It's one of those rare weeks in Washington where Congress deigns to actually do their job and vote on some stuff... before lapsing back into their default status, which is of course: "taking weeks and weeks off, on vacation."
Most of the attention was focused on two big issues this week, authorizing fast-track trade authority and re-authorizing sections of the USA PATRIOT Act. As this is being written, neither one has actually passed the Senate, but it's looking like at least the fast-track bill will probably pass tonight.
In the midst of all this, Rand Paul got a little confused. He staged another "fauxlibuster," speaking for over ten hours in the Senate on his opposition to the N.S.A. metadata collection renewal, but (oddly enough) he spoke not while the Senate was debating the USA PATRIOT Act bill, but instead on the fast-track bill. Meaning the whole exercise was rather pointless. Except for the press coverage, which (of course) was actually the whole point. Rand Paul still looked kind of like a hapless student who gave a long-winded oral report on the wrong subject, though.
In other Republican campaign news, two major candidates have now announced they're skipping the Iowa straw poll. Both Jeb Bush and (now) Mike Huckabee will not attend. The only one who may have committed to attending, at this point, is Donald Trump -- if he runs, of course. The entire event is nothing more than a shakedown by the Iowa Republican Party, forcing candidates to spend a whopping amount of money on a meaningless vote, and both Bush and Huckabee smartly decided to say "No, thanks" to the whole idea.
Think "shakedown" is too strong a word? Well, the way the straw poll used to operate is that the Republican Party actually auctioned off choice tent locations to the various candidates -- best spot goes to the highest bidder! Tens of thousands of dollars paid to the party machine just to secure a choice spot for your tent. Candidates also had to pay for such things as electrical hookups, and other extras. But the real scam was that a "ticket" to vote in the straw poll costs $30, which the candidates are free to buy and hand out to their supporters.
The party, stung by such criticism, has reformed the operation so that tent sites are randomly assigned and will cost nothing. Likewise, all the extra fees will be waived. However, they're still sticking with the whole thirty-bucks-per-vote thing, because after all that's the American way. Or something. Call it the fairy tale of "spinning the straw (poll) into gold for our coffers," we suppose.
The moral of the story is that this is a pointless and stupid waste of time and resources for any candidate -- which Huckabee even pointed out in his announcement. After all, let's all reflect on how big a boost the straw poll gave to the last person who won it: Michele Bachmann. Nothing else really needs be said on the importance of the Iowa straw poll, really.
Moving right along, the frenzy over Jeb Bush's answer to whether he'd still have invaded Iraq knowing what he knows now seemed to die away this week. The media has plenty of other valid questions to be asking Republican (and Democratic, for that matter) candidates on the issue of foreign policy, but so far they haven't actually been asking any such questions (more on this later in the talking points segment of our program). In a related topic, the Washington Post ran an interesting graphic this week where you can see exactly how much of your own life has passed while America has been at war. It certainly puts things in perspective.
Barack Obama made a splash this week, when he opened an official "POTUS" Twitter account. Note that this account won't follow him when he leaves the White House, it will always be the official presidential account no matter who is in the Oval Office (much like the whitehouse.gov web page). He immediately set a record on Twitter for "fastest to 1,000,000 followers," which isn't all that surprising. Sadly, it was also not very surprising that he began receiving racist and hateful tweets. But the joke may be on the people sending those tweets, because since the account is an official White House one, it means that all tweets are archived as they come in. So those nasty tweets may come back to haunt quite a few people in the future (say, when they're applying for a job).
The Republic of Ireland has just (as this is being written) finished voting on what could be a historic referendum on marriage equality. If the measure passes, it will be the first time any country on Earth has approved gay marriage at the ballot box (rather than through a legislature or the courts). The votes won't be counted until tomorrow, so we'll all have to wait to see how it did. Turnout was notably high, for whatever that's worth. I wrote about this earlier in the week, and how the arguments for the changing nature of marriage are a bit different in Ireland, where citizens weren't even allowed to get divorced until 1995. In any case, check the news tomorrow to see how Ireland voted.
What else? Marijuana was featured on the cover of the staid National Geographic magazine this week, which has to signify some sort of turning point.
We're going to be even-handed here, we've decided, and hand out two awards on the same issue.
First, it's now undeniable that President Barack Obama wants a trade deal. Whether you personally think the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a good deal or not, it's hard to dispute that Obama obviously really, really wants to see it enacted.
Obama won a crucial vote this week in the Senate, which moved a "fast-track" authority bill forward. This bill will only allow an up-or-down vote on trade deals in Congress, making it easier to pass the T.P.P. (and other trade deals). It means Congress won't be able to amend any trade negotiations, just vote on them as written.
Now, it's not even guaranteed that the House is going to pass the fast-track bill. The bill stumbled going through the Senate as well, but it appears it will make it in the end (they may have voted on it by the time you read this). Part of the reason for this success was Obama and the White House doing a full-court press on Congress, lobbying like mad. Several senators mentioned that this is the biggest lobbying effort they've ever seen out of this president.
