Every so often, I write an article (mostly) in tongue-in-cheek fashion, where (usually out of frustration) I offer up some sort of reductio ad absurdum solution to all the world's ills. This game is also known as "If I ran the world, things would be different, dammit!" by its proper name. This vents my frustration, and (if I've done the job right) provides a bit of amusement for the readers. Every so often, after I write one of these, it (largely, or in part) comes true. Leaving me to ponder what's wackier, the errant thoughts in my head, or life itself.
That was all a prelude to the breaking news today: "Congress moves at lightspeed, to fix a problem that would have hit them personally, as they take yet another weeklong vacation instead of doing the nation's business." Could've knocked me over with a feather. Ahem.
Back at the end of February, I wrote, rather cynically, of how I would implement the sequester, were it up to me. This consisted of one simple idea, really: "sequester the living heck out of Washington's National Airport." Let Congress see the results of austerity right in their faces, as they fly home every weekend. I ended this article with a prediction:
The problem with many in Congress (and I am not even discriminating by party, here) is that they get incredibly out of touch with how the decisions they make in the halls of Congress actually affect Americans' lives. For once, shouldn't they be the first ones to feel the impact of their actions (or, in this case, inaction)? It seems entirely fitting and reasonable to me to move cuts which make life tough for Congress to the front of the line in the budget wars. Bringing the Washington area airports (starting with National) to a crawl would indeed hit home. In fact, it would hit them on their way home.
The public (at least those outside of the Beltway region) would probably support such a move. Obama could pitch it as: "Want to slash federal spending? OK, you first!" I'm sure a lot of folks would see the justice in such an approach. In my opinion, it's certainly worth a try. Want the sequester to happen? Fine. Then we'll just sequester National Airport into the ground, until it (or you) screams for mercy.
I bet it would take less than three weeks for Congress to crack.
Well, I was right and I was wrong, as it turns out. It didn't take Congress three weeks to crack, it took one single week -- coupled with the fifth time this year they're taking a weeklong vacation. The House is currently scheduled to work a whopping 126 days for the entire year, but that's a frustration for another day.
Seeing as how I wrote the article in a rather unserious frame of mind, I also didn't foresee what should really have been obvious -- that Congress would not tackle fixing the sequester, but that they'd rather fix only the part which affected them personally. Cancer patients, Head Start teachers, and all the rest of the Americans without a powerful lobby? You're on your own, sorry.
The real message of this week is a simple one: for all the talk about how "Congress is broken" and "Congress can't do anything," the hard cold truth is that Congress is indeed capable of moving very quickly indeed -- when it wants to. Inside of one week they put a bill on President Obama's desk. That's the yardstick to measure all other legislation -- legislation which affects other Americans than "those in Congress" -- when you hear either Harry Reid or John Boehner moan about "process" or some other wonky way of describing "sitting on our fat asses and not producing legislation." Sorry guys, but when you are personally motivated, it takes one single week to pass a law. Especially when you buckle down and concentrate, without getting distracted by attending hearings on America's job crisis (and other subjects which don't affect you personally). One week. That's the standard we can now hold you to. We'll be sure to remember that.
Speaking of holding politicians and government officials to a higher standard (pun intended), our nation's drug czar isn't having such a good week. He dutifully rolled out this year's official White House drug policy document, which can be summed up in its entirety as "Drugs are bad... mmm'kay?" Even though marijuana laws have drastically changed since the last report, R. Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy, didn't use the word "marijuana" once in either the press release he penned celebrating the report, or on the official White House rollout site. This led me to write another of those tongue-in-cheek articles, where I assigned Kerlikowske a grade of "D-minus" or "Incomplete" for his efforts. Amusingly enough, within days a government report was released from the General Accounting Office which revealed Kerlikowske and the federal government "have not made progress toward achieving most of the goals articulated in the 2010 National Drug Control Strategy." Hey, austerity-lovers -- how about some cuts here, guys? Government programs that don't work... does that ring a bell?
And to wrap up with this week, we're all supposed to be saying something nice about George W. Bush, apparently. Um, OK, here goes: I'd like to thank George W. Bush for his absolute disappearance from the political stage. Well, that is rather tongue-in-cheek as well, but honestly, I am thankful that Bush isn't putting himself out on the conservative media circuit every ten minutes, in order to bash every tiny thing Republicans think is wrong with Barack Obama. I do mean that sincerely, in fact. Compare Bush's retirement from office to Dick Cheney's, to see the difference.
Well, we had a few impressive moments this week for Democrats, we are happy to report. Rhode Island took a giant leap on the way to being the tenth state to legalize gay marriage this week, and in quite impressive fashion, too -- by passing a bill through the legislature. Hopefully, more states will be taking this route in the near future. Well done, Ocean State!
In what might be called a showdown of the Chucks (or other creative names, some of them involving the word "up," no doubt... ahem...) Senator Chuck Schumer very successfully "troll-baited" Senator Chuck Grassley this week, on the subject of immigration reform. Schumer laid a trap for Grassley, and Grassley walked right into it. The video is priceless to behold, so I encourage everyone to do so. For such masterful use of deniability, Chuck Schumer gets an Honorable Mention this week.
Barack Obama addressed a Planned Parenthood meeting this week, and gave a rousing speech in support of women's rights, earning him his own Honorable Mention (more on what the opposition is doing in the War On Women later...).
But our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week is a state legislator in Nevada, Senator Kelvin Atkinson. As an emotional debate over gay marriage laws was taking place, Atkinson surprised many by standing up and simply stating "I'm gay." As he put it, "I didn't think. I just knew it was time."
There's really not a whole lot more I need to say about this story. He's right -- it is time. And the only way others are going to see it is if more and more folks are as open about who they are as Kelvin Atkinson. So a hearty "Well done!" for your public announcement, senator! It has earned you this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.
[Congratulate Nevada state Senator Kelvin Atkinson on his official contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
Anthony Weiner, possible candidate for New York City mayor, can't really say whether there might be more embarassing photos of his... um... last name?... out there for opposition politicians to... er... expose. Boy, the jokes just write themselves, don't they? While, if he does run, we'll all be roasting this particular Weiner for months to come, we still have to hand him at least a (Dis-)Honorable Mention for his admission that, amazingly, we might possibly not have seen all of him quite yet, if you know what I mean.
But this week was notable for another announcement, from Senator Max Baucus, who informed the world that he will not be seeking his 84th term in office, because (you can't make this stuff up, although, full disclosure, I admit I did just make up that "84th term" bit, just for fun...) voices in his head told him not to run again. As he wrote in an op-ed explaining his decision:
It whispered to me among the elk resting in a meadow east of the Bridger Mountains.
I heard it as thousands of snow geese flew over the Rocky Mountain Front.
The pull came up from my soul like the ducks that rose in clouds from the winter wheat fields of Teton County at dusk.
Allow me to translate from the poetic, here. What the elk and the geese and ducks were whispering to Max was: "Max, you are a corporate special-interest whore, and your presence in Washington is downright offensive to every elk, goose, and duck in Montana -- to say nothing of your human constituents. You care not for party, state, or country, your only care is sucking up to the industries and groups which shower you with money. You, Sir, are everything that is wrong with Washington. You will not be missed. For the love of all that's holy, please step down now and let Brian Schweitzer take a run at the Senate. Oh, and please don't screw things up worse than you already have before you actually step down. We fully expect you to live the rest of your life in luxury, paid for by how you prostituted yourself and your office, and hope you don't torpedo good legislation from now until the end of next year."
Stick that whisper in your ear, Senator Baucus, and add to it your seventh Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award, which we are awarding sheerly on general principles. We haven't been this glad to see a "Democrat" leave the Senate since the exodus of Joe Lieberman. Good riddance, Max.
[Are you a Montanan duck, goose, or elk? Would you like to whisper something? Well, then, feel free to contact Senator Max Baucus on his Senate contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 255 (4/26/13)
Some weeks, here at Talking Points Central, we offer up positive things for Democrats to speak about. And then other weeks, we just wallow in Republican-bashing, just because we can. This is going to be one of the former weeks (hey, even the conservative wordsmith Frank Luntz seems to be doing so this week). The one exception is the first talking point this week, which we stuck in there for people who grew up enjoying "album rock" in or around Baltimore in the 1970s and 80s. You're welcome, and yes, WHFS did indeed rule.
Before we get to helium brains, though, we've got to stick in one late-breaking bit of snark -- again, just because we can. Michele Bachmann tried to appear erudite while blaming Nancy Pelosi for everything she doesn't like, and instead came across as rather-less-than-erudite, in her attempt to quote Shakespeare. Which only prompts us to respond with a bit of Bard-quoting on our own, in response to pretty much anything Michele Bachmann has ever said in public: "It is a tale. Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
OK, nothing like a little Shakespeare to get the ball rolling! Here we go...
As promised, this one's for Crack The Sky fans, just because. Congress just voted overwhelmingly to continue the national helium reserve in the panhandle of Texas. This stockpile of helium was created for military purposes, to keep our nation safe in times of war. Specifically, so we'd never experience a "zeppelin gap" or a "blimp gap" with other nations. Yep, that's right, this is a holdover from World War I. Which Congress has never, ever been able to get rid of, for the obvious reason that it is not necessary in the slightest anymore, and has not been for 70 or 80 years, minimum. The lyrics to the song "Lighten Up McGraw" immediately popped into my head, in response (from the most-excellent album Safety In Numbers which I highly recommend in general), so I thought I'd share them with you as an all-around indictment of the relative intelligence of Congress and the federal government in general:
Lighten up McGraw
You're a helium brain
Jog a mile in the rain
Best of luck
Why not give him a call? Maybe after a drink or two...
Speaking of helium brains...
"I notice that Mark 'Appalachian Trail' Sanford has actually put his personal cell phone number in a political ad. He wants you all to call him up and tell him what you think. So for anyone in South Carolina, for anyone outside of the state, in fact, for anyone who is enjoying a few adult beverages late into the night this weekend, why not give Mark a call? He really, really wants to hear what you think. Make it a drinking game, and pass around a cell phone! You don't get this chance too often with politicians, so enjoy the opportunity to call him up and ask him how that Appalachian Trail hike is going these days!"
Hypocrisy in the highest of officials
In other "adult substance" news...
"I see that New York Republican lawmaker Steve Katz has gotten no more than a slap on the wrist for being caught possessing marijuana -- even though he has voted against reforming marijuana laws in the past. Hypocrisy knows no bounds in Albany, I guess. Hey, Assemblyman Katz, it's a good thing those harsh Rockefeller drug laws your state used to have don't exist anymore... due to reforming marijuana laws, huh? How about as part of your public service you have to visit some cancer patients who want you to allow them to smoke medicinal marijuana legally? It seems only fitting."
So much for an independent judiciary...
Over in Iowa, some Republicans came up with a dandy idea -- shred the Constitution by making their state supreme court kowtow to political factions in the legislature. What could possibly be wrong with that idea?
"Republicans in Iowa are apparently trying to slash the pay of their state supreme court justices. 'More austerity?' you might ask yourself, but the answer is no -- this isn't being done to save money, but to punish the judges. But the truly and wildly unconstitutional part of the idea is that only the judges who voted for gay marriage will have their pay cut. Judges that voted the way Republicans think they ought to have will still be getting their full salary under this plan. Um, guys? It's supposed to be 'checks and balances' and not 'chainsaws and legislative tyranny.' Maybe you really ought to rethink this one, and might I suggest a group reading of the Constitution to help you do so?"
Hot enough for you?
We take you now live, to the War On Women, part one...
"Republicans keep trying to get the public to believe they aren't deeply invested in waging a war on women and women's rights, and then they turn around and do some pretty stupid stuff, once again. Take, for instance, the Republican Party in New Mexico. The executive director of Bernalillo County Republican Party, a man whose 'recent activity on Facebook includes watching a video of a bottomless woman with a "Lost Skirt in Public",' mind you, felt it necessary to share with the world his reaction to a 19-year-old woman who had just testified in front of him: 'Nice hat Working America chick but damn you are a radical bitch,' and then follow this up with, 'she was hot enough to almost make me register democrat.' If this weren't enough, he also used the term 'Gestapo' for the Democratic chairwoman. Jumping into the fray was the man who previously held the job of executive director of the county Republicans, who opined upon the boots worn by the 19-year-old and the possibility that she walked the streets in them, noting strangely: 'Even in this economy she can exchange bumper cables for boots.' Nah, there's no Republican War On Women -- it's purely a figment of all our imaginations! Yeah, that's it! Way to stay classy, Bernalillo County Republicans!"
Not the way to get votes, guys
War On Women, part the second...
"I see a man who worked on campaigns for both Paul Ryan and Newt Gingrich has been arrested and charged with blackmail and extortion for sending messages to women stating that he had nude pictures of them and unless they sent him more nude pictures he would share what he had with their family, friends, and in one case, the Republican National Committee. Makes you almost nostalgic for the innocent days of Anthony Weiner's cell phone follies, doesn't it?"
Shooting his mouth off
There are no words for this one, really.
"If you live in Benton County, Arkansas and get the Republican Party newsletter, this month you were treated to a diatribe by a man called Chris Nogy, who outlined his plan to deal with Republicans in the state government who didn't vote the way he wanted. His solution is to shoot them all. Specifically, and I quote, The 2nd amendment means nothing unless those in power believe you would have no problem simply walking up and shooting them if they got too far out of line and stopped responding as representatives. Unquote. He even magnanimously lets Democrats off the hook, stating, 'I don’t feel the same way about the Democrats as bullet backstops as I do about the Republicans who joined them.' I'm still waiting to see how many other Republicans feel that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution actually means elected officials should just be shot down on the street. No wonder passing background checks is so hard, if this is what the other side truly believes. I'm speechless, to tell you the truth."
-- Chris Weigant