I spent most of my time (and my columns) this week on reviewing Betty Medsger's new book The Burglary (with both a two-part review of the book and an interview with the author), which meant I wasn't focusing as closely as I usually do on current politics. So let's rectify that immediately, starting with our weekly roundup of what's been going on outside of the literary world.
The Supreme Court heard arguments in two cases where corporations are requiring certain women to wear a scarlet "A" on their uniforms... um, no wait... that can't be right... let me check my notes....
The Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases (joking aside) are going to set a precedent, one way or another, on corporate "rights" versus the rights of actual citizens. The liberal women on the Supreme Court asked some very pointed questions about where, exactly, this would take us as a country; but it's looking like this is going to be one of those 5-4 decisions, so all eyes will be on Justice Kennedy, the assumed swing vote. There were many excellent articles written this week pointing out the possible ramifications of the cases, to which I added my own point of view for what to expect next in the courts, if Hobby Lobby wins.
Plans to reform the National Security Agency were introduced by both the White House and Congress this week, the culmination of President Obama calling for a quick review of NSA spying a few months ago. None of this would ever have happened without Edward Snowden, of course, which led Glenn Greenwald to take a well-deserved victory lap, of sorts.
New Jersey's governor, Chris Christie, released a report that totally exonerated him on the whole "Bridgegate" scandal, which was no surprise since he hired the law firm to write the report in the first place (using a cool million of the New Jersey taxpayers' dollars to pay for it). I'd like to propose that everyone immediately start calling this the "Nothing To See Here, Move Along..." report. It's only fitting, really.
[We have to issue a warning here, because our next paragraph is going to contain an ugly and derogatory slur. It has been intentionally included to show precisely how bigoted the person in question was. Consider yourselves warned.]
Fred Phelps, leader of a church which displayed its un-Christian bigotry for all to see (both on a website named for one of their favorite and most-hateful slogans -- "God Hates Fags" -- as well as on even-worse slogans on signs they held up at military funerals), died this week. One local gay rights organization showed how truly classy they were by staging a counter-demonstration to one of the church's, and holding up a banner stating: "Sorry for your loss." One might almost call it a parable about how Christian love is supposed to work, in fact. Meanwhile, the vice-mayor of Maricopa, Arizona, was the poster boy for how not to react to news of Phelps's death: by praising a satirical obituary for Phelps which ran in The Onion. Clueless about both Phelps and the fact that he was praising a fake news article, Ed Farrell at least had the intelligence to quickly back away from his position, offering up a sweeping condemnation of his own actions (as far as political apologies go, this is one of the best ones we've ever seen, to be fair): "I had no idea who this Phelps guy was, I had no idea about the publication The Onion... I had no clue about this guy; he's an idiot. I can't believe that I posted what I posted... shame on me."
In Michigan, gay couples were allowed a brief window to get married, which hundreds quickly did. The window slammed shut almost immediately, though, which sets up an inherently unequal legal situation, much like Proposition 8 did in California.
In marijuana news, the National Cannabis Industry Association has hired a full-time lobbyist in Washington. Make all the "suits-and-ties" jokes you want, but this could be crucial to getting very specific changes made to federal law without reviving the Drug War hysteria over the issue. This could solve problems like the one faced right now by Utah. Utah just legalized a form of medical marijuana, but only for its citizens to possess it. With no way to legally acquire it, they could always go next door to Colorado (where it's legal), but then they'd be faced with a strange problem. It'd be legal (by state law) for them to own it in either Colorado or Utah, but it'd be illegal to transport across the border. Getting commonsense changes to federal laws to solve such problems may be a lot easier with a lobbyist working on them.
Let's see, what else? The Obamacare website has now signed up over six million people, four days before the deadline. Obama extended this deadline a few weeks, so hitting the original target of seven million may actually be within reach, now. Those millions, of course, aren't the only ones directly benefiting from Obamacare, as a quick look at this handy graph shows.
And, to close, House Republicans now say it's just too late to pass an extension of unemployment benefits. This, after they spent time this week trying to strip President Obama of the power to create National Monuments. Way to prioritize, guys...
We have two Honorable Mention awards before we get to the main event this week. The first one goes to a Democrat who supported a Republican's bill in the House, because the bill is such a great idea that we do not care who proposed it. Democratic Representative Raul Ruiz joined Republican Paul Gosar in sponsoring legislation which would prohibit members of Congress flying -- on the taxpayers' dime -- in first class. Gosar introduced the bill, saying: "Members of Congress are servants of the people and should not be considered a privileged class." We could not agree more, and applaud Ruiz for supporting the effort.
