliff talks or another. So, in the spirit of "Happy Hobbitmas!" we offer the following as food for thought.

To set the stage: Bilbo Baggins has just bravely swiped a gold cup from the great dragon Smaug's hoard. Smaug awakens....

Smaug was still to be reckoned with. It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him. Dragons may not have much real use for all their wealth, but they know it to an ounce as a rule, especially after long possession; and Smaug was no exception. ... He stirred and stretched forth his neck to sniff. Then he missed the cup!

Thieves! Fire! Murder! Such a thing had not happened since first he came to the Mountain! His rage passes description -- the sort of rage that is only seen when rich folk that have more than they can enjoy suddenly lose something that they have long had but never before used or wanted.


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