Watching Arizona

[ Posted Wednesday, April 25th, 2018 – 17:21 PDT ]

Arizona held a special House election last night, and while the Democrat overperformed the historical partisan makeup of the district by double digits, the Republican managed to eke out a win. It was closer than it should have been, but in the end the deep-red district stayed in the GOP column. So you could say both sides can feel good about the outcome, although in reality only one of them is actually worried about what it might mean for the future.

Donald Trump won Arizona's 8th district by 21 points. Last night, the vote spread was only 5 points. This means eight percent of the voters who voted for Trump shifted to voting for a Democrat, resulting in a 16-point shift in the margin of victory (as in all such shifts, when one percent of the voters change their minds, the margin goes up by two percent -- as in: "from 50-50 to 51-49").

Republicans were relieved to hold onto the seat (the special election was called due to yet another Republican stepping down in disgrace), but then again they never should have even been worried about it in the first place. This is not normally what anyone would call a "swing" or "battleground" district. In fact, there are 147 other House districts that are less reliably Republican than this one. Which is precisely why Democrats see this as a real opportunity for November.

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Donald Trump Capitalizes On Similarity To Founding Fathers

[ Posted Tuesday, April 24th, 2018 – 16:47 PDT ]

That is a rather bizarre headline, as is any sentence with both "Donald Trump" and "our Founding Fathers" in it, really. But then I'm in a rather bizarre mood today, waiting for some election results which may turn out to be rather good news even if (as expected) the Democrat loses. Plus, I've been saving this subject for a slow day, which turned out to be today.

Before I dig into the main subject, though, a quick note on that election seems necessary. Arizona's 8th congressional district is up for grabs tonight, due to yet another Republican House member who had to step down in disgrace over sexual misconduct in the office. This is a district that Trump won by more than 20 points, so it really shouldn't even be close. But it is. The odds are still heavily against the Democratic candidate, but that the race is even close is sending shivers down the spines of astute Republicans everywhere. So the margin of victory will be important even if the Republican wins. If the margin of victory for the Republican candidate is five points or less, it will send almost as loud a warning signal to the GOP as if the Democrat actually wins. So it'll be interesting to see what happens, even if the Democrats don't pull off a spectacular upset.

But I digress. Getting back to the subject at hand, I've been noticing for a while now that Donald Trump seems to be channeling his inner Founding Father in one particular way. See if you can spot it from the examples below. Hint: you don't even need to read every word, just skimming them should be sufficient. First, a few of Trump's most recent tweets:

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Program Note

[ Posted Monday, April 23rd, 2018 – 17:13 PDT ]

Due to circumstances beyond my control, there will be no column today. Sorry, folks, but two minor emergencies (one medical, one automotive) happened over the weekend, so I had to deal with both of them today. Don't worry, everything's fine on both fronts, but it took so much time that I didn't have enough to spare to write today.

I was going to write about the new royal baby in England... nah, just kidding, I was going to write about Macron's visit from France and wonder if he'll be able to talk Trump into staying in the Iran nuclear agreement, if anyone needs a subject to talk about in the meantime.

I apologize for the lack of column, and do realize it's the second time in a week there hasn't been one, but while the first was nothing more than my own fault (for putting things off until the last minute), today just kind of snuck up on me. So I ask your forgiveness and promise there'll be a new column tomorrow.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


Friday Talking Points [481] -- Dazed And Confused

[ Posted Friday, April 20th, 2018 – 17:23 PDT ]

We don't know why that headline sounded like such a good idea on today, of all days. [Ahem.] But it somehow seemed appropriate when the week began with the Trump White House casually tossing Nikki Haley under the bus. Except, unlike most of the folks now residing down there with her, Haley pushed back on the cover story that she had just somehow "gotten confused."

Haley, appearing on last week's Face The Nation, answered very directly when asked if Russia would be facing further sanctions: "Absolutely. So you will see that Russian sanctions will be coming down. Secretary [Steven] Mnuchin will be announcing those on Monday, if he hasn't already." Now, Haley is one of the more competent members of Trump's team, so you can bet your bottom dollar she had cleared such a statement in advance before publicly making it. The specific nature of her comment -- that Mnuchin would be announcing new sanctions within a day -- also go to show she had obviously discussed the subject beforehand with the White House.