The second Honorable Mention goes to Vice President Joe Biden, for having a planet named after him (kind of). That's both "kind of a planet" and "kind of named after him," which is why Joe didn't outright win the MIDOTW for such a feat. The heavenly body in question is a "dwarf planet" (or a "trans-Neptunian object") and was given the designation 2012 VP 113 -- which led the discoverer to decide to use the name "Biden" for it, in the meantime (get it? "VP"?). But, alas, naming objects in the sky is a long process which weeds out all sorts of amusing names, as evidenced by the trans-Neptunian object which caused all the trouble in the first place, years ago (and, also, the downgrade of Pluto). Now named "Eris" (for, appropriately, the goddess of discord), this object was originally casually referred to by its discoverer as "Xena" (and, of course, when a moon was also discovered, it was whimsically named "Gabby"). What this all means is that Planet Biden (or Dwarf Planet Biden, perhaps) is not going to keep this name for long. But still, even for a short period, it's a pretty impressive thing to have a whole planet named for you, we have to admit.
But the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week was a man running for governor in Massachusetts. Currently the state's treasurer, Steve Grossman attended a political debate with other candidates and even though he passed a kidney stone during the 90-minute debate, he remained until the end. Frankly, we haven't heard of a similar feat of physical pain-ignoring in politics since we heard the story of Teddy Roosevelt getting shot in the chest by an assassin -- and then going ahead and giving a 90-minute campaign speech, while blood seeped into his shirt -- before he would allow his aides to take him to a hospital.
I guess the proper thing to say to Grossman is, "Bully for you!" That's the only thing we can think of, because the story left us rather speechless. For his stamina and true grit, Steve Grossman is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.
[Congratulate Massachusetts Treasurer Steve Grossman on his official contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
When politicians are accused of wrongdoing in court, they enter a sort of limbo. They have been accused, but have not defended themselves against the charges yet, and could be found innocent of wrongdoing. What they do in the meantime, however, should really depend on both the severity of the accusation as well as their own chances for acquittal. We have three such Democrats this week, who each handled things differently. The first two only deserve (Dis-)Honorable Mentions, at least until they have been convicted (or plead guilty) in a court of law. The last one, however, is a doozy.
Patrick Cannon, the mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, has only been on the job for six months. When he was arrested and accused this week of some pretty blatant bribery this week by the FBI (who had run a sting operation, posing as real estate developers), he almost immediately resigned his office, so that the city could function in the meantime.
Up in Rhode Island, Gordon Fox, the speaker of the state house, was also the target of a raid, by federal and state cops. Nobody's said yet what this investigation covers, but Fox almost immediately resigned his leadership post and stated that he would not run for re-election. That's not quite as good as resigning from office altogether, but it's still one arguably-valid way of dealing with such an investigation.
Over in California, however, things have gotten completely out of control. Three (count them, three...) state senators are now facing legal problems of varying degrees. The latest arrested was state senator Leland Yee, who -- despite being a politician who supports gun control -- has been charged with being involved with international gunrunning. This is in addition to Ron Calderon, who has been indicted on bribery charges, and -- incredibly -- Roderick Wright, who has already been convicted of voter fraud and perjury.
Our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week is the entire California Democratic state senate caucus, for allowing things to get this out of hand.
To understand why, a little background is necessary. California Democrats have a two-thirds "supermajority" in the state senate which allows them to completely ignore the Republicans in the chamber. But it's a thin edge, and losing any of these senators would have slipped them below the supermajority number. So they just put Calderon and Wright (when they were charged) on leave -- without suspending them or expelling them, but with their salaries fully paid-for in the meantime. OK, everyone's innocent until proven guilty, right? But the senate Democrats refused to expel Wright even after he had been convicted in a court of law. He hasn't been sentenced yet, true, but he's still already been found guilty. And he was still just "on leave," with full pay.
When Yee refused to step down (why should he if the other two didn't have to, after all), the California senate finally (and belatedly) acted, and today they suspended the three lawmakers -- still with pay, but at least now they can't cast votes. For the two who are awaiting trial, that might have been good enough, but Wright should have been flat-out expelled from the chamber, and his taxpayer salary should have been ended. Period.
So while Yee himself earns at least a (Dis-)Honorable Mention, the entire bunch of California senate Democrats are the winners of our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. When a politician has been accused, fairly tried, and convicted in a court of law, then there simply is no reason (other than crass politics) to not chuck him out of office. The time to do so for Wright has long since passed, in fact.
[Contact the California senate via the Democratic leader's contact page, to let him know what you think of their inaction.]
Volume 297 (3/28/14)
There was quite a bit of good news for Democratic fans this week, mostly in the realm of how they'll be running their campaigns this year. Much of this centers around Obamacare, which make sense because we're approaching the big deadline of the end of the first open enrollment period.
Democrats are going to need to play offense, not just on health care but on how the two parties differ when it comes to doing something for the middle class and for the working poor. Luckily, Democrats have all kinds of good ideas on this front, while Republicans are just (as usual) against everything.
Make this contrast! Drive it home! It's an election year, and it's time to saddle up and ride the bucking bronco of campaigning, folks. Here are a few ideas for how to do so.
