We're going to begin today with a rather loaded question: How much attention do you think the media should be paying towards a presidential nominee who is right now getting 13 to 15 percent support in public opinion polls of their party's voters?
It's a loaded question only because of a rampant double standard currently being applied by pretty much the entire media. The context of the answer matters, and it matters a whole lot. Republican Jeb Bush is currently at an average of 14.8 in the polls, and he has gotten quite a lot of press in the past month (to say the least). Bernie Sanders, however, is not getting nearly as much coverage, despite the fact that in two recent polls he was at 13 and 15 percent, respectively.
As I said, context is key. Jeb Bush is actually leading the Republican field with his 15 percent rating, although that's not all that impressive when you take a look at the rest of the field's numbers. Second place in the polling is Scott Walker, at 13.0 percent, and third is Marco Rubio with 12.2 percent. All other Republicans are polling at averages in the single digits. The most telling number of all, however, is that "undecided" actually leads the Republican pack, with 20 percent.
Over on the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders is solidly in second place with virtually the same numbers as Jeb Bush. But the frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, is polling at roughly 60 percent, which leaves an enormous gap. Still, with only three people officially in the Democratic race, you'd think the media would pay a little more attention to the second-place candidate. You'd be wrong, though. Look for this to continue for the foreseeable future, while much attention is paid to all the Republicans struggling mightily to be more popular with Republican voters than "undecided."
Moving right along, I fully intended to write a snarky bit today wondering how long it'd be before the "other shoe drops" on the Denny Hastert scandal, but the underlying sordid story broke before I even sat down to type. Seems Hastert was a little too hands-on with the students, back when he was a wrestling coach, if reports are to be believed (due to the sexual nature of the scandal, I'm sure we'll be hearing many more details, all weekend long).
There are two bits of irony (if not downright schadenfreude, for some) in this story. The first is that the banking law which exposed Hastert's blackmail payments was beefed up considerably by the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act, something which (up until now) Hastert was quite proud of passing in his House. The second bit of irony, of course, is that Denny Hastert was initially chosen to be Speaker of the House after the previous candidate had to withdraw due to his own sexual shenanigans (this was right after the impeachment of Bill Clinton for sexual misconduct), which were exposed by Larry Flynt in his one-time exposure of Republican hypocrisy titled The Flynt Report. The timeline: Newt Gingrich had to step down for ethical reasons (his own sexual hypocrisy was revealed later, of course), then Bob Livingston had to refuse the office after his extramarital affairs were made public, so the Republicans finally settled on Denny Hastert, who has now been accused of child molestation and covering it up with payments running in the millions of dollars. Nothing like the party of family values, folks!
Speaking of family values (and child molestation), Josh Duggar (of 19 Kids And Counting fame) was revealed as not quite such an exemplary champion of family values himself, even though he had moved on to an executive position with the Family Research Council (one of those organizations dedicated to lobbying for family values). This stalwart champion of family values had been courted heavily by Republican presidential candidates Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, and Scott Walker, before he wound up endorsing Huckabee. While most of this list tried desperately to distance themselves from the Duggar scandal, Huckabee has strongly stood by him. Nothing like the intersection of family values and politics, is there?
The world is certainly changing from the days "family values" was used as a gigantic wedge issue by Republicans, that's for sure. Which is my segue to the astonishing news from Ireland last week. The Republic of Ireland became the first country in the world to approve full marriage equality by referendum, by a stunning 62 percent of the vote. Even though the country used to be about as close you can get to a Catholic theocracy (which wasn't all that long ago), tolerance won the day and won big. Erin go bragh!
Congress scarpered off for yet another week-long vacation this week, after the Senate failed to pass any sort of reauthorization for parts of the aforementioned USA PATRIOT Act. They're holding a special session this Sunday, hours before the sections expire, but nobody has any idea what will happen. The House passed some reforms (which never would have happened without Edward Snowden, it bears mentioning) in a similarly-named USA FREEDOM Act, with a wide bipartisan vote. However, the measure only got 57 votes in the Senate (it needed 60 to advance). But the House is not reconvening Sunday, so the only two real options for the Senate are to pass what the House passed, or else just let the sections lapse. So much for Republicans "getting things done" strategy in Congress, eh? Stay tuned this weekend to see how it all plays out. Also worth noting, this is one issue on which the Republican presidential candidates are divided, so it'll be interesting to see what gets said out on the campaign trail.
Speaking of the hustings, we now have two more Republicans officially running (Rick Santorum and George Pataki), and a third Democrat is set to announce this weekend (Martin O'Malley). A conservative columnist over at the Washington Post reacted to the Santorum announcement with her list of seven reasons why he won't win (the first on the list: "Satan"), and that's just what one conservative is saying. But the more amusing news was the preview of more possible official announcements from Lindsey Graham, Rick Perry, and (are you sitting down?) Donald Trump. Is Trump just teasing us all, once again? Well, maybe not -- he certainly seems more serious than ever before, but that's not really saying anything. I know I speak for countless late-night comedians and political pundits when I say: "Oh, please, please run, Donald! It'd be ever so much fun!"
