Friday Talking Points -- Fighting or Following?

UNITED STATES - APRIL 14: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., holds his weekly on camera press conference in the Capitol
UNITED STATES - APRIL 14: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., holds his weekly on camera press conference in the Capitol on Thursday, April 14, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Believe it or not, it was a fairly quiet week on the Republican campaign trail. That's news in a sort of "man bites dog" (or, at the very least, "rabid attack dog refuses to bite") sort of way. In fact, the biggest news from the Republican side this week was Paul Ryan definitively refusing to be the Republican nominee this year. Ryan delivered a speech (called "Shermanesque" by every political reporter in existence) which essentially said: "Man, you couldn't pay me to be the GOP nominee this year -- no thanks, but I'll see you all bright and early for the 2020 contest!" This is a smart move indeed for Ryan, since it is looking more and more like Republicans don't stand a snowball's chance in Hell of winning the White House this particular year. So we're ignoring all the "but that's what he said about the speakership" tease articles, and we're taking Ryan at his word. No how, no way is Ryan going to be the nominee this year.

Ryan's got enough problems right now as it is, since he hasn't really gotten anything done in the House this year. Just like John Boehner before him, the Tea Party extremist faction is holding everything hostage and gumming up the works. Ryan truly wanted to live up to his billing as the "one man who could unify the party" (see: his election as Speaker of the House), but so far he is falling far short. Ryan swore that his House would be different, and that Republicans would start actually passing bills that laid out their plans for the future so the public could view the specifics (with awe, of course). So far, that hasn't happened. There's a Puerto Rico crisis that needs some action, but Ryan is heading back to the drawing board even though time is of the essence. Today, Ryan just missed a big deadline for passing a budget framework bill. This isn't even squabbling about the details, this is just the overview which sets how much will be spent -- and the Tea Party has now torpedoed Ryan's efforts to get something (anything!) passed before the deadline.

Good thing it didn't shut the government down again, because Ryan is proving that the problem wasn't in fact John Boehner, but instead the "take no prisoners" faction of the Republican Party itself. Since this is a largely unsolvable problem, we don't expect Ryan will be able to make good on any of his grand promises to prove to be the "party of ideas." Maybe the Democratic optimists are right and this will only help them retake the House this year, who knows?

The only other presidential campaign news this week from the GOP side was Ted Cruz being rudely ignored at an appearance in New York (the video is hilarious), and both Cruz and John Kasich making the rounds of late-night television. Donald Trump was pretty quiet all week, but then he really can afford to be because he's about to dominate the New York primary next Tuesday.

The Democrats had a somewhat livelier week, with a handy Verizon strike to join in. Bernie Sanders spoke to the crowd, and later Hillary Clinton showed up on a picket line as well. Solidarity!

Bernie had a good week on the hustings, pulling in a whopping 27,000 people to a rally in Washington Square Park, and chalking up his first Senate endorsement to boot. But the week was capped off by the final Democratic debate, held in Brooklyn. We jotted down some snap reactions to this last night, and today the prevailing conventional inside-the-Beltway thinking seems to indicate that people thought Hillary won the early portion of the debate, while Bernie closed stronger. Your mileage may vary, as they say.

We thought that while both candidates looked a lot sharper than they had in earlier debates (both look fully capable last night of taking on the Republicans, to put this another way), Hillary Clinton showed a disconcerting fondness for following rather than leading. In multiple answers, Hillary was essentially saying: "If Democrats in Congress agree to do that, then I'll sign it." This is a mighty passive approach to the presidency, especially for someone currently using "Fighting for us" as a campaign slogan. Does "Fighting for us" mean she'll come in after the battle's won and take a bow? Maybe her slogan should be: "You lead, I'll follow right along afterwards," perhaps? As we said, this was disconcerting, and we're going to address the issue further in the talking points.

Speaking of fighting for us, there are some people out there getting arrested this week to protest the shocking lack of voting rights protections in America right now, and the scourge of money in politics. They may not have gained much mainstream media coverage, but Democracy Spring is indeed out there fighting for everyone's rights, and they deserve applause (and a lot more media attention) for doing so.


Former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders deserves at least an Honorable Mention this week, for being a founder of a new organization: Doctors For Cannabis Regulation. This is a group of more than 50 doctors, including "faculty members at some of the nation's leading medical schools," which will fight for the legalization of marijuana -- both medical and recreational. As the news article explains:

The group -- which is announcing its formation Monday, under the name Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DFCR) -- is endorsing the legalization of marijuana for adult recreational use, a break from the position of the American Medical Association, the largest organization of doctors in the country. DFCR argues that the prohibition and criminalization of marijuana use does more harm to the public than good. Citing hundreds of thousands of annual marijuana arrests, racial and economic disparities in marijuana enforcement, and the role of prohibition in keeping marijuana prices high and lucrative to violent drug dealers, the physicians say that creating a legal and regulated marijuana market is the best way to ensure public safety, combat the illicit drug trade and roll back the negative consequences of strict enforcement policies on disadvantaged communities.

The new group will join others who have realized that the entire War On Weed is now and has always been counterproductive and destructive, such as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an organization made up of criminal justice professionals who have seen the bad effects of the War On Weed in their careers. We're not sure that having a former Surgeon General call for outright legalization is a tipping point in any way, but it certainly shows that at least some doctors out there are getting tired of blindly accepting propaganda over science.

However, there was one Democrat who was even more impressive last week, which has earned him the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (who recently beat out diaper-enthusiast David Vitter for the top spot in the state), made a bold stand in the ongoing battle over legislation preserving the right of citizens to discriminate in the marketplace. Here's the story:

Gov. John Bel Edwards on Wednesday signed an executive order extending protection to state employees and contractors against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It also bans state agencies from discriminating in the services they provide.

"While this executive order respects the religious beliefs of our people, it also signals to the rest of the country that discrimination is not a Louisiana value, but rather, that Louisiana is a state that is respectful and inclusive of everyone around us," he said in what may have been an oblique reference to other Southern states such as Tennessee, Mississippi and North Carolina.

That's pretty impressive (and progressive) for any state in the South. It's also reassuring for those who were initially distrustful of Edwards, since he doesn't exactly agree with all of the progressive agenda. But in this instance, he certainly stood up for nondiscrimination and he did the right thing in a very timely manner. While other states contemplate following the path of North Carolina, they are closely watching the reaction (almost universal disapproval) from the business community and from other states. Some governors have vetoed similar measures after watching the backlash North Carolina instantly received. So one Southern governor standing up and moving his state in exactly the opposite direction was precisely what was needed right about now. Because it was only an executive order, it is limited, but the legislature can always correct that in due time. Rather than waiting for that to happen, Edwards went right ahead and did what he personally could do.

For his bold action, John Bel Edwards is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week. We would also like to say that we sincerely hope that all of the conventions, concerts, and other tourist business which is turning away from North Carolina at the moment would immediately announce that they are relocating all their economic benefits to Louisiana, instead. Because that would send a clear signal to any other state contemplating such laws: Doing so will cost you, big time.

[Congratulate Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards on his official state contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


The Democratic National Committee had what they considered a brilliant plan for some street theater on Equal Pay Day -- sell lemonade outside a Metro station and charge men $1.00 and women 79 cents, to get people to focus on wage disparity. What might have been a good idea, however, turned into a minor fiasco. They forgot to get a permit, they set up next to a stand selling Krispy Kreme donuts, and it was a cold morning. So they left after an hour, after having sold a grand total of 20 cups of lemonade. A snarky Washington Post article concluded that the only thing achieved was: "inadvertently confirming the oft-leveled charge by Republicans that Democrats wouldn't even know how to operate a lemonade stand."

Ouch. But their hearts were in the right place, so we just can't see giving them a snarky award for their efforts. Instead, we're going to give the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week -- for the second time in a row -- to Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Last week, DiFi won for co-chairing a sham hearing on marijuana, where only the "Lock them all up!" side was allowed to speak. This week, DiFi wins another MDDOTW for co-sponsoring a piece of legislation that would make it mandatory for all information companies to unlock any consumer's data whenever the government wished. This is her response to Apple, a company located within Feinstein's home state. Feinstein, predictably, jumped straight to "The terrorists are going to kill us all!" in defending her proposed bill:

The bill we have drafted would simply provide that, if a court of law issues an order to render technical assistance or provide decrypted data, the company or individual would be required to do so. Today, terrorists and criminals are increasingly using encryption to foil law enforcement efforts, even in the face of a court order. We need strong encryption to protect personal data, but we also need to know when terrorists are plotting to kill Americans.

Remember way back when Dianne Feinstein was shocked that the C.I.A. was spying on members of her own task force? Boy, those were the days. Feinstein is selective in her outrage, saving it only for people she personally knows, apparently. For the rest of us, her motto has long been: "Big Brother loves you!" (or something awfully close to that). This week's bill is in fact the latest in a long line of actions DiFi has taken in strong support of letting the N.S.A. pretty much do whatever it feels like with any data under the sun. Except her employees' data, of course.

Thankfully, at least one Democrat (Ron Wyden of Oregon) has already denounced Feinstein's bill, stating unequivocally: "It makes Americans less safe," and: "If this dangerous anti-encryption legislation reaches the Senate floor, I will filibuster it. Period." In fact, we're going to just go ahead and award Wyden an Honorable Mention this week for doing so, while we hand DiFi her second Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week in a row.

[Contact Senator Dianne Feinstein on her Senate contact page, to let her know what you think of her actions.]


Volume 387 (4/15/16)

The first three of these are just regular garden-variety talking points this week. The last four, however, are all directed at Hillary Clinton.

There's a reason for this, and the reason is that Clinton is still quite likely to be the Democratic nominee, and she has now laid out what it will take for her to enact a truly progressive agenda: Congress is going to have to lead. She admitted this at least twice in the debate last night, once on scrapping the cap on earnings for Social Security withholding and once on the "Fight For $15" issue. In both cases, she admitted that she would indeed "follow" on the issue by signing bills that made it to her desk -- but that she had no intention of actually leading on either issue.

To be charitable, you could call this an echo of F.D.R.'s (possibly fictional) line: "I agree with you, now go out and make me do it." What it means, though, is that even with a President Hillary Clinton and a Democratic Senate, the real push for bold progressive changes may have to come from other Democrats. So we've constructed four talking points for other Democrats to immediately begin using, in the hopes that when the time comes, Hillary will indeed follow their lead. If others are going to have to do the heavy lifting, here are some talking points that will help.


   Paying the price

We still think this is a great idea.

"I would encourage all those businesses and corporations and tourists who are now reconsidering spending their dollars in North Carolina to consider instead coming to Louisiana. Instead of enshrining bigotry in law, Louisiana is moving in exactly the opposite direction. I would hope that any socially-conscious business would take note, and immediately announce plans for expansion within Louisiana, moving their conventions from North Carolina to the Pelican State, and rescheduling their tourist events to bring all of their economic benefits to a state that truly cares about equality. I hear New Orleans is a nice place to have a convention, and a great place to visit!"


   Paul Ryan flailing and failing

The media hasn't really noticed this one, but it's so embarrassing it's worth bringing up.

"I see that Paul Ryan is no more able to convince his House Republicans to get anything done than John Boehner was. Ryan had a big fanfare of announcing he was going to prove to the country that Republicans had solid ideas for a better future, and that he'd be doing this by actually putting budget bills on the floor for Republicans to vote on. This would prove, by the 2016 election, that Republicans were capable of presenting solid plans. He even promised an Obamacare replacement. But not only is that as non-existent as ever, today Ryan missed his first big budget deadline. Instead of passing the overall spending bill, the Tea Partiers once again proved to be the tail wagging the House Republican dog. No wonder Ryan announced this week that he was not interested in being nominated president -- he can't even handle the job he's currently got!"


   Fighting voter suppression

Finally, an issue that all Democrats (even both the Sanders and Clinton campaigns) can united behind.

"The Democratic Party and the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are all suing the state of Arizona over the disgraceful fiasco of last month's primary election. In Maricopa County, voters had to wait in lines for up to five hours, because the Republican county official responsible for elections decided to cut the number of polling places by an astounding 85 percent from 2008. The reduction in polling places was most notable in areas with poor and minority residents. Usually Republicans are a bit more subtle about their efforts to suppress voter turnout, but this really is as blatant as it gets. Hopefully this lawsuit will mean that by November, we will see a lot fewer problems in Maricopa County on election day. This isn't the only example of Republicans trying to suppress the vote in this election cycle, but it certainly was the worst."


