Friday Talking Points -- Give America a Raise!

Unemployment has now fallen to 6.3 percent, the lowest it has been since 2008. The rate dropped four-tenths of a point in a single month -- the biggest drop in two years -- showing that after the lag of this year's brutal winter, employers are hiring.
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There was a lot of political news this week, most of it pretty good for Democrats. In the Senate, Democrats forced Republicans to filibuster a minimum wage bill (more on that in a bit), and then the week ended with some very good news in the unemployment numbers.

Some of us in the punditocracy have been predicting for a while now that the midterm races might not be as centered on Obamacare as the Republicans think it will -- that the improving economic news and which party is fighting for the middle class may be the real front-and-center issue during the campaign. It is now not outside the bounds of possibility that the unemployment figure could fall to below six percent before the election, which would certainly allow the Democrats to start playing a lot stronger offense, out on the hustings. While one month of really good news does not a trend make, we'll see if continued good employment news starts to shift the focus of the political conversation by summer or fall.

Before we really get into this week's news, though, we have three follow-up items to point out. Last week we called for a whole raft of new constitutional amendments that Democrats should propose, so we've got to say it is heartening to see at least one of them advancing to a Senate vote -- one that would effectively overturn Citizens United and all the other Supreme Court "money is speech" rulings. Chuck Schumer announced this upcoming vote, on a proposal by Tom Udall (see the full text of his amendment, if you're interested), so kudos to both senators.

The second update is on the campaign in Mississippi for businesses to proudly show that they don't discriminate, after a "religious freedom" law was passed to preserve the "right" of discrimination. It now seems that others in Mississippi are very upset that their neighbors are not as bigoted as they are, and are loudly complaining about it. "Boo freakin' hoo" is our response, personally.

And the third update is how quickly John Boehner had to backtrack from his epic mocking of his fellow House Republicans last week (once again, if you haven't seen it, you simply must check out the video). Boehner's new position? "There was no mocking." Really, John? Well, we have to say that we know mocking when we see mocking, and "mocking" is actually the nicest way you could put it, no matter what you try to sell to the people you just mocked.

In other news, the Obamacare numbers just keep getting better and better. Even in states that refused to set up their own exchanges. And -- more importantly for Democratic midterm chances -- even in states with the toughest Senate races.

What else? A voter ID law was overturned by a federal court, which is important for why it was struck down.

OK, we've just got a few quick reports of Republican follies, and then we'll get on with this week's awards. The infamous "kissing congressman," Republican Vance McAllister, says he won't be seeking re-election. I don't know why -- Louisiana voters re-elected Senator David Vitter, even after his romps with prostitutes were made public. Just kissing a woman who isn't your wife seems a lot tamer than that, right?

Not all Republicans shirk from running for office after scandals, which includes David Rivera, who will be running to return to a House seat from Florida even though he's still under F.B.I. investigation for alleged shenanigans during the 2010 election.

And then there is Republican House member Michael Grimm of New York, a former F.B.I. agent and former owner of a health food restaurant named Healthalicious, who was under arrest this week on charges of employing illegal immigrants and evading taxes at his restaurant. Wait... what? There's a House Republican who used to own a restaurant called "Healthalicious"? Wow. How very "crunchy granola" of him!

And finally, an ominous report from Nevada that fans of racist rancher Cliven Bundy had set up their own checkpoints and were stopping people on the roads and checking for local identification. Ominous when this sort of thing happens in faraway places like the Ukraine, but even more ominous right here at home.

We have a lot to get to with the awards this week, so let's dive in.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was in front of a congressional committee this week, which took a surprising turn when some Republicans wanted to question him about marijuana -- in specific, the new Justice Department guidance on banks doing business in states that had legalized some form of marijuana use. Lew, to his credit, backed up the Justice Department's position. However, he only gets an Honorable Mention for doing so, since in Colorado they've found even the new position unworkable (and are trying to pass some sort of alternative banking scheme to fix the problem).

President Obama also wins an Honorable Mention this week, for his remarks after the Senate Republicans filibustered a raise in the minimum wage, but since two of our talking points are from these remarks, we'll have more on it later.

For the first time in many months, we've got a tie for the coveted Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. We honestly couldn't choose between these two candidates, who were both impressive for different reasons.

Our first winner is Pennsylvania state senator Daylin Leach, who staged a sit-in in the Republican governor's office, since the governor had ignored letters from families with sick children who were urging him to sign a new Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act. Leach, who is running for U.S. Congress, had sponsored the bill which passed the legislature even though the governor threatened to veto it. Leach announced his plans for a sit-in on Monday. By Thursday, Governor Tom Corbett had met with some parents, and announced a complete reversal of his position -- he will now sign the bill.

That's an amazing and impressive feat of political theater, folks. We certainly wish Leach well in his run for the House, and hope that bragging about his first-ever MIDOTW award will help.

Our second award goes to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who gave a speech on the Senate floor this week that pointed out that while the National Basketball Association deserved praise for acting so swiftly on racism in the ranks of its team owners, the National Football League deserved nothing but condemnation for refusing to act to force the Washington Redskins to change their highly offensive team name. I already wrote about this earlier this week (where I added in to the mix the even-more-offensive Cleveland Indians mascot "Chief Wahoo"), but Reid deserves all the credit for pushing the issue to the spotlight and tying it to the Clippers owner's lifetime ban. By the end of the week, even John McCain was getting on board (showing how potent this issue could become).

For stepping up and making a connection which now seems obvious, Harry Reid has earned his seventeenth Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. Harry's right -- racism simply should not be allowed in professional sports. Period.

[Congratulate Pennsylvania state senator Daylin Leach on his official contact page, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on his Senate contact page, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]

We also have four award winners in the disappointing category as well, this week.

The head of the Los Angeles chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. announced his resignation this week, which was entirely appropriate since his organization was about to hand the disgraced Clippers owner his second "lifetime achievement" award. The whole story is pretty sordid, a tale of a racist trying (and succeeding, to a large extent) to buy respectability with donations. On his way out the door, we'd like to award a well-deserved (Dis-)Honorable Mention to Leon Jenkins, for falling for it.

The White House deserves their own (Dis-)Honorable Mentionaward for refusing to even consider paying their interns. When pushing for a better minimum wage, this is kind of hard to explain, folks, especially as it seems to mean that the only interns who can survive while doing the White House's menial work are those with wealthy enough parents to support them while they do. Not exactly the political message the White House should really want to be sending right now, to put it mildly.

We've got a tie in the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week category this week. First up is Brett Husley, a state representative who is also a current Democratic candidate for governor in Wisconsin. To protest the "racist policies" of the state Republicans, he is going to stand outside the state's Republican convention and hand out "white Ku Klux Klan-style hoods." In his own words: "It's a Wisconsin Republican Party hat, and people can interpret it any way they want."

That's bad enough, but it gets worse when you add in the fact that Husley pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct two years ago for taking unwanted photos of a 9-year-old boy. Husley's only defense was that he didn't "touch or molest" the child.

Getting back to the events of this week, however, there is good political theater and there is bad political theater. Passing out K.K.K. hoods falls into the second category, no matter what you think of your opponents' politics. Other Wisconsin Democrats denounced his stunt, as well they should. Brett Husley crossed a line he shouldn't have, and by doing so earns a Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

Our final award was a no-brainer, really. Here's the whole sordid story:

A former Illinois state representative who resigned from office last month is now facing federal child pornography charges.

Keith Farnham, a Democrat who represented suburban Elgin, used a phony email account to send and receive videos and images of children as young as six months old being sexually abused, a criminal complaint filed Monday claims, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

The 66-year-old also bragged that he sexually abused a 6-year-old girl in a web chat, according to the complaint. He also allegedly said in a separate web chat that "12 is about as old as i can handle ... i love them at 6 7 8," the Chicago Tribune reports.

He wanted "all the vids and pics ever made" of kids, he allegedly said in another message.

No further comment is really necessary on this one. Except to award Farnham his very own Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

[Contact Wisconsin state representative Brett Husley on his official contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions. Since Keith Farnham has already resigned, so he is now a private citizen and our policy is not to provide such contact information. Probably just as well.]

Volume 302 (5/2/14)

Let's get on with our weekly talking points, which are mostly designed this week to be used by Democratic candidates running for office. We're in for a whirlwind couple of months of state primary elections, which is the real kickoff point for the general election season for the rest of the year. So it's a good time to hone the message.

Before we begin, however, we have to give some "credit where credit is due" praise -- even though it is for a Tea Party candidate's ad. Yes, you read that right. I wrote about this earlier this week, because the ad from J. D. Winteregg, who is challenging John Boehner in the Republican primary in Ohio, is the funniest yet seen this election cycle. In what is actually no more than an extended "boner joke," the ad is well produced, has an homage to the Tubes song "What Do You Want From Life?" and is nothing short of hilarious. Because we're always impressed with clever messaging (no matter the origin) we had to at least point it out for anyone who hasn't seen it yet. Even if we likely disagree with everything Winteregg stands for, we still have to tip our hat to whomever came up with this brilliantly funny ad.

Enough of that, let's get on with the Democratic talking points!

Six point three

This morning brought the best news of the week, of course.

"Unemployment has now fallen to 6.3 percent, the lowest it has been since 2008. The rate dropped four-tenths of a point in a single month -- the biggest drop in two years -- showing that after the lag of this year's brutal winter, employers are hiring once again. Almost 300,000 jobs were created last month, in fact. We could even see the rate go below 6.0 percent this summer, which would signal a return to a healthy job market, after the longest recession since the Great Depression. To all the Republicans who have built their 2014 election campaigns around prophesies of doom and gloom, I would suggest you get a little more optimistic about America's future."

Saying "no" to giving America a raise

These next two talking points are taken directly from President Obama's reaction (full transcript) to Republicans filibustering the minimum wage bill.

After 14 months since I've called on Congress to reward the hard work of millions of Americans like the ones who we have here today to raise the federal minimum wage, we saw this morning a majority of senators saying "yes," but almost every Republican saying "no" to giving America a raise. They blocked a bill ... that would have gradually raised the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour. By preventing even a vote on this bill, they prevented a raise for 28 million hardworking Americans. They said "no" to helping millions work their way out of poverty -- and keep in mind, this bill would have done so without any new taxes, or spending, or bureaucracy. They told Americans like the ones who are here today that "you're on your own" -- without even looking them in the eye.

Nobody who works full-time should ever have to raise a family in poverty

Again, from the president's remarks on the minimum wage filibuster bill. He makes the case in a very clear and fundamental way.

So Americans have been way out in front of Congress on this issue. In fact, about three in four Americans support raising the minimum wage. And that's because we believe that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, nobody who works full-time should ever have to raise a family in poverty. That's a basic principle. And at a time when those at the top are doing better than ever, while millions of Americans are working harder and harder just to get by, that three out of four Americans understand that America deserves a raise. ...

So far Republicans in Congress disagree. In fact, some of them want to scrap the minimum wage entirely. One House Republican said, "It's outlived its usefulness. I'd vote to repeal the minimum wage." A Senate Republican said he doesn't think the minimum wage helps the middle class.

This is a very simple issue. Either you're in favor of raising wages for hardworking Americans, or you're not. Either you want to grow the economy from the middle out and the bottom up so that prosperity is broad-based, or you think that top-down economics is the way to go.

$174,000 salary "not that much"

This tidbit should immediately follow any discussion on the minimum wage, for full effect.