Ahem. Speaking of having some fun with the presidential race, the new thing this year seems to be how amusing the candidates can make their "404 -- page not found" pages on their official campaign sites. The best yet? Bernie Sanders cut a short video that's pretty funny.
And finally, from the "you just can't make this stuff up, folks" file, we have the story of a Canadian creationist who found some significant fossils while excavating a basement, including a 60-million-year-old fish. To his credit, he realized the significance (he's a "fossil lover," as contradictory as that sounds) of the find. He just doesn't believe in isotope dating, that's all. As he put it: "There's no dates stamped on these things." So I guess "creationist fossil lover" is no longer an oxymoron... or something.
Because Congress was away, we've had to reach further afield for our awards this week, just to warn everyone up front. In fact, we had to reach down to the state level for our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week, although the issue is an important one and the effort certainly deserves a lot of praise.
In California, Assemblywoman Autumn Burke got her bill passed through her own chamber of the statehouse this week, and it's a worthy effort indeed. The bill, AB 775, is known as the "FACT Act," because it will crack down on so-called "pregnancy crisis centers" who make it their business to straight-up lie to women in need. The bill would mandate that any centers which are not medically licensed (and there are many) must disclose this fact to anyone who walks in their doors. The clinics who do have medical licenses will be required to inform clients of all options related to their pregnancy, including abortion. They'll have to notify patients about state programs which offer free or affordable abortion services if the bill becomes law.
This is striking a blow for truth, as most of these "crisis centers" exist solely to convince women not to have abortions, and because they're largely unregulated they have been getting away with dispensing false medical information for far too long.
While in much of the country, abortion rights are under sustained attack from Republicans, it is indeed rare to see any state moving in the other direction. Providing accurate medical information (rather than whatever lie they make up) is a worthy cause indeed.
So for her strong bill to protect women's rights and for her attempts to make flat-out lying to women in crisis a thing of the past, California Assemblywoman Autumn Burke is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.
[Congratulate California Assemblywoman Autumn Burke on her official contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]
We're handing out the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award this week not for any particular action, but rather for continued inaction on the part of President Barack Obama.
Obama's been holding back on announcing a very important executive decision, one that is going to change millions of workers' lives for the better. I first wrote about this in early January, where I noted: "Reportedly, Obama is poised to act sometime between now and February, so perhaps he'll announce it in his State Of The Union address later this month."
It will soon be June, and America is still waiting.
At issue is a change in the rules for when employers must pay time-and-a-half overtime pay. Currently, the law mandates that anyone making $23,660 a year or less must be paid proper overtime rates. However, that figure has only changed once since 1975, back when fully 65 percent of workers were covered by this mandate. Now, it only covers 11 percent of workers.
Obama has been set to announce a big boost in this threshold, up to (perhaps) $50,000 or even $60,000 a year. This would, obviously, boost a lot of people's paychecks, and go a long way towards making life easier for the middle class. Either the boss must pay overtime or not work you more than 40 hours a week -- there will be no other legal option. You can see that this idea would immediately be wildly popular with pretty much all the workers affected (millions upon millions of them).
But for month after month, there has been no announcement. Every so often the White House teases the story by leaking: "Oh, that announcement's coming pretty soon now, so get ready for it," but then no announcement ever happens. It has been five months now, since the first of these teasers.
What is Obama waiting for? There was reportedly a big discussion about exactly where to set the salary bar, but that excuse stopped being valid a number of months ago.
President Obama should make up his mind, and make the announcement. This is an action which does not require action from Congress, mind you -- one of those "pick up my pen" types of action Obama has been promising since the 2014 election.
We've been waiting long enough. There is no reason to delay. Five months is long enough to crunch the numbers (and anyway, there'll be a period for public feedback before the new rule takes place, where the ceiling could be tweaked if necessary).
For his failure to act in the past five months (while the White House keeps promising it'll be just around the corner), President Obama is awarded this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. It didn't really have anything to do with this particular week, admittedly, but more for the fact that it's almost June, which is certainly deeper in the calendar than "between now and February."
We're still waiting, Mister President. Anytime you're ready to make your long-promised announcement on overtime pay, the country also will be ready to hear the good news.
[Contact President Barack Obama on the White House contact page, to let him know what you think of his inaction.]
Volume 348 (5/29/15)
Before we begin with this week's talking points, we have a click-bait link that doesn't really fit anywhere else. The Washington Post has a fun page up with links to sites that will predict when you were born and what your politics are (and other amusing things) based upon your first name. Try your own name and see how accurate it is! Results can actually be surprisingly close to reality, I personally found out.
OK, enough fun and games, let's get on with the Democratic talking points of the week. As always, these can be used from everyone from a Democrat being interviewed on a Sunday talk show to holding a water-cooler conversation with your co-workers. The first four of these deal with various flavors of sheer hypocrisy from Republicans, but there's no other real theme to the list this week.
If you don't like it, why didn't you do anything about it?
This may become a big deal for two Republican candidates in particular, who have already shown an interest in exploiting the issue (especially in Florida).
