Three hundred of these columns? To coin a phrase... far out, man.
We'll get to patting ourselves on the back in a bit, but first we'd like to propose a party game for this weekend's big 4/20 festivities across the land. So put this in your (metaphorical) pipe and smoke it.
The rules for this contest are pretty simple. First, you've got to picture a day in the future when the Weed Wars are completely over, with marijuana reform having won the biggest victory of all: a complete change in the federal government's viewpoint. Not just rescheduling, but descheduling, in other words. The feds throw in the towel and decide to treat marijuana not as a dangerous and illegal drug, but as a regulated vice like tobacco and alcohol. In other words, total victory for the reformers.
OK, got that image in your mind? Here's where you need to get creative. If marijuana is descheduled, what would happen to it, in terms of the federal government? Well, they would take it away from the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and hand it off to the official "vice control" agency. But (and here's where the contest comes in) then they'd have to rename this agency.
The obvious choice would be to add it to what used to just be called "ATF" or sometimes "BATF" -- the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. This name was expanded a while back to include explosives, making "BATFE." Now, the easiest way to change the name gives us a rather strange acronym for the new Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, Explosives, and Marijuana: "BATFEM." Um... we're not sure that's an improvement over "Batgirl," really.
So our challenge is to come up with a better acronym. The rules: you can use either "marijuana" or "cannabis," and you can change "bureau" to "agency" or "commission" or any other governmental collective noun. This means you can add an M or C to the core letters A, T, F, and E; and then use a B or A or C (or whatever) at either end. Got that? So who has a better acronym than BATFEM for the real end to marijuana reform: what to call the bureau or agency that would federally regulate marijuana? This once seemed like pie in the sky -- too much to even hope for -- but is now within the bounds of possibility. So scramble those letters, and post your entries in the comments! Get creative!
As we've noted in these pages for the past few months, 2014 is shaping up to be a pivotal year for marijuana reform. The Colorado and Washington experiments are proceeding apace, the Attorney General is now actually "cautiously optimistic" about the success of these experiments, and the only real question people are asking is "which state will be next?" Alaska may move first, as full legalization is on the ballot there in August.
However, not everyone is on board (just to get serious for a moment). The head of the Drug Enforcement Agency tried his hand at a little scaremongering in front of Congress, warning that with legal marijuana edibles lying around, there was an increased risk of dogs eating it with harmful consequences. The prompted one of the most brutal takedowns of such propaganda we've ever read (from the Washington Post), which provides a long list of dogs mercilessly killed by drug raids gone horribly wrong. It's not for the faint of heart, and neither is this equally-brutal takedown which lists 13 human victims killed by Drug War hysteria.
In non-marijuana news, Vladimir Putin has finally responded to my April Fool's Day column (well, not really...) by insisting that Alaska is too cold for Russia to want to annex: "Is Alaska really in the Southern Hemisphere? It's cold there, too. Let's not get hot-headed." No word yet on any response (hot-headed or not) from Sarah Palin.
What else? The Pulitzer awards were handed out to the reporters which covered the Edward Snowden story, surprising exactly nobody. The federal government decided -- after getting some justifiably bad press -- they would no longer attempt to collect questionable "debts" that were over ten years old. Here's just one of the stories of the folks caught up in this effort:
Mary Grice, a federal worker who lives in Takoma Park, Md., never got the refunds she was expecting to see in her mailbox this year. The government seized her checks because of a $2,996 debt that was supposedly incurred under her father's Social Security number. Her father died in 1960, when she was 4, and her mother received survivors' benefits thereafter.
But 37 years passed between when the Social Security agency says it overpaid someone in the Grice family and when Mary Grice's refund was taken. She was unable to find out from the agency exactly who received the overpayment -- her mother or perhaps her father's first wife, both of whom are no longer living.
There's a word for this sort of thing: Biblical. "Visiting the sins of the fathers on the sons," to be blunt, should not be the policy of the federal government, and we're glad someone woke up and realized this.
We've got some idiocy from Republicans to highlight in the talking points, but here is one item up front, just because. Scott Brown, former senator from Massachusetts, would now like to become the future senator from New Hampshire (after getting beaten by Elizabeth Warren in the Bay State). Speaking at a rally for Brown was former New Hampshire governor John Sununu, who made a rather bizarre pitch that tried to tie Senator Jeanne Shaheen (the Democrat Brown is challenging in New Hampshire) to other Democratic senators, saying: "She votes with Elizabeth Warren. She votes with [Ed] Markey. She is the third senator from Massachusetts." Um, really? You really think that line's going to work to promote an actual former senator from Massachusetts? I guess John Sununu thinks New Hampshire voters are pretty dumb.
