We'll get to other political news in a moment, but since last week contained the date 4/20, we're going to first run down all the marijuana news. Coincidentally or not, there was a lot of it this week. So let's just begin by "getting into the weeds" of politics, as it were (the ponies come along later, never fear).
Apparently, Ben Affleck's distant relatives once owned slaves. Now, in the history of this blog I don't think I've ever started an article by dishing celebrity dirt, but this story unfortunately goes a little deeper. Because I didn't learn that fact on PBS. I learned it as the spark which set off yet another integrity problem for both New York's WNET and the Public Broadcasting System in general.
The full story, dug out of the Sony emails that were recently leaked on Wikileaks, is that Ben Affleck appeared as a subject on the PBS series Finding Your Roots, which digs into the ancestry of celebrities and presents the findings as (at best) infotainment. I don't watch the show personally, because I found it to be pretty shallow and sensationalistic, which is decidedly not what I tune in to PBS to see. That's just one man's opinion, I should point out. The show seems to be doing quite well without my viewership, so I realize I may be in the minority in that opinion.
The show is hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr. What happened, as the Sony email leak reveals, is that Affleck (for whatever reason) asked Gates to edit out the segment of his interview where the slave-owning ancestors were revealed. What happened next is, at this point, anyone's guess. When the show aired, the segment was indeed edited out.
Yesterday, the news broke that the head of the Drug Enforcement Agency, Michele Leonhart, will be resigning her post. Leonhart has long been controversial, openly contradicting the White House and President Obama at times. She was seen as out of step since both Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have moved the federal stance on marijuana closer to the new reality of states now legalizing it for adult recreational use. But it wasn't her controversial positions that forced her ouster, it was instead the news that D.E.A. agents in Colombia had been accepting from the drug cartels themselves not just gifts of fancy weapons but also "sex parties" with strippers and prostitutes. This, obviously, is unacceptable behavior.
But while Leonhart's exit was prompted by the revelations in an Inspector General's report, my own reaction was similar to the points made in a Marijuana Policy Project press release -- that there were plenty of substantial reasons to get rid of Leonhart. They helpfully listed a few:
During her tenure as D.E.A. administrator, Leonhart:
- refused to answer a congressman's question about whether marijuana poses less potential harm to the consumer than crack, heroin, or methamphetamine and criticized President Obama for acknowledging the fact that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol to the consumer;
- obstructed research into the medical benefits of marijuana by overruling the D.E.A.'s own administrative law judge, who ruled that it would be in the public interest to end the National Institute on Drug Abuse's monopoly on the supply of marijuana available for approved research;
- oversaw raids of medical marijuana dispensaries that were operating legally under state laws;
- reportedly called it the worst day of her 33 years in law enforcement when an American flag made of hemp was flown over the U.S. Capitol Building; and
- criticized the White House for playing in a softball game against a team of individuals from drug policy reform organizations.
The Marijuana Policy Project sponsored a petition that called for Leonhart's resignation, which now has over 46,000 signatures.
When the news broke of Leonhart's resignation, many in the marijuana reform movement rejoiced. Congressman Steve Cohen (who rightly calls himself "a strong voice in Congress for criminal drug policy reform" and who has been calling for Leonhart's resignation for over a year now) put up a press release on his official website, with the statement:
A few words of introduction are necessary today. I spent most of the day dealing with email (cleaning out my mailbox and fishing for quotes for tomorrow's article), so instead of a fresh column today, I'm re-running a speech from Hillary Clinton from November of 2007.
There are a few reasons why it is worthwhile to re-run this particular column. At the time, I was going on vacation and needed to fill two weeks of space on the blog. So I got the idea of running a campaign speech from each of the Democratic candidates. I contacted all eight candidates' campaigns and asked them for a campaign speech transcript I could run. I got seven speeches, and one position paper from Dennis Kucinich (whose campaign said he always spoke without notes, therefore they had no prepared speeches available). I ran them in the order I received them back: Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, John Edwards, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, Hillary Clinton, Dennis Kucinich, and Mike Gravel.
At the time, I promised each campaign that the transcript would run on its own, with no editorial commentary by me. Instead I posted an introduction to the whole "Candidate Speech Series" which explained what I was doing (and which was subsequently updated with links to all of the speeches, in case anyone's interested in the others). In it, I explained what motivated me:
I write today to challenge what is fast becoming conventional wisdom in the political world. In particular, the notion that Hillary Clinton really needs a strong primary challenge to "toughen her up" for the upcoming race with whomever the Republicans decide upon. When you deconstruct the logic behind this idea, however, it falls apart.
There are many reasons for wishing Hillary will have a competitive primary race with at least one other strong Democratic candidate. The biggest of these is the hope that someone will "challenge her from the left," and thus draw Clinton further in that direction. Liberals have a healthy amount of mistrust of Clinton, and would really like to see an Elizabeth Warren (or perhaps a Bernie Sanders) campaign to challenge Hillary on the finer points of fighting income inequality and Wall Street banks.
