Democrats' Evolution On Marijuana Policy

[ Posted Thursday, April 17th, 2014 – 17:20 PDT ]

Over the past five or ten years, Democratic politicians have all but completed a full evolution (to use President Obama's term) on the subject of gay marriage. In 2008, both Hillary Clinton and Obama were against gay marriage. In the 2012 election, Obama came out in support while Hillary did so about a nanosecond after she stepped down as Secretary of State. It is now getting tougher and tougher for any Democratic politician to not support gay marriage. As I said, the evolution is almost complete within the party. The question I now ask is how long that evolution is going to take on a different subject: marijuana reform.

The reason the question is in the news is that Maryland's governor, Martin O'Malley, just signed a law which decriminalizes marijuana in his state. This is interesting for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it is no secret that O'Malley sees himself as future presidential material and he'll soon be running hard (for at least Hillary's veep slot in 2016) to achieve this goal. What is more interesting is that O'Malley initially didn't support the bill, and in fact spoke out against it as it was being debated. But now he has signed it, because his own party in the legislature disagreed with O'Malley. It remains to be seen whether he'll actually become a champion of the law or not, but he sure sounds pretty positive about it so far.

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Are Political Lies Constitutional?

[ Posted Wednesday, April 16th, 2014 – 16:11 PDT ]

Are political lies constitutionally-protected free speech? That's an intriguing question, and one that the Supreme Court is going to take up next week. What makes the question interesting is how a valid argument could be made either way, no matter what your personal politics. Both sides resent well-funded politicians who blanket the airwaves with what they see as the baldest of falsehoods, but on the other hand political free speech is an absolute bedrock of the American system of government. Where do you draw the line? Should a line even be drawn?

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Good News For Obamacare

[ Posted Tuesday, April 15th, 2014 – 16:41 PDT ]

If life were but a metaphor, the headlines would now be reading: "Train Does Not Wreck, Pulls Into Station 7 Minutes Early." Of course, I am speaking of Obamacare, a subject which Republicans have all but reduced (in their own minds, at least) to a mumbling mantra: "trainwreck... trainwreck... trainwreck." But as more and more good news appears, the real story (with apologies to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, of course) is "the train which did not wreck in the night."

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Democrats Should Widen Focus On Voter Suppression

[ Posted Monday, April 14th, 2014 – 16:17 PDT ]

What with the ceremonies at the L.B.J. presidential library last week to commemorate the Civil Rights Act of 1964 becoming law, the subject of current-day voter suppression was brought up by several Democrats, including President Obama. While it was important to spotlight Republican efforts to move backwards on expanding voting rights in the speeches, what was noticeable on the weekend political talk shows was how adept Republicans are at centering their entire argument around voter identification laws. Democrats presenting their own case seemed willing to go along with this, for the most part.

Now, Democratic willingness to directly take on the arguments of voter ID laws is admirable. Democrats know that the facts are on their sides, and they repeatedly point out that voter fraud is pretty much non-existent in America today. If you added up all the successfully-prosecuted cases of voter fraud for the past three or four election cycles, the total would be not be enough to swing even a statewide race, much less a national one. The Republican efforts are nothing short of a "solution" in search of a problem.

That's a good case to make, and Democrats (to their credit) have been pretty strongly making it. But if Democrats focus solely on the voter ID laws -- as the conversation always seems to do -- they wind up ignoring a much wider and much more sweeping political case they could instead be focusing on. I am not suggesting here, to put this another way, that Democrats back off on defending their position at all. I am merely pointing out that focusing solely on voter ID means leaving a more-powerful argument on the table, undiscussed. Which is a shame.

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Friday Talking Points [299] -- Happy 50th, Civil Rights Act Of 1964!

[ Posted Friday, April 11th, 2014 – 17:14 PDT ]

We have some "old business" to take care of here, first, before we begin. Last week, the subtitle of this column was "And Counting," which referred to the 7.1 million signup figure reached by the Obamacare exchanges. Our point was for all Democrats to always tack this phrase onto any stat quoted about Obamacare, to make a very basic point. We're happy to report that one week later, the official number has now changed. Which means the new slogan is:

"Obamacare signups: 7.5 million. And counting."

OK, enough of that, let's get on with the week that was. Tax time is right around the corner, and the I.R.S. is in the news again, and not in a good way. Seems due to a clause someone (nobody will admit to it) in Congress tacked on to a bill awhile back, the federal government can now go back further than 10 years to collect unpaid debts. Doesn't sound so controversial, until you hear what "unpaid debts" really means to them: some ancient overpayment from the government (on Social Security, for instance) that they don't even have records to prove -- which were overpaid not to the people the I.R.S. is now going after, but instead, to their parents. Wow. I mean, just... wow. Paul Ryan better hope his family's paperwork was in order.