And, finally, some non-idiocy from the Republican Party of Nevada. At their party convention last weekend, they decided to jettison the planks of their party platform which opposed same-sex marriage and abortion. This is an attempt to move the party away from these hot-button social issues, and it bears watching to see if the GOP in other states decides to follow Nevada's lead or not. We're guessing "not," but we could always be wrong....
Obamacare had another very good week, but we're going to get to that in the talking points as well, so we'll just mention it here in passing.
John Kerry had a pretty good week as well, pulling together a fragile agreement to de-escalate tensions in Ukraine. It remains to be seen whether it'll work or not, but the surprise was that anything was agreed to at all -- expectations that Kerry could deliver were pretty low, before the announcement.
And while it's not exactly award-worthy, we have to at least mention the fact that Chelsea Clinton is pregnant. This is going to be a photo-op goldmine for Hillary, for the next few years. "This is my family" images with Baby Clinton should be seen as both inevitable and soon-to-be-adorable, at this point. Like I said, the news that Hillary will be a grandmother isn't exactly award-worthy, but it will indeed positively influence her upcoming campaign.
Instead, this week (and in advance of the 4/20 celebrations), we're giving out the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week more for a long-term effort than for any news made this past week (although he did have some good new quotes, as previously pointed out).
Attorney General Eric Holder is, quite obviously, a man who is "evolving" on the subject of marijuana laws. His evolution is far from complete, one hopes. But it is worth pointing out the changes he has made in both attitude and in federal law enforcement priorities over the past year. Holder was painted into a corner by the new Colorado and Washington laws, and he dithered and stalled for just about as long as he could get away with. But then he announced that the state-level "laboratories of democracy" experiments which legalized recreational marijuana would go forward without heavy interference from federal agencies. He made a list of rules that would have to be followed to avoid a federal crackdown, giving some clear guidance on the issue. He could have chosen a far different route, but -- to his credit -- he didn't.
Holder has since begun to address some of the other problems in federal law which surround the marijuana issue. He told banks it would be OK with him for marijuana businesses to open bank accounts (lessening the fear of federal prosecution for "money laundering for drug dealers"). He is actually showing quite a bit of flexibility on marijuana -- more flexibility than America has seen since the 1970s, in fact (what archaeologists call the "pre-Nancy Reagan era").
Eric Holder still has far to go. He has balked at rescheduling marijuana, which would end the ridiculousness of federal laws treating marijuana as more dangerous than methamphetamine. Holder could accomplish this with a stroke of his pen, but he is punting the decision to do so to Congress. Holder knows full well that medical research is almost impossible to now do on marijuana, and rescheduling could take a big step towards solving this problem, but he refuses to do so for purely political reasons.
Nonetheless, Holder still deserves the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award, this 4/20 week. The steps he has taken on his evolutionary road are important ones, and he could easily have taken a much harsher position on each of them. Nobody could mistake Eric Holder for a pro-marijuana reformer at this point, but he is also neither a rabidly anti-marijuana absolutist. He is trying to accommodate a changing situation by slowly revamping the federal government's attitude on marijuana. For now, this is enough to earn him some praise. He's got many more steps to take along this path, but for the decision on Colorado and Washington alone, Holder wins our "looking back at the past year" 4/20 edition of the MIDOTW.
[Since he doesn't provide direct contact information, you'll have to congratulate Attorney General Eric Holder via the White House contact page, to let his boss know you appreciate his efforts.]
In keeping with this theme, we're going to award Patrick Kennedy this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. Kennedy used to be a House member from Rhode Island. After leaving office, he founded a group which calls itself "Smart Approaches to Marijuana," which aims to strike a sort of "centrist" pose on the issue, along the lines of: "the Drug War has gone too far, but legalization is still wrong." The reason they're in the news is that they're fighting against the Alaska ballot measure which would legalize and tax recreational marijuana.
