Before I get into our main subject, allow me a moment of frivolity. I'd like to be the first (because I'm a day early) to wish everyone a Happy Star Wars Day! Yes, tomorrow is unofficially known as Star Wars Day, because (get ready to groan if you haven't heard this one before) it is the fourth of May. Put another way, "May the 4th," as in (I'm warning you, this is pretty cringeworthy) "May the fourth be with you."
But this year's Star Wars Day is a big one, because the original film ("Episode IV" to be fully accurate) is going to be dubbed into Navajo. They're having casting calls today and tomorrow to fill the parts, and they've already translated the script. That's pretty cool, I have to say. The people behind the effort did this to raise awareness of their language especially among their youth. Which, as I said, is a pretty great idea. I might just get a copy of the Navajo Star Wars when it comes out, just to hear what it sounds like. I have driven through the Southwest and tuned my radio into Navajo stations just for the novelty of hearing a Native American language spoken on the airwaves, so I could see sitting through a movie (where I pretty much know all the dialog anyway) just to hear it in such a unique and interesting format. So, more power to the people who put this together, or (more properly) "May the Force be with them!
In other Native American news, I read with interest this week a proposal put forth by Tim Giago, a Native American journalist, to build a museum at the site of the historically-significant Wounded Knee to present the history of the decimation of Native Americans throughout the Americas. While a quick look at a map suggests that such a museum might draw more visitors if it was located at the Crazy Horse Monument site (which is a lot closer to South Dakota's main tourist draw, Mount Rushmore), the Wounded Knee site isn't all that out of the way, especially for any tourists driving through Badlands National Park. The historic significance of the site is an excellent argument for building such a "Holocaust Museum of the Indigenous People" upon the site of a massacre.
In other early American news, there is now solid proof that the first English permanent settlement in America almost immediately resorted to cannibalism. It's been in the historical record all along, including one man who "slew his wife as she slept in his bosom, cut her in pieces, salted her and fed upon her till he had clean devoured all parts saving her head," but apparently some anthropologists hadn't been convinced. Now there's proof, in the form of bones from a teenage girl who was (to put it bluntly) butchered for her flesh after she was dead. Nothing like making a good first impression, when Europe first settled America! This is why children's schoolbooks have one whale of a lot more about Plymouth Rock than they do about Jamestown, incidentally.
OK, this is a pretty bizarre introduction to this week's news, but hey, I'm just passing along what was reported, folks. In more modern (but equally stunning) news, a professional pundit was fired because he wrote an opinion piece that was factually inaccurate and pretty ignorant all around. Is that even a thing? "Journalists" can get fired for saying things which are false (things which five minutes of fact-checking would have proven laughably wrong), and for other stupid comments? Really? Wow, I had no idea. Could've knocked me over with a feather.... Of course, while Howard Kurtz no longer is welcome on the Politico site, he's still got a television program on CNN, so I guess the universe isn't tilting as radically as a first glance might imply.
OK, that's enough, let's get on with it....
There are two winners of the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week, even though the impressive thing they did didn't happen last week. The impressive results (so far) did, though.
Senators Mary Landrieu and Kay Hagan are both Democrats from two rather reddish states (Louisiana and North Carolina) with plenty of rural gun owners within them. They both went ahead and voted for expanded background checks anyway. Well, the polls are now in, and they both increased their approval significantly by voting the way they did.
This is important for a number of reasons, not least that it might convince a few more senators to vote for the bill if it is brought back up again (which may, indeed, happen -- especially if Democrats see it as a winning campaign issue). But the real significance is that this is the first time the old Washington conventional wisdom has been proven wrong -- voting for gun control is not suicidal for "purple state" Democrats. It's not the "third rail" it used to be.
So while the award properly belongs to the people of Louisiana and North Carolina who are showing strong support for their senators, we simply don't have enough awards to send to them all, so we're instead sending both Mary Landrieu and Kay Hagan awards, for their courageous votes which caused the bump in their poll numbers.
Other Democrats (and Republicans, too), please take note.
While some on our Friday Talking Points Awards Committee argued strenuously to give the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award to either Kathleen Sebelius or Eric Holder this week, we must instead give it to their boss: President Barack Obama.
Last week, President Obama appeared before a Planned Parenthood meeting and gave a rousing speech, promising his administration would fight for women's rights as hard as they possibly could. It was, from all reports, a good speech and got lots of applause. This week, Obama's Department of Health and Human Services (led by Sebelius) suddenly announced they were relaxing -- but not removing -- age restrictions on the Plan B "morning after" birth control pill. They insisted that it was purely coincidental that their decision to allow younger women to have better access to the pill came five days before a deadline to comply with a court order where a federal judge blasted the "politics over science" policy of the Obama administration, and which would have completely removed the age restrictions of Plan B -- making it as available (if not as cheap) as condoms.
There is no medical reason to restrict this drug. None. The FDA initially recommended it be sold over-the-counter to all. Sebelius overruled them, in unprecedented fashion. Remember when Obama, out on the campaign trail, used to blast the Bush administration for putting "politics over science"? I remember that, personally.
The day after this announcement, the Justice Department (headed by Eric Holder) stated that it would be appealing the federal judge's ruling. Obama, when asked about all of this, pronounced he was "comfortable" with the new policy.
Allowing politics to trump science is not pretty when Republicans do it. It is equally as ugly when Democrats do it -- if not more so, since when you campaign on specifically not doing so, you add a heaping helping of hypocrisy.
Which is why, although Sebelius and Holder certainly have earned a (Dis-)Honorable Mention, there truly is only one choice for this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. For the record, this will be Obama's eighteenth MDDOTW, putting him behind only Harry Reid's 26.
[Contact President Barack Obama on his White House contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 256 (5/3/13)
While there was other political news this week (unemployment dropping to 7.5 percent, the lowest level since Obama took office and down 0.4 percent in three months), I'm going to forego the usual talking points this week. Congress was off on yet another weeklong vacation (their fifth so far this year), so there wasn't a whole lot of news from Capitol Hill this week. Obama gave a press conference, which is (sadly) a rare enough event, then he flew off to Mexico.
Instead, you'll have to forgive me for harping on about this, but the Plan B decision really sticks in my craw. Not because of the decision itself, and not even because of the laughable "oh, this had nothing to do with the court case... nothing!" nonsense, but because of the sheer hypocrisy involved. To that end, I am going to offer up seven quotes this week. The first is from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, from an article she wrote not long ago touting Obamacare's benefits. The next four are quotes from the speech President Obama gave to Planned Parenthood one short week ago. And the last two are quotes from the judge's ruling. If you're tired of the subject, then I'd just advise skipping over the rest of the column. Fair warning.
Except when I'm capriciously making the decision...
The first of these comes from Secretary Sebelius herself, spouting an ideal it would have been wonderful to see her live up to in the case of Plan B:
Women's health decisions shouldn't be made by politicians or insurance companies. Rather than wasting time refighting old political battles, this Administration is moving forward and putting women in control of their own health care. If women are going to take care of their families and friends, they have to take care of themselves.
Except when I violate that principle for political reasons...
The next four are from President Obama's Planned Parenthood speech. This one came from the third paragraph, very early on.
[W]omen should be allowed to make their own decisions about their own health. It's a simple principle.
Except when my administration lays down such laws...
Obama made the point that there are a lot of Republicans out there who were working very hard to place barricades and hurdles in the way of women having access to contraceptive care.
Forty-two states have introduced laws that would ban or severely limit access to a woman's right to choose -- laws that would make it harder for women to get the contraceptive care that they need.
No politician... except me, that is...
Once again, a wonderful ideal that it truly would have been wonderful to see the Obama administration live up to -- especially that last line.
Forty years after the Supreme Court affirmed a woman’s constitutional right to privacy, including the right to choose, we shouldn't have to remind people that when it comes to a woman's health, no politician should get to decide what's best for you. No insurer should get to decide what kind of care that you get. The only person who should get to make decisions about your health is you.
Except when I'm fighting against you...
This was the rousing, crowd-pleasing end to Obama's speech. What a nice ideal -- shame he didn't live up to such a strong statement.
As long as we've got to fight to make sure women have access to quality, affordable health care, and as long as we've got to fight to protect a woman's right to make her own choices about her own health, I want you to know that you've also got a president who's going to be right there with you fighting every step of the way.
Politically motivated, scientifically unjustified
We come now to the excerpts from the judge's ruling [download the PDF]. Both of these appear near the end, after exhaustively proving the administration's position is factually wrong, for 40 or 50 pages. This was the heart of the ruling, aimed directly at Sebelius ["the Secretary"]. You have to love that "cannot withstand any degree of scrutiny" bit.
In sum, the Citizen Petition denial was inevitable after the Secretary ordered Commissioner Hamburg to deny the Plan B One-Step SNDA. Because the Secretary's action was politically motivated, scientifically unjustified, and contrary to agency precedent, it cannot provide a basis to sustain the denial of the Citizen Petition. The Citizen Petition Denial Letter, which came five days after the denial of the Plan B One-Step SNDA, was clearly prompted by the Secretary's action, despite the FDA's fanciful effort to make it appear that it undertook an independent review of the Citizen Petition. Nevertheless, even considering the Citizen Petition Denial Letter in isolation, the agency's decision cannot withstand any degree of scrutiny, not only because of its unexplained failure to follow the FDA policies discussed above but also because of its disregard for the scientific evidence that the FDA had before it.
An administrative agency filibuster
This week's news was nothing more than an attempt to extend this filibuster, which is so accurately described in the judge's final paragraph.
Finally, even if the defendants' arguments would be sufficient to carry the day in the run-of- the-mill case, the bad faith that has permeated consideration of the Citizen Petition, not to speak of the Plan B sponsor's applications, should rule out such relief here. More than twelve years have passed since the Citizen Petition was filed and eight years since this lawsuit commenced. The FDA has engaged in intolerable delays in processing the petition. Indeed, it could accurately be described as an administrative agency filibuster. Moreover, one of the devices the FDA has employed to stall proceedings was to seek public comment on whether or not it needed to engage in rulemaking in order to adopt an age-restricted marketing regime. After eating up eleven months, 47,000 public comments, and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars, it decided that it did not need rulemaking after all. The plaintiffs should not be forced to endure, nor should the agency's misconduct be rewarded by, an exercise that permits the FDA to engage in further delay and obstruction.
-- Chris Weigant