Which is why we're giving Obama a Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Not only did he overcome an initial vote that went against him, but he actively engaged with individuals in Congress -- a skill he's not exactly known for. Now, many Democrats are against the trade deal itself, so please allow us to split hairs on this award. We're giving it to Obama not for the content of the fast-track bill, but for the way he got it passed. We realize that six years in is rather late, but this is indeed the way bills are supposed to be championed by the White House. We sincerely hope Obama will expend this much energy on other (perhaps more palatable) deals with Congress. This is a fancy way of saying "better late than never," really.
But we did say we were going to be even-handed, so our second Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to Bernie Sanders, who is running for the Democratic nomination for president.
Sanders is against the T.P.P. deal. How do I know this? Because he wrote his position down and published it for all to see. He titles his essay "The T.P.P. Must Be Defeated," which is pretty clear and unequivocal.
Now, it is unfair to compare Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton on the issue, at the present time (Hillary finally said something about it, but it was basically that she's going to wait and see what's in the deal). The reason it's currently unfair to hold the two candidates to the same standard is that Sanders is still a sitting senator. Clinton is not. This means Sanders has access to the secret draft of the deal, and Clinton does not. So the only way to compare their stances on the deal is to wait until the text of the deal is public, when Clinton can read it and make her mind up whether she supports it or not.
Still, Bernie Sanders has to be applauded for strongly stating his own position. Candidates across the political spectrum should emulate such clarity, in fact. Rather than ducking the issue or using weasel words, Sanders wants the public to know precisely why he is against the deal. He has taken a stand.
For fulfilling what should be a basic requirement for anyone running for the highest office in the land -- clearly taking a position and defending it -- Bernie Sanders is indeed worthy of a Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week. He's showing the rest of the field (not just Hillary, but also all the Republicans) what true leadership looks like. Agree with him or not, it is crystal clear where Bernie stands. These days, that has to be seen as impressive.
Our first inclination when considering who should be a candidate for the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week was to revisit the story of Joseph Morrissey, former Democratic state delegate in Virginia. He got sentenced earlier for having sex with an underage aide, and is now not only publicly claiming paternity for her baby, but actually posting a cringeworthy "period piece" photo of the new family (this is Virginia, after all).
But then we decided to take him at his word -- he was essentially kicked out of the Democratic Party and is now a political Independent. Which means he is ineligible for our prizes, for better or worse.
But the cringeworthiness doesn't stop there. This week's MDDOTW goes out to Loretta Sanchez, current House member from California (who has announced she'll be competing with state attorney general Kamala Harris for the U.S. Senate seat Barbara Boxer is vacating). The Sanchez campaign, shall we say, is not off to a great start.
Last weekend, the Sacramento Bee posted a video online (which is sideways, for some reason) in which Sanchez tells what she clearly thinks is a delightful story about how she got a call from someone in the "Indian-American" community, but when she actually met with the man, he turned out to be not the type of Indian-American she was expecting. In her own words:
"I am going to his office, thinking that I am going to meet with a..." [at this point, she makes a "woo woo" noise with her mouth while patting it with her hand, the way ignorant schoolchildren do, to portray Native Americans] "Right? Because he said 'Indian-American'!"
As I said, she clearly thinks this is a funny story, both from her tone of voice and her big smile (she's even telling this to the Indian-American Caucus in a steakhouse). The word "cringeworthy" doesn't even really do it justice (if you don't believe me, watch the clip).
To say that Kamala Harris just got my vote is an understatement. I will never vote for a grown adult in 2015 who still thinks making "woo woo" noises is not an incredibly racist and offensive thing to do. Most of us left this sort of idiocy behind when we moved on from elementary school. Sanchez did apologize for the slur, I should mention.
But even apologizing isn't enough for Loretta Sanchez to avoid being awarded this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. Racial stereotyping (especially egregiously offensive stereotyping) is simply not acceptable in the Democratic Party, in this day and age.
[Contact Representative Loretta Sanchez on her House contact page, to let her know what you think of her actions.]
Volume 347 (5/22/15)
Kind of a mixed bag this week. In the middle section, we have three questions I'd dearly love to hear some presidential candidates answer which deal with the past, present, and future of warmaking by the United States, but there's no overall theme to all the talking points this week.
Let's just dive in and get on with it, shall we?
Conservative hypocrisy (part 1)
It's always worth pointing out when conservatives break their own bedrock tenets.
"I always thought that conservative Republicans believed that 'local control is always best' when it comes to lawmaking. States making laws is always better than the federal government, by this reasoning, and local laws are even better than state laws. Except that recently some localities have been passing laws that are more liberal than the state governments. Texas, for instance, just passed a state law which forbids local towns and cities from enacting laws which ban fracking. So local control is only best when the localities in question are more conservative than the state, is that what conservatives now believe? Sounds an awful lot like blatant hypocrisy to me."
