This was a busy week in politics, as the Republicans in the new Congress began a bout of legislating and President Obama ramped up his agenda in preparation for next Tuesday's big speech to Congress and the country. So let's just dive in to the week that was, shall we?
Let's begin with the most serious news, about terrorism and other stupidity. In non-partisan fashion, we must absolutely condemn the Ohio bartender who was arrested this week for threatening to kill John Boehner. Now, we're not fans of Boehner by a long shot, but violence to solve political problems (in general) and assassination (in particular) should always be universally condemned by all, no matter the political figure involved.
Also worth condemning is a story that has so far gotten little media attention -- today will be the second weekly flogging of a Saudi Arabian blogger, for the crime of criticizing his government and (supposedly) Islam. During his trial, not only was he sentenced to a heavy fine, a long jail term, and 1,000 lashes with a cane, his lawyer was also sentenced to 15 years in prison just for attempting to defend his client. It should need no pointing out that Saudi Arabia is supposed to be one of America's closest allies in the region, and yet we routinely ignore stories like this about our so-called friends. Medea Benjamin of Code Pink is speaking out about it, but precious few others are doing the same.
Last weekend, there was an enormous street protest over the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris. The United States was represented by our ambassador to France. Apparently, this wasn't good enough for some Republicans. Although not a single French government official or media outlet complained about the absence of President Obama at the march, Republicans here at home (none of whom attended the march either, by the way) tried to make it some sort of international snub of epic proportions. One Republican even went out of his way to compare Obama -- unfavorably -- to Hitler. That this makes no sense at all was largely ignored, as the media largely went along for this ride (although at least one conservative writer had sense enough not to board the crazy train, to her credit).
This is yet another example of Republicans attempting to hold Obama to a standard that no former president has ever before met, trying to make a scandal out of absolutely nothing. What other American president has ever, in the past century, joined in a street march? None, to the best of my knowledge, have ever done so. Ever. Neither J.F.K. nor L.B.J. ever marched with Martin Luther King, or any other Civil Rights protest. Not one. No sitting president ever marched for women's suffrage, for labor rights, for gay rights, against any war, against nuclear weapons, for or against abortion, against apartheid, against Wall Street, or for any other reason. The closest historical event was a bizarre attempt by Richard Nixon to reach out to anti-war protestors at the Lincoln Memorial, at 4:00 in the morning. That's the only one we're aware of, and it doesn't really come close to "joining in a march in support," really. If there were a long history of presidents attending marches, if there had been one single Republican there, or if (at the very least) the French themselves had complained, then this might have been some sort of gaffe or faux pas. Since none of those things were true, it simply wasn't. I ranted further on this subject earlier in the week, if you're interested in reading more.
Back on Capitol Hill, the House began its session with a flurry of activity, starting off with muscling through a change which might slash Social Security benefits for disabled people by 20 percent by the end of the year. Rand Paul even took the time to gratuitously insult the disabled, by basically calling all of them scam artists with fake back pain. Compassionate conservatism strikes again!
The House also found the time to give Wall Street a big wet kiss and a present wrapped up in a bow. No surprise there, really. They're also working on a bill to change the Obamacare requirement for businesses to provide workers with health insurance if they work more than 30 hours a week. If they really wanted to help workers, they would have voted to lower this bar, but instead they're going to raise it to 40 hours a week -- which would add over $50 billion to the deficit they're usually so worried about. But stories like that may be a thing of the past soon, because the House also voted to start using their own special brand of voodoo math to score all their proposals, meaning "tax cuts will pay for themselves" and unicorns farting rainbows will soon be flying over the United States Capitol.
House Republicans also passed a bill to not only stop Obama from his new immigration plan, but also to strip all the children in D.A.C.A. (what used to be called the DREAM Act kids) of their new status as well. But the saner Republicans have realized that now might not be the time to threaten shutting down the Homeland Security Department, meaning an enormous battle is about to be fought between House and Senate Republicans. This time around, John Boehner is freed up to take the Tea Party's very hardline stance, and then try to shift all the blame for any compromise to Mitch McConnell. In other words, February should be a fun month to watch Republicans badmouth each other.
As we said, congresscritters have been busy little beavers in the past few weeks. Outside of Capitol Hill, a guy in Arizona got a bill passed forcing all schoolchildren to pass the same civics test (with a laughably low bar of only 60 percent correct) that immigrants have to pass to become United States citizens. I'm all for this idea, which is being pushed in every state. My wife took this test to become a citizen, and I think every high school student should be able to answer these questions before graduation, personally (when she became a citizen, my wife wrote a guest article for my site which has 20 of these questions at the bottom, if you're curious what's actually covered by the test). So I guess I'm biased on the issue.
In Drug War news, Mexican cartels have all but stopped smuggling marijuana across the border, because they simply can't compete with legal weed or medicinal weed. They've taken up smuggling meth and heroin instead. The exit of the drug cartels from the marijuana business was indeed predicted by pro-legalization activists as a positive result of legalization, so it's good to see that prediction come true.
