Some weeks, not much happens in political news, and other weeks it seems like almost too much happens. This was one of the latter types of week.
While last week was a week of scandals on the television news, this week most of them faded into the background a bit. Benghazi, of course, is going to be Republicans' backup "scandal" right through the 2016 election, since they're not even really targeting Barack Obama anymore, but rather Hillary Clinton. The IRS scandal was briefly in the news as one woman refused to answer Congress' questions and then was put on administrative leave. But the scandal still hasn't touched the White House in any meaningful way, so it appears Republicans are somewhat losing interest in it, other than as a dandy way to raise campaign cash from their base, of course. The AP and Fox News scandal actually did get more scandalous this week, but Republicans aren't really interested in pushing this scandal, leaving it up to the media to protect one of their own.
President Obama gave a major speech yesterday, the timing of which was assumably chosen to "pivot" off of all the scandals (and the non-scandals). He spoke on foreign policy, war, drones, and Guantanamo Bay. This was enough to enrage a few Republicans, which meant it certainly worked as a political distraction. It was also enough to enrage the co-founder of Code Pink, who made her displeasure known while Obama was trying to speak.
Of course, there was a killer tornado in Oklahoma this week, which was the main story all week long in the news. Brian Williams rolled up his shirt sleeves and... well, to tell you the truth, I can't even bring myself to finish the rest of that sentence. Wolf Blitzer tried hard to get a survivor of the tornado to "thank the Lord" on air, until she politely informed him that she was an atheist -- which was an amusing takedown of a "journalist" trying to shove his own interpretation of a story onto an actual victim.
The Senate actually accomplished a first step towards a comprehensive immigration bill, which didn't get the attention it really deserved. But we're at the start of a very long fight, so there will be time enough for the fur to fly later, I suppose. Gay spouses weren't included in the bill the committee approved, but they did weaken the rules on H-1B visas at the tech industry's bequest. Again, this is just the start of the horse trading on the bill, so who knows what it'll look like at the end of the process?
The Boy Scouts decided that gays will now be allowed into scouting, right up until they turn 18 years old. This solution annoyed pretty much everybody, so we'll see whether they revisit this half-a-loaf decision later.
What else? Anthony Weiner decided to run for New York City mayor, much to the delight of late night comics everywhere. He then immediately found himself in yet another photo scandal -- although a lot less titillating than his last one. On his website, he had a photo of a city skyline, but someone forgot to check what city, and it turned out to be Pittsburgh instead of The Big Apple. Whoops!
OK, that's enough recapping, let's move on to the awards, shall we?
I can't help but think that one of the biggest reasons the politics of gay rights has moved forward in public acceptance so impressively has been due to the millions of gay people who, in the past few decades, have decided to "come out" to the world as who they are. It's a lot easier to demonize and scapegoat a group of people if there is no human face to confront. As more and more Americans got to know someone who is gay, it has become harder and harder to deny them their humanity and their rights.
The reason I was thinking about this was news of two politicians who stood up for their own beliefs in different ways this week. Arizona state representative Juan Mendez led what could called an "atheist prayer," taking his turn at leading the pre-session prayer and instead making a powerful statement to his colleagues. Fair enough -- if he has to sit there and hear a prayer every day, then when it's his turn he should stand up for his own beliefs. Atheism is one of the last groups of people in America who still face criticism for their religious beliefs (or "areligious beliefs," perhaps), as evidenced by the fact that atheist boys still are excluded from the Boy Scouts, just as one example.
The second politician who stood up this week was Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who went public with an article about how his life has immeasurably improved due to medical marijuana. I haven't checked, but I believe he is the first politician ever to do so in such a public fashion.
Both of these men deserve at least an Honorable Mention this week, for putting a very human face on two groups of people that don't currently have many political spokesmen. Standing up in such a personal way will, hopefully, encourage more politicians of their stripe to follow in their footsteps.
But our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to Representative Mark Pocan from Wisconsin and Representative Keith Ellison from Minnesota, for introducing a constitutional amendment which would guarantee every American citizen the right to vote. Here is the proposed amendment, in its entirety:
SECTION 1: Every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.
SECTION 2: Congress shall have the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.
This is an absolutely brilliant political move, for a number of reasons. First, it points out to the public that there is no actual right to vote written into the Constitution. Oh, sure, it's implied, but it is not actually spelled out anywhere. Secondly, it is a proactive way to fight back against all the shenanigans Republicans are trying to pull on the state level in order to suppress Democratic voter turnout. Many of these laws would be tossed in the garbage can if a voting rights amendment is passed.
But the really brilliant thing about the proposed amendment is the fact that it'll put Republicans between a rock and a hard place. How can they justify being against the right to vote? It's pretty inconceivable a political position to take, really. Which makes it a dandy "wedge issue" for Democrats, in much the same way that Republicans used a flag burning amendment a few decades ago.
There really is no political downside to supporting a voting rights amendment, no matter how you look at it. If enough powerful Democrats got on board with the proposal and made as much noise in the media as they could possibly manage on the issue, it would force Republicans to either get behind the idea or explain to their constituents why they were against supporting the right to vote.
For coming up with such a brilliant idea, the least we can do is to give Representatives Ellison and Pocan a Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. As usual, we will provide their contact info below, but if you support their idea what you should really do is contact your own members of Congress and ask them to support the proposal as well. This is a great idea, and it needs all the support and attention it can muster.
The Obama administration's "War On Leakers" has now officially morphed into a "War On Journalists." On leaks, the Obama team has brought more prosecutions than all other presidents combined -- twice as many, in fact. But while Attorney General Eric Holder recused himself from the case involving the Associated Press' phone records, his signature was discovered this week on an application for a subpoena for a Fox News reporter's emails and phone records. The subpoena charged the Fox reporter, essentially, with spying. The Justice Department didn't really have any intention of prosecuting him, they just wanted to root around in his emails and phone records to pin charges on the government employee who was his source.
This is disgraceful. This is an abuse of power. The subpoena on the Fox reporter was nothing short of a fishing expedition to prosecute yet another leak case. President Obama now says he wants a federal shield law for reporters, even though he helped kill the last such effort in Congress.
The more I learn about Eric Holder and how he operates the United States Department of Justice, the less I trust him. Which has earned him his sixth Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.
[Contact the White House on their contact page, to let them know what you think of Eric Holder's actions.]
Volume 259 (5/24/13)
Kind of a mixed bag of talking points this week. Not much else to say about them, so I'll just let them speak for themselves.
Fixing the IRS
This storyline needs to be turned around.
"The Obama White House was not responsible for the problems at the IRS. The Obama administration conducted the investigation which uncovered the problems, in fact. And since the inspector general's report was released, Obama has been fixing the problems at the IRS. Three people have been removed from duty already, and I wouldn't be surprised if more followed. But again -- Obama did not create the problems, he is in fact fixing the problems."
Congress mad at themselves
Apple was on the hotseat this week, testifying about how they pay their taxes and use legal loopholes to avoid paying other taxes. But this is just laughable, really.
"I noticed that quite a few members of Congress had lots of fun grandstanding on the subject of corporate taxes, as they served up some grilled Apple this week. What a joke! What blatant hypocrisy! Nobody suggested that Apple was breaking any laws -- just that they were using loopholes in the tax code. Legal loopholes. Loopholes, in fact, that were written into the tax code by Congress. Why were these loopholes created? Because Congress created them for their corporate buddies. And now they're outraged that these loopholes are being used? Please. I mean, the stench of hypocrisy is so strong on this one it makes your eyes water. If Congress was truly outraged at the practice, then they would fix the loopholes. It's as simple as that. Although I certainly didn't notice any of them admitting it during the hearing."
Immigration moves forward
This effort is going to require a lot of steady pushing, for many months to come.
"There was some very good news in the Senate this week, as the immigration bill was approved in committee and will now move to the floor for debate and a vote. I am optimistic about its chances, because the committee already dealt with 300 amendments, many of which were designed to kill the bill entirely. None of these amendments made it through. There will likely be more of these introduced on the Senate floor, but so far it looks like the bipartisan coalition which wrote the bill has held together. This is good news, and it improves the chances that we can pass a comprehensive immigration bill this year."
Youth discrimination wrong, adult discrimination still OK
The Boy Scouts took half of a step this week. It's tough, because the half step was in the right direction, but it just didn't go far enough.
"While I applaud the Boy Scouts of America for finally scrapping its policy of discriminating against gay youth, I have to at the same time express disappointment that they are still apparently fine with discriminating against gay adults. This was a historic step for the Boy Scouts to take, and it's going to be contentious for some time to come among some of their supporters. But by trying to thread the needle and have it both ways, the Boy Scouts are sending an awfully mixed message. They're saying 'we welcome gay youth to be scouts, but when you turn 18, you'll have to leave scouting, sorry.' Maybe next time around, the Boy Scouts will take a more consistent stand against discrimination. They're headed in the right direction, but they still have one last step to take."
Hypocrisy on relief
What goes around comes around, eh?
"The two senators from Oklahoma both actually opposed aid money for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. Now the shoe's on the other foot, and I notice that they are trying to split hairs as the rest of the Senate contemplates aid money for the victims of the devastating tornado. I would hope that being on the other side of the issue might actually teach these two Republicans a lesson about compassion. When a disaster strikes, Americans help each other. When a disaster strikes, politicians should realize this basic fact instead of playing political games for months. Sandy victims had to wait far too long for Republicans to act, and I sincerely hope this won't happen for the tornado victims."
War On Women update
This week's installment in the "War On Women," brought to you (as always) by the Republican Party.
"Republicans are supposed to be against big government and the nanny state and all of that, except when it comes to women's health, of course. On that particular subject, it is 'government knows best.' Representative Louie Gohmert actually admitted it, in the midst of telling a woman who had aborted her brain-dead fetus that she really should have just gone through with the pregnancy, and I quote: 'So these are ethical issues, they're moral issues, they're difficult issues, and the parents should certainly be consulted.' There's the Republican attitude right there for you: the parents 'should certainly be consulted,' but the decision should be made by old male politicians, not the parents or the doctor. So much for being against big government, eh?"
Fox News, always classy
This last one I had to throw in, just because defending a Fox News reporter earlier was so tough to do.
"While I can sympathize with Fox News against the Justice Department's overreach, I have to say that this should not be read as supporting Fox News in general. In fact, Fox makes it easy to condemn their entire organization when they allow on-air personalities to incite their audience to punch anyone who voted for Barack Obama in the face. This is merely this week's most outrageous thing said on Fox, I would ask you to note. So while I can defend a Fox reporter on principle against the Department of Justice, I certainly cannot condone any of their statements or actions in general. I would also call on Fox to immediately fire Andrea Tantaros for saying such a thing on the air."
-- Chris Weigant