Friday Talking Points -- Chasing the Scooby Van

Strange but true, the "Scooby van" is now part of our political lexicon. Hillary Clinton herself is apparently to blame for this one, as this was the playful name she came up with for the van she used to get from New York to Iowa this week. The media, as it will be doing for the next year and a half over pretty much any new aspect of Hillary Clinton's campaign (and we do mean "any new aspect at all -- even the laughably trivial"), quite predictably, freaked out.

Looking at the "Scooby van" through the lens of talking points (as we are wont to do, here), we have to say that one thing struck us about Hillary's choice: her inattention to the proper geeky level of detail. Ask any Scooby Doo fan, and they'll tell you the van in question was actually called "The Mystery Machine." Hillary is showing the same level of cultural tone-deafness as when she flubbed her big opening line, saying: "Live from New York, it is Saturday Night!" She may not have been the only guest host in the entire history of the show who failed to properly say "it's" instead of "it is," but she sure was the first one we ever noticed, cringing all the while. Hillary's getting plenty of other grief this week, over all sorts of microscopic things (our favorite: Jimmy Kimmel's alternate logos for Hillary), so we'll quickly move on from that sort of thing. We wouldn't want to get trampled by the rest of the media, chasing after the Scooby van, to put it another way.

We do have to say we feel a little bit sorry for other Democrats out there contemplating a run for the White House. How can any hopeful compete with the blanket coverage all things Clinton will be receiving for the foreseeable future, after all? Lincoln Chafee tried to make news this week with his own contemplation of a presidential bid, but got no traction. Martin O'Malley tried to paint a contrast, but nobody paid much attention. Bernie Sanders is waiting in the wings for the progressive movement to finally realize that Elizabeth Warren is just not going to run this time and by doing so realize that he's actually their best bet to get their message heard, but this has yet to happen according to Salon. The Clinton shadow is long and all-encompassing, eclipsing all others already, it seems.

At least on the left. Over in Republicanland, more and more candidates will be officially jumping in the race in the coming weeks. Harry Reid perhaps summed up the way most Democrats feel about the Republican field, stating bluntly: "I think they're all losers." Now that Reid's announced he'll be stepping down next year, he really has nothing to lose by speaking his mind, so perhaps he'll be the go-to guy for a quote throughout the campaign, who knows?

Time magazine announced their top 100 influential people, and (much to our surprise, since we haven't read Time in decades...) the blurbs about the winners are written by other famous people. OK, whatever sells magazines, we suppose. But it did draw a contrast in the presidential race, as Hillary Clinton was the author of none other than Elizabeth Warren's write-up, while Rand Paul authored the paean to the Koch brothers. Wow -- now that just speaks volumes, doesn't it? Hillary is obviously courting Democratic base voters (those who would agree with the statement "I come from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," in other words), while Rand Paul is shamelessly begging for campaign donations from the ultra-wealthy. That pretty much speaks for itself -- nothing more need be said, really.

Congress spent the week actually -- are you sitting down? -- getting some things done. No, really! Rather than screaming across the aisle, several big deals were struck this week. As with any deal, there was good news and bad news for both sides. The week began with an agreed compromise between the Senate and the White House over giving Congress one shot at derailing whatever Iran deal John Kerry comes up with. They'll have to have a veto-proof majority to do so, the vote will happen within the month after the deal is reached, and they only get one bite at this particular apple -- once the month is over, they can't keep coming back to it (see, for contrast: House, Obamacare votes). President Obama didn't want any Congressional vote, but then again he got a fairly good deal because Republicans won't be allowed to attach all sorts of poison-pill amendments designed to kill any deal before it is struck. So both sides got something out of the compromise.

Congress did perform one bit of breathtaking budgetary responsibility this week, but it wasn't sexy enough for the media to notice. The "doc fix" was permanently fixed. See? Not sexy at all, and has to be explained to most people. But it is significant for two reasons. The first is its honesty. The "doc fix" was nothing more than Congress cooking the books, each and every year. A bad law was passed over a decade ago, to try to rein in Medicare payments. On the books, it saved billions in the budget projections (which go out ten years). But the doctors hated it. So each and every year, the law was "postponed" for another year -- but just a single year, so that the other nine years would magically lower the deficit. These nine years of savings were complete fiction, but they sure helped all the other numbers in the budget look a little better. What happened this week was Congress decided to do away with the fiction and overhaul the original bad law. What this will mean is that we won't have to play fantasyland games each year over a "doc fix," and the budget will reflect a full ten years of reality. The second reason this is significant is that Republicans just voted to raise the deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade without offsetting it elsewhere. So maybe they'll be a little more open to reality in all their budget negotiations this year? Well, probably not, but it's something to hope for, in any case.