The pro-reform folks held an amusing bit of political theater to point out Kennedy's hypocrisy, with a giant check for $9,015 -- the amount Kennedy had accepted from the alcohol lobby in his short stay in office. The purpose of this check, the political director of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol said, was to offer it as a contribution to the anti-reform effort, if they could disprove these three statements: "a person is much more likely to overdose on alcohol than marijuana, long-term alcohol consumption causes more deaths than chronic marijuana use and violent crimes are committed by drunken people far more often than by people who are high." The chair of the pro-reform campaign tossed down the gauntlet: "We decided to present them with a challenge that really strikes at the heart of the issue. They are going to spend the next four months trying to scare people into thinking marijuana is so dangerous it simply cannot be legal for adults. Yet the fact is marijuana is far less harmful than alcohol to the consumer and to society."
So, if anyone can prove that marijuana is more harmful than alcohol, the pro-marijuana group will contribute the same exact amount that Patrick Kennedy got from the alcohol lobby to their opponents. That's some pretty admirable political theater, we have to say. In fact, the Alaska Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol deserves their own Honorable Mention, as they point out why former Representative Patrick Kennedy is worthy of this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.
[We were going to provide contact information for Kennedy's group, but we decided it could be misinterpreted as a measure of support for them, and we certainly don't want to give that impression, so you'll have to look Patrick Kennedy's group up yourselves, to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 300 (4/18/14)
Three hundred! Woo hoo!
I certainly never thought, when I wrote the first one of these columns, that I'd still be doing so seven years in the future. But here we are, for the 300th time. These columns began (and continue) with a simple idea: "talking points" are not in and of themselves a bad thing. The reason why a lot of Democrats don't like them is that Republicans are much better at them than Democrats ever seem to be able to manage.
Republicans all get their talking points before the weekend, and they then appear on the political talk shows and -- almost word-for-word -- repeat the same points, over and over again. You barely even need to pay attention to which Republican is using them, in fact, because they are all singing from the same songbook, in unison.
Democrats, to be charitable, just aren't that disciplined. But the idea of talking points (or "soundbites" or "bumpersticker slogans" or whatever else you want to call them) is nothing more than a neutral tool in the political toolbox. Talking points, to put it another way, are not Republican or conservative, or inherently evil. They are a way to communicate -- and what you communicate is up to you.
Democrats have gotten somewhat better at this sort of thing, in our humble opinion, than they were in 2007 when this column began. We take no credit for this, because our egos are simply not that large. But choosing words wisely and getting in a zinger to make your point indelibly in the public mind are skills which always need honing. Hence the 300 columns.
This week's offerings deal mainly with Obamacare and the Republican War On Women. In preface to the Obamacare segment, here is a great ad now running up in Alaska which does an excellent job of defending the Obamacare program. Other Democrats campaigning this fall, take note, because this is a great example of how to make the issue work for you. For the rest of you, sit back and enjoy, as always.
We confidently predicted this two weeks ago in this space. And always remember those crucial last two words, Democrats.
"President Obama announced today -- once again -- that the number of signups on the Obamacare exchanges has risen dramatically. Two weeks ago, the number was at 7.1 million, even though most were expecting roughly a million less than that. Last week, the number was up to 7.5 million. This week, it topped 8 million. President Obama is right. The law is working. It is now impossible to deny. Eight million people have signed up on the Obamacare exchanges -- and counting."
No other reason than political spite
We're going to let President Obama have this talking point. He's right in pushing this -- the denial of Medicaid expansion could become a very potent argument for Democrats this year, as is already happening in Virginia. This Obama quote comes from his announcement about hitting the 8 million figure:
This does frustrate me. States that have chosen not to expand Medicaid for no other reason than political spite. You've got 5 million people who could be having health insurance right now at no cost to these states -- zero cost to these states -- other than ideological reasons they have chosen not to provide health insurance for their citizens. That's wrong. It should stop. Those folks should be able to get health insurance like everybody else.
All kinds of good news
I wrote about this earlier this week, in more detail. This has been the best week for Obamacare stats yet. In fact, it's been the best week overall for Obamacare since the law passed. So point it out!
