Today is 3/14, therefore a happy Pi Day to all! Next year will be even more fun, though, since it'll be 3/14/15....
Moving right along... a lot happened in the world of politics this week, including Democrats being disappointed in a special House election down in Florida and the president appearing between two ferns (which caused some underwear-bunching on the right, so to speak). We'll get to all of that later, though. First, let's take a run around the rest of the news from the week, shall we?
Setting a level for hypocrisy usually not so blatantly shown by Democrats, Senator Dianne Feinstein is hopping mad that the government spied on her computers. The irony is so thick you can spread it on toast. Previously known as a champion for pretty much any spying the N.S.A. felt like doing, on every American, Feinstein doesn't have a whole lot of moral high ground to stand on, no matter how much high dudgeon she's currently showing. Edward Snowden immediately called Feinstein onto the carpet for her hypocrisy.
But after the raft of manure she deservedly got for her "laws for me, but not for thee" elitist view of the Fourth Amendment, Feinstein certainly does have a point. Maybe what America needs is a second "Church Committee," in fact, to investigate how the intelligence services of the country should be operating. And while the dustup between Feinstein and the C.I.A. is what's in the news now, this is truly all a sideshow to the real subject matter at hand -- the impending 6,000-page report from Feinstein's committee, on how America used torture after 9/11. That is going to be an explosive report, if the American public ever hears what is in it, that is.
Marijuana made the news in several ways over the past week, so let's just hit the high points (so to speak... ahem). In California, the state Democratic Party just included a plank in its platform which calls for "the legalization, regulation and taxation of pot in a manner similar to that of tobacco or alcohol." Gavin Newsom, who is now California's lieutenant governor, pushed for the inclusion.
Sanjay Gupta used another of his shows to call for nationwide legalization of medical marijuana, after speaking with "marijuana refugees" who have moved to Colorado to secure medicine for their children to avoid seizures. Gupta felt compelled to revisit the subject on his show: "This refugee situation that is developing, I thought it would be a bit apocryphal, I wanted to make sure I wasn't being led down some false path -- but I met with these families and it is real. Are you really going to arrest a person for taking their medicine back to their state? This is not the society that I think most people would think we are and yet it's absolutely happening. It's heartbreaking."
In Colorado, the state appeals court ruled that people convicted under previous state marijuana laws should probably be let go, now that the laws have changed. It's pointless to hold someone in prison, after all, for doing something that is now legal. Eric Holder made the news for calling for reducing mandatory minimum sentences federally to cut down sentences for all non-violent drug offenses, as well.
And it was lobbying week in Washington for the marijuana lobby. Yes, there now is such a thing. In past years, they haven't made much of a splash on Capitol Hill, but this year they've been drawing much more serious attention. After all, Colorado has shown that there are millions of dollars in tax revenue to be had out there, just for the asking. The concept of a "marijuana lobby" might be an odd one to contemplate, but it is indeed as important as the other drug reform efforts taking place. Members of Congress need to hear how even small changes in current law could help this new industry grow and prosper. There are all sorts of hurdles and needless obstacles to creating a real marijuana marketplace, and they need to be removed, one by one. Lobbyists are exactly what is needed to get this job done.
And finally, the Supreme Court has refused to take up a First Amendment case, which leaves the lower court's ruling intact: students in public schools cannot be banned from wearing "I [heart] Boobies" bracelets (in support of the fight against breast cancer), because it is not disruptive to the schools' educational mission and is in fact free speech. So feel free to heart all the boobies you want, kids! So to speak.
We've got a few Honorable Mention awards to get to before the main event this week. Dianne Feinstein deserves some credit (in and amongst the ridicule for the inconsistency of her Fourth Amendment views), both for the torture investigation itself and for reportedly pushing very hard for at least a summary of the report to be made public. Declassifying at least an overview is indeed important, because it may be the only chance Americans get to see what was done in our name. A secret investigation which produces a secret report (which can't even be talked about in public because it is so secret) is the very definition of pointlessness. The public deserves to know, which Dianne Feinstein seems committed to making happen somehow. For that, she deserves mention.
Eric Holder's push on reforming mandatory minimum sentencing is a big step in the right direction, so he also deserves at least an Honorable Mention for his speech this week. I wrote about this yesterday, in more detail.
House Democrats have certainly been showing some feistiness, and they have now tried twice to pass a reprimand of Darrell Issa for shutting down the microphone of the ranking Democrat on his committee, during a hearing. Of course, it failed on party-line votes, but this is indeed the way to hold people's feet to the fire (especially considering that Issa is scheduled to step down from his chairmanship at the end of this year, but has been rumored to be begging Boehner for an extension).
