OK, we've got somewhat of a backlog to take care of here, due to summertime laziness striking early this year. So we're just going to plow through the swirling storm of craziness as fast as possible. Insert your own "Sharknado" joke, if you feel so inclined.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid cried "Wolf!" this week... oh, wait, that can't be right... let me check my notes. Sorry for the snark, but the news that Reid is once again considering the "nuclear option" (or the "constitutional option" if you prefer) to end at least part of the rampant and unprecedented obstructionism from Senate Republicans wasn't exactly greeted with joy even among supporters of the idea -- because Harry's led us down this path before, only to wimp out at the end.
Reid is threatening to use a majority vote to end filibusters for presidential appointments (that's the "nuclear" part). This time around, however, he's not talking about doing so for judicial appointments, just positions in the executive branch (such as getting someone to finally head up the newly-created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, for instance). So, in Cold War terms, this is not a city-buster of a nuke, more one of those "tactical, battlefield nukes" the military used to love to dream about. Like that photon torpedo hand grenade Kirk threw in that one Star Trek episode, say.
Of course, there are two schools of thought about using the nuclear option. One says that if Democrats go nuclear, then Republicans will return the favor once they get control of the Senate, in retaliation. After filibustering everything under the sun, the Republicans will change the rules and not allow Democrats to filibuster on anything. Or, even more immediate, the Republicans will have a hissy fit and refuse to do anything until the 2014 elections. The other school of thought is basically "It is impossible for Republicans to threaten to become more obstructionist because they already are obstructing everything." In other words, who cares what they threaten, because they'll just go ahead and do it anyway no matter what the Democrats do.
I'm of the second mind, personally. Republicans show absolutely no restraint, and anyone who expects them to do so in the future for any reason is a fool. So go ahead and drop that nuke, Harry! Start approving President Obama's nominees, as the Constitution says you are supposed to. Republicans will be Republicans no matter what you do, and you've already been suckered twice by "handshake agreements" that they won't. This epic battle may appear as soon as next week, so get ready for it.
OK, that was far too in-depth. Let's just zip through some other news items like a chainsaw through a flying shark, shall we?
Rand Paul seems to have a problem with an aide with white supremacist views, but he doesn't seem too worried that the voters of Kentucky will care all that much. Let's see what this does for his national aspirations, though, in a few years. The House Republicans had to drop food stamps in order to pass a farm bill, because they are openly bickering among themselves once again.
Speaking of Republicans bickering, immigration reform is causing some serious angst in the party, even leading Bill O'Reilly to castigate his own fans in exasperation. George W. Bush tried to talk some sense into House Republicans this week, without much notable success.
Speaking of House Republicans, one of them wants to -- are you ready for this? -- charge Barack Obama with criminal behavior because he delayed one aspect of Obamacare for a year. These are the people who have voted to repeal Obamacare more than three dozen times, and now they're going to hold Obama accountable for not implementing the program on schedule? It just boggles the mind.
The Republican War On Women has entered a frenzy phase, with so much happening in so many states that it now requires a scorecard to even keep up with it all. Emily's List has created just such a webpage, although I'm sure others are tracking all the War On Women battles as well (post links to others if you have them, in the comments). Astonishingly, in Iowa, women can be legally fired for being too attractive, it seems. Tampons are apparently more dangerous than guns, at least in the Texas statehouse. Who knew? More on this at the end of the column. Things have gotten so ridiculous that Republicans are attaching abortion restrictions to a motorcycle safety bill in North Carolina. Excuse me? Motorcycle safety? Abortion? What the...?
OK, we're still not getting through these fast enough. So let's speed the whirlwind up!
The First Amendment won a recent victory in court, so go out and chalk up a Bank of America sidewalk to celebrate! In medical marijuana news, a guy in Michigan has launched a trip in his wheelchair all the way to the White House, in an attempt to talk some sense into Barack Obama on the issue. More power to him. The student loans issue still hasn't been solved in Congress, but we're going to address this later in the column, so we just mention it in passing here. In Pennsylvania, a lawsuit is challenging the state's gay marriage ban, and the state isn't even going to defend it in court, apparently. So that might be a quick victory, although knowing the speed of the legal system, maybe not. Stay tuned.
And finally, we wrap this up with a book notice. Mark Leibovich has written a new book on Washington called This Town which does indeed sound interesting. From an extra-snarky review in Salon comes this ultimate teaser: "If you hate Washington, you really ought to read this book to hate it with more clarity and specificity." Heh. Sounds like a great summer read to me!
Elizabeth Warren is doing some impressive stuff as a senator, which is exactly why the voters of Massachusetts sent her there in the first place. Warren is pushing a bill on student loans that makes so much sense and is so breathtakingly brilliant that most politicians (and almost all of the media) are ignoring it as "not serious" (because "serious" ideas in Washington are the ones talked about at the right sort of cocktail parties, which Warren is obviously way too busy to attend). Warren is also pushing to reinstate the Glass-Steagall banking law, in her spare time. For all of this effort, Warren is due at least an Honorable Mention.
Attorney General Eric Holder has now realized that he went too far in putting the screws to journalists, and has announced that he's not going to be doing that sort of thing any more. While First Amendment (and Fourth Amendment) enthusiasts breathed a sigh of relief at the news, we just can't see giving the man any sort of award for doing what he should have done in the first place, sorry.
But our main award this week has to be renamed a bit. This week, in the spirit of cross-party solidarity, we're issuing our first Most Impressive Working Families Party Member Of The Week award. OK, so "MIWFPMOTW" is never going to roll off anyone's tongue, but then "MIDOTW" isn't exactly easy to enunciate either, so this isn't really a worry.
Kidding aside, this is the one story that everyone should really read this week. Because Portland State University instructors Mary King and Barbara Dudley assigned their senior class a project, and the fifteen students managed not only to come up with a great idea, but they've actually gotten it passed into law (at least, for a pilot program to begin with). Their great idea? Free college for all Oregon students. No student loans at all. Instead, students agree to what is essentially a payroll tax of three percent for their first twenty years of working. Seeing as how student loan payments are often much higher than this, it makes a whole lot of sense. Students who make a lot of money will contribute a lot to the "Pay It Forward" program, and students who make smaller incomes will pay less (but the same proportional amount).
The entire story is, once again, well worth reading, especially for those who have gotten a wee bit cynical about how government works these days. This school project only started last fall, and has now been passed by the state government. That is real change you can believe in, folks. In fact, this is the most heartwarming story of students getting things done legislatively since that guy got a "C" on his college paper and, in protest, got the United States Constitution amended.
This is a fantastic idea, and will change the lives of Oregon students in a big way if it works out and is fully implemented in the future. For trying something new, for trying something brilliantly innovative, and for following through and getting it passed into law, both the instructors and every member of the class deserve this week's award (whatever it's called -- since we don't know the political affiliation of all of them). Well done, and here's hoping your idea spreads like wildfire!
[Since the winners are not public figures, our policy is not to provide contact information for them, sorry.]
San Diego mayor Bob Filner this week offered up a public apology for what seems to be his habit of sexually harassing women who work for him. It's hard to tell, because full details haven't come to light, but he certainly sounds like he's done something pretty odious in his halfhearted apology video.
This isn't the only thing missing from the video, though. Also absent was the line "...and so, I am stepping down from office immediately." Which is why Filner is our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week, in fact.
There are consequences (or there should be) for misbehavior. Consequences include such things as a personal journey to discover why acting like a pig is no longer socially acceptable, to be sure. But they should also include taking real responsibility for your actions and doing what is best for your party, for your city, and for yourself. Filner should resign, after his admission of wrongdoing.
It's not like he will be barred from politics forever, after all. There are second acts in American political life -- just ask Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, or Mark Sanford (to name but a few recent examples). But before you get there, you've got to spend some time in the penalty box first.
Filner would have won the MDDOTW award for his admission alone. But he wins it twice over by refusing to do the right thing and step down immediately. For shame, Bob, for shame!
[Contact San Diego Mayor Bob Filner via his official contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 264 (7/12/13)
We're going to start positive this week, but then end on a negative note. Actually, we'll move through being negative to wind up in Crazy Town, for the last one of these, because Republicans led the way there.
As usual, these are offered up as talking points to any Democrat from those gathered around the water cooler to those sitting across from (shudder) David Gregory on Sunday morning television. Enjoy, and use responsibly, as always.
Something just happened which definitely qualifies as news, but you wouldn't know that from watching mainstream news, who are busy with a plane crash and a trial in Florida. So any enterprising Democrat being interviewed can use a little shame to point this out in a television interview.
"Last month, the United States ran a surplus of over a hundred billion dollars. This was the largest such monthly surplus in five years, in fact. We are now on track to the lowest budget deficit since the recession hit, and it looks like Barack Obama's promise to halve the deficit is going to be met this year. Now, as I recall, television news covered all the bad economic news with a passion, but I have to wonder why this news item was greeted with a shrug this week. I guess 'things are getting better' isn't newsworthy, while 'things are getting worse' is, or something. But I just wanted to be sure your viewers were aware of the fact that June had a $116 billion surplus."
Competence in government
This isn't really a partisan point, more a generic comment, but it still is a point worth making.
"I was struck this week by the repeated interviews of the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, Deborah Hersman. It is refreshing to see such competence in a government official. Hersman, responding to the airline crash at San Francisco's airport, was unflappable while giving countless interviews to the press. She controlled the information flow and refused to join in the rampant speculation that always follows such a disaster in the media. It's a minor point, but one worth making -- this is how government should work. With competence, with respect for those involved, and with openness and endless patience for all the inane media questions that are sure to be asked."
Give Oregon some credit!
The Oregon student loan experiment deserves a lot more good press than it has so far gotten. Help this along, whenever possible.
"While here in Washington, Congress missed an important deadline which doubled the interest rate on student loans -- an issue they're still bickering over, two weeks after the deadline passed -- the state of Oregon quietly moved in a new direction. Their new 'Pay It Forward' plan could become the template for how to get America's college students out from the crushing debt of student loans. Free college for all, with a payroll tax of three percent on earnings for twenty years after you graduate. That's a pretty innovative idea, and I will be watching the pilot program with great interest -- to see if this could be the solution nationwide. I think it's a shame how little media attention this brilliant idea has so far gotten, in fact."
When Hillary is elected president...
This would be an amusing enough line for any Democrat to use, but coming from Bill O'Reilly makes it absolutely priceless. This can be used in response to just about any question on immigration that is asked.
"Well, on immigration reform, I'd like to read the advice Bill O'Reilly recently gave to a fan of his. In response to a letter urging Republicans to scuttle immigration reform, Bill responded, and I quote: When Hillary Clinton is elected president in 2016, will you say the same thing? Because that's what's going to happen if the GOP does not begin to put forth smart solutions to the country's problems. Unquote. That's not from some liberal voice, that's from Bill O'Reilly. Will we be sitting here in three years pointing back to the failure of immigration reform as having launched Hillary Clinton's victory? I'd like to hear a few House Republicans respond to that, personally."
Rand Paul's racist staff
This one needs noting, just so we can all bring it up in about two or three years, when he launches his presidential bid.
"I noticed that Senator Rand Paul is defending his aide from charges of being a white supremacist. I don't know why anyone would get that idea, Paul essentially said, brushing off the man's history of proudly supporting the concept of secession, praising John Wilkes Booth, wearing a Confederate flag ski mask, and working as a radio host under the name 'Southern Avenger.' I mean, how could anyone possibly have any problem with a man who has written in the past that, quote, a non-white majority America would simply cease to be America, unquote. Rand Paul's support of his aide may not harm him in Kentucky, but my guess is it's going to be a much bigger issue if he actually does run for president in 2016."
What time is it, Bob? Time to step down?
The Republican governor of Virginia seems to be in some hot water. No time like the present to point it out.
"I see that Bob McDonnell hasn't stepped down as governor of Virginia. He is maintaining that he did nothing wrong -- or at least, nothing illegal -- by accepting gifts such as a $6,500 Rolex watch, a $15,000 Oscar de la Renta gown for his wife, catering for his daughter's wedding, and five-figure checks made out to his relatives. The FBI hasn't concluded its investigation, so he hasn't been led off in handcuffs yet, but it's amazing that the man still thinks he can run the state after such graft has been exposed. McDonnell should look down at that $6,500 watch he's got, because I think what it's saying is: 'It's time to resign your office, Bob.'"
Maybe if they brought tampon-guns?
And finally, we conclude with our "War On Women" talking point of the week. Oh, you just knew there was going to be one, didn't you?
"The Republican War On Women has gone from completely irrational to downright insane this week. North Carolina legislators seem to think that motorcycle safety and abortion are somehow connected, but the craziest thing -- so far -- this week was the news that women entering the Texas statehouse had to surrender their tampons before being allowed to enter the building. Guns were allowed in, but not tampons. This is what the Republican War On Women has come to -- police confiscation of personal hygiene products because Republicans are terrified that they'll be weaponized. Women could get it into their pretty little heads to throw tampons at Republican lawmakers, and that would just be icky. You cannot make this stuff up, folks. Guns? Fine, bring your gun into the building. Tampons? Sorry, not allowed. Maybe if someone made a tampon gun that would be OK, what do you think?"
-- Chris Weigant