It's officially a holiday since tomorrow's the nation's birthday and all, but since this column took a vacation last week, we thought we'd better get a new column out today. After all, it's been an eventful two weeks!
Right after we published our last column, the Confederate battle flag debate erupted in a major way. Leading the charge against the flag on the Republican side was none other than Mitt Romney, whose opinion gave a lot of other Republicans cover to do the right thing. First up to the plate was South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who called on her legislature to toss out the law which mandates flying the flag on the statehouse grounds. Next up was the governor of Alabama, who (since his state didn't have such an absurd law) was able to just take the Confederate flags down from his statehouse by executive order. Mississippi hasn't budged yet, and (as I wrote earlier) is the worst of the lot since it's the only state left that still incorporates the battle flag into their official state flag, but maybe eventually they'll get on this bandwagon too.
Of course, through the whole debate, Democrats were pretty much all against the flag. While Republicans struggle with the South's past, Democrats moved on decades ago, for the most part. Personally, though, we're amazed the debate happened and are amazed at this symbol of racism finