We begin with cats and birds this week. Iron-lovers across the land were dismayed by the news that the Monopoly folks were discontinuing their favorite token, but cat-lovers were enthused by the feline token which will take its place. Being America, this was done via online voting. In avian news, the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl. The bird is the word!
Almost as amusing (at least for Lefties) was the news that Karl Rove will be waging full-on civil war with the Tea Party, over in Republicanland. Popcorn supplies in blue states may run dangerously low, as Democrats look forward with glee to the spectacle of the Rove-vs.-Craziness cage match.
The irony is, quite simply, delicious. Rove, now representing the sane wing of the Republican Party, will be battling the intraparty forces of reactionary extremism and silliness that he -- more, perhaps, than any other individual -- helped create. This is of Biblical "reap what you sow" whirlwind proportions. Can Rove put down the forces he called up? Will this Republican-on-Republican violence leave casualties bleeding on the mat? Stay tuned, 2014 is looking like a real showdown!
Over on the Left, there was the spectacle of Senator Dianne Feinstein getting more and more annoyed as Code Pink did what it does so well during a hearing DiFi's committee was attempting to hold on President Obama's nominee for the head of the Central Intelligence Agency. After largely ignoring the drone issue for the last four years, the media has been on a heavy drone diet all week ("droning on" one might even say, if one were looking for a cheap laugh), and these hearings were the highest-profile event in the story yet.
Robot warfare is no longer science fiction. It is reality. Our laws have not caught up with this fact yet. Which has left the door wide open for the Justice Department to just create their own justifications for whatever the president orders. The folks on the Right have a good point -- what would the Left have had to say about such a state of affairs if President Romney were in the Oval Office? Or, for that matter (shudder), what do you think President McCain would have done with such sweeping power?
Up until now, President Obama has mostly gotten a pass for his extension of the drone warfare that began under President Bush. No matter where you stand on the issue, it's a discussion that is indeed long overdue.
In other monarchical news, so to speak, was the announcement of the discovery of the remains of King Richard III, under a parking lot. You just can't make this stuff up, folks. Somewhere, Joni Mitchell is laughing, I'm sure.
On a personal note, why did seemingly everyone ignore the best Super Bowl commercials in their "favorite" lists? The ads with Stevie Wonder which tied into New Orleans voodoo theme (as well as the whole "Superstition" ad campaign) were hilarious! Didn't make me run out and buy a certain brand of beer or anything, but I certainly thought the ads deserved more attention than they got.
Which brings us full circle, from silly news to serious and back to silly once again. The only thing to do, at this point, is just move on to our own awards.
Our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week was Representative Jared Polis from the "Rocky Mountain High" state of Colorado. He and a Republican House member from Oregon introduced legislation this week in the House of Representatives in the hopes of interjecting some sanity into federal marijuana laws.
One bill would allow states such as Colorado and Washington to legalize marijuana if their citizens saw fit to do so, without running afoul of contradictory (and outdated) federal law. Their second bill would impose a federal excise tax on marijuana sales in such states.
There are many ideas for revamping the Draconian federal laws on marijuana, and each individual idea can be debated on the merits. Details aside, though, the fact that Jared and a Republican co-sponsor are even introducing bills is a good sign. In previous Congresses, this sort of effort was usually headed by two men (Barney Frank and Ron Paul) who are no longer House members. So it is good to see this particular legislative baton being picked up in bipartisan fashion.
It is now over three months since the election. Colorado and Washington have signaled they are charting a new path. The Obama administration has yet to respond to the will of the voters in these two states in any meaningful fashion. This is a disgrace, and the longer it goes on the more disgraceful it gets.
More power to Polis and any other Democrats who get on board such efforts. If Democrats aren't careful, the whole marijuana issue could get championed by the libertarian wing of the Republican Party. Even such hard-core Tea Partiers as Virginia's attorney general are starting to show signs of rethinking their position on the issue. After cringing in fear of being painted as "soft on the Drug War" for the past few decades, Democrats need to realize that the times they are a-changing. If they're not careful, they'll be left on the "wrong side of history" on this one. In fact, I'd encourage everyone to call up their own House member and urge them to support Polis' legislation. At this point, it couldn't hurt.
For continuing in the footsteps of Barney Frank, Representative Jared Polis is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. Good luck to him, and his legislation!
[Congratulate Representative Jared Polis on his House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
I must admit, I haven't had time this week to read the leaked drone "white paper," which (from all accounts) redefines "imminent" as "something far less than normal people think when they use the word 'imminent,' to say nothing of what the dictionary defines it as." The upshot is that the White House, backed up by the Justice Department, seem to be laying down a policy of "we can kill whomever we wish whenever and wherever we wish, and we're not going to tell you about it, so there." The logic used brings to mind John Yoo, of the previous administration, from all accounts.
What to call such logic, our resident grammarian wonders: Yoo-vian? Yoo-esque? Yoo-like? Yoo-tastic? Well, maybe not. But if we're going to get into such territory, it seems like we're going to need some way of modifying "logic" or "reasoning" with John Yoo's name. Feel free to coin your own suggestions in the comments, as always.
