We've got a lot to cover this week, so we're going to try to get through everything in a rather foreshortened format. At least, that's the goal (I have lost count of the times I've started one of these columns with "It's going to be shorter this time, dammit!" and then wound up with the usual tome's-worth of text when I get to the end).
First, some "old business" to start. For anyone who missed it, and is still in a foolish mood, some House Democrats put together an amusing "House of Fools" website to poke fun at Republicans.
With that out of the way, we're going to take a quick overview of what the media considers the big stories of the week, and we're going to end up in the Talking Points section with all the stories you may have missed due to the media being distracted by this stuff, just for fun.
President Obama just waded into some brackish waters in the sexism swamp by how he referred to California's attorney general at a fundraiser. Note to politicians: since the late 1970s, it has no longer been acceptable to comment upon professional women's appearance in any way, shape, or form. Obama immediately apologized, but be on the lookout for some late-night comedians making a few funny jokes tonight.
Obama also made a gesture this week, to give up five percent of his income in solidarity with the pain the sequester cuts are causing to hundreds of thousands of workers. Which prompted me to suggest yesterday how the federal budget could easily be cut to save fifty times the money Obama will be saving, by abolishing the offices of the congressional chaplains.
In more substantive budget news, Obama sent his budget over to Congress. While the House has passed Paul Ryan's "drown it in a bathtub" budget, and the Senate has passed a much-more-reasonable Democratic budget, neither one has a prayer of actually making it into law. Obama has now essentially put on the table the offer he made to John Boehner over a year ago, and it is being attacked from left and right. But if any budget does actually pass this year, it's going to look a lot closer to Obama's proposal than either the House or the Senate version -- something that may get lost in the frenzy of commentary over the next week or so.
Cindy McCain, most-recent wife of Senator John "You Kids Get Off My Lawn!" McCain, is going to star in a pro-gay marriage play about California's Proposition 8. Our hats are off to Cindy, and we wish her the best of reviews as she trods the boards.
Unemployment is down to 7.6 percent. North Korea is in a frenzy of saber-rattling.
Up next week, as Congress returns from a multi-week vacation: immigration.
OK, that's enough for now, let's get on with the awards.
This is an odd one for me to comment on, because I feel I am not qualified to really take any sort of position on the issue.
Nevada state lawmaker Lucy Flores testified recently on a sex education bill. She offered up her own experience of getting an abortion when she was 16 years old. Since then, she has been receiving threats for doing so.
This seems to me to be not only worthy of a Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award, but also of a sort of "Profiles In Courage" status, as well. Because it must have taken a lot of courage to do what Flores did, knowing that there would be a backlash.
I would never presume to suggest that any woman follow Flores's example, in the same way I would not presume to tell any closeted gay person to come out. These are very personal decisions, and how each person deals with them is a matter for them to decide, not some pundit who knows nothing about their lives. The sheer number of gays who have come out in the open has indeed changed the political debate in this country, because it's getting harder and harder to find people who have never had a personal interaction with an "out" gay person these days. Some pro-choice groups have tried to get a similar thing going by encouraging women who have had abortions to speak out about the experience.
But, again, that's not for me to decide. What I can do, however, is to admire Lucy Flores for the brave testimony she gave, and to denounce any who would threaten a politician for any reason whatsoever. Flores put a human face on an issue that is too often debated and decided by those who know little (if anything) about it. For doing so, she is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week.
[Congratulate Nevada Assemblywoman Lucy Flores on her official contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]
OK, a few quick demerits here before we get to the main award. President Obama, obviously, gets a (Dis-)Honorable Mention for his comments on Kamala Harris in California. He did immediately apologize, but he never should have said it in the first place, really.
More and more Democratic senators have now come out in full support for gay marriage, although we have four (Dis-)Honorable Mentions for the remaining four Democratic holdouts.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius just got thoroughly embarrassed by a federal judge (a Republican appointee, no less) for her nakedly political and cowardly fight against science. Even though President Obama pledged to set policy based on science when he arrived in office, and even though the scientists gave their full approval to offering the emergency contraceptive "Plan B" pill over the counter to women of all ages, Sebelius overruled the scientists and restricted it to a prescription-only pill for minors. For no scientific reason whatsoever. For no reason at all except politics, in fact. The judge just pointed this out, in no uncertain terms, and ruled that the pill be available over the counter to everyone, within 30 days. Obama and Sebelius should realize that this is the perfect solution -- the judge has removed the issue from the political sphere by his ruling -- and announce they will not be appealing the ruling. For now, no matter what they decide, both Obama and Sebelius deserve at least (Dis-)Honorable Mentions for their anti-science political cravenness.
But our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award goes to three New York politicians this week, one of whom is so far anonymous. Federal arrests and indictments were taking place in the Empire State this week, in two separate corruption scandals. State senator Malcolm Smith, Democrat from Queens, was allegedly trying to bribe his way onto the Republican ballot for New York City mayor. He was at the heart of a scheme to buy ballot access for tens of thousands of dollars in bribes, apparently.
As if that weren't bad enough, state assemblyman Eric Stevenson and an unnamed co-conspirator were accused of accepting tens of thousands of dollars in bribes to write legislation friendly to one business.
We've long heard rumors that Albany is one of the most corrupt state governments in the country, and while nobody has yet been convicted, it certainly seems like the federal attorneys have been busy chasing down some of this storied corruption. If either man proves his innocence, we will of course offer a retraction and an apology, but for now both Malcolm Smith and Eric Stevenson are this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award winners.
Volume 252 (4/5/13)
We're feeling a little experimental this week, so we thought we'd focus on all the stories the mainstream media seems to be giving a giant pass to, while they keep up the frenzy over Jay Leno's career and other important non-news.
So this week, each talking point should be used whenever some idiotic distraction is brought up in the media conversation. Democrats, take the power into your own hands, and hijack the media conversation to a few stories the blow-dried "journalists" seem to be missing!
The arc of history
These first two deal with the same subject: marijuana. Marijuana was in the news this week because for the first time in the national Pew poll, a majority of Americans think marijuana should be legalized. The public is changing its mind on this issue roughly as fast as they're changing their minds on gay marriage. Our first comment comes from Tom Angell, Chairman of Marijuana Majority (a seemingly-prophetic name, now, for a pro-legalization group to have chosen):
It's time for politicians to catch up to the voters on this issue. Not too long ago, it was widely accepted in political circles that elected officials who wanted to get re-elected needed to act 'tough' on drugs and go out of their way to support the continued criminalization of marijuana. The opposite is quickly becoming true. A majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana, and you're going to start seeing more politicians running toward our movement instead of away from it, just as we've seen happen with marriage equality recently.
The second marijuana news tidbit is the formation of a political action committee, who will be putting money up for political ads in the near future.
"Anyone who supports marijuana legalization already has numerous groups to donate money towards, but this week the Legalize Marijuana Super PAC also appeared on the scene. For anyone sick of the abject failure of the prohibition of marijuana and who wants to see some science and some sanity in our nation's drug laws, there is now another group asking for your donations to fund advocacy for the cause. State by state, law by law, and organization by organization, we can indeed change the course of history. The people are leading on the issue, and the more clout pro-legalization organizations can get, the faster the politicians will decide to follow."
Offshore, and off-screen
This one, no surprise, was completely ignored by the mainstream media.
"Did you happen to see the investigative story this week on how the wealthiest American individuals and corporations exploit the offshore tax laws to avoid paying their fair share? I didn't notice any stories from all the television journalists who happen to be in the tippy-top tax brackets, myself, but that doesn't make it any less important. This isn't just an American problem, either -- it is international in scale. Over 2.5 million files were poured over by the intrepid reporters at the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, and what they found is simply astounding. I doubt you'll hear this story on any network news show, so I encourage everyone to go online and read for themselves how the rest of us are getting fleeced by the ultra-wealthy."
Monsanto Protection Act
This is another one that seemed to sneak under quite a few radar screens (and television news screens).
"Even though earmarks are a thing of the past on Capitol Hill, it hasn't stopped politicians from sticking in completely unrelated legislative goodies for the betterment of their big donors. Crammed into the must-past budget extension bill that President Obama signed this week was a specific piece of legislation that has been called the 'Monsanto Protection Act,' which protects genetically-modified seed manufacturers from the consequences of their actions in the marketplace. The sweep of this provision is breathtaking, as it puts Monsanto and other genetic seed companies essentially above the law, allowing them to ignore pretty much all other federal laws and lawsuits and go ahead and plant genetically modified crops no matter what. You'd think that'd be a big story in the news -- 'special interest sets itself above all federal laws' -- but, sadly, you'd be wrong. There was barely a peep from the news media."
Nothing to see here...
Not only is the media ignoring this story, but even if they weren't, the Pentagon wouldn't let them report it anyway.
"Dozens of prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay are now staging a massive hunger strike to protest their continued detainment, some for over a decade, now. You may not have heard about this, because the mainstream media has collectively shrugged and ignored the story. The Pentagon is obviously embarrassed by what is going on, because they have just announced that reporters will not be allowed to travel to Guantanamo for any reason in the near future -- hoping, no doubt, that the hunger strike will end before anyone in the media notices. This is downright shameful, and deserves a lot more attention than it has been getting."
In other government censorship news...
This one is just disgusting, and the Bureau of Prisons ought to be ashamed of itself.
"Daniel McGowan, who is serving a seven-year sentence for his actions with the group Earth Liberation Front, just wrote an article for the Huffington Post detailing his treatment while in prison, how his communications with the outside world were limited because of his political views. He wrote this article while in a halfway house, as he nears completion of his sentence. But because he wrote the article, he is now back in prison -- once again, for speaking out. This is a disgusting abuse of power, and something I would expect from a totalitarian society, not from the federal Bureau of Prisons. I call on the Bureau to rescind its decision and move Mr. McGowan back to the halfway house as soon as possible. No one in American should be punished in such a fashion for speaking the truth to power."
War on voting
Of course, we can't let the Republicans get away scot-free this week, so we saved this one for last.
"Not content with the smashing success of their ongoing 'War On Women,' the Republican Party also seems to be redoubling their efforts to wage a 'War On Voting' as well. It wasn't enough for them to try to limit voting in 30 states, Republicans in North Carolina are now targeting student voters. They've announced a plan to essentially tax parents of college students who exercise their federal right to vote where they go to college. So, let's review. First, Republicans drove women away from their party. Next, they doubled down on driving away minorities, by attempting to make it as hard as possible to vote. Now, they're targeting student voters in an even more blatant fashion. Sounds like the Republican Party still thinks it can win big with the remaining old white men voter demographic! Every time you turn around these days, it seems the Republicans are shrinking their tent smaller and smaller. The effects of these short-sighted attempts to rig the rules will likely be felt for decades to come, that's my prediction. To all groups of Americans out there who see the Republican Party driving them away, I have a message: the Democratic Party would like to welcome you into our big tent -- there's plenty of room for everyone here...."
-- Chris Weigant