Friday Talking Points -- Selenofriggatriskaidekaphobics Unite!

I 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.

OK, what else? What's that? Something about Virginia? Oh, right! This week marked the 47th anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court case which threw out all the racist miscegenation laws that still remained on the books, and allowed people to get married no matter what their skin color. Certainly a milestone to celebrate!

I am kidding, of course, because there were two big stories out of Virginia this week, and they were both pretty stunning. First there was the Democratic state senator who was bribed into quitting by state Republicans, so that his daughter could be confirmed as a judge and also so he could get a plum job on the state tobacco board. When the story broke, Phillip Puckett hastily withdrew his name for consideration from the tobacco gig, but the upshot is that the Virginia state senate went from a 20-20 political split to 20-19.

Even a story about such naked political bribery was quickly overshadowed, however, by the first House Majority Leader ever (since the position was created in 1899, mind you) to lose his primary election. Yes, Eric Cantor's days haunting the halls of the Capitol are indeed now numbered. Since so much has already been written about this political earthquake, we'll just summarize the high points quickly.

The immediate reaction was one of shock and surprise. The reason for Cantor's loss was endlessly theorized over (including the possible "Cooter effect" -- the most amusing theory yet), but the emerging conventional wisdom was that it was due to Cantor's all-but-non-existent support for immigration reform. Upon closer examination, this was likely not the core reason for his defeat, but that's not going to matter to House Republicans, who are likely to avoid voting on any immigration bill until pork barrels grow wings (or at least until 2017). Even though an actual supporter of immigration reform (Senator Lindsey Graham) handily won his own primary against multiple Tea Partiers.

Cantor immediately announced his resignation as Majority Leader, effective next month. The vote to replace him will take place next Thursday, Speaker John Boehner announced. The jockeying for the number two position in the House began immediately, but a funny thing happened on the way to the Tea Party -- the man in the number three position looks likely to take over from Cantor, even though he is even more centrist than Cantor ever was. Several candidates more acceptable to the Tea Partiers put their names forward, and then hastily withdrew (after counting noses). First to bow out was Jeb Hensarling, followed by fellow Texan Pete Sessions. Today, Raul Labrador from Idaho announced he's in the running, but it's looking like Californian Kevin McCarthy may already have enough votes to win next week. The entire scramble has reminded many of a high school class president election -- nothing more than a ferocious bout of gladhandling and backslapping to win a popularity contest.

We've got almost a full week before the (secret ballot) votes are counted, so who knows what will happen next in this fast-moving story? Stay tuned!


President Obama deserves at least an Honorable Mention for his visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, especially considering this is only the third such visit ever.

Attorney General Eric Holder also deserves an Honorable Mention, for officially supporting a proposal by the U.S. Sentencing Commission to lessen the sentences of low-level drug offenders currently in federal prisons (making sentencing reform retroactive, in other words). Holder continues to show that he has had a true change of heart on the whole War On Drugs issue, and for that he deserves credit.

But we're going to hand the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week to Senator Elizabeth Warren, for getting very close to passing a bill which would reform student loans. Her bill ultimately failed to clear the filibuster hurdle by a vote of 56-38, but this really should be read as 57-37 (Harry Reid had to vote "no" so that the bill can be reintroduced later, for technical reasons). Three Republicans crossed the aisle and voted with Democrats, meaning the bill could pass if only three more follow suit. While the loss was a disappointment, the closeness of the vote was impressive enough for her to win this week's MIDOTW award.

[Congratulate Senator Elizabeth Warren on her Senate contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]


There were, unfortunately, a number of candidates for Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week. The weirdest one can't even really be called a Democrat, since he obviously is trying to game the election system -- he ran and lost several races in Arizona as a Republican, and then decided not only to reregister as a Democrat but to actually change his name to "Cesar Chavez." The grandson of the more-famous bearer of that name is suing to get this guy off the Democratic primary ballot. "Chavez" ( Scott Fistler) deserves at least a (Dis-)Honorable Mention, no matter what party he really hails from.

A group of Rhode Island state senators deserve a group (Dis-)Honorable Mention, for acting like Republicans this week. They're pushing a bill that would block any local laws which raise the minimum wage -- an action normally taken by Republicans to pre-empt more progressive city laws from taking effect.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, normally a quite progressive politician, deserves her own (Dis-)Honorable Mention this week for coming out against a proposed medical marijuana ballot initiative in her home state of Florida. The reaction from Americans for Safe Access, and from a guy described as "one of the state's major Democratic donors" was swift:

A 30-second ASA ad stated that Wasserman Schultz "thinks it's okay for medical marijuana patients to go to federal prison."

[John] Morgan, whose family members have used marijuana for debilitating pain, said he raised $250,000 for Wasserman Schultz at his home a couple of years ago. "I will never let her come to my house again for a huge fundraiser," Morgan said.

Let this be a warning to Democrats everywhere -- the people are leading on this issue. This is one major method successfully used by gay rights supporters to get Democrats on board -- withholding previously-generous donations to politicians. Democrats, please take note.