"Today Cuba was removed from the official state sponsors of terrorism list, which means American-Cuban relations will continue to improve and the last vestige of the Cold War can finally fade away. Secretary of State John Kerry made the announcement today, 45 days after his initial announcement. This period was built into the law when any such reclassification happens so that Congress has a chance to override the decision. You'll note that the Republican Congress did not do so. So when you hear any Republican running for president decry the Obama administration's Cuba policy, the question to ask is: 'If you disapprove so much, then why didn't you do anything to stop it?' In particular, I'd like to hear the answer to that from two sitting senators, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz."
Never part of our conversation at any point
This is a bit of a pre-emptive talking point, as the country awaits the Supreme Court decision in King v. Burwell in the upcoming weeks.
"Republicans have taken a case to the Supreme Court which argues that one phrase in the Affordable Care Act was intended to withhold subsidies from people living in states without their own insurance exchange. That's what their whole argument rests upon. But Republican Senator Olympia Snowe -- who was part of the committee which wrote the bill -- said of the logic used in this court case: 'I don't ever recall any distinction between federal and state exchanges in terms of availability of subsidies. It was never part of our conversations at any point. Why would we have wanted to deny people subsidies? It was not their fault if their state did not set up an exchange.' Again, Snowe was instrumental in writing the bill itself. So the next time you hear the conspiracy-theory version of the intent of the law's drafters -- the version that the court case is trying to make -- please remember what Olympia Snowe had to say about it. I certainly hope the justices themselves take note."
Border more secure than ever
Republican hypocrisy and fear-mongering, meet reality.
"The default Republican position on immigration reform has become 'we need to secure the border first,' but one wonders how secure the border would ever have to be to satisfy them. The actual reality is that the flow of illegal immigration is at the lowest level it's been in at least two decades. Also, even though the American economy has improved since the Great Recession, it hasn't translated into an increased flow across the border. Gil Kerlikowske, the head of Customs and Border Protection, plainly states the case: 'The border is much more secure than in times past.' I'd be much more willing to believe any Republican on their future plans for immigration reform if one of them -- just one of them -- would actually admit the reality of the situation, instead of the constant demagoguery that things are getting worse at the border. Because that's just not true, by any measure."
Ted Cruz, charlatan
That was actually the headline of the Dana Milbank article which pointed this particular reality out.
"Ted Cruz is trying to rewrite his own history when it comes to his complaints about President Obama's foreign policy. Cruz sheds crocodile tears over Obama's 'weakness' when it comes to fighting the Islamic State, and has complained that Obama drew a red line and then ignored it. What Cruz is hoping the rest of us will ignore is what happened when Obama was ready to bomb Syria aggressively over that very same red line. When Obama went to Congress for approval, some Republicans were in favor of letting the bombs drop. They were halted when Senator Ted Cruz began speaking out forcefully against the idea. Back then, he warned that his constituents didn't want him to 'put us in the middle of a sectarian civil war, particularly when doing so would help al-Qaeda terrorists.' He went on to belittle Obama's red line, saying 'it appears what the president is pressing for is essentially protecting his public relations.' So all his thundering now about how Obama should have made good on his red line promise is nothing but the sheerest hypocrisy and political opportunism, designed to obscure his own role in stopping Obama from doing so. As Dana Milbank of the Washington Post points out, Ted Cruz is nothing short of a complete charlatan."
Don't set that bar too high, Mitch
This is an interesting little footnote for the upcoming 2016 Senate elections.
"Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is apparently trying to keep expectations as low as he possibly can for Republicans heading into the 2016 election cycle. He's already admitting that the chances of Republicans gaining seats next year is 'pretty slim' and says he'll be concentrating on maintaining -- but not growing -- the Republican majority. We're over a year away, and McConnell is already setting the bar as low as he can, which probably means Democrats have an excellent chance of increasing their own numbers."
Call it the Manchurian network, we suppose.
"Bruce Bartlett, who served in the administration of Ronald Reagan himself (I'll pause here, to allow Republicans to genuflect) just published a paper calling Fox News nothing short of 'brainwashing.' He states that 'many conservatives now refuse to listen to any news or opinion not vetted through Fox, and to believe whatever appears on it as the gospel truth.' Those are pretty strong words for someone who once served Saint Ronnie in the White House, don't you think?"
Liberals making a big comeback
OK, we realize that part of this is nothing short of the end of the demonization of the term, and that to really see the trendline in full you'd need data back to (at the very least) the 1970s, but that's not going to stop us from touting the success!
"Gallup has just noted that a record level of the American public now considers themselves 'socially liberal.' Granted, they've only been asking the question since 1999, but even so, social liberals are now on a par with social conservatives -- both are at 31 percent. This is both the highest number ever charted for social liberals and the lowest number ever seen for social conservatives. The public is shifting, and the trendline is clear. America is becoming more liberal and less conservative -- something which Democratic politicians have already noted, but which Republican politicians are likely going to ignore. To their peril, at the ballot box. Because 'liberal' is no longer a dirty word in American politics."
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