On Monday, the White House announced there would be no new sanctions on Russia, and tried in various ways to walk back or otherwise explain Haley's comment. Most of these excuses relied upon some version of Haley getting ahead of where Trump actually was, or that she must have been "confused" about the subject. But Haley, rather than back Trump up in what was plainly a reversal of a major policy on a whim, responded tersely: "With all due respect, I don't get confused."

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The Revival Of The Public Option: Medicare For All Who Want It

[ Posted Thursday, April 19th, 2018 – 17:12 PDT ]

A funny thing happened on the way to the 2018 midterm elections. Obamacare ceased being a liability for Democrats, and instead the overall subject of healthcare has now become a liability for the Republicans -- while becoming the Democrats' strongest campaign issue. How times change, eh?

Less than two years ago, Republicans were still locked into their "repeal and replace" frenzy, voting over 65 times in Congress to kill the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known (derogatorily, from Republicans) as Obamacare. After they took control of both houses of Congress and the White House, this effort failed miserably -- both legislatively and politically, as the public got their first chance to see what the GOP's "replace" idea actually meant. In a nutshell, the Republican replacement would have been: if you were too poor to buy health insurance, you were kindly asked to crawl off into the woods to die, so your corpse wouldn't litter the streets for everyone else.

The reality of the repeal-and-replace effort backfired on Republicans in spectacular fashion, since this was really what pushed Obamacare over the top in public opinion polling. Since the start of 2017 (when the new Congress and president were sworn in), Obamacare has consistently polled more positively than negatively with the public -- something that was never actually true while Barack Obama was still in office. This reminds me of the chorus of the old Joni Mitchell song "Big Yellow Taxi":

Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

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The End Of The Castro Era

[ Posted Wednesday, April 18th, 2018 – 16:32 PDT ]

Cuba is about to go through only its second transfer of power since its revolution. For the first time in my lifetime, this will mean a Castro won't be running Cuba. For almost six full decades, Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl ran the island in what amounted to a communist cult of personality. For the first time since the 1950s, Cubans are about to have a government without a Castro in charge. It is the end of an era, in other words.

What this will mean for the island's residents and for Cuban-American relations is unsure, at the moment. Cuba's new leader is firmly entrenched in the communist hierarchy, so it's likely any changes won't be radical in nature, at least not to start with. But perhaps -- just perhaps, mind you -- without a Castro in charge, America will finally put the Cold War past behind it and fully normalize relations with Cuba.

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From The Archives -- Demand Full Media Disclosure: What's Your Tax Bracket?

[ Posted Tuesday, April 17th, 2018 – 20:42 PDT ]

Apologies for the lack of an original column today, and also happy Tax Day to everyone. Yes, those two are connected.

Snark aside, I thought the following article would be worth running again, what with the current debate over Sean Hannity and his lack of full disclosure on the Michael Cohen story. Since it's also tax day, I remembered the one time I devoted an entire article to the concept of journalistic full disclosure. It's from quite a few years ago, and (sadly) nothing has changed. Enjoy, and rest assured, new columns will resume tomorrow.


Originally published September 13, 2010

There's an upcoming debate on taxes and tax cuts which is likely going to define the rest of the 2010 midterm election season. This will be reported on and commented on by a wide array of people in the media, from all sides of the political landscape. But why is it that media "full disclosure" rules seem to be completely ignored during such debate by the punditry? Because by all rights, anyone in the media talking about raising income tax rates on the top two income brackets should have to disclose their possible conflict of interest in the debate. It wouldn't take much, just a simple declaration: "Full disclosure, I fall into the top tax bracket myself, so I would personally be affected by changing this rate."

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Assessing The Raid On Syria

[ Posted Monday, April 16th, 2018 – 18:01 PDT ]

This weekend, the United States, France, and Great Britain launched an airstrike on Syria which involved a little over 100 cruise missiles fired at three targets, all stated to be involved with Syria's chemical weapons program. This was a retaliatory strike, in reaction to a chemical weapons attack the United States claims was launched by Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad. Doing so crossed the American "red line" and thus had to be punished.