The other likely deal struck in Congress this week was to move forward on giving President Obama "fast-track" authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal he's negotiating. This is an odd one because it puts Republicans on the side of giving Obama more power (a rarity, you'll have to admit), much to the consternation of the Unions and much of the Democratic base. Of course, there'll still be a vote in Congress over the deal, but now this will happen without the ability of Congress to amend the deal in any way.

Lest you think that Congress has renounced partisan stupidity, however, the House spent the week passing the "Paris Hilton Needs More Money Tax Repeal Act" (or, as the Republicans call it, the "Death Tax Repeal Act"). This would eliminate a tax on the 0.2 wealthiest Americans, which the Washington Post appropriately pointed out is not exactly in tune with all the happy talk from Republican presidential candidates over their worries about income inequality. Good luck squaring that circle, guys!

In odd news (or "odder news," perhaps), a gyrocopter piloted by a disgruntled postal worker landed on the Capitol lawn. Boy, the dark-humor jokes just write themselves on that one, don't they? At least, for anyone who remembers the era when "going postal" entered the American vocabulary. Let's see, what else? Out in California, a lawsuit has been filed in federal court to legalize prostitution on constitutional grounds, so that'll be one to keep an eye on.

Since 4/20 is right around the corner, we'll end with a quick look at the intersection of marijuana and politics. For anyone who thinks marijuana reformers are overblown in their fears of the consequences of the War On Weed, here's a contrast in how different states are treating the matter legally. In Kansas, an 11-year-old stood up for medical marijuana in school. For bravely questioning authority, he was rewarded with a trip to the police station, where they interviewed him for hours (with neither parent present), and then went and raided his mom's home (who suffers from Crohn's Disease) and then for good measure, threatened to award custody of the kid to the child protective services agency. Right next door, in Colorado, the police have taken a page from the Seattle police and will be handing out snack bags at the big 420 festival, with public-service messages on the packages warning to "munch, not drive" after getting high. They'll also have "free arcade games at dispensaries loaded with messages not to drive after smoking." This tactic was, as we mentioned, first used by Seattle police in 2013 (which we noted here, in FTP [269]).

And Vermont legislators are getting in the spirit of 420 as well. In an effort to unfreeze bills to legalize recreational marijuana (which are stuck, procedurally), frustrated pro-marijuana legislators have now introduced a bill to bring back Prohibition, instead. Won't allow a marijuana legalization vote? Well then, how about we make alcohol illegal again, too? This shows, we feel, what might be called "the proper amount of snarkiness."

OK, that's it for this week's roundup, so let's just move right along.


A quick Honorable Mention is in order here first, for the California Democrats who are pushing a bill in the state legislature to force "crisis pregnancy centers" to stop lying to women, start giving them medically-accurate information, and start referring women to all their legal options -- or forfeit the taxpayer money they receive. Sounds like a great idea, one long overdue.

But the big winner of our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week goes to an organization this week. The Democracy Alliance is an activist group on the liberal side of things, and they've got a new plan which deserves mentioning and honoring. They're aiming to get donors to put money collectively into an effort to get Democrats elected at the state level. Their real target is to improve things by 2020, since that will be when the House of Representatives redistricts again.

Republicans have a clear advantage at the state level, and it got much worse in the 2014 election cycle. Democrats have to begin to pay more attention to these things, because they have big consequences even at the national level. Take just one state, Pennsylvania, as an example. The Keystone State voted twice for President Obama in the last two elections. Obama got 54 percent of Pennsylvania votes in 2008 and 52 percent in 2012. Pennsylvania has 18 House seats. Of them, 13 are held by Republicans -- a whopping 72 percent of the seats. That is the difference House reapportionment (to say nothing of gerrymandering) means, and that is why state-level elections matter. Democrats may never retake control of the House of Representatives until they get some fairer districts to compete in.