And finally, in religious news, the Satanists won a symbolic victory down in Florida. Reacting to a school district's ruling which allowed religious texts (including Bibles) to be distributed to children, the Satanic Temple offered to hand out their coloring book The Satanic Children's Big Book Of Activities. The school district is now rethinking its policy and has put the distribution of any religious texts on hold. That is what is known as equality before the law -- if one religion is allowed access, then all religions have to also be allowed in. A clear victory for the freedom of religion!
We have three Honorable Mention awards to hand out before we get to the main prize. First up was President Obama who has been busy teasing individual policies that will doubtlessly be prominently featured in the State Of The Union address next Tuesday. We've summarized the two big ones from this week as talking points, below. Obama's poll numbers have also been impressively rising in the past week or so.
Our next Honorable Mention goes to Senator Elizabeth Warren, for successfully leading the fight against a Wall Street nominee considered odious to the populists and progressives in the Democratic Party. The more these populist muscles get flexed, the easier it'll be to use them in the future, and Warren (as usual) is taking the lead.
And lastly, Representative Chris Van Hollen deserves an Honorable Mention for his new plan to give the middle class a few tax breaks. This is a bold new populist tax plan that Democrats should really adopt as the centerpiece of their party platform, and he deserves all the praise and credit he's been getting for it.
Any one of these three might have won this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award, if it weren't for late-breaking news from the Justice Department. Today, Attorney General Eric Holder abruptly announced the end to a Drug War program that has become nothing short of "legalized highway robbery by the police." It's a federal program called "asset seizure," where a cop pulls you over, searches your car, and then confiscates all your cash because he thinks you got it from selling drugs. No, seriously -- this sort of thing does indeed happen right here in America. The Washington Post deserves a lot of credit for shining a spotlight on the rampant abuses of this program, devoting an entire Pulitzer-worthy series to the story. This spurred a few lawmakers to write to Holder urging him to end the program, and today Holder agreed to do just that.
From the story:
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday barred local and state police from using federal law to seize cash, cars and other property without proving that a crime occurred.
Holder's action represents the most sweeping check on police power to confiscate personal property since the seizures began three decades ago as part of the war on drugs.
Since 2008, thousands of local and state police agencies have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion under a civil asset forfeiture program at the Justice Department called Equitable Sharing.
The program has enabled local and state police to make seizures and then have them "adopted" by federal agencies, which share in the proceeds. The program allowed police departments and drug task forces to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds of the adopted seizures, with the rest going to federal agencies.
"With this new policy, effective immediately, the Justice Department is taking an important step to prohibit federal agency adoptions of state and local seizures, except for public safety reasons," Holder said in a statement.
What he means by "public safety" is that cops will still be able to seize things like firearms, ammunition, and child pornography, which according to the Post, "have accounted for only a tenth of 1 percent of the total seizures since 2008."
Eric Holder has already resigned, but in no way can he be seen as any sort of "lame-duck chair-warmer" while his replacement is vetted by Congress. He is still making bold moves to dismantle the worst aspects of the "War On (Some) Drugs," and at this pace maybe he'll even deschedule marijuana on his last day in office. For now, though, and for taking such an important step towards ending this practice of legalized highway robbery by police, Eric Holder is without question the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.
[Attorney General Eric Holder doesn't have a public comment page, so you'll have to contact his boss via the White House contact page, to let him know you appreciate Holder's efforts.]
In the most bizarre story of the week (and that's saying something, this week), a Virginia politician was just re-elected to his seat in the state government even though he's serving a six-month sentence in jail, "which stemmed from his relationship with a 17-year-old receptionist at his law office." But he ran as an Independent (he's an ex-Democrat), so he doesn't really qualify for any of our awards, however deserved they may be.
Out in California, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom disappointed many Democrats this week with his announcement that he wasn't interested in running for the Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Boxer. He seems more interested in moving up to replace Governor Jerry Brown, from his remarks. But he would have made a fine senator indeed, hence the disappointment.
The two House Democrats who voted for the Republican "Deport them all!" bill certainly deserve at least a (Dis-)Honorable Mention award this week. Even in news reports which meticulously listed all the Republicans who voted against the bill (H.R. 240), few bothered to name the Democrats breaking party ranks. We went to the bill's official roll call to find them, just to set this dishonorable record straight: Brad Ashford (Nebraska's 2nd district) and Collin Peterson (Minnesota's 7th district). Their constituents should feel free to contact them to let them know what you think of their vote.
But our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week was Senator Dianne Feinstein, who reacted to the news that former general David Petraeus is in hot water for allegedly leaking classified information to the woman he was having an affair with by saying "the man has suffered enough," which was truly the height of hypocrisy for Feinstein. I wrote extensively about this on Monday, for those unfamiliar with the details.
Feinstein is usually the one out there breathing fire and demanding that the entire book be thrown at such leakers. She certainly has no sympathy for the likes of Edward Snowden, just to name one example. For her to go all softhearted for Petraeus stinks to the skies of "it shouldn't be a crime when my friends do it" elitism.