While there have been complaints about the raid from both sides of the political spectrum here at home, as well as denunciations of the raid from Syria, Russia, and Iran, it largely seems to have achieved its limited purposes. Some of the claims from the Pentagon may be a bit overstated (which isn't that unusual, really), but the purpose of the airstrike was to give Assad a bit of a bloody nose as a warning not to use chemical weapons again. In that respect, it seems to have worked as designed.


Military assessment

Before taking a look at the politics involved, though, we should first attempt to make a military assessment of the raid. This was the second such airstrike in retaliation for the use of chemical weapons, of course. The first happened almost exactly one year earlier, when President Trump targeted a Syrian airfield with 60 cruise missiles. The Pentagon reported that 59 of those hit their targets, and that one malfunctioned in flight in some way. The damage to the target wasn't all that extensive for such a massive attack, and the airfield was back in business within hours.

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Friday Talking Points [480] -- Unnecessary Immature Potshots

[ Posted Friday, April 13th, 2018 – 18:09 PDT ]

James Comey's long-awaited tell-all book is out (to reviewers) and Republicans from the Oval Office on down are already freaking out. So far, the winner of the "most hilariously ironic attempt at spin" award is unquestionably Kellyanne Conway. Conway, of course, absolutely personifies one of the lyrics from Trump's favorite Rolling Stones song ("You Can't Always Get What You Want"), as she easily could have been the inspiration for the line: "She was practiced at the art of deception." In an article about the White House's reaction to the book, Conway was quoted dismissing the book as "a revisionist view of history" and (even more hilariously) accused Comey of taking "unnecessary immature potshots." The ironic part? The very same article begins with: "President Trump lashed out Friday at former F.B.I. director James B. Comey on Twitter, calling him a 'weak and untruthful slime ball' who deserved to be fired 'for the terrible job he did.' " So Comey's book was full of "unnecessary immature potshots," but calling a former F.B.I. director a "weak and untruthful slime ball" is downright presidential. Got it, Kellyanne. Oh, and there's a bridge in New York City we'd like to sell you, too.

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Welcome On Board, John Boehner!

[ Posted Thursday, April 12th, 2018 – 17:23 PDT ]

With just over a week to go before the annual "4/20" celebration of marijuana, former speaker of the House John Boehner just jumped on the legalization bandwagon. This is a rather extraordinary and stunning turn of events, since Boehner was pretty adamant about his opposition to any form of legalization while he was still in office (when he could have actually done some good), but he now says he has evolved on the issue. I, for one, am glad to take him at his word and welcome him on board the pro-legalization bandwagon. The more the merrier, as far as I'm concerned.

Of course, some who have been on this bandwagon for decades might scoff at Boehner's recent conversion to the cause. They'd point out -- rightly so -- that the earlier someone took a pro-marijuana stance, the better. Right-wing conservative pioneer Barry Goldwater, for instance, was always against marijuana being illegal, which (for the time) was a pretty radical, left-wing position for someone like Goldwater to take. Back in the 1960s, public approval of legalization was incredibly low. Now that it stands at over 60 percent (including over 50 percent of Republicans), Boehner's stand shouldn't be seen as quite as bold.

This is true, but marijuana has always really been a bipartisan issue, and I welcome any politician (or ex-politician) from any part of the political spectrum who agrees that legalization's time has come. I respect those who have stood for legalization for many years more than I do the latecomers, I will admit, but at the same time I sincerely welcome everyone to the cause who has seen the light.

More and more politicians are slowly figuring out that being pro-legalization isn't even all that radical a position to take anymore. With such strong public support, it could even now be said to be the most politically expedient position, in fact. Marijuana supporters can be found throughout the political spectrum, after all. Red-state ultraconservatives smoke weed, as do tree-hugging liberals in San Francisco -- and everyone in between, really. What politicians have mostly been missing is that not only is this issue one of the most bipartisan around, there are also a lot of single-issue voters on marijuana -- people who would normally never turn out to vote but do so when there's a legalization ballot initiative.

