To begin, we're not going to have our normal partisan talking points today. We're going to follow the lead set by Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, and we're just not going to go there today. There will be plenty of time for many vicious partisan talking points in the upcoming weeks, never fear. But today, it just doesn't feel right.
Second, we're not going to talk directly about the horrific shooting today in Colorado. But we are going to have a few choice words to say about idiotic snap judgments, with a heaping side order of scorn for the mainstream media, in lieu of our normal talking points.
To tell the truth, we were already in a sad mood this week, upon hearing the news that Tom Davis passed away. Davis was half of the comedy team "Franken & Davis," which is how both I and millions of other Americans ("of a certain age," these days) were first introduced to now-Senator Al Franken. Davis, while at Saturday Night Live with Franken, came up with such instantly-memorable sketches as the "Coneheads," Steve Martin's "Theodoric of York," and one of the funniest one-time bits they've ever done, the Julia Child "Always save the liver!" sketch. The Washington Post ran a very nice obituary, which is worth reading if you understood those references in the previous sentence.
While this week ends on a depressing and sad note, there were even worse moments early on. Michelle Bachmann is apparently channelling Joe McCarthy and charging (with no more proof than ol' Joe ever had) that there are high-ranking folks in the State Department who are sleeper Islamists intent on destroying America from within. Senator John McCain, to his credit, denounced such paranoia on the Senate floor. Her Democratic opponent for Bachmann's House seat is apparently within a few points of Bachmann in the polls, though, so there's always hope that Bachmann will soon go to that great Republican retirement home in the sky... by which I mean, of course, Fox News.
Ann Romney apparently thinks that "you people" have gotten all the personal info about the Romney family finances as you're going to get. Maybe it's time for some intrepid reporter to ask the stumper that caught McCain four years ago: "Mitt, how many houses do you own?" Please? Anyone? There's a fair-to-middlin' chance that Mitt will blow the question as badly as McCain did, so you'd think it'd be worth asking, right?
To end this wrapup on a bit of good news, the Pentagon will allow serving military members to march in a gay pride parade down in San Diego, in full uniform. This has got to be on a lot of people's "Never in a million billion years did I expect this" list, so we've got to give the Pentagon credit where we feel credit is due, for making a bold decision.
OK, onward to our somewhat-muted awards, and then some ranting -- oh, and before I forget, there will be big news -- a major announcement -- from (and about) this columnist, at the very end.
We've got to give an Honorable Mention this week to all the Democrats who valiantly tried to pass the DISCLOSE Act, which would shine some much-needed sunlight on the swamp that is campaign financing in American politics. Every Republican voted against it, so the bill died. Even John McCain and 13 other Republican senators who had previously voted for the bill. This is an enormous issue, and Democrats deserve credit for making the attempt.
Elizabeth Warren also gets an Honorable Mention, just because. This week the first major announcement came out of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau -- a $210 million settlement levied against Capital One. There's a new "cop on the beat" who is standing up for the American consumer. Republicans, of course, were against the idea. Elizabeth Warren was the one who got the idea in the first place, and made it happen (she also wrote about the LIBOR scandal this week, if you're interested in reading her viewpoint on things). Let's hope we have many more of these announcements in the future from the C.F.P.B.
And a third Honorable Mention goes out to Senator Frank Lautenberg, who is apparently going toe-to-toe with the mighty Koch brothers. Fight the good fight, Senator!
But the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to Representative Sam Farr, from coastal California. This week, he introduced a bill to right a monstrous wrong in the federal justice system. Anyone charged with a federal marijuana crime is tried in federal court. In such cases, the judge does not allow what is called an "affirmative defense" -- in other words, the defendant having the right to make his or her case to the jury that they were following state laws regarding medical marijuana and providing medicine, often with the full support and approval of local and state government. People with medical marijuana dispensaries who are busted by the feds get to court and are not even allowed to tell the jury that they're not some sort of evil drug dealer. Such a defense is simply not allowed, under current law. No evidence is allowed to show that state and local laws were being followed at all. Not one word of this explanation reaches the jury's ears. It's just: "This person had this amount of marijuana, so you have to convict him of breaking federal narcotrafficking law." That's it.
This is a travesty of justice, and Sam Farr and other House members (including at least one Republican co-sponsor, Ron Paul) have now introduced a bill (the "Truth In Trials Act") which would change these unjust trial rules, and allow for affirmative defenses.
This may sound like an arcane legal point, but it really isn't when you consider the possible effects of allowing defendants to actually make their case to federal juries. If juries start laughing the federal prosecutors out of court, and refusing to convict in case after case, then it will undermine the Justice Department's current overreach on the issue. Sooner or later, the feds will realize they are just wasting everyone's time and money -- only to be slapped in the face with "jury nullification" in every case. Meaning perhaps (just perhaps) the Justice Department will realize that their efforts are going to go nowhere on the issue.
We have no idea what the chances for passage are, but for focusing like a laser on one of the most unjust features of our "drug war" (a war against what the states consider legal medicine) is a brilliant political tactic, and we sincerely hope Farr's bill gets a fair hearing and passes both houses. Perhaps we could start spreading the story that passing this bill will make Obama look really bad politically (in battleground states, to boot!) -- maybe that'll cause the Republicans to start pushing the idea, who knows?
But whatever its chances for passage, Congressman Sam Farr is this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. Congratulations, and good luck with your bill!
[Congratulate Representative Sam Farr on his House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
OK, we're going to give this one all the attention it deserves -- which is not very much.
As one late-night comic is wont to call him, "Peter-tweeter" Anthony Weiner is back in the news. Apparently, he is living under the delusion that he would be a dandy Democratic candidate for New York City's mayor next year.
He's not going to win that race, but we'll award him a booby prize (perhaps that should be... nah, on second thought, let's not go there) -- his second-ever Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. Our advice to Mr. Weiner is to avoid future MDDOTW awards and a whole heap of other ridicule -- by just saying "no" to running for any future office.
[We're certainly not going to provide contact info for Anthony Weiner, since he seems to currently be getting more publicity than he's worth.]
Volume 219 (7/20/12)
As we mentioned, we have a few words to say about snap judgments, during "breaking" news stories, and then a big announcement to close on.
Whenever any crisis or tragedy or other fast-moving media story happens nowadays, it always ensnares a few in their own idiotic conclusion-jumping. So far, in the Colorado shooting story, we have had two.
The first was ABC News, who aired an innuendo (they did not actually state it as fact, but still...) that the shooter was a member of the local branch of the Tea Party. Turns out, it was someone with a similar name.
Now, when your last name is an uncommon one, it's easy to find you on the web (believe me, I know this). But when someone has a very common last name (Holmes) and an extremely common first name (James), one would think that news editors would be extra, extra careful in researching background -- to make sure they're talking about the same guy. ABC didn't do so. To their shame.
Now, I share very little by way of common viewpoint with the Tea Party. But I have before and will continue to defend their right to protest, to say what they feel, and to participate in American democracy. And that includes fact-checking when making accusations against them. They deserve that respect. They didn't get it. Imagine if it was some political group or cause you held dear -- you'd be outraged. So I join in the Tea Partiers' outrage at ABC News.
The problem, of course, is our hypercharged "up to the minute" news media environment. And it's not even all that new, either. When the Oklahoma City bombing took place, some in the news media almost immediately started wild speculation that Islamists were to blame (a full six years before 9/11 happened, mind you). Just recently, CNN and Fox got the most important Supreme Court decision of the year wrong, because they were trying to "scoop" all the other networks... by a few minutes... or seconds. Even if they had called it right, are those few moments worth the possibility you're getting the facts wrong?
Sloppy is as sloppy does.
Even worse, however, was some wingnut Congresscritter who immediately took to the airwaves to place all the blame for the tragedy squarely where it belongs -- at the feet of those who don't worship fervently enough for this fool's liking. Words cannot express the disgust this story bred in me.
The problem, once again, is our 24-hour news cycle. Well, that and shameless self-hucksterism. Whenever a tragedy is unfolding live on all our screens, the media have got to do something with all that airtime. So they frantically get "experts" and psychologists and politicians on the set to blather wildly and rampantly speculate without a shred of an iota of scintilla of data to base any of it on. In between actual news updates and word from the authorities, the cable television channels just spew a river of slimy guesswork until the next piece of actual news appears on the horizon.
It may be inevitable in these sorts of situations, but we don't have to like it. And we will continue denouncing it, every time idiotic things are said in a tragedy's aftermath. No matter who says it.
OK, this is not going to be the smoothest segue I've ever written, I realize. I will give everyone a minute to recover as I climb down off my high horse, here.
Seriously, though, this columnist has some big news this week -- ChrisWeigant.com is going to the Democratic National Convention! The kindly folks at the Democratic National Committee have decided that we are worthy enough to merit a press credential to cover the big Democratic Party party (so to speak) in Charlotte, North Carolina this upcoming Labor Day week.
We can promise you first-hand coverage of the whole shindig, which will certainly be an interesting experience to see live and behind-the-scenes.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have a hotel room to book... although if I find one within fifty miles of the city, I'll consider myself lucky at this late date....
-- Chris Weigant