Friday Talking Points -- North, To Alaska!

U.S. President Barack Obama pauses while speaking at American University's School of International Service in Washington, D.C
U.S. President Barack Obama pauses while speaking at American University's School of International Service in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. Obama's speech, held at the same venue in which President Kennedy delivered his famous 1963 speech on nuclear disarmament, focuses on the Iran Nuclear Deal being debated in Congress. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Obama had some fun this week, and by doing so actually forced the media to tackle a serious subject on his agenda. The fun part was taking the whole press corps up to Alaska, and even filming an episode of Bear Gryll's celebrity survivalist show. I certainly never thought I'd type a sentence linking President Obama and Bear Grylls, but then we certainly do live in strange times. In a more normal political (but no less partisan) atmosphere, Obama might have been roundly criticized for acting almost Putin-like, being photographed as a tough guy in the great outdoors. Who knows, when the episode airs, he still may face such carping from Republicans. But seeing as how the Republican presidential race is currently redefining the term "cult of personality" in a major way, I don't think the charge is going to carry much weight. It's hard to argue that the dignity of the Oval Office means not appearing in a reality television show when the guy leading the pack on your side is a reality-show television star, after all.

Obama's trip did have a serious side, and he used his bully pulpit to good effect, spotlighting Americans who are already being directly affected by climate change. This spawned some stories in the mainstream media, which was precisely the point -- drawing the public's attention to the problem. Obama did undercut his Alaskan visit a bit by giving the green light to more arctic drilling a few weeks earlier, but he's still been the strongest environmentalist American president, on the whole, in modern times.

Obama also officially reverted North America's highest point to its original name. Schoolchildren will hence learn about "Mount Denali" instead of "Mount McKinley." As usual, there was some Republican grumbling about this, mostly from Ohio's congressional delegation (McKinley hailed from Ohio), but countering it were some actual (gasp!) kind words for Obama's action from Alaska Republicans. This interstate squabble has been going on for decades, now, so unless you in either state, it's probably not that big a deal.

Plenty of squabbling happened out on the campaign trail, most of it Republican-on-Republican violence. Jeb! Bush has finally realized that he can't just ignore Donald Trump in the hopes that he'll somehow magically disappear (perhaps Jeb!'s big donors sat him down and had a little chat with him, or something), and began to directly attack Trump in ads and on the stump. So far, this hasn't been all that impressive. Trump, of course, immediately fired back. The upshot of the squabble so far? Bush to Trump: "You're not a real conservative!" Trump to Bush: "You're a wimp!" Of course, Jeb! has a hundred million bucks to spend on advertising, so this fight looks like it's just getting started. So far it doesn't appear to be doing Jeb! much good, at least not in the polls (Bush has sunk to third place, and is now in single digits). Just today, it was revealed that the Club For Growth is also rounding up some money for an anti-Trump ad blitz, so maybe they'll come up with the magic bullet to defeat The Donald.

The head of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus (whose name without vowels, we always hasten to point out, is "RNC PR BS"), traveled up to New York to bend his knee and ask for a boon from his liege (which is so much nicer than calling it "ass-kissing"). Donald Trump, the true leader of the Republican Party right now, condescended to sign a laughably unenforceable "loyalty oath" to the party, pledging not to run as an independent campaign and to eventually support the Republican presidential nominee. What Priebus (and many others in the Republican establishment) haven't realized is that Trump thinks he's going to win that nomination, and agreeing to the loyalty oath means that every other Republican running will also be bound by the same pledge -- to support Donald Trump if he wins. It's Trump's party now, even if many Republicans can't quite admit it yet.

What's going on with the other umpty-gazillion Republicans running for president? Well, Scott Walker is apparently OK not only with a wall on the Mexican border, but also with building another one on the much-longer Canadian border. Um, OK, Scott, sure -- we'll get right on that. John Kasich, on the other hand, is seemingly OK with "reasonable" raises in the minimum wage, which isn't exactly the standard GOP position. No doubt Kasich would be getting pummeled for this by other GOP candidates, if anyone were actually paying any attention to him. Speaking of candidates not getting any traction on the campaign trail, Chris Christie continues to flounder, this time denying he said human activity contributed to climate change because: "We all contribute to it in one way or the other. By breathing we contribute to it." When called on the statement at a town hall, Christie just flat-out denied saying it. Rick Perry seems to be absolutely sinking beneath the waves, as it was revealed he no longer has any paid staff in New Hampshire and only one staffer in Iowa. Oops!

Carly Fiorina convinced CNN to change their debate rules, since she so obviously deserves a spot after rising dramatically in the polls after the first debates. There may well be more than ten candidates on the stage under the new rules, which specify only that a candidate hit a top ten spot during the last month in any poll. This may allow Rand Paul and even Rick Santorum to sneak into the big-kids' debate.

Both Fiorina and Trump are picking a truly moronic battle with Jeb! Bush, one that may get more notice if other candidates pick up on it. Bush committed the sin of criticizing Donald Trump in another language (gasp!). Bush, like his brother Dubya, knows how to speak Spanish. He married a Mexican woman, and is actually fluent. So, unbelievably, both Trump and Fiorina immediately jumped on Bush for speaking another language on the campaign trail.

The monumental stupidity of having this fight should be immediately apparent to all. How quickly will it escalate into Republican candidates signing a pledge never to speak any other language than English during the entire campaign? Who will forswear all advertising in Spanish? You can see how this could easily take on a life of its own, since many Republican voters probably believe that only elitists know more than one language. Fiorina even showed her own ignorance when criticizing Jeb!, wrongly claiming that English is the official language of the United States government. Haven't heard a comment on this idiocy yet from Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz, which ought to be interesting. To put this another way, the Republican minority outreach program has now officially not only gone off the rails, but it has also headed over a cliff and is currently bouncing down a very steep canyon, spewing wreckage along the way. Can't wait to see what they come up with next!

Speaking of being on the wrong side of unwinnable battles, many of the Republican candidates for president are standing firm with Kim Davis, as she rots in jail for disobeying a federal judge's lawful order to do her damn job and uphold her oath of office. Formerly, Republicans have always been "about the rule of law" -- in a big way, at times. This time, not so much. The judge in question was appointed by George W. Bush, by the way, and was backed up by none other than the Supreme Court. Does this mean the days of "law and order" worship by Republicans have come to an end?

Let's take a quick look at the Democratic side of the aisle, and then we'll get on with the rest of the program. Bernie Sanders wrote a great blog post at Huffington Post, titled "High Drug Prices Are Killing Americans." Once again, Bernie is pointing out an issue that is of great concern to tens of millions of Americans (and one on which a huge majority agrees with him), and the media is completely ignoring it. Pretty much par for the course, for the mainstream media.

The Washington Post did, at least, run an amazing article by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, which pointed out the idiocy of equating Bernie Sanders with Donald Trump (which has become a favorite thing among all the false-equivalence-lovers in the media). Truly, it's the best takedown of this nonsense we've yet read, so check it out.

What the media is doing (instead of addressing the substance of the Sanders campaign's wildly-popular issues) is digging through another 7,000 pages of Hillary Clinton emails, in the hopes of (you can't make this stuff up) discovering what her favorite television program is. And what the "gefilte fish" email was all about. [Editorial note: We are purposely not linking to either of those stories, because they never should have been written in the first place.] Clinton continues to grapple with the whole email fracas, and she wasn't exactly helped this week by one of her aides deciding to take advantage of the Fifth Amendment's protections (by not testifying before the House Committee On Taking Down Hillary, One Way Or Another). We've got months and months of this to go, much to Team Clinton's dismay.

The Joe Biden speculation continues apace, and Biden himself seems to be loving it, casually teasing the media and his audiences with the "Will I or won't I?" dance. However, Biden probably knows full well that your best day as a presidential candidate is usually the day before you announce. If Biden jumps in the race, his record will be scrutinized carefully by Democrats, and he's got a few things he'll need to explain. Like that bankruptcy bill he championed, for instance, that Elizabeth Warren was so strongly against. Or his leadership on the Drug War, which led to many policies which are now seen as mistakes. If Biden runs, he'll have to be clear on where he stands now on several issues, to win over enough Democratic primary voters.

Personally, our money's still on Biden gracefully declining to run, but then again we could always be wrong. Biden certainly does seem energized, of late. Maybe the urge to chuck his hat in the ring will be too enticing. We'll know by the end of this month, one way or another.

That's it, except for a shameless plug here at the end -- which should be of particular note to our teen readers, and to any readers who may have politically-interested teenage relatives. The project to build a Museum of Political Corruption in Albany, New York (which this column has long supported) has announced a one-page essay contest for high school students, to answer the question: "What is political corruption and why should we care?" First prize is not only $250, but also having the winning entry being published on my site. I strongly encourage anyone eligible (open to all high school students in the U.S.) to go ahead and enter -- the deadline is the second of November. The Museum of Political Corruption is in the process of getting non-profit status, and it now boasts Zephyr Teachout as an advisor. If this contest goes well, it could easily become an annual event. So be sure to tell any teen friends or relations you have about the contest, and encourage them to participate!