   Scrap the cap!

And now we move on to the progressive part of the program. I explained the "scrap the cap" idea a long time ago (with charts!) -- the Social Security tax is the most regressive in the entire tax code. It taxes all earnings up to a certain amount (roughly $120,000), and then all income over that amount is not taxed. Even Bernie Sanders hasn't totally gotten on board the "scrap the cap" bandwagon, as his plan would still leave an indefensible "donut hole" so that people making between $120,000 and $250,000 would get a big tax break for no apparent reason. Hillary Clinton wouldn't even admit to supporting the idea last night (she was flat-out against it, back in 2008). It's time to move past all of this waffling and just make it a flat tax for everyone. Yes, a flat tax is regressive. But nowhere near as regressive as the way it stands now.

"To fix Social Security once and for all, and to provide a hike in benefits, there is one simple solution. Collect Social Security taxes on every dollar that every worker earns. Period. Right now, every firefighter, every teacher, every nurse, and every cop on the beat who makes less than $120,000 a year pays a flat 6.2 percent into Social Security. But someone who makes $150,000 is paying less than five percent. It gets worse as the incomes skyrocket, too -- at $250,000 you are paying less than three percent, and at $750,000 less than a single percent. Someone making five million bucks a year pays less than one-tenth of one percent into Social Security. Just by scrapping this cap altogether, enough money would be generated to assure Social Security's solvency for 75 years and even allow for more generous benefits to be paid out. The time has come. Scrap the cap."



Hillary Clinton has been noticeably averse to even mentioning the word "marijuana." She's not alone in this -- plenty of Democrats are timidly waiting on the sidelines to see what happens next. But now that Bernie Sanders has become the only major presidential candidate to ever address the issue specifically, the time for standing on the sidelines is over.

"In the last debate of the primary season, Bernie Sanders said the following, and I quote: We've got to have the guts to rethink the so-called 'War on Drugs.' Too many lives have been destroyed because people have possessed marijuana -- millions. Which is why I believe we should take marijuana out of the federal controlled substance act. Unquote. Bernie's right. Marijuana activists have been fighting hard for decades to get marijuana reclassified on the controlled substance schedules. But with four states already having legalized recreational marijuana -- and possibly many more to come, this election cycle -- it is now time to hand over federal marijuana control to the same department that handles alcohol and tobacco. It's the only thing that makes any sense anymore. Marijuana must be descheduled, not just rescheduled. Every sane person can see this is the direction the country is headed. The federal government has stuck its head in the sand for far too long. Times are a-changing. Federal law must also change, to reflect this new reality."


   Continue Obama's sentencing reform

Bernie was right about this last night, too, when he pointed out that this actually is an achievable goal.

"President Obama is to be commended for taking the lead on sentencing reform. A new report shows that 26,000 federal drug offenders have gotten reduced sentences under Obama's new policy. This effort needs to be continued under the next president, and we need to examine all the laws passed in the War On Drugs hysteria of a few decades ago, in order to modify the most excessive. Most Democrats now know the War On Drugs 'lock them all up' mentality causes more harm than it helps, and Republicans are getting on board because they see the massive amounts of money which can be saved with more humane policies. This is a rare area of agreement, so Democrats need to push the issue hard after the election, to force the next president to continue Obama's efforts."


   $15 -- period.

This one was the most painfully obvious last night.

"The movement to create a living wage for all American workers everywhere is not called 'Fight for $12, or maybe better if we can get it somehow.' It is called 'Fight for $15' for a reason. America has to end the insane policy of mandating a minimum wage which almost requires the worker to be supplemented by food stamps in order to eat. This is nothing short of corporate welfare, because it shifts these costs from the corporations to the taxpayers. Nobody working full-time should be eligible for benefits, because their wages should be high enough to live on. Period. This means fifteen bucks and hour, and nothing less. If this is the minimum wage across America, it will create an absolutely level playing field because no business anywhere will be able to get away with paying less. We need to fight for a living wage for all. We need to accept nothing less, and Congress needs to make that crystal clear to the next president. Fifteen dollars and hour. Period."


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