Six million... and counting
This is, obviously, where Democrats need to begin this week.
"The original Congressional Budget Office target for the first year of Obamacare signups was seven million people. After the disastrous first two months of the website's launch, this number was revised downward to six million. President Obama just announced that we've already hit that number, as six million Americans have now used the insurance exchanges to sign up for health insurance. In fact, considering the enormous spike in people using the website in the past week, and considering the grace period announced for anyone who hasn't completed their application, by the time the signup period closes, we may be very close to reaching the original seven million target. Obamacare is working for six million people... and counting."
Republicans want to take affordable health care away from you
Two excellent ads were released this week which show how Democrats really should be fighting back on the Obamacare issue, against Republican candidates who are swearing to repeal Obamacare. In both West Virginia and Michigan, Democratic candidates are showing how to defend their position and put their opponent back on their heels.
"I see that one Democrat in West Virginia is pointing out in a campaign ad that if Republicans get elected and follow through on their 'repeal' promise, it will have real-world impacts on real people in their state. Repealing Obamacare, in West Virginia, means repealing benefits for black lung disease -- a rather large issue in this coal-mining state. In Michigan, another ad points out that Republicans want to allow insurance companies to charge women more for their health care. Democrats need to strongly make this case on the campaign trail -- repealing Obamacare means no treatment for diseased coal miners, and more expensive health care for women. That is what 'repeal' really means, on a very human level."
This should truly be the battle cry for House Democrats, all year long. All together: "Discharge!"
"Nancy Pelosi has now filed what is called a 'discharge petition' in the House to try to move the stalled Senate comprehensive immigration bill. Because Republicans control the chamber, this is the only way Democrats have of putting every Republican on the record on immigration reform. If Pelosi and the Democrats can get less than two dozen Republicans to sign the petition, then the bill has to be allowed a vote on the House floor. Conversely, if a Republican legislator refuses to sign, that means they do not want immigration reform to happen, no matter what they tell their Latino constituents to the contrary. I fully support Pelosi, and would urge her to file more of these discharge petitions as the year goes by, because it is the only way to put Republicans on the record opposing things like hiking the minimum wage. Republicans are scared to vote, but Pelosi is forcing them to put up or shut up. More power to her."
The yes-or-no vote it deserves
This one is a particular bugaboo of ours, since the phrase is so catchy (we actually prefer "an up-or-down vote" but that's just a matter of style). President Obama put out the following statement in response to Pelosi's announcement:
Republicans in the House have refused to allow meaningful immigration reform legislation to even come up for a vote. That's why, today, I applaud the efforts of Democrats in the House to give immigration reform the yes-or-no vote it deserves. ... The only thing standing in the way is the unwillingness of Republicans in Congress to catch up with the rest of the country. And I want to thank the leaders in Congress who are doing their part to move us forward.
Vote! Vote! Vote!
Over in the Senate, Harry Reid can bring these things up for a vote, and really put Republicans on the record. This gives a gigantic preview of the Democratic campaign strategy in the Senate.
"Over in the Senate, Democrats are lining up 10 issues they're going to force to a vote this year, in an effort to show the voters what their party stands for and what Republicans are blocking. This includes hiking the minimum wage, lowering interest rates on college loans, eliminating the pay gap between men and women, and the Bring Jobs Home Act, which would create tax credits for corporations to do precisely that -- bring jobs back home to America. Republicans will be put on the record opposing these issues, even though the American public overwhelmingly supports such ideas. As Michael Bennet of Colorado puts it: 'Just look at the polling on the minimum wage.' Republicans have no ideas for how to help working Americans, and they are actively blocking good ideas which should become law. The voters will see this, as the Senate brings these bills up for votes all year long, in fact."
War On Women polling update
Being a court case, this one is not a direct shot at Republican candidates or officeholders, but instead a sort of metaphorical shot across their bow.
"For all the Republicans commenting on the Hobby Lobby case before the Supreme Court, I'd like to point out some recent polling which may help them formulate their response, especially considering their ongoing problems with women voters. When women between the ages of 18 and 55 were polled, over two-thirds of them -- 68 percent -- disagreed with Hobby Lobby's position. And a whopping 84 percent agreed that such decisions as birth control, quote, should be a woman's personal decision, and her boss should not be able to interfere with it, unquote. To borrow the language used earlier this week by the co-chairs of the House Pro-Choice Caucus, Democrats believe in the long-standing constitutional principle that health care choices should be made between a woman and her doctor, and should not be subject to approval by politicians, bosses, religious leaders, or anyone else."
Missing a lay-up
You almost have to feel sorry for Mitch McConnell, right in the middle of March Madness and all....
"I see that Mitch McConnell just put out a political ad where he was trying to say what a big home-state basketball fan he was, but the ad mistakenly showed not Kentucky, but rather Duke celebrating a victory. Basketball fans in the Bluegrass State, please take note, as Mitch McConnell misses an easy lay-up shot."
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