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.
No, even though "tax day" was yesterday, that title is not a pun on the two inevitable things in life (although, now that I think about it, it certainly could be used in such a fashion). It is meant, instead, to be read literally.
The question of when it is permissible to show death on television is in the news today because of a scathing commentary by Jon Stewart over the media's relentless showing -- unedited, unpixelated, and in full -- the recent video of a man shot in the back while running from a cop. Stewart didn't get into several aspects of the editorial decision to run the video, instead he was mostly focused on what he called turning the video "into screensaver mode... running as background wallpaper in your discussion," on cable news shows. He then detailed why he was so annoyed:
Listen, news media, turning the last moments of someone's life into 'newzac' that just plays in the backgrounds of discussions slowly robs those images of their power. And more importantly the people in the videos of their humanity. And we've gotta nip this trend in the bud, because unlike Blockbuster, these types of videos ain't going away.
Fair enough. But I take a slightly different position. I must admit that I, too, was rather surprised at the news media running the clip unedited, but mostly because it was so rare for them to do so. I've commented on two aspects of television and death previously, so a quick review is in order first.
There are very few political issues today which have not already become firmly entrenched along the same basic party lines that all our other political issues hew towards. In most cases, it's a matter of "Democrats believe X, while Republicans insist on Y." On one issue, though, there is a sizeable (and growing) bloc of voters who are not only cross-partisan but also so committed they could be called "single-issue voters." I'm speaking of the marijuana vote. And it could be up for grabs next year.
Being for marijuana reform has become an all-or-nothing thing these days. It used to be that the pro-reform people would eagerly accept tiny incremental changes. That is no longer true, because voters across America now have the examples of four states and the District of Columbia where recreational marijuana is legal for adults to use as they see fit. In none of these jurisdictions has the sky actually fallen, it now almost goes without saying. Much like the shift in the gay rights movement from demanding civil unions to accepting nothing less than full marriage equality, in 2016 the shift among pro-marijuana voters is also going to be profound, because legalization is now an achievable reality for them to fight for. Medical marijuana is a weak and unsatisfactory substitute nowadays, in other words.
Yesterday, Senator Marco Rubio became the fourth candidate to officially announce his intentions for the 2016 presidential run. He now joins Ted Cruz and Rand Paul in his own party, and Hillary Clinton across the aisle, as official candidates. I have to say, one thing about Rubio's candidacy is impressive, even if you don't agree with anything the man stands for. Rubio is going "all in," in poker terms. If he doesn't win his party's nomination and go on to win the White House, then he will almost certainly be out of a job when the dust settles. That shows a degree of commitment that few other politicians ever make these days, casting aside a cushy Senate seat for the chance at becoming president. As in poker, he's shoved all his chips to the middle of the table for one bet that could leave him at the top or flat broke. And, I have to say, that in and of itself is an admirable thing.
Marco Rubio will be an interesting candidate for other reasons, as well. At the moment, it is impossible to tell whether his strongest assets might turn out to be his biggest weaknesses as well, which always makes for an interesting campaign. Rubio's announcement, planned for weeks, kind of got its parade rained on by Hillary Clinton announcing a day earlier. Rubio deftly played off Hillary's announcement in his own, though, portraying himself as a young fresh voice in contrast to old and stale -- both directly linking Hillary Clinton to this description as well as implying that the same applied to Jeb Bush. Rubio is "tomorrow," fighting against the entrenched forces of "yesterday," which is always an impressive political trick to pull off for any politician. Voters, especially in presidential contests, are indeed thinking about the future more than interested in refighting past battles. Rubio, so far, is the youngest person in the race, and he's playing it up as a positive thing.
And so it begins. Hillary Clinton is now officially in the race for the White House. Her announcement, like pretty much everything else about her upcoming campaign, will be microscopically analyzed within an inch of its life. Was she too generic? Was she appealing enough? Where were the specifics? What about Bill? And what was up with that laughably 1970s campaign logo? Most of these deep-dive analyses won't make a tiny bit of difference, in the long run (well, OK, that logo is pretty bad, hopefully that's the first thing Team Hillary decides to change...). But it'll certainly give all the pundits something to do in the meantime.
As campaign rollouts go, Hillary is obviously going for the lowest key she can manage. She hasn't even scheduled any big rallies or events for the first few months, and her announcement video didn't even show her face until the minute-and-a-half mark. She has, obviously, learned her lesson about the whole "inevitability" thing from the last time around. She is going to start campaigning by going on a "listening tour," starting in Iowa. This worked wonders for her as a senator, and it could be valuable if she meets some interesting people and does actually listen to their concerns along the way. The most interesting thing about her launch is that she's actually driving from New York to Iowa. Well, not personally driving (she's still got a Secret Service escort, like all former First Ladies), but still -- traveling the country's Interstates is a lot better way to reconnect to the common man and woman than chartering an airplane. Sure, it's a stunt, but it could turn out to be more than that, depending on the people she meets in the rest stops of the Midwest.