"A Republican candidate for Senate in Iowa recently said in an interview, and I quote: 'I don't think U.S. senators make that much money.' For the record, a senator's pay is $174,000 per year, in addition to many expensive perks. Someone from his campaign admitted that the candidate had 'never really looked into how much U.S. senators make.' This is the Republican one-percenter attitude on full display, folks. The median household income in Iowa is $49, 427, just for the record. While the Republican Party is fighting hard against a minimum wage raise, they field candidates who can't even be bothered to find out what the job they're running for actually pays, because they're so wealthy it doesn't make any difference to them. I wonder if Mitt Romney has endorsed this guy yet, because it would be entirely appropriate."

Snake oil!

This is a point every Democrat should be making, whenever the Obamacare subject comes up.

"My opponent is running on a platform of total repeal of Obamacare. For years now, Republicans have been promising that they're going to offer a magic replacement plan that achieves the same things the Affordable Care Act does. Republicans won big on this issue in 2010, in fact, and took control of the House of Representatives. It has been four years -- but we still have yet to see a single bill from them detailing their replacement plan. They can't agree on one. They haven't voted on a single bill because their replacement plan simply does not exist. You know, back in the old days, there was a term for a magic cure-all product to solve all health care problems. It was called 'snake oil.' The Republicans took the House promising large doses of snake oil, and the public was fooled. As the numbers for Obamacare keep getting better and better, Republicans flounder around with nothing to show for it but a snake oil pitch. You know what? I think the public is tired of electing nothing short of snake oil salesmen to Congress. Four years of nothing but snake oil promises is enough!"

Obamacare even saving Fox News viewers' lives

There were two other stories worth mentioning on this subject as well.

"Did you see the recent news from Florida? The Republican governor went trolling for Obamacare horror stories among some senior citizens. Instead of the getting stories of woe he was hoping for, what he got instead was praise for Obamacare and seniors agreeing that on the whole it was beneficial to them and their loved ones. Up the coast in Philadelphia, a committed Fox News viewer had resisted signing up for Obamacare, even though his health was in a pretty dire state. A friend of his finally 'staged an intervention' and got him signed up on an insurance plan. He then was able to have surgery to have a heart valve replaced, which saved his life. As he put it, without Obamacare, 'I probably would have ended up falling over dead.' He was asked if Fox News had slanted his outlook, and he said he's now changed his mind, stating: 'I really do have a different outlook on it. It's really wrong that people are making it into a political thing. To me, it is a life-and-death thing. I didn't care for Obama. I can't say nothing bad about him now because it was his plan that probably saved my life.' These are the stories that are emerging from people helped by Obamacare, and even when Republican politicians go looking for campaign fodder for ads, this is what they're getting as feedback."

Banning guns -- by force!

The hypocrisy is so thick on this one, it's almost unbelievable.

"Conservatives usually get -- quite literally -- up in arms over any suggestion that a certain model of firearm be banned by law. But what is interesting is that two gun shop owners have now been forced -- by death threats, no less -- to halt plans to sell a certain model of gun. Yes, you heard that right: some gun enthusiasts are threatening deadly violence if gun shop owners don't voluntarily ban a certain type of weapon -- what's been called a 'smart gun,' that cannot be fired except by its owner. The hypocrisy was not lost on the Maryland gun shop owner -- the second such businessman who has had to back down after receiving threats on his life. Earlier, he had argued against this hypocrisy, saying -- and I quote: 'To me that is so fricking hypocritical. That's the antithesis of everything that we pro-gun, pro-Second Amendment people should be. You are not supposed to say a gun should be prohibited. Then you are being no different than the anti-gun people who say an AR-15 should be prohibited.' After repeated threats on his life, he has backed down and now says he has not sold any of the guns and will not do so. So it appears that banning certain guns is now taking place not through government tyranny or jackbooted federal agents, but through anonymous murderous threats. Ironic, isn't it?"

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