That starts with getting Democrats elected at the state level. And Democrats have been heavily outspent and out-organized at this level for a long, long time. For seeing this lack, and for doing something to address it instead of just hand-wringing, the Democracy Alliance is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.

This effort comes at a good time, since there may be millions of Democrats out there who don't feel the need to financially support Hillary Clinton's campaign. Either for ideological or personal reasons, or just because people may feel their small donation won't really matter when Hillary's talking about raising 2.5 billion dollars, this could be an alternative way of supporting Democrats this time around. For providing that option and for targeting it where it seems most needed, the Democracy Alliance is easily the best pick for MIDOTW this week.

[Congratulate The Democracy Alliance on their official webpage, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]


We've got seven (Dis-)Honorable Mention awards to hand out, to the Democrats in the House who voted with the Republicans to give the Paris Hiltons of the world more money. Seriously? You voted for this? Here is the roster of shame: Brad Ashford (NE-02), Sanford Bishop (GA-02), Jim Costa (CA-16), Henry Cuellar (TX-28), Collin Peterson (MN-07), Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-02), and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09). (Dis-)Honorable Mention awards, all around.

Our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award is for silliness, really. We realize others might be more deserving and there are more serious subjects than this, but every so often something comes along that is truly jaw-dropping, and this seems to qualify.

Minnesota Democrats (who are called "Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party" members, up there) just approved maintaining the decorum in their state's upper legislative chamber by continuing the rule which bans any speaker from making eye contact with any others, while debating on the state senate's floor. No, seriously, you just can't make this stuff up, folks. Senate members in Minnesota will continue to be forced to only make eye contact with the presiding officer of the senate, rather than each other.

This is ripe for ridicule, of course, as it should be. The funniest reaction came from fellow D.F.L. Party member Mike Freiberg of Minnesota's house, who tweeted:

Other Senate rules: use secret handshake, speak in iambic pentameter, drag Stone of Shame if you violate a rule

Heh. Couldn't have put it better ourselves. So while there might be other things going on in the political universe, the sheer pomposity and inflated sense of decorum shown by the D.F.L. members of the Minnesota senate, we feel, deserve this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

[Contact Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Thomas Bakk (who spoke out in support of the rule) on his official contact page, to let him know what you think of his chamber's rules.]


Volume 342 (4/17/15)

Yet again a mixed bag this week. Since everybody is already exhausted with all the presidential race coverage, we're going to mostly shy away from that sort of thing for now. We've got plenty of time... marathon not a sprint... blah, blah, blah.

In the middle of these talking points, there are three taken from a recent survey by Bloomberg. Salon had the story, or you can take a look for yourself at the survey questions and results [PDF download]. It's a pretty stunning survey, and a pretty good counterargument to the tired old "America's a center-right country" nonsense as well. Talking points three, four, and five are all taken directly from this survey.

OK, that's enough intro. Let's get on with this week's talking points, shall we?


   Congress can't handle war power

For all the blathering over foreign policy coming from Republicans these days (the Senate in particular), there's an uncomfortable truth lurking in the background. Point it out.

"Republicans keep making noise about how the Senate and the Congress need to be involved in major foreign policy decisions, but when they get the opportunity, they show over and over again that they can't handle the responsibility. Remember when Republicans were weeping and wailing that Obama's fight against the Islamic State needed congressional approval? That was almost a year ago. President Obama did send a proposed draft for a bill to Congress, and the House is incapable of voting on it. Don't believe me? Here is John Boehner, when asked this week if Republicans would propose their own bills to define Obama's war powers, if they didn't like the president's proposal -- and I quote: As much as I think Congress ought to speak on this issue, it's going to be virtually impossible to do that. Unquote. Why do you think President Obama wants to be able to conduct foreign policy on his own? Because Congress is completely incapable of doing so. We're in a military fight that is approaching its first anniversary, and House Republicans say it is 'virtually impossible' that they can draft their own war powers bill. No wonder Obama didn't wait for them to act."


   More Obamacare good news

Once again, if Democrats don't point out the good stats which continue to roll in, people just don't hear about them.

"Yet another quarter's data shows, once again, that Obamacare is doing precisely what it was intended to do: reduce the number of Americans without health insurance. This is the measure of success of the program, and the numbers keep getting better and better. Right before Obamacare took effect, a full 18 percent of Americans didn't have health insurance. That number has plummeted, and has now reached 11.9 percent. That is a drop of over one-third in the first two years of implementation. As time goes by, that number will continue to fall, precisely what the law was designed to achieve. Obamacare is working, and has already gotten one-third of uninsured Americans health insurance they can afford."


   Other good poll numbers (part 1)

These next three are from the Bloomberg poll cited in the intro.

"Obamacare is actually polling a lot better these days, too, as more people see the reality instead of all the scare stories they were fed by Republicans. In a recent Bloomberg poll, 51 percent agreed that: "It may need small modifications, but we should see how it works," and a further 12 percent said: "It should be left alone." Only 35 percent said: "It should be repealed." That means 63 percent of Americans think Obamacare should go forward, and should be tweaked when necessary to make it better. Public opinion on Obamacare keeps going up as time goes by."


   Other good poll numbers (part 2)

This one should be quoted whenever the Republican presidential campaign is being talked about, because the corner they're painting themselves in just keeps getting smaller and smaller.

"Nearly three-quarters of Americans now believe that sexual orientation should receive the same legal protection from discrimination as race in federal law. That's 74 percent who think the states are going too slow -- or even backward -- on the issue of guaranteeing full rights and protections to gays and lesbians when it comes to employment, housing, and all other aspects of life. Gay rights are civil rights, according to three in four Americans. The Republican position on gay rights is looking more and more out of date as time goes by, and I personally wonder when the party is going to realize how much their backward-looking stance is hurting them with voters -- young voters in particular."


   Other good poll numbers (part 3)

OK, this one is just rubbing it in, I fully admit.

"Bloomberg just released a recent poll which was kind of stunning. They listed a number of Republican politicians, and a number of Democratic politicians, and asked whether people had a favorable or unfavorable view of them. Every single Democrat (except Harry Reid, who is retiring next year) was a net positive, with better favorable numbers than unfavorable. Every single Republican (except Rand Paul) was underwater or tied in the favorable/unfavorable rankings. And even Rand Paul was only a single point on the positive side. That's a pretty stunning indictment of the way Republicans have been attempting to govern, especially for those on the list who are running for president. The Republican Party, it seems, has a long way to go to convince people to vote for them next time around."


   Chris Christie will renew War On Weed with a vengeance

Chris Christie is much like the other Democratic presidential candidates, in that he is to be pitied for fading so far into the background. Still, he said one thing this week that was worth noting, because he staked out a position all other presidential candidates should be forced to comment upon (which I wrote about Wednesday, in fact).

"I think every candidate for president -- Republican and Democratic alike -- should be asked about Chris Christie's recent call for a gigantic federal crackdown on the states which have legalized any form of marijuana. Christie is stampeding into the past with his call for the feds to start busting everyone in sight in places like Colorado and the other three states which now have legal recreational weed. Is this really what the voters want from their next president? Nancy Reagan's 'War On Weed,' on steroids? I call on everyone now asking for my vote -- from Hillary Clinton to all the Republicans -- to address the issue clearly. What would you do, if elected, about the states which are charting their own path on marijuana laws? No dissembling, please -- just a straightforward answer. Do you support what President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have already done? Would you do anything differently, and if so, what? Remember: millions of votes might just hinge on your response."


   Because the D.E.A. is, obviously, so trustworthy...

There was a noteworthy hearing on Capitol Hill this week.

"The head of the Drug Enforcement Agency testified this week in front of a House committee, where she was hauled on the carpet for the agency she controls. This involved what appeared to be dozens of 'sex parties' with drug cartel members, dating back to 2001. Fancy weapons were given as gifts to D.E.A. agents from the cartels, and strippers and prostitutes were provided. Some of these, it appears, were paid for with taxpayer dollars -- what was referred to as 'operational funds' for the D.E.A. I think most Americans would be disgusted at this sort of behavior -- agents spending their tax dollars on hookers in other countries. But what happened to the agents responsible? They were given a slap on the wrist, and then later promoted. None of them were fired. The worst punishment handed down was a 10-day suspension. I've said it before, Michele Leonhart has to go. She should either step down from her leadership of the D.E.A., or President Obama should just go ahead and fire her. Either way, she's obviously incapable of leadership."


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