But the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week was President Obama, for announcing that the Department of Labor will be reviewing rules on overtime pay. This will close a loophole many employers use to get free overtime work out of very minor employees, by calling them "supervisors" and putting them on a yearly salary instead of hourly wages. By raising the amount real supervisors must make (to be classified as such) and revamping the rules for who can be labelled a supervisor, this will restore traditional time-and-a-half overtime pay to millions of workers. These are people who work hard making just above the poverty line, who are being exploited for extra free overtime labor.
This initiative goes hand-in-hand with raising the minimum wage, because it answers the previous complaint that "this will only affect the lowest-paid workers." Moving up the salary scale and identifying a welcome change which could be made for people who are working very hard and deserve to be paid appropriately for it will dovetail with the Democratic push to raise the minimum wage nationally. It sets up the Democratic election-year theme "We're for Main Street, Republicans are for Wall Street" perfectly, in fact.
For making a bold move on overtime pay, and for it fitting in so neatly with the push for raising the minimum wage, President Obama deserves the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. He's doing a good job, so far, of laying out a theme for his fellow Democrats to use in the campaign this fall.
[Congratulate President Barack Obama on his White House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
Senator Dianne Feinstein also deserves at least a (Dis-)Honorable Mention this week, for all of her previous support of government spying on computers, phones, and anything else they feel like doing. She has pushed legislation to legalize the mass collection of data from every American, and she is adamant that it's for the best for everyone. Until her own computers were monitored, that is. For such breathtaking hypocrisy, DiFi (as we like to call her out here in California) has earned at least a (Dis-)Honorable Mention.
The biggest disappointment of the week, however, was down in the 13th congressional district of Florida, where Democrat Alex Sink lost a very close race to a flawed Republican candidate. If Sink had won, it could have changed the whole Republican campaign plan for this fall's midterm elections; but because she lost, it's going to be all anti-Obamacare, all the time on the airwaves.
Now, losing this election wasn't any sort of crushing blow to Democrats (even Karl Rove is warning Republicans not to break out the 2014 champagne quite yet), since Republicans have held this particular seat since the 1950s. But it was a "purple" district, since Obama (barely) won it both times. Sink got close to winning -- within roughly two percent. But the turnout stayed low, which is a much more worrisome thing for Democrats this November. Republicans reliably vote every two years, while Democrats only really turn out big in presidential years. If this stays true in 2014, Democrats are going to have a bad year.
For being the first to lose a (closely-watched) House race this year, Alex Sink is our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.
[Alex Sink is now a private citizen, and we do not give out contact information in this case. Also, she's probably disappointed enough on her own, without any further comment from others.]
Volume 295 (3/14/14)
Once again, a mixed bag this week. Some positive talking points for Democrats, some slams against Republicans, and the idiocy of "presidents before Obama were more dignified than doing comedy," just to close on.
Enjoy, as always.
I'm not going to let them take away your rights
Every so often, we feature a talking point from a professional in the field. This week's is from Paul Begala, who is telling Democrats to go on offense on Obamacare, instead of always playing defense. As he puts it, "We can win on Obamacare, but we have to fight. You cannot win if you do not fight." Here's his proposed talking point for Democratic candidates this year:
My opponent wants to repeal your rights to health care. He wants to take away your right to be protected against discrimination because you have a pre-existing condition. He wants to take away your right to be protected against discrimination for being older or being a woman. He wants to take away the closing of the Medicare donut hole for seniors. Look, I'm open to working with everybody to fix the law. But I'll never let them go back to the days where insurance companies could send letters saying your coverage has been canceled because you have a pre-existing condition. Repeal is Republicans' whole agenda. They have no ideas for giving you a pay raise. No ideas for raising the minimum wage. No ideas about how to create jobs. No ideas about how to get your kid into pre-K. Their entire agenda as a party is repeal -- to take away rights that you have won. I'm not going to let them do that.
Uninsured rate continues to fall
Can't argue with the facts...
"For all the noise on the right about how Obamacare is destined to be a giant failure, I notice that the rate of Americans who don't have health insurance began to fall right when Obamacare was implemented. It's down for the first three months of this year, in fact. I predict that this rate will continue to fall, as more and more people take advantage of their new access to affordable care. This was the main reason this law was passed, so it's good to see it is doing what it was designed to do -- reduce the percentage of Americans who don't have health insurance."
Doing things for the poor rather than just talking about it
Republicans are waking up to the fact that their party is seen as only caring about the wealthy. Point out that Democrats have always focused on Main Street.
"After over two months of Republicans blocking an extension of unemployment benefits in the Senate, we've finally reached a point where enough Republicans are getting worried about the upcoming election to get on board the Democratic effort to provide relief for these Americans who are hurting. We hope that a few Republicans will realize this over in the House, so we can get some money in the pockets of millions of Americans who are being used by Republicans as nothing more than a political football. Democrats would also like to invite Republicans to join in our efforts to raise the minimum wage, especially after it was announced that the fatcats on Wall Street made more in bonuses this year -- not salary, mind you, just bonuses -- than twice the entire combined pay of everyone who makes minimum wage in the whole country. That is disgusting, to be honest, which is why Democrats are working hard for all those hard-working Americans making minimum wage. For those a little further up the pay scale, President Obama just announced reforms that will guarantee that people get the overtime pay they really should be entitled to. They work long hours and they get nothing for their overtime now -- Democrats believe that is wrong, and we will end it. If Republicans want to do something for the poor that involves anything more than just talking about doing something for the poor, we have many efforts they could join us in today. The voters will remember who supported these efforts and who stood in the way, that's my guess."
McCain drops "R-bomb" on Republicans
John McCain is not happy with his fellow Republicans in the Senate, it seems. The Senate moved on sanctions against Russia this week, and McCain took those Republicans to task who held up the process. In doing so, he invoked Saint Ronald of Reagan, in what amounts to "fighting words" among Republicans. In his own words:
I will say to my friends who were objecting to this -- and there are a number of them on my side -- you can call yourself Republicans. That's fine, because that's your voter registration. Don't call yourself Reagan Republicans. Ronald Reagan would never, would never let this kind of aggression go unresponded to by the American people.... I've been embarrassed before on the floor of the Senate, I will tell the president. But I haven't been embarrassed this way about members of my own party.
Ready for the next discrimination battle?
This one is going to have some ripples spread from it, that's for sure.
"With the federal ruling that health insurance everywhere in America must not discriminate against gay spouses, I can see yet another struggle for equality on the horizon. Some corporations are already balking at providing birth control under its employee health plans, and now insurance companies will have to provide the same spousal health benefits to everyone -- gay or straight -- as long as the couple has been officially married in a jurisdiction which allows it. I'm sure there are plenty of corporations run by people who will not accept such equality, and I bet there will be many a court case filed. Sooner or later we're going to get a Supreme Court ruling on this issue which clearly states that corporations have no 'freedom of religion' rights, because they are not, in fact, souls with a conscience. Religion is private, the public marketplace is not. I don't know of any Bible verse -- any verse from any religion's holy book, in fact -- which says that corporate entities have souls."
GOP outreach update
Hoo boy. There were so many of these this week, we almost could have used the whole talking points section for them all. Instead, we're just going to cram them all into one.
"To paraphrase Sarah Palin, I have to pose the question to the Republican Party: 'So how's that minority-outreach thingie workin' out for ya?' I see that the Republicans are forming lots of groups in an effort to reach out to women, but it doesn't matter how many spokeswomen you put out there if your basic policy is still to make women's lives needlessly harder -- like Michigan forcing all women to buy 'rape insurance,' for instance. In an extraordinary display of some very un-Christian behavior, I see that the president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute has declared that 'the hard left, human-hating people that run modern universities... should all be taken out and shot.' Um, yeah, I can't seem to find that particular quote from Jesus in the Bible, personally. So much for 'religious liberty,' eh? In other GOP outreach news, one Republican candidate in Arizona proclaimed that slave owners weren't so bad because, quote, basically slave owners took pretty good care of their slaves and livestock and this kept business rolling along, unquote. Another in Minnesota tweeted that if the NBA folded tomorrow 'nobody would notice a difference w/possible exception of increase in street crime.' Hey, way to reach out to minorities, GOP! I haven't heard a whole lot of condemnation of such remarks by other Republicans, although one Tea Partier candidate up in Montana was shunned for essentially espousing white supremacist views. Well, I'm glad to hear that there is actually such a thing as going too far for some Republicans. But, all in all, I'd say the whole Republican outreach to minorities effort still has quite a ways to go, wouldn't you?"
No president would do such a thing...
Barack Obama appeared on the comedy web show Between Two Ferns this week, and boy were some pearls clutched in response.
"I see that David Gergen and Bill O'Reilly have come down with a fit of the vapors over the president appearing on a comedy show. They both asserted that other presidents would never have done such an unseemly thing. Well, Bill, Abraham Lincoln was indeed fond of telling humorous stories, including one famous fart joke that has not been lost to history. Rachel Maddow also helpfully pointed out to Gergen that presidents all the way back to Eisenhower have appeared on comedy shows on television, besmirching (as he called it) the 'majesty' of the presidential office. Ike did it, Nixon did it (with his famous "Sock it to me?" on Laugh-In), and Ronald Reagan did it. So what's the big deal with Obama doing it? Unlike other presidential comedic appearances, Obama had an ulterior motive -- to convince people to visit the health care marketplace site. After his appearance, a flood of traffic from the Between Two Ferns video appeared on the HealthCare.gov website -- showing that Obama's appearance worked. And that, I have to say, is pretty darn majestic."
-- Chris Weigant