But the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week just has to go to Virginia state senator (ex-senator, now) Phillip P. Puckett, the guy who was bribed by Republicans to quit his elected position for nothing more than a job offer and a vote on his daughter's judicial future. Even if he had reaped these rewards, it would likely not have been illegal under Virginia's lax political ethics laws, but that's immaterial. Whether the law says so or not, such a deal would have been unethical by pretty much any standard. He should truly be ashamed of himself, and he has clearly earned this week's MDDOTW award.

[Phillip Puckett is now a private citizen, and it is our standing policy not to provide contact information for such people, sorry.]


Volume 308 (6/13/14)

Quite the mixed bag this week, for our talking points. We could have written seven of these just on the Cantor upset alone, but decided that would have been too unseemly. Instead, we limited our Cantor glee to only two, because other things were indeed happening this week that need pointing out.

As always, these are offered up for Democrats everywhere to freely use, whether during a television interview or around your workplace's water cooler. In other words, these are for everyone from high-ranking politicians to the selenofriggatriskaidekaphobics among us!


   Congress can act fast!

This is worth pointing out -- because it disproves a piece of conventional inside-the-Beltway wisdom.

"For all the talk of divided government, polarization, and gridlock, Congress can actually act pretty fast when it is motivated by shame. Although the media didn't take much note of it, both the House and the Senate are quickly moving to put a bill on President Obama's desk which will bring much-needed reforms to the Department of Veterans Affairs. These reforms have, in fact, been necessary for years now, but Congress refused to act. But in the bright light of the recent scandal, Congress acted with blinding speed to enact major reforms to the V.A. system. The vote in the Senate was 93-3 and it passed the House unanimously. Please remember this the next time anyone tells you Congress can't get anything done in a timely fashion. Because when the media effectively turns the spotlight on shameful situations, Congress can act with surprising speed."


   Hope the steaks were worth it, Eric

This was the most amusing aspect of the Cantor dethroning.

"Eric Cantor's campaign spent almost as much just on steak dinners alone as his opponent spent in total to beat him. There's a lesson in here for fat-cat politicians everywhere: just having a campaign chest full of millions of dollars does not guarantee you an election victory. Eric Cantor spent something like $173 for every vote he got, while his opponent spent less than six bucks per vote. Maybe Cantor should have just bought a steak dinner for every voter in his district -- it probably would have been a cheaper campaign, that way. I sure hope those were tasty steaks, Eric!"


   Tea Party failure

This falls into the category of "rubbing it in," but it's been that kind of week, hasn't it?

"A Tea Partier took down the number two Republican in the House leadership, but in the race to replace him it looks like an Establishment Republican who is to Cantor's left is going to get the job. So the Tea Party got rid of one insufficiently pure leader, but they don't seem to be able to muster the strength to replace him with one of their own. Instead, what they're getting is someone even less pure (by their standard). Not exactly an overwhelming victory for the Tea Party, was it?"


   Obama moves on student loans

While Elizabeth Warren's bill failed, Obama did what he could.

"President Obama introduced new student loan rules which will save money for over five million students. That is an impressive accomplishment, to be sure. But during the same week, the Republicans in the Senate blocked more important reforms to the student loan program, for unfathomable reasons. Obama acted as he did because Republicans won't let Congress move forward on the issue. Voters in families across the country should take note, because it is obvious that Democrats are fighting to reduce the burden of student loans while Republicans are fighting for American students to pay more money in interest to the government. Every mom and dad should remember this when they enter the voting booth this November."


   So much for being deficit hawks, eh?

This one hasn't gotten nearly the attention it should.

"Republicans in the House voted this week to add tens of billions of dollars to the deficit and to the national debt. Oh, sure, they talk a good line about how they're 'deficit hawks,' but then they turn right around and extend tax breaks without paying for a dime of it. Republicans insist loudly whenever Democrats propose any budget measure that 'it must be paid for!' but the reality is that they are just fine with extending tax breaks without even attempting to pay for it. In other words, Republicans are allowed to do all the deficit spending they want, while Democrats have to pay for every dime of every proposal -- including even emergency aid packages. The stench of hypocrisy was thick over Republican House members this week, and everyone should remember this the next time you hear any Republican crying crocodile tears over the deficit, in the future."


   Pork is good!

Speaking of the stench of Republican hypocrisy...

"I see that Trent Lott has cut a very interesting ad for Thad Cochran's primary runoff campaign. In it, Lott begs the voters of Mississippi to remember all that wonderful pork-barrel spending that Cochran brings home -- and in which he freely admits that federal spending is a good thing because it equals 'jobs.' After hearing Republicans decrying earmarks and pork and federal spending for years and years, it is simply astounding that Trent Lott -- who is now a powerful lobbyist, I should mention -- thinks that the message to win over voters is: 'more pork!' I mean, do these guys ever listen to themselves?"


   War on genitalia?

Finally, in the "War On Women" category, we have a doozy to close with this week.

"I see that conservative radio personality Mark Levin thinks he has the answer to the Republicans' dismal record on women. He confidently advises the Republican Party how they can win elections. Not only is the advice bad, since he is saying 'ignore women voters,' but the way he put it was downright offensive. According to Levin, Republicans should, and I quote, 'stop chasing ethnic groups, stop chasing genitalia.' Wow. Addressing the issues that women voters care about is 'chasing genitalia'? Really? No wonder Republicans have such problems convincing women to vote for them, if this is their attitude."


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