President Obama not only had a good week gallivanting around the far north (and educating the public on climate change's immediacy), he also had a good week back in Washington. For the past month, Washington pundits have been playing an absolutely pointless game, counting the Senate votes in favor of the Iran nuclear deal. This is a pointless game because even if Congress passes a bill disapproving the deal, after Obama vetoes it the first place it would go would be back to the House -- where he's always had the votes to beat a veto-override. Still, it gave all the pundits something to do during all of August (an otherwise slow month), even if it was completely pointless.

Using this measuring stick, this week Obama did indeed secure the votes to beat a veto override in the Senate, when Barbara Mikulski of Maryland became the 34th Democrat to publicly stand with the president. Now that this symbolic milestone has been achieved, the next milestone actually is worth paying attention to, because if Obama gets 41 votes on his side then he won't even have to veto anything at all, since the bill will die of a filibuster in the Senate. As of this writing, Obama's got 38 votes, but there are only a handful of senators remaining in the undecided column, from whom Obama needs three more votes. A third Democrat also came out against the bill, but the momentum seems to now be on the side of approving the deal.

This is a big accomplishment for Obama, and will become a major part of his foreign policy legacy (for better or worse, depending on how the deal actually works out). Obama pretty much assured this victory months ago, when he stacked the deck for how Congress would vote on any deal (I wrote about this yesterday in more detail).

When the votes are actually held (when Congress returns from its month-long holiday), Republican voters are once again going to be astonished that the Republican-led Congress can't seem to stop Obama from furthering his agenda. They're already pretty down on Republicans in Congress in general, and this certainly isn't going to help.

But whenever they hold the vote, this week is when the pundits inside the Beltway finally admitted the reality that has been apparent ever since 150 House Democrats signed a letter backing the deal -- Obama's going to win on this one. The Iran nuclear deal will become reality. This is a huge political victory for the president, and when you add in all the great bully-pulpit-ing he did this week, it's easy to see why President Barack Obama is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week.

[Congratulate President Barack Obama via the White House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


We hate to say it, because his district is fairly local to us and he's generally a nice guy, but Representative Mike Honda might be toast.

Honda's pretty good on progressive issues, but he won a very narrow race against a much more "Blue Dog" type Democrat in the last House election (California has "top two / jungle" primaries, which means the general election can be between two candidates of the same party). His opponent has already said he's going to run again.

But now, Mike Honda will have a House ethics investigation hanging over his head during the campaign. He's being accused of using official staff and resources to raise campaign funds and do other campaign work while on the government's clock.

Honda released a statement downplaying the charges, saying nothing more than "sloppiness" and "missteps" happened. He may be right, and he may even eventually be vindicated. But he's up for re-election next year, and you can bet the issue will be a prominent one in the campaign nonetheless. In fact, it might be enough to shift that small margin Honda won by last time to his opponent.

Whether ultimately justified by the facts or not, having an ethics investigation announced is never a good thing. Mike Honda's been a pretty solid Democratic voice in the House, but the news this weeks makes him our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.

[Contact Representative Mike Honda on his House contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]


Volume 360 (9/4/15)

OK, one of these is unabashedly pro-Bernie Sanders, we fully admit. But it does make a larger point, so it got included. Most of the rest is full-on Republican-bashing, just because. Enjoy, as always, and use responsibly.


   Another good jobs report

Obama is very close to a big milestone on unemployment. Point it out!

"The unemployment rate is now officially down to 5.1 percent. What this means is that it has dropped by almost exactly half since the worst of the Great Recession, which happened during President Obama's first year in office. Late in 2009, the official unemployment rate hit 10 percent. Now, it's a hair above five. Mitt Romney promised that if he had been elected in 2012, he'd have gotten the rate down to six percent, by the end of his first term. Obama's bettered that by almost a full point, and he's still got over a year to go. Even the 'U6' unemployment number that got so scary has come down almost to pre-recession levels. It topped 17 percent in 2009, but is now down to 10.3 percent -- and it's dropped a full point since the beginning of this year. Even in the best economic times, that number hovers around eight or nine percent. By every measure, the economy continues to improve. Next month, we could even see the official unemployment dip below five percent."