But until we actually sit down and read the legalese, we feel we can't hand out more than (Dis-)Honorable Mentions to President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, at this point.
Instead, we're turning to a state that has really been a contender in the "Most Corrupt Democrats Representing Us" category for quite a number of years, now (see: Blagojevich, Rod). I speak of Illinois, home of ex-House member Jesse Jackson Jr., who just admitted he was guilty of hanky-panky with the campaign funds. His plea bargain reportedly will include some jail time, which is enough right there to win this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.
But we have a deeper grudge with Jackson. He knew he had been caught red-handed quite a while ago. He knew he was guilty, and he knew he was going down. The proper thing to do at that point would have been to either resign his seat and preserve some shred of dignity, or at the very least announce he wasn't running for re-election, to clear the 2012 field for a Democratic contender to hold onto his seat in Congress.
Instead, Jackson ran for re-election and won. Days afterward, the news broke of the federal investigation he was facing, and he announced his retirement. What this means is that the state of Illinois now has to run a special election in his district, which is going to cost a pile of money. If I was the judge sentencing Jackson, I would make part of his sentence paying the state back every penny of the costs of this special election. Because the only reason it is happening is because Jackson's ego was too large to admit that his political career was over.
His plea bargain today just confirms what we've believed all along. Jackson knew he was guilty, he knew he was about to be exposed, and he refused to do the right thing. For that, and for the crimes he committed with other people's money, Jesse Jackson Jr. is our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week.
[You can try to contact Jesse Jackson Jr. on his old campaign webpage, to let him know what you think of his actions, or you can wait a bit and write to him in care of the federal prison he's headed towards.]
Volume 244 (2/8/13)
Next Tuesday, President Obama will give his State Of The Union speech to a joint session of Congress. Since he's already laid out the case for his political philosophy so well in his Inaugural Address, we can expect that Tuesday's speech will be a "laundry list" of what Obama wants to accomplish in his second term.
Second terms are when presidents make every attempt to cement their "legacy" in history. Second terms are for pushing whatever didn't get done from the first-term agenda. Obama did manage to get an impressive amount of things done during his first term, but there are obviously quite a few things left on the list of things to do.
So today, we're going to offer up our suggestions of what Obama should announce in his upcoming speech. These aren't the things I expect Obama to say (just to be clear), these are things I would really like Obama to say. At some point during the speech, after the high-falutin' language at the beginning of any such speech, we'll get to the laundry list of agenda items. Here's what I think should be on that list.
Fix the foreclosure mess
This is possibly the biggest failure from Obama's first term. Accompanying this announcement should be news that Obama "accepting the resignations" of a few folks who are standing in the way of ever fixing the problem.
"When I took office, America was in the midst of economic crisis, due in part to a burst bubble in the housing market. Since then, we have bailed out the banks and we have bailed out Wall Street. If you look at the stock market, you'll see how successful these efforts have been. But we forgot about Main Street while doing so. We tried to implement programs to help families faced with foreclosure, but these programs have so far been badly run and have not helped anywhere near the number of people we thought they would. I am naming a new team to fix the failures of the past, and to finally address the foreclosure crisis with every tool at our disposal. We may come up with new ideas that require congressional action, and when that happens we'd like Congress to become involved. The American economy cannot fully recover until we fix this underlying problem. We will fix this problem, because American homeowners deserve it. If we can save Wall Street, we can certainly help fix Main Street as well."
Even though this subject has been addressed in more amendments to the Constitution than any other since the Bill of Rights was ratified, somehow the basic right was never guaranteed. Who could be against such a simple idea?
"This may shock some people, but nowhere in the United States Constitution does it address the basic right of every citizen to cast a vote for the candidates of their choice. The right to vote is never expressly laid out. I call on Congress and state legislatures across the land to fix this omission. We need a 'Right To Vote Amendment' to the Constitution. A guaranteed right of every citizen who has not run afoul of the law needs to be spelled out in plain language -- a few sentences is all it would take. Every voter across America should have this bedrock right confirmed and protected within the highest law of the land. This should not be a partisan issue -- no matter what political party you prefer, you should know that your right to have your voice heard in the selection of your official representatives in high offices and low will never be denied. I call on Congress to pass such an amendment and send it to the states for ratification. The voters of America deserve no less."
Path to citizenship
Obama should use the opportunity of his big speech to draw some very hard lines in the sand on a few issues. He needs to spend political capital by threatening to veto bills that fall short of his goals. This is a good place to start.
"I am heartened that a bipartisan group of senators has started seriously working on a plan to reform our immigration laws, and to address the eleven million people who are now living in the shadows of American society. While there are many aspects of such legislation we can disagree upon or try to find some compromises to solve, I can only accept a bill that will truly solve the problem with fairness. Any comprehensive immigration law which arrives on my desk without a path to citizenship contained within it will be sent back. This is not negotiable. We cannot legally create some sort of second-class status of immigrant. People come to America for a new life, and all they are asking for is a chance to participate in the American dream. Offering them a status in which they are legally allowed to be here, but barred forever from expressing their voice at the ballot box is simply unacceptable. The biggest difference between a green card holder and a naturalized citizen is being able to vote. That is what this fight is about. And I intend to stand firm on the issue, and will veto any comprehensive immigration bill that falls short of this goal."
Close the gun show loopholes
While Obama may express support for a number of different ideas on the gun control issue, there ought to be one where he similarly draws a line in the sand. This is the best one to choose.
"Congress is currently debating new gun control legislation for the first time in a long time. The tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut has provided urgency for tackling this important issue. While there are many proposals out there which have varying degrees of merit, there is one idea that everyone in this chamber should be able to get behind -- passing truly universal background checks for all gun sales. Close the loopholes. The American people demand it. What good is a background check at a gun store if a person can attend a gun show and buy the same gun without such a check? This is a basic issue we should all be able to agree upon. Close every loophole, pass a real universal background check bill, and I will sign it the same day. There are other legislative ideas worth passing, but this should be seen as a bare minimum. Congress needs to act, and they need to act swiftly. Close the loopholes -- all of them."
Use a term Republicans have been getting mileage out of right back at them. It's only fair.
"For the past few years, we've heard from one side of the aisle over and over again that the biggest problem in the business community is 'uncertainty' over the economy. What is holding the recovery back is this uncertainty for the future. Well, if that really is the problem, then Congress has been doing everything in its power to make things as uncertain as possible -- for quite a while now. We stumble along from one budget crisis to the next, and it seems like they're occurring every month or maybe even every couple of weeks. The business community looks at Washington and sees short-term panic-mode budget bills passed at the absolute last second -- or sometimes, even beyond that last second. This is no way to run a country, ladies and gentlemen. We cannot keep kicking the can down the road every few months. We have to get our house in order. We have to come together for an agreement where each side is going to have to give a little, and neither side is going to get everything they want. And when we reach such an agreement, it needs to go to the floor of both houses of Congress for a vote, without the usual parliamentary trickery. Not every Democrat will vote for such a grand bargain, and not every Republican will either. But if we can get an agreement that enough members of both parties can support, then it needs to get a clean vote. Let's put a stop to this endless uncertainty. The uncertainty is not some external thing that comes from elsewhere -- it comes as a direct result of short-term measure after short-term measure. We can -- and we must -- do better than this."
This is probably the only shot Obama will have at getting anything even remotely related to climate change through Congress, sadly.
"We can argue what to do about climate change endlessly here in Congress, but there is one thing that is going to be imperative in the near future. We must expand greatly the ability of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to act after disasters strike. It is an absolute disgrace that it took three months -- a full ninety days -- for Congress to pass disaster relief aid after Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast. This is unacceptable. It needs to be fixed. I will be proposing adding 50 billion dollars to the budget to put in FEMA's disaster-readiness fund. This money will not be touched until another massive disaster hits America. Look back over the past decade, and you'll see that heading into the future this country simply has got to be better prepared for an increasing level of such enormous disasters to devastate parts of this country. We can argue until we're blue in the face over what to do about climate change, but one thing we should be able to do as a country is to adequately prepare for the consequences which are now all but inevitable. Ninety days to pass disaster relief is ninety days too many. If it takes that long, then each time Congress delays it will only be delaying replenishing this fund, and the victims of large disasters can be taken care of in the meantime. You all should be ashamed of yourselves that I even have to propose such a thing, but that's indeed where we are with today's politics getting in the way of helping people in need."
Reform marijuana laws
And finally, one that I know Obama is not going to say, but have to include anyway, just because.
"I will soon be accepting Attorney General Eric Holder's resignation..."
OK, well, that's obviously not going to happen, so let's try again and make it more believable this time:
"I have listened to the voters of Colorado and Washington, and over one-third of the states of this Union who have expressed their wishes that the federal law regarding marijuana is outdated, harmful, and in dire need of reform. Rather than continue to bury our heads in the sand here in Washington, we simply must come up with a more workable legal framework. This does not mean getting rid of all federal drug laws regarding marijuana, but it does mean we've got to make them a lot more flexible to allow individual states to experiment with their own ideas on how marijuana should be regulated. I've had some experience experimenting with marijuana myself, in the past [pause for laughter]. I don't think my life would have been better had I been busted when I was a teenager -- in fact, I probably wouldn't be in front of you right now if that had happened. I was lucky, to put it another way. But not everyone is so lucky. We as a country have been fighting this battle for a very long time, but it can never be truly 'won.' Instead of destroying hundreds of thousands of young people's lives with very harsh penalties for something I did as a youngster, we need to change our tactics. This will begin with allowing any state who chooses to legalize marijuana for either medicinal or recreational use. We need to rewrite the Controlled Substances Act to allow for states to be true laboratories of democracy on the issue. If Congress will not act, then I will instruct my Attorney General to do what he can under the power federal drug laws already give him. And I'd like to thank my fellow former members of the 'Choom Gang' who made it to be with us here tonight [points to balcony, where several Hawai'ian ex-stoners sit]. Long time no see, guys!"
-- Chris Weigant