As mentioned, some politicians realized this years ago. Gavin Newsom, in California, was pro-legalization long before it became so popular -- back when he truly was taking a political risk (even in California) to support the idea. Remember, California held two voter referenda on the issue, because the first one failed. Newsom chaired the committee to get the second one passed, while fellow Golden State Democrat Dianne Feinstein chaired both of the "No" efforts.

This year might be seen by historians as the tipping point, when it became safer for politicians (left, right, and center) to be for legalization than against it. Actress Cynthia Nixon, who is challenging Andrew Cuomo for New York governor in the Democratic primary, has made it a key issue of hers -- because Cuomo is so weak and politically vulnerable on it. Nixon just released a campaign video on the issue, where she points out that 80 percent of New Yorkers who are arrested for marijuana are black or brown:

There are a lot of good reasons for legalizing marijuana, but for me, it comes down to this: We have to stop putting people of color in jail for something that white people do with impunity.... The simple truth is, for white people, the use of marijuana has effectively been legal for a long time. Isn't it time we legalize it for everybody else?

That's a pretty in-your-face way to put it, you have to admit. While Cuomo timidly and halfheartedly supports studying the issue (for a good long while) rather than doing anything about it, Nixon is forcing his feet to the fire. I fully expect to see more candidates taking such confrontational stances on the issue all across the country during this year's campaign season -- Democrats and Republicans alike.

To put it bluntly, being against marijuana legalization is no longer the safe political stance to take. It used to be, not too long ago. Less than 20 years ago, public support for legalization stood at just above 30 percent. It now stands at or over 60 percent. That is a monumental shift in public attitude, and politicians better realize this ground has moved in dramatic fashion.

As more and more authentic medical research is allowed to happen (rather than, in the past, only research which aimed to produce anti-marijuana propaganda), the federal government's long history of lies about the killer weed are being debunked, one by one. As more and more states legalize recreational use of cannabis -- and the sky does not fall -- more and more Americans are left wondering what the big deal was in the first place.

Of course, there are still reactionaries who insist on keeping their heads firmly planted in the sand. Jeff Sessions springs to mind. Or Scott Pruitt, who (it was recently revealed) wanted to redesign the Environmental Protection Agency's logo, because he thought "it looked like a marijuana leaf." So there's still a lot of idiocy left to fight, obviously.

John Boehner is living proof, however, that even the hardest attitudes can eventually change. While Boehner was in office, he stated he was "unalterably opposed" to even decriminalizing marijuana, and was against "legalization of marijuana or any other F.D.A. Schedule I drug," because he was "concerned that legalization will result in increased abuse of all varieties of drugs, including alcohol." As recently as September 2015, Boehner hadn't changed his mind on the subject. Almost half a million people were arrested for marijuana offenses during Boehner's term as speaker, from 2011 to 2015. But that was then. This is now -- where John Boehner tweeted his news out in surprisingly detailed fashion:

I'm joining the board of #AcreageHoldings because my thinking on cannabis has evolved. I'm convinced de-scheduling the drug is needed so we can do research, help our veterans, and reverse the opioid epidemic ravaging our communities.

Of course, if he had bothered to listen to the same communities when he was in a position to do something about it, things might be better now -- Boehner cannot escape this fact. This is why, upon hearing the news, Erik Altieri, the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), pointed out: "It would've been more helpful for him advocating for this 10 years ago." Altieri also reflected: "Think of the number of veterans who could've had relief sooner."

But Altieri isn't turning Boehner away or anything. NORML issued a press release on the Boehner news where Altieri personally echoes my position on the issue:

John Boehner's evolution on marijuana legalization mirrors that of both the American public in general and Republicans specifically.... Regardless of motive, former Speaker Boehner is still held in high regard by a large percentage of the GOP membership and voter base. We look forward to his voice joining the growing chorus calling for an end to cannabis criminalization. Anything that expedites the ability for patients to access this safe and reliable treatment alternative, and that facilitates an end to the practice of arresting otherwise law abiding citizens for the possession of a plant should be welcomed with open arms.

Exactly. So welcome to the marijuana legalization bandwagon, John Boehner! We're happy to have you on board. Anyone who evolves in similar fashion should know that there's plenty of room for everyone aboard this particular bandwagon, no matter how fast it is growing. Everyone's welcome, in fact, and that most definitely includes John Boehner.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant