Friday Talking Points -- Is That Your Final Answer, Jeb?

Jeb Bush, is that your final answer? Sure you wouldn't like to phone a friend, or maybe just get the audience's reaction first?

Heh. OK, we fully admit that we didn't come up with that snarky line ourselves. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post took the prize in the "snarky ways to describe Bush's awful week" contest (runner-up: Heather "Digby" Parton for using the old standard "between Iraq and a hard place"). Jeb Bush, in case you haven't heard, spent the entire week coming up with a believable answer to one question. In other words, when that proverbial 3:00 A.M. call comes, we can expect Jebbie to get back to us by next Thursday.

After watching Bush twist in the wind this week, we can't help but wonder if the 2016 Republican nomination race is going to closely resemble the 2008 Democratic nomination fight. Let's see, we've got a candidate who is sure that raising gobs of money is going to scare everybody else off, and who would really be fine with just holding a coronation rather than that whole messy primary elections calendar, and who sees himself as the inevitable candidate. This should sound at least glancingly familiar. Jeb just announced he'll be skipping the Iowa straw poll as well, which only goes to further the image of Bush's disdainful attitude.

But we've already written about Bush's woes this week (twice, in fact, including one which uses the hilarious Fawlty Towers quote: "Don't mention the war!" for a headline), so let's move along from Bush-bashing and instead take a look at some of the other news from the Republican campaign trail. The Republican Party seems to be conducting a straw poll of its own over on its official site, with a whopping three dozen candidates to choose from -- including people who have already said they're not running, people who are never going to run, and people nobody's ever heard of before. Most notable among that last group: former I.R.S. commissioner Mark Everson, who was forced out of the job of running the Red Cross because of an "inappropriate relationship with a female subordinate." Oh, and Sarah Palin and Donald Trump are also on the list, for some reason. So if you're dying to let the Republican Party know how much you'd like to see any one of their 36 candidates, head on over and vote!

In specific Republican candidate news, Mike Huckabee made a bold pronouncement that he was jes' regular folks because he didn't get any money from taxpayers (a subtle jab at Bill Clinton's pension, we suppose?). Unfortunately, that whole "governor of Arkansas" thing seems to have slipped his mind, since Huckabee still gets his own "taxpayer-funded" pension from the state (one he didn't even have to contribute any of his paycheck towards, in fact). So much for that talking point, Huckster!

Ben Carson made some news last weekend when he seriously began advocating that the rest of the government start ignoring the precedent set back in 1803 by Marbury v. Madison. This was the case where the Supreme Court essentially made a power grab and decided to crown itself ultimate arbiter of whether any laws are constitutional or not. Carson is right, in an academic bull session sort of way, that this power is not actually granted by the Constitution to the Supreme Court. But ignoring over 200 years of precedent on this matter is a pretty insane thing to contemplate these days, even if the court does go ahead and rule that gay people should be fully equal under the law later this year. Carson will, obviously, be the go-to guy in the Republican field when news organizations are looking for a quote from the Crazy Town Express that is the Republican field (and with three dozen contenders, that is indeed saying something!).

Not to be outdone, a staffer for the Rand Paul campaign actually licked a camera filming Paul this week, for reasons which surpass understanding. Feel free to make your own "my staffer can lick your staffer!" playground jokes.

Over on the Democratic side of the race, Hillary Clinton is so far keeping her powder dry on the whole trade deal fight happening in Congress. She's in a tough spot on this one, since much of the deal was negotiated while she was secretary of state, but she knows there are many Democratic voters who (rightly so) have a healthy chunk of suspicion when it comes to free trade agreements. When the big debate begins on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement begins (later this year), she's going to have to weigh in one way or the other, though.

The committee investigating Benghazi for the eighth time (or possibly ninth... we've lost count...) got caught in a "Washington gaffe" this week (defined as: "inadvertently telling the truth"), when it put out a notice on its official website inviting people to watch a press conference from the "Select Committee on Secretary Clinton Emails." The committee is actually supposed to be the "Select Committee on Benghazi," but maybe they should just go whole-hog and call it what it has always been intended to be: the "Select Committee For Partisan Attacks On The Democratic Presidential Nominee."

And finally, Sweden showed the world how to creatively solve an international problem this week. After Russian subs had been detected in Swedish waters, a Swedish peace group amusingly decided to launch a deterrent... of sorts. They created a huge neon billboard and sunk it in the water. The billboard has a scantily-clad sailor on it and the message "Welcome to Sweden, gay since 1944." It also broadcasts, via Morse code, the message: "this way if you are gay." Given Vladimir Putin's "no homosexual propaganda" law, it seems like a pretty easy way to keep the Russian seamen away. So to speak.


Two quick Honorable Mention awards to hand out this week. The first goes to Harry Reid, who reacted to the flood of news over the "deflategate" penalties with his own poignant comment on Twitter: "I find it stunning that the NFL cares more about how much air is in a football than it cares about a racist franchise name." Good point, Harry!

Our second Honorable Mention goes to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, for rolling out his own 13-point plan this week, as a model campaign platform for Progressives to run on. It's being compared to Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America," and is actually called "The Progressive Agenda to Combat Inequality." It's got plenty of good stuff in it worth supporting, including national paid sick and family leave laws and a $15-per-hour minimum wage. Hillary Clinton's own positions aren't all that far away from this document, so it'll be interesting to see what impact it has both on her campaign and on the official Democratic Party platform document next year.

But our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week is Senator Elizabeth Warren, for winning a solid victory in the Senate. She won this victory largely against Barack Obama (whom I'll get to in a moment). The White House wanted a bill granting "fast-track" authority on trade negotiations. The Senate, led mostly by Warren, balked. Because the trade agreement Obama wants (the T.P.P.) still has some glaring weaknesses, Warren essentially demanded a few proactive measures (on things like retraining displaced workers and cracking down hard on currency manipulation) be passed before the fast-track bill.

In the end, Warren prevailed. The fast-track bill was momentarily halted, and the package of other bills was allowed to proceed (all of which were then overwhelmingly passed by the Senate). Now the fast-track bill will move forward, and we'll see what the House does with all of these bills.

But for standing up for what she believes in and for not just allowing a trade deal to sail through without also plugging some gaping loopholes, Elizabeth Warren clearly emerged as the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. When the fight moves on to the actual T.P.P. bill itself (expected later this year), we will be looking for what Warren has to say about it (once the deal's text becomes public). For now, we applaud Warren for what she achieved this week.

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


In related news, our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week was none other than President Barack Obama.

Now, we do realize that being in the Oval Office means you view trade deals differently. You also tend to view giving the executive branch more authority and power differently, as well. President Obama has every right to fight for either or both, as we would expect most presidents to do in similar situations.

But what earns Obama the MDDOTW award this week wasn't so much that he fought for his trade deal and fast-track authority, but for how he fought this fight.

Obama's fight with Warren was an unfair contest from the beginning, because (as Warren tirelessly pointed out) the details of the trade deal are still a classified secret and even members of Congress have to go into a room to read the drafts without the ability to even take notes on paper. They aren't allowed to speak of the details of the deal because they are classified secrets right now. So Obama can claim anything he wants about the deal, and the rest of us have no way of checking who is closer to the truth.

But even that's not reason enough to give Obama the MDDOTW award. The reason he's been most disappointing in this fight is the language he's been using to describe both Warren herself ("a politician like everybody else") and her positions on the T.P.P. deal. Obama even has the gall to say "her arguments don't stand the test of fact and scrutiny," when he knows full well that we cannot apply those tests to her arguments yet, because the facts are still secret.

We are reminded by this recent episode of nothing more than the way the Obama White House handled "the professional Left" during its first few years in office -- ironically enough, the years when Obama could have gotten a lot more accomplished if he had embraced Progressives (this was when Democrats overwhelmingly held both houses of Congress). Why is it that President Obama saves has most disdainful rhetoric for Democrats? Where are such cutting and condescending remarks when he's in a scrap with Republicans? Are we really on our way back to the Rahm Emanuel days at the White House?

Obama insists that the fight is not personal. This was after the first vote in the Senate, where all but one Democrat voted to support Warren instead of the White House.

Elizabeth Warren is not some marginal figure. She is not some gadfly to be dispensed with by swatting her arguments away. She speaks for millions, in fact. The sooner Barack Obama and the White House realize this fact, the better things will be. Please -- for the love of all that's holy -- let us not return to the Rahm Emanuel playbook!

[Contact President Barack Obama via the White House contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]


Volume 346 (5/15/15)

OK, before we get to the talking points, a few odds and ends need linking to.

The first is another link to that Progressive Agenda to Combat Inequality. This document is not only comprehensive and well done, it is also a monument to creating good talking points. It's not a heavy read, in other words. Short, simple declarations of the goals to be accomplished, and a worthy list of goals to shoot for. I could have just used some of the best for this week's talking points, if there weren't so much else to get to, so go take a look.

The second is an excellent article from Geoffrey R. Stone on what the Supreme Court could look like ten years from now, and how radically different this outcome could be depending on the next two presidential terms. If you need a reason to care about next year's elections, this is it. The court could be anywhere from a 6-3 liberal advantage to a 7-2 conservative edge. It's some sobering math to contemplate.

And finally, just a cool page that didn't fit anywhere else. Bloomberg has a great page of graphics which show the pace of social change in America, on issues ranging from marijuana legalization all the way back to Prohibition and women getting the vote. It's a fascinating look at how some of the most contentious issues played out in the past century or so. I highly recommend it (and thank the reader who drew it to my attention), even if it doesn't have anything to do with this week's news.

OK, enough of that, let's get on with this week's talking points. As always, use responsibly.


   This is obscene

President Obama used this fact in a recent speech, and the Washington Post has a good graphical representation of the situation.

"You want to know why income inequality is such a big deal? Here's a fact for you: the top 25 hedge fund managers in the country make more money than all American kindergarten teachers combined. That means that 25 people were paid more money in total than 158,000 kindergarten teachers. In fact, they weren't just paid more, they were paid over three billion dollars more. Now, I ask you, which group contributes more to American society, 25 hedge fund managers or over 150,000 kindergarten teachers? Adding to this obscenity is the fact that the kindergarten teachers are probably paying a higher tax rate than the hedge fund managers. That, to me, shows why income inequality is a big deal."


   Talk about the wrong track

There was a tragic Amtrak crash in Philadelphia this week. Republicans, of course, had a great idea to solve such problems in the future.

"The day after -- that's the day after -- a train accident which could easily have been prevented with new safety technology, House Republicans voted to cut funding for Amtrak. Yes, you read that right. President Obama asked for $2.45 billion for Amtrak, a significant boost from the $1.4 billion Congress spent last year. But House Republicans astonishingly cut $252 million from last year's budget levels. John Boehner then said it was 'nonsense' to link Amtrak's budget with safety problems and the crash. I agree with Chuck Schumer, though, when he responded, quote, to deny a connection between the accident and underfunding Amtrak is to deny reality, unquote."


   What flag indeed

A rather weak clause in the upcoming Pentagon appropriations bill was supposed to make it easier for undocumented immigrant children (the "Dreamers") to serve in the American military. Who could be against that? They love this country so much, they're willing to put their lives on the line for it, so why not let them honorably serve? Of course, Republicans didn't agree, since they now seem to be in full retreat from even any veneer of "Latino outreach." So the provision got voted down in the House. Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler had the best response, from a speech she gave on the House floor:

If someone through their merit and their hard work earns acceptance into that elite fighting force, where they could die defending you and me, then I leave you with this question: What country's flag would you have draped on the casket of that brave soul?


   Then as farce...

OK, this one is pure tragicomedy. We've been at war with the Islamic State for over nine months now. Congress has yet to vote on any Authorization for the Use of Military Force (A.U.M.F.) which would approve the war actions Obama has taken. So Democrats decided to try again, in the debate on the Pentagon budget bill (the National Defense Authorization Act, or "N.D.A.A."). Republicans balked, taking the position that voting a war authorization while authorizing the Pentagon budget was somehow unrelated (even though they're actively trying to redefine our international legal relationship with Israel in the same bill). Republicans, in fact, reduced the entire thing to a joke Peter Sellers told over a half a century ago. Don't believe me? Here's what House Democrat Adam Schiff had to say during the debate:

Last night, the Rules Committee voted down an amendment I offered to the N.D.A.A. in the form of a limited and narrow authorization against ISIS. The majority's objection was that the defense bill was not the place to debate the war. Perhaps not, but if not here, where?

Even better was what Jim McGovern had to say about the farcical nature of banning war authorization from the Pentagon budget:

This is the N.D.A.A. This is the bill. This funds the wars. This notion that this doesn't belong here, well, where the hell does it belong? We treat war as if it's nothing. We have men and women in harm's way.... This is disgraceful.

Which brings us to that Peter Sellers joke, from the incomparable film Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb:

Gentlemen! You can't fight in here! It's the War Room!


   Not supporting the troops, again

Why do Democrats let Republicans get away with this stuff? If the shoe were on the other foot, just imagine the outrage!

"While Republicans are afraid of admitting that we are at war with the Islamic State in the new Pentagon budget bill, I see that they're still fighting hard -- even though it was defeated two weeks ago -- to include the right of predatory lenders to continue preying upon America's service members. That's right -- Republicans are fighting hard for companies that rip off soldiers with payday loans at what can only be called loan shark rates, so that a few unscrupulous businesses can walk away with millions of dollars for another year. Why can't Republicans stand up and support our troops? Why are the rights of loan sharks more important than the rights of our brave fighting men and women? It defies belief, and it is downright disgraceful."


   GOP follies

Two state-level Republican leaders bit the dust this week. So point it out!

"I see that the state senate majority leader of New York, Republican Dean Skelos, just announced he'll be stepping down from his leadership position after being federally indicted for rampant corruption. No word yet on whether he'll step down from office completely, though. Over in Missouri, John Diehl, the Republican speaker of the state house chamber, has now resigned from both leadership and his office after his sexually-themed texts with a college intern were revealed. Nothing like those good, old-fashioned Republican family values, eh folks?"


   GOP Latino outreach, R.I.P.

Here's a question to ask a few Republican presidential candidates.

"I'd be interested in hearing your reaction to what happened recently at the South Carolina Freedom Summit, when a woman said the following into the microphone: 'People are coming in this country across the borders like rats and roaches in the woodpile.' Specifically, I'd like to hear what you have to say about the fact that this woman's statements were actually cheered by the audience? Is it really so hard to understand why Republican candidates struggle to get Latino votes when this sort of thing is not just tolerated, but actually cheered by a group of Republicans?"


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