Friday Talking Points -- Dog Days

Welcome 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.

August is a fairly slow month for election news, but Hawai'i is holding the final part of their primary today (in areas affected by the hurricane which hit right before the rest of Hawai'i voted). One candidate filed a lawsuit to get this special election delayed or expanded, but the judge ruled against her. Look for results, late tonight. In Montana, the race to replace Senate candidate John Walsh (who dropped out after his plagiarism was exposed) lost one candidate this week. The Democrats will be announcing their nominee within the next week, but no matter what name appears on the ballot, not many people give them any realistic chance to retain what used to be Max Baucus's seat. And in New York, gubernatorial candidate Randy Credico (running against Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary) was arrested for videotaping the police in public (which is not actually a crime). It'll be interesting to see how this one plays out, in the current political atmosphere.

Of course, this brings up the big not-silly-at-all news of the week, the nights of rage in Ferguson, Missouri. This subject has been adequately covered elsewhere (see: the entire media universe), so we don't have much in the way of commentary to add (except about the political fallout, which we'll address in a moment). But the glaring fact that did strike us as being more newsworthy than the rest of the story is why nobody can come up with a good answer to the question: "In a town which is two-thirds African-American, why are 50 out of 53 police officers white?" A few in the media tried to ask this question of various Missouri politicians, but nobody seemed to have any good answers, to put it politely.

The only other thing we feel obliged to say on the matter is to denounce the treatment that Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly (as well as a reporter for another media outlet) received at the hands of the police, while trying to cover the incident from inside a McDonald's. There was -- obviously -- no need for him to be harassed or arrested, and I would urge both him and the Huffington Post to explore legal action for false arrest and/or false imprisonment.


This is known as striking while the iron is hot, folks.

House member Hank Johnson of Georgia announced this week that he'll soon be filing legislation to stop the militarization of America's police forces. He's been working on his bill, the "Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act," for some time now, but sent out a letter to fellow House Democrats asking for their support when they all return to Washington next month.

Several other legislators have echoed these calls, from Senator Claire McCaskill to Representative John Conyers to Republican Rand Paul. But they all merely suggested studying the issue or holding hearings, while Representative Johnson will be ready with a bill to vote on. We'll have a quote from his letter later on in the talking points segment, where he explains in his own words what motivated him to act.

But for being prepared on this issue, and for getting out in front of it in a timely manner, Representative Hank Johnson is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week. Strike while the iron is hot! It's often the best chance to actually get something done, instead of just expending a lot of hot air in fruitless hearings.

[Congratulate Representative Hank Johnson on his House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts. Or, alternatively, contact your own House member and tell them to support his Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act.]


Getting quoted using profanity (see: earlier bit on Obama) is one thing. But typing a big old "f-bomb" out in a tweet to your governor is taking it to another level, we have to admit. Missouri state senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal, after being tear-gassed at a protest in Ferguson, let Jay Nixon, Missouri's governor, know exactly how she felt this week. But it's tough to criticize the depth of feeling that "getting tear gassed" brings out in people, so we can't see our way to giving her any sort of negative award for doing so.

In other non-award news this week, several readers in New York have contacted me to ask when Governor Andrew Cuomo will be getting an award for what seems to be politically corrupting an independent agency (ironically, the special commission was supposed to fight corruption), but we're reserving judgment until the investigation's results are announced. Maybe there'll be an MDDOTW in his future, but we'll just have to wait and see.

And to slow down this narrative yet another notch, we are often criticized here for focusing in on very minor Democratic politicians for some of these awards. While we do agree with the basic concept of the bigger the fish, the more important the story; we also use another scale to measure both impressive and disappointing behavior in Democrats. When the awfulness of the story goes up, to put this another way, it can trump the relative importance of the politician.

Which, in a very roundabout way, brings us to this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. In Connecticut (of all places), candidate for probate judge Anna Zubkova was called to account for the views of her husband, Rob Freeman, who was shown to have had "a long history of being involved in white supremacy causes." Zubkova's explanation was, shall we say, less than impressive:

For her part, Zubkova told the [Norwich] Bulletin that her husband became involved with white nationalism after they were married and that she did not share his views.

"What am I supposed to do? Divorce him? It's not unusual for husbands and wives to have different views," she said. "As a judge, I can assure you I would not discriminate against anyone, even based on their beliefs."

Speaking only for myself, if my spouse suddenly began writing for white supremacist websites, then, yes, the concept of divorce would indeed cross my mind. I mean, there are "different views" and then there are "views which are morally abhorrent in a person I choose to share my life with."

Elsewhere in America, some citizens took a stand against white supremacy, at a Ku Klux Klan rally -- by showing up in greater numbers and shouting them down. That is a proper public response to racial hatred. Not: "Oh, it's just my hubby's hobby -- it's totally harmless and doesn't affect my life at all!"

The happy ending to this story is that Zubkova was defeated in the Democratic primary for the spot, and says she's not going to run an independent campaign for the seat. Instead, all she's taking home from this election is a Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

[Since Anna Zubkova is no longer a candidate for office (as far as we can tell), she falls under our policy not to provide the contact information for private citizens, sorry.]


Volume 316 (8/15/14)

Since this has so far been a Dog Days sort of column, we're going to slow down the pace once again. Before we get on with this week's talking points, there are a few things worth mentioning.

The first is: "Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you NBC News for finally getting rid of David Gregory as moderator of Meet The Press." I explored this feeling in much snarkier detail yesterday, so check that out if you like.

The second is to give credit where credit is due to the opposition. Every once in a while -- while not agreeing with the statements, mind you -- we come across a brilliant bit of talking-pointery (to coin a term) from a Republican which we have to at least acknowledge on a professional level.

This week (are you sitting down?) we have to at least offer up a hat tip to none other than Senator Ted Cruz. Hey, you were warned to brace yourselves!

HBO's vampire series True Blood apparently recently had a storyline with a vampire rampage at a Ted Cruz rally. Cruz responded, on Facebook:

Of all the places I never thought to be mentioned, HBO's True Blood vampire show would have to be near the top of the list. Sunday night, they aired a misogynist and profanity-ridden episode where Texas Republicans are murdered attending a "Ted Cruz -fundraiser."

Well, I'm sorry to have lost the vampire vote, but am astonished (and amused) that HBO is suggesting that hard-core leftists are blood-sucking fiends.

Ouch! He later tweeted:

Then again, I guess I never had a chance w/ the vampire vote since the dead tend to vote overwhelmingly for Dems.

As mentioned, we have to admit that this was indeed a pretty funny way to react. Again -- while not agreeing with anything he said -- he certainly reacted in an amusing fashion. Rather than whine and moan about Hollywood values, etc., Cruz lobbed the ball right back with style. Which we felt was worth some sort of recognition, these days.

Silliness aside, one last item before we get on with the show. President Obama is getting ready to make a major announcement on immigration reform, and the political shock waves are going to be enormous (as we also wrote about earlier this week). Democrats who back Obama's move would do well to avail themselves of a new memo from a Democratic organization which lists 10 past incidents of presidents using executive power to change immigration and deportation policy on their own. This is going to be an enormous political issue, in the very near future, so Democrats should be using the Dog Days to prepare their responses. Reading this memo (PDF download) would be the first step in doing so.

OK, that's it, let's get on with it, shall we?


   Brilliant sloganeering

As with the "99 percent" slogan created by the Occupy Wall Street movement, occasionally a protest slogan is so jaw-droppingly brilliant that you can tell it's going to have some staying power in the political world. Whoever came up with the chant heard in Ferguson, Missouri deserves a whole lot of credit, because not only is it short, simple, and easily-understood, it also has a taunting aspect to it, when chanted at lines of police in military gear. The slogan speaks for itself:

Hands up -- don't shoot!


   First Amendment absolutist

There's a very basic principle that needs repeating this week.

"You can call me a First Amendment absolutist, because I believe that the protection of journalists -- the only profession named in the entire United States Constitution, mind you -- should be one of the first things taught in police academies across the nation. Police are sworn to uphold the Constitution, and they need to learn the First Amendment by heart, on their first day of training. The right of the people to peaceably protest and the right of journalists to peaceably cover such newsworthy events is guaranteed to every single American. Period. This includes, by the way, the clear right of any American anywhere in public to film or record the police while they are doing their jobs. This is not only legal, it is constitutionally-protected behavior. George Orwell warned of 'Big Brother' keeping watch over the citizenry, but the power of 'Little Brother' -- the power of citizens to keep the government honest -- is nothing to be sneered at, either. See a cop doing something questionable? Whip out your phone and record a video -- it is your constitutional right to do so, and it might just make that cop think twice."


   Not tanks and M16s

As promised, the following is a quote from the letter Representative Hank Johnson sent out to fellow House Democrats, to gain support for his Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act:

Our main streets should be a place for business, families, and relaxation, not tanks and M16s. Our local police are quickly beginning to resemble paramilitary forces. This bill will end the free transfers of certain aggressive military equipment to local law enforcement and ensure that all equipment can be accounted for. Before another small town's police force gets a $700,000 gift from the Defense Department that it can't maintain or manage, it behooves us to rein in the Pentagon's 1033 program and revisit the merits of a militarized America.



This could get very amusing indeed, if he makes it a regular habit.

"I see that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie thinks the best use of his time is to conduct an argument on Twitter with his constituents -- over traffic problems. Hoo boy! I really hope this sort of thing becomes common, if he runs for president. Journalists won't even have to bother sifting through hours of videotape for choice Christie quotes, as they'll all be available in text form, 140 characters at a time. I heartily encourage Chris Christie to answer every complaint on Twitter he gets, in the future!"


   Faux News

If you can't make it, fake it, right?

"Not content with Fox News, I see that the National Republican Campaign Committee -- the folks who are trying to get Republicans elected to the House -- has decided to create their own 'Faux News' websites. Yep, that's right -- Republicans think the voters are so stupid they can't tell the difference between real news websites and a piece of fakery designed to post hit pieces on Democrats. Republicans are so afraid of what real journalists might have to say about them that they're just going ahead and spending their money creating fake news sites. The contempt for the voters is pretty obvious, isn't it?"


   Who deserves a raise?

This just reeks of chutzpah, or (as they usually call it) nothing but sheer elitism.

"Remember the House Republican who refused to give up his pay after voting to shut down the federal government last year? At the time, he said, and I quote, 'I've got a nice house and a kid in college,' and went on to boldly declare: 'Giving our paycheck away when you still worked and earned it? That's just not going to fly.' Well, the elitist scorn of Representative Lee Terry was on display again this week. Terry's against raising the minimum wage, but he is apparently all in favor of giving himself a raise -- because 174,000 taxpayer dollars a year is just not enough for him. He's now complaining on the campaign trail that he hasn't had a raise in six years. Poor Lee! Having to eke out a bare existence on $174,000 a year is so tough these days! It's almost as tough as trying to live on a frozen minimum wage, right? The chutzpah of Republicans knows no bounds, apparently."


   Are you kidding me?

This one, technically, isn't really a partisan talking point, because from where we sit, all of Congress is guilty, all the way back to 1970. Hmmph.

"America has no mandatory paid-vacation law for any hardworking wage-earners in the entire country -- with one glaring exception. There is indeed a law which absolutely requires an enormous amount of vacation time... for Congress. The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 dictates at least thirty days off in August for each and every member of Congress, at taxpayer expense. An official Senate historian explains what happened, noting that in the early 1960s, Congress stayed in session for much longer periods. 'In 1962 the Senate met from January to October with no recess.' The poor dears! The next year, they actually worked from January to December with no more than three-day weekend breaks. Oh, the horror! Oh, the humanity! You know -- having to work all year long, just like every other full-time hardworking American! So instead of relying on just a tradition, they actually wrote a law guaranteeing themselves a full month off every single year. The United States is the only Western country that doesn't have a law requiring all employers to provide paid vacation (four to six weeks is common, in Europe) -- except for one very privileged type of employee: members of Congress. Nice work if you can get it, eh?"


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