"The statistics on Obamacare just keep getting better and better, no matter how much Republicans would like you to ignore them. The big news was that 8 million people -- and counting -- have signed up on the Obamacare exchanges, which is a full million more people than the original estimate. The Congressional Budget Office now estimates that 12 million Americans will have insurance this year alone -- people who would not have been insured if Obamacare didn't exist. The C.B.O. also pointed out the program is covering more people, but the costs are coming down -- their new estimate is that Obamacare will save another $100 billion in the first decade than previously thought. Major insurers are now signaling that they are going to expand their offerings in the Obamacare exchanges next year -- which is a big vote of confidence from the industry. And finally, Gallup announced that in the states which accepted the Medicaid expansion with their own exchanges, the uninsured rate dropped three times faster than it did in the states which didn't. States which joined in Obamacare fully dropped their rate to 13.6 percent uninsured, while states which didn't were still at 17.9 percent uninsured. The numbers are starting to come in, folks, and so far every single one of them proves Obamacare is working as it was designed to do. Obamacare got all kinds of good news this week, in fact."
And the Republicans still have... nothing
This is almost too funny for words.
"House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy just announced that the House Republicans -- who had planned to unveil their magic proposal to replace Obamacare this April -- will be indefinitely delaying this announced rollout of the GOP plan. As Bloomberg reports, 'the Republicans had said they would release the outlines of their proposal to replace President Barack Obama's 2010 health-care law over the two-week congressional break later this month at town-hall meetings with constituents. Instead, a Republican leadership aide said the rollout will occur at an unspecified time later this year.' Later in the article, aides are quoted saying 'April wasn't intended to be a formal rollout of a bill, rather a discussion about ideas,' and 'lawmakers are still working toward a policy consensus.' So let's just review the record, shall we? Four years ago, Obamacare passed. Since that time, the Republicans have offered up nothing -- no replacement bill at all -- to replace it with. They have had all the time in the world, but they cannot agree on anything even among themselves. So let's be blunt. Obamacare is working. There is no Republican replacement bill. After four years -- two full House terms -- the Republicans in the House have precisely nothing to offer the American people as a replacement. That is the choice America will have this fall: continue with the 'Can't-Do' Congress, or throw these slackers out of office."
Fighting for low wages
This one is pretty unbelievable, folks.
"The governor of Oklahoma just signed a law which actually bans raising the minimum wage across the state. It also bans any effort to provide employees vacation days and sick leave, just for good measure. This is truly shocking, especially since it goes against what is supposed to be a bedrock belief of the Republican Party: local governmental control is always better than bigger government. This new law will block any city in the state from raising their own minimum wage, and -- even worse -- will block a citizens' initiative that was heading for the ballot this year. Republicans are scared to put this on the ballot -- they are scared of what the voters actually think about it. So much for letting the people decide, eh? That's an interesting political slogan to run on, isn't it? Republicans: fighting to keep your wages low!"
And finally, an update on the ongoing War On Women. Because it won't fit into either of these talking points, here is a funny Jeff Danziger cartoon on the issue, as well.
"Phyllis Schlafly of the Eagle Forum wrote an extraordinary opinion piece this week, which could provide a glimpse into what Republicans mean about all that 'traditional family' stuff. Schlafly's answer to the pay gap between men and women is that it's a good thing, and that maybe the best thing for women, quote, is to improve job prospects for the men in their lives, even if that means increasing the so-called pay gap, unquote. The reason Schlafly wants a bigger pay gap? So that women can all get married to men who make more money than they do. No, seriously. That's what she's saying: women need to marry men who make more, and that can't happen if the pay gap disappears. So that's the Republican answer to all of modern women's problems: marry a rich guy, and be happy. This is pretty laughably outdated thinking, especially when you consider that the Republicans are trying to 'reach out' to women voters this year."
More War On Women hijinks
This quite obviously falls into the "you just can't make this stuff up, folks" category.
"Republican outreach to women, or War On Women? You decide. In Alaska, a state Republican legislator had to apologize after editing the title of a press release to read -- and I am not making this up -- 'Smart and Sexy: Legislature Encourages Hospitals to Promote Breastfeeding.' Sexy? Really? That's your message to promote breastfeeding? Wow. Down in Texas, meanwhile, someone in a prominent Republican consulting firm registered a political action committee with the charmingly frat-boyish name: 'Boats 'N Hoes PAC.' This is apparently the name of a song from a Will Ferrell movie. The PAC was swiftly dissolved -- after the press noticed it -- but not before Texas Democrats got the final word: 'There’s no defending the use of a derogatory and offensive term like 'hoes.' How can women possibly take the GOP rebranding effort seriously? Their consistent contempt towards women is simply unforgivable.' Just another few stories from the frontlines of the War On Women, I guess -- each more jaw-dropping than the last."
-- Chris Weigant