   Americans deserve a vacation

This is a prime example of issues which the mainstream (corporate) media routinely ignores. The issue is wildly popular with the public at large, and one presidential candidate has a bill to fix the problem, but you'll never hear about it on the evening news.

"All full-time workers in European countries are guaranteed from 20 to 30 -- or more -- paid vacation days a year. American workers are guaranteed zero days. Now, nobody's even suggesting we have four to six weeks of paid vacation mandated here, but Bernie Sanders is running on guaranteeing two measly weeks of paid time off to all American full-time workers. Ten days -- less than half of most of Europe. When the general public is polled, not surprisingly, they overwhelmingly support the concept of mandated vacation time. A recent poll found 78 percent support, pretty much the same as the last time the question was asked. Over three-fourths of Americans want this to be the law. A presidential candidate is for it. But have you even heard about it on the airwaves? This is why voters are so disgusted with Washington, because even an idea with such incredible public support is not even allowed to be mentioned by those covering politics. Want guaranteed paid vacation for all? Check out Bernie Sanders -- he's for it too."


   GOP is pledging loyalty to Trump

This really needs to be pointed out.

"The head of the Republican National Committee had to travel to Trump Towers on bended knee to get Donald Trump to sign an unenforceable loyalty oath. What Reince Priebus and the rest of the Establishment Republicans don't realize, though, is that it's more likely than not that the pledge is going to work out exactly the opposite from what they expect. If Trump wins the nomination -- which, so far, he's the favorite to do -- then all the other candidates will have pledged to support Trump. No wonder Trump made Priebus crawl before him -- because Trump may be the ultimate beneficiary of the whole stunt. He signed because he doesn't believe he will even need to run a third-party campaign. He's planning on winning the Republican nomination."


   Trump's party

Democrats should continue to enjoy rubbing Republicans' faces in this fact.

"I see that the Republican establishment has begun the attempt to take down Donald Trump. The Club For Growth wants to spend millions on anti-Trump ads, and Jeb Bush is already out there making the attempt -- however ineffectually. Ronald Reagan's famed "11th Commandment" is dead and buried, it seems. Meanwhile, Trump continues to rise in the polls and everyone who attacks him sinks like a stone. Like it or not, the Republican Party should just go ahead and throw in the towel and rename itself the Trump Party. Because whether you use a big-P or a little-P, it is definitely Trump's party now."


   Certainly not the law-and-order party anymore

This one's also ripe for some extra-vigorous rubbing-in.

"I see many Republicans lining up on the side of a woman who took an oath of office and wants to be able to violate that oath -- in defiance of a federal judge -- and still receive her cushy government paycheck. Whatever happened to Republicans believing in personal responsibility? If she can't do the job for reasons of conscience, then she needs to resign and let someone else do the job properly. Getting paid by the taxpayers to sit in jail for contempt of court is not personal responsibility, folks -- it's the opposite. Whatever happened to Republicans being the party that believed in 'law and order' -- remember those days?"


   The Canadian threat

Feel free to get as silly as you want on this one. It deserves it, after all.

"I see that Scott Walker wants to build a giant wall not only on our southern border but also on our northern border as well. Seeing as how the Canadian border is three times as long, I wonder if he's going to magically get them to pay for it, as Trump swears he'll do with Mexico. No matter the cost, Walker will build that northern wall, because you just can't be too careful when dealing with the monstrous Canadian national security threat to the United States. Have we learned nothing since the South Park movie? It's always a good time to 'Blame Canada,' eh?"


   Circular firing squad forming!

Once again, any amount of ridicule is almost par for the course with this one.

"Carly Fiorina's wrong, of course -- America has no official language, English or otherwise. But that doesn't mean that Republicans can't try to outdo each other in denouncing the use of Spanish by any presidential candidate. Jeb Bush spoke some Spanish that actually made the news (criticizing Trump), and both Trump and Fiorina immediately staked out the position that Republican candidates should only campaign in English. This may revive the whole 'English as official language' push that Republicans have been making for decades, in fact. First they'll all have to pledge to support a national language, then all the candidates will be expected to swear they'll never use Spanish in public until election day, and then eventually they'll have to promise never even to run any campaign ad in Spanish. Surely Trump and Fiorina will lead this purity contest, but the rest of them will soon be forced to follow. Nothing like watching the continuing Republican minority outreach program in action, folks. Republican candidates, step right up! The circular firing squad is forming even as we speak...."


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