Before we begin this week's political wrapup, please be advised that President Obama's speech on reforming the National Security Agency won't be covered here today. Obama just gave the speech this morning, and we feel it is too important to offer up snap judgments, preferring instead to let it percolate for a few days before commenting on the substance of the speech or the newly-announced policies.
With that out of the way, let's take a look at some of the sillier stories of the week, just for fun. Previously, I have complained about the term "Bridgegate," as I'm not a big fan of appending "-gate" on every scandal, so I have to applaud the most amusing headline I've yet read on the Chris Christie story, from Robert J. Elisberg on the Huffington Post: "Merry Christiemess." A little seasonal-specific, but catchy and to the point!
If you think American news stories can be downright silly at times, consider what the official Iranian news agency is telling its citizens: the United States is secretly run by Nazi space aliens. Kind of puts things in perspective, eh?
Congress is heading off on yet another vacation period, because it's not like they have a bunch of stuff which they haven't gotten around to doing, such as restoring unemployment benefits for over a million Americans. Sigh. In the same vein, some Republicans are rumored to be pushing for the idea that their party not pass a budget this year, because then the Democrats would say mean things about them in the campaign. You'll note that they're not in favor of actually stopping any of their mean policies, just hopefully distracting the public during an election year.
What else? We had a report this week from the Senate which seemed to suggest that a large portion of the responsibility for the American ambassador being killed in Benghazi actually rests with the ambassador himself, who repeatedly nixed beefing up security right before the attack. The F.B.I., meanwhile, stated that it found no criminal wrongdoing at the I.R.S., which is going to get nowhere near as much attention as the now disproven "the Obama administration is targeting conservatives" theme in the media at large.
In other news... Jerry Brown is apparently not running for president in 2016.
In the marijuana news, the airport in Colorado Springs is now setting out "pot amnesty boxes," for those people a little too... um... enthusiastic about legalized recreational marijuana -- so enthusiastic that they forget that it's against the law to carry pot in the airport, or onto a plane. Forgot you had a bag of weed in your pocket, at the security check-in? No problem, just deposit your weed in the pot amnesty box, sir or madam. As many have pointed out, this is going to be a nice benefit to whomever's job it is to empty the boxes at the end of the day. Kidding aside, though, it's a lot more humane system than having a federal officer arrest you (and fine you $2,500), so kudos to Colorado Springs for thinking it up.
We've got one marijuana story that's a little more far-reaching, but we're saving it for the talking points. So we'll just end on the silliest one of the week, instead: so many stoners were ripping off the freeway mileage sign which read "MILE 420" that the state highway officials decided to get cute to avoid future thefts. So, between mile marker 419 and 421, drivers in Colorado will now be presented with a sign (you just can't make this stuff up, folks) which reads "MILE 419.99" -- which will assumably be less of a target for mischief.
Does President Obama's speech qualify him for either the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week or perhaps the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week? Well, once again, we're going to punt on this question for now (if we decide either award is merited, we'll deal with it next week, how's that?).
Instead we're awarding the coveted MIDOTW award to Senator Patrick Leahy and Representative John Conyers this week, for introducing a bill to fix the portions of the Voting Rights Act that were thrown out by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court did have a point -- the states and localities that were listed as being suspect in their upholding of voting rights were put on this list with data from the 1970s. That's pretty old data. So the bill Leahy and Conyers introduced updates the list, as well as the criteria for being included (and removed) from the list.
The bill has at least five Republican co-sponsors in the House, but as of the announcement, no Republican senator has signed on to it. It'll take a major push to pass the bill in both houses, but it is a push worth attempting. While voting rights are a potent issue for Democrats, the bill does not address (it specifically exempts, as a matter of fact) the "voter ID laws" proliferating currently in statehouses across the country. This was the only way any Republican support could be gained, meaning that the bill isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination. But it's a lot better than where we are now, after the Supreme Court threw out a major portion of the Voting Rights Act.
So, for attempting to make what progress is politically possible, Senator Leahy and Representative Conyers are this week's winners of the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo apparently is not best buddies with his attorney general. The two are squabbling over the $613 million settlement the state gained from JPMorgan Chase (specifically, who gets to spend the windfall).
But Cuomo, at least in private, has apparently stepped over a rather large line, and if the explanation is correct then he's done nothing but given himself a rather large political "black eye" as a result. Here's how the article about the feud in the New York Times begins:
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has asked people if they think Eric T. Schneiderman, the attorney general of New York State, wears eyeliner.
Later in the story, the Schneiderman camp has their say:
If the interest of Mr. Cuomo and his team has strayed into chatter about whether the attorney general's eyes show signs of cosmetic intervention, Mr. Schneiderman has a simple, though little-known, explanation: People told of his condition say he has glaucoma, for which he takes a medication whose published side effects include increased eyelash "thickness" and "darkness."
So Cuomo was making fun of the guy for what turned out to be a medical condition. That's bad enough, right there. But let's just assume for the sake of argument that the medical condition didn't even exist.
How is it right in any way for a prominent Democrat to criticize another politician for their personal appearance in such a fashion? Say the guy did wear eyeliner -- what business is it of Cuomo's to make fun of? Can Cuomo accurately say that he's never worn makeup? My guess would be "no, he could not say this." Anyone who has ever appeared on television -- including politicians like Cuomo -- are routinely made up so they look nice under the lights. Maybe this includes eyeliner, maybe it doesn't. But how is this any business of Cuomo's, one way or another?
For making such stupid comments -- even in private -- and for denigrating a fellow Democrat based solely on his appearance (and winding up with nothing but a black eye to show for it), Andrew Cuomo is easily our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.
[Contact New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on his official contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 287 (1/17/14)
We've got a mixed bag of talking points this week. As always, these are provided for the use and amusement of Democrats everywhere, in the hopes that they'll come in handy while having political discussions, whether around the company water cooler or on a Sunday morning chat show. Enjoy!
It's just a check?
While most Republicans were a bit shy in expressing their true feelings about extending unemployment benefits, one was not.
"I see that Republican Senator Richard Shelby helpfully explained why his party filibustered an extension of unemployment benefits for over one million Americans. He said, and I quote: 'People, if you pay them for years and years, they won't look for a job. This creates no job. It's just a check -- you know that. That is a huge expenditure.' Unquote. In other words, Republicans are going with their old standby: if you're unemployed, it's your fault, and you certainly shouldn't look to Republicans for help. We'll see how this plays with the voters, come November."
Compromise returns to Washington
A surprisingly drama-free budget agreement was passed this week. Point this out.
"For the past three years, we have experienced showdown after showdown over the federal budget. These political battles have done nothing to help the American economy, and in fact have injected a large amount of uncertainty for businesses. This week, instead of Republicans sticking their fingers in their ears and screaming 'No, no, no, no!' over and over again, they actually decided to sit down with Democrats and reach some compromises. A budget was produced with very little drama and hysterics as a result. This budget doesn't give Democrats everything they want, and it doesn't give Republicans everything they want. Such is the nature of compromise. But it's a big step forward that this compromise was reached without any of the Tea Party melodrama we've been subjected to in the recent past. Perhaps this sort of thing can become more normal, now that the Republican leadership has shown the backbone to stand up to the most extreme elements in their own party."
D.C. Circuit Court fully staffed once again
Speaking of a lessening of the melodrama...
"President Obama's final nominee to the D.C. Circuit Court was confirmed this week by the Senate. When Harry Reid elected to use the so-called 'nuclear option,' three open seats on this court existed because Republicans had been blocking anyone from being confirmed. This stalemate is now over, and all three of Obama's appointees have now been confirmed to the court. You'll notice that the world did not end with this final appointment. It was as drama-free as these appointments used to be before Republicans started their rampant abuse of the filibuster to block presidential nominees. Hopefully, this is another sign of some sanity and normalcy returning to Washington."
No crimes committed at I.R.S.
This one really deserves mentioning, because the news media refuses to report on this outcome in any sort of balanced way to the way they hyped the "scandal" when it broke.
"After a lengthy examination, it turns out that the I.R.S. was not engaging in any sort of criminal behavior at all, according to the F.B.I. While many Chris Christie apologists have been trying desperately to make the case that the bridge traffic scandal is somehow akin to the I.R.S., the facts have shown that this is just not true. Nobody in the Obama administration ever ordered the I.R.S. to scrutinize anybody, the groups affected were from both sides of the political spectrum -- right-wing groups were in no way 'singled out,' in other words -- and as one news report put it, the F.B.I. has now stated that 'the evidence showed a mismanaged agency enforcing rules it did not understand on applications for tax exemptions.' Instead of the sinister plot hyped across the media, there simply is no political scandal here at all."
The Republican Solyndra?
The hypocrisy on this one is pretty radioactive, folks.
"I see that John Boehner has apparently changed his mind on federal support for energy companies. When the Solyndra failure was in the news, Boehner unequivocally stated: 'for the federal government to be out there picking one company over another, one type of energy source over another... is wrong.' But now that the company in question is in Boehner's district, he's singing a different tune, it seems. The uranium-enrichment company USEC has received multiple times what Solyndra ever did in government subsidies over the past two decades, and John Boehner is in favor of continuing the gravy train, even though it is 'picking one company over another,' and picking 'one energy source over another.' And here's the real kicker -- even though the company recently announced it will file for bankruptcy. Breitbart News even calls USEC the 'GOP Solyndra.' But since USEC operates in Ohio rather than California, Boehner now frames the issue as 'hundreds of Southern Ohio workers stand to lose their jobs.' If hypocrisy could be measured like radioactivity, I think John Boehner would now be putting out a lethal dose."
Another happy couple
Another one from the "world did not come to an end" files...
"I'd like to offer up my congratulations to Representative Sean Maloney of New York, who just announced he will become the second-ever sitting member of Congress (Barney Frank was first) to be married in a same-sex wedding. The story of his proposal to his partner is enough to warm the hardest heart, as he proposed on Christmas Day after the youngest of the three children the couple has adopted reportedly asked Santa Claus for the two to become married. I'd like to point out the increasing normality of hearing about same-sex marriages everywhere in America, from Salt Lake City to the halls of Congress. And I'd also like to offer my best wishes to the happy couple!"
I smoke pot and I vote
Well, maybe not on a bumpersticker quite yet, but still...
"Sooner or later Democrats are going to have to realize that there is a growing single-issue demographic of voters out there which is big enough to help them win elections. In the state of Florida, the upcoming governor's race could be decided by marijuana-friendly voters, in fact. While in a normal midterm election year Republicans have an edge in turning out their voters, this time around there may be a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot. And people are already predicting that this could create a surge in turnout among younger voters, who overwhelmingly favor reforming marijuana laws. If this winds up giving Democrat Charlie Crist the win, then I think you'll see Democrats on the national level start taking the issue a lot more seriously. While I do think it is too early -- except for maybe in Colorado and Washington -- to start seeing bumperstickers saying 'I smoke pot and I vote,' the reality is that pro-pot voters are becoming a bigger and bigger political force. Democrats ignore this new reality at their own peril."
-- Chris Weigant