Conservative hypocrisy (part 2)
Conservative hypocrisy isn't limited to the legislative branch, however.
"When President Obama acted with the power of the executive branch to change immigration policy, conservatives howled that he was 'breaking the law.' Remember that? Here's what Bobby Jindal had to say about it, at the time: 'If the president wants to make the case that the law should be changed, he should go make the case to Congress and our people. This is an arrogant, cynical political move by the president, and it’s why so many Americans no longer trust this president to solve the problems we face.' Jindal also said: 'President Obama did this on his own because he knows the American people reject the idea and he couldn't pass it in Congress. Fortunately, the rule of law is something President Obama cannot sidestep.' Sure sounds like Bobby was against executive orders, doesn't it? Well then how does he explain the fact that when the Louisiana state legislature refused to pass a 'turn the gays away' law which would sanction discrimination, Jindal just went ahead and issued his own executive order instead? Jindal went to his statehouse and the people and made his case. They refused to change the law. So Jindal just went ahead and changed it on his own. This is nothing short of flaming hypocrisy, folks. Jindal is condemned by his own words on the subject, in fact."
One person at a time
It's always good to see a mind being opened.
"When a South Carolina man faced economic doom over the fact that he didn't have health insurance, he initially blamed Obamacare for his plight. But when he got the actual facts, it turns out that he falls into the hole where he would have been covered if his state had expanded Medicaid, but because it didn't, he got screwed. Here's what he now has to say about his situation: 'Now that I'm looking at what each party represents, my wife and I are both saying -- hey, we're not Republicans! I put the blame on everyone, Republican and Democrat. But I do mainly blame Republicans for their pigheadedness. They're blocking policies that could help everyone. I'm in the situation I'm in because they chose not to expand Medicaid for political reasons. And I know I'm not the only one.' He's right -- he isn't the only one being screwed by a pigheaded Republican governor. Maybe this is why Republicans are so terrified of Obamacare in the first place -- because when people see how it helps them, they become Democrats!"
Would you have let the inspectors finish?
These next three deal with the aftermath of Jeb Bush's floundering on the Iraq War question. These are important questions from the past, the present, and the future of American warmaking. The first comes from a great Huffington Post article by Paul Abrams.
"Republicans are complaining that the question of whether they would have invaded Iraq knowing what they know now is an impossible hypothetical question. OK, fair enough. So let's ask a question that is fair, instead. If you had been president at the time, and knowing only what you did at the time, would you have rushed to invade Iraq or would you have allowed the inspectors to finish their work before launching a war? There's a certain amount of selective amnesia over this issue, and many Americans falsely believe that 'Saddam kicked the inspectors out.' In fact, the inspectors had to leave because of the invasion. If the invasion had been delayed to allow the inspectors time to finish their work, then we might have known back then that there were no weapons of mass destruction. So, would you have allowed the inspectors to finish their work, or not?"
Where's your ISIS bill?
Congress has left this question unanswered for almost a year now.
"Democratic Senator Tim Kaine has raised an interesting question. After pointing out that Congress has done absolutely nothing about declaring war on the Islamic State, Kaine states bluntly: 'We [in Congress] really haven't earned the right to be critics as long as we stand back and don't do the one thing that Congress is supposed to do.' So to every critic of Obama's war effort against the Islamic State who is a sitting member of Congress -- especially those who are also currently running for president -- here's a simple question: Where's your ISIS war bill? Where is your bill that lays out exactly what America should be doing against the Islamic State, right now? If you disagree with Obama's war strategy, then where is your own? You've had almost a year to come up with one, after all."
How many more wars?
I wrote a rant on this subject earlier this week, if anyone wants to read the long version. There's also an article over at Salon which raises similar questions about the Republicans' confusion on the subject.
"If you are elected president, what would it take for you to commit American military forces to combat in any given situation? There are plenty of situations right now that some might argue necessitate America waging war. Would you send troops in to Syria, to Iraq, to Iran, to Yemen, to Libya, to sub-Saharan Africa? Should these be ground troops on the front lines, bombing raids by American pilots or American drones, or something else? Where in the world would you send the troops if you were in office at this very moment? If you are running for the job of commander in chief, don't you think the American people deserve an answer to the question of how many more wars we can expect during your term?"
The straw that broke the Iowa poll's back
This one is pure snark, I freely admit.
"To anyone who argues that the Iowa straw poll is anything more than a meaningless shakedown by the Iowa Republican Party, I have three words in response. These three words show the pointlessness of the Iowa straw poll more than anything else possibly could. Because last time around the winner proved what a joke the entire process truly is. My three words? President Michele Bachmann. We all remember how Bachmann vaulted from winning the Iowa straw poll right into the Oval Office, don't we? Oh, wait -- that didn't actually happen, did it?"
-- Chris Weigant