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I Don't Care Who Is On Before Craig Ferguson

[ Posted Thursday, April 10th, 2014 – 17:00 PDT ]

To borrow (or, more accurately, "to blatantly steal") a phrase: "It's a great day for America!"

Those of you who understand why that previous sentence (in relation to this article's title) is a joke, please keep reading. Those of you who don't, well, I apologize because this column has seemingly wandered into some sort of Bizarro World, what with two columns discussing popular television programs this week (which has to be, to put it mildly, a first here at Today, the subject du jour is late-night television, specifically that which airs on CBS. So if you're one of those people who never watches such things at midnight (or thereabouts), then I would strongly suggest you occupy your time today with other things than this column. Seriously, even watching a funny cat video will likely be a more productive use of your time.

Where was I? Oh, right... the greatness of today for America.

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Election-Year Posturing From Congress Defines Campaigns

[ Posted Wednesday, April 9th, 2014 – 16:43 PDT ]

Congress is now doing what it normally does, in an election year. This is not intended to sound cynical, as I actually think it is a good thing for a divided Congress to stand up for its divided beliefs -- even while knowing that almost none of the bills it now votes on have a prayer of becoming law before the election. But these bills do serve an important purpose, and that is to define the two parties' differing agendas and priorities for the campaign. The clearer the picture that emerges between Democrats and Republicans, the better idea the citizenry has of what it is supporting in the ballot box, come November. So I actually welcome all the posturing which is now happening in both houses.

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Medical Marijuana On Bones

[ Posted Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 – 16:10 PDT ]


I take a look at when things really begin to change, is when the social culture changes. I think Will And Grace probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody's ever done so far.
-- Vice President Joe Biden

Less than two years ago (it seems longer, but it's not), Vice President Joe Biden responded to a question about gay marriage in a Meet The Press interview. The quote above was taken from his answer (I provided the whole answer in an article I wrote about it back then). At the time, it was big news, due to the upcoming presidential election. President Obama, a few days later, gave his first statement supporting gay marriage (where he famously "evolved" on the issue), which was even bigger news.

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Patiently Crunching Obamacare's Numbers

[ Posted Monday, April 7th, 2014 – 17:29 PDT ]

We are in the midst of a political battle over the Obamacare numbers right now, so it seemed like a good time to examine what they all mean, in an attempt to interject some clarity into a very confusing debate. The numbers will change over time, as will (no doubt) the claims made from both sides of the debate; but without a little context the numbers by themselves don't actually say much. And as time goes by, one particular number will become the most important of all the data -- and this number just got better today (more on this at the end).


Obama's big number

The first thing worth pointing out is that the big number everyone's currently arguing about -- the 7.1 million signups on the Obamacare exchanges -- is a tough number to put together, but it would have been even tougher to aggregate if Obamacare had worked as originally designed. One of the big complaints from the anti-Obamacare camp is that the signup numbers aren't complete (in various ways), and haven't been sufficiently broken down into subgroups for full analysis. This contradicts one of their own talking points about Obamacare (that it was a "big government takeover" of the health insurance marketplace), since the very reason the numbers aren't complete is that data must be accumulated from all the insurance companies participating in the exchanges. The Obamacare website doesn't measure who has yet paid for their insurance, for instance, because it is up to the insurance companies themselves to collect the money, and not the government. But the real irony is that the 7.1 million figure would have been a lot harder to add up (and would have taken much more time to release) if we currently had 50 state exchanges, as was intended by the law's authors.

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Friday Talking Points [298] -- "And Counting"

[ Posted Friday, April 4th, 2014 – 17:04 PDT ]

Today we're turning over the whole talking points section to the president, because he certainly deserves a victory lap after announcing this week that -- against all odds, and against all the slings and arrows of misfortune -- 7.1 million people signed up for health insurance on the Obamacare exchanges.

Because this will pre-empt our normal talking points, I'd like to point one thing out up front. Democrats, from this point on, should adopt a very simple technique to disarm Republican squabbles about Obamacare numbers. To every figure quoted for people gaining health insurance, Democrats should end with "...and counting." This is an easy miniature talking point to insert into any discussion of the numbers, using just two little words to point out a basic fact: these numbers are only going to grow over time. The deadline for signups was extended for just about everybody, so another two weeks of data will be announced later this month. After that, people will still be using the exchanges to buy insurance when their life situation changes (getting married, new job, whatever) outside of the open enrollment period. Which means the number will be even higher than 7.1 million by the start of the next open enrollment period later this year.

It's an easy way to make a big point. "The figure for signups is 7.1 million... and counting...." So every Democrat out on the campaign trail or on television should use these significant two words as often as possible when talking about Obamacare's numbers in the next few months.

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