There are only two honorable positions to hold on the legal matter of leaking classified information to journalists: both Petraeus and Snowden should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, or neither of them should. To pick and choose is simply not an honorable option.
For her moral relativism, Dianne Feinstein is the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. She's certainly not the only one showing a double standard on the issue, but she was the most prominent this past week.
[Contact Senator Dianne Feinstein on her Senate contact page, to let her know what you think of her actions.]
Volume 332 (1/16/15)
Before we get started here, we have to draw attention to a very interesting article in Salon on the subject of political messaging. Edwin Lyngar, a self-described "former right-winger," has some tips for lefties about the importance of framing your message in a "story."
While we don't agree 100 percent with everything he says, it is a great read because he makes such a forceful case about how bad Democrats are at this sort of thing. Democrats need to heed his advice.
With that as an intro, let's move right along to this week's suggested talking points for Democrats everywhere (whether at the water cooler or on a Sunday morning political chatfest) to use in the coming week. Of course, next week will likely be overwhelmed by the State Of The Union, so these may be rather short-lived this week (as better talking points will doubtlessly appear in response to Obama's upcoming speech). For now, we've got some positive ones and a few snarky negative ones, so let's get on with it.
Have you noticed?
Sometimes our talking points get a little long-winded to be called true "talking points." This one's an exception, as it is meant to be used as an aside -- in other words, it can be tossed into any political conversation at just about any point.
"Have you noticed that, since the midterms, Obama's poll numbers have been climbing? Looks like even before the big speech his public approval is on the rise."
Free community college
These next two were the big "laundry list" items we can all expect will have top billing on Tuesday night.
"I fully support Obama's call to provide two free years of community college to any student who can maintain a decent grade average. This is such a commonsense idea, in fact, that it's hard to see how anyone could oppose it. It's good for the country, and it should be a completely non-partisan issue. Who could be against free college for all?"
Paid sick leave
Another one we'll hear about in a big way next Tuesday.
"I also fully support Obama's push for guaranteed paid sick leave and paid maternity leave. How can anyone call themselves 'pro-family' or 'pro-worker' and not support such an idea? Over 40 million workers currently get no paid sick leave at all. That's a disgrace. Obama has called for everyone to get seven paid sick days per year, and I enthusiastically support the policy."
Obamacare scores another win
Beat this drum each and every time good news comes in.
"Did you see the new statistics showing that fewer people are struggling to pay for medical bills now that Obamacare has been fully implemented? This was one of the biggest reasons why the Affordable Care Act passed, because so many people were going into bankruptcy to cover unexpected illnesses. So it's good to see it's beginning to lift that burden from millions of American families."
What are Republicans so terrified of?
It's just way, way too easy to get snarky about this one.
"I see that the Republican National Committee is desperately trying to cut down on the number of presidential candidate debates held this time around. They are trying to force their candidates not to participate in debates that they have not sanctioned, and they say they want only half of the debates as last time. This makes perfect sense, because the more the public hears from Republican candidates about what their true plans are, the less people want to vote for them. The R.N.C. even wants to hand-choose tame moderators for these debates, so that the candidates don't get asked real questions. I don't blame them for wanting to shut their own candidates up, so the public learns as little as possible about what they want to do to the country if elected."
This one's so easy, you can even do a double-reverse outrage twist on it, since it originated among the Republicans themselves.
"I think it is absolutely reprehensible what some Republicans have begun calling others in their own party, in the midst of their intraparty fight on immigration policy. Reportedly, the more realistic Republicans -- those who realize the political fact that 11 million undocumented immigrants simply cannot be instantly deported -- have taken to calling the Tea Party immigration absolutists 'boxcar Republicans.' This grossly offensive imagery is meant to conjure up not just how horrendous deporting 11 million people would be in this country, but also to hearken back to the way the Nazis treated the Jews in World War II. Normally, when Republicans are badmouthing each other, I tend to stand aside and watch the frenzy with amusement, but this time I just have to speak out. The term 'boxcar Republican' is just downright disgraceful and highly offensive, even if they are only referring to members of their own party. I call on all Republicans to immediately cease using the word 'boxcar' in political debate, in fact."
We love... um... boycotts?
This is the only possible answer to Republicans whining about Obama not appearing at the Charlie Hebdo march.
"I'm sorry, but you're complaining that Obama doesn't love the people of France enough? Really? France?!? I'm sorry, but I thought you guys hated France. A decade ago, you were in such a snit you were pouring out French wine into the gutter and demanding we all start saying 'freedom fries,' but now France is, quote, 'our oldest and first ally'? Really? If any Republican honestly thought America wouldn't be properly represented in the march, then why didn't they appear themselves? It's hard to take Republicans' newfound love of France seriously, especially when Bill O'Reilly is still selling a 'Boycott France' bumpersticker on his website. I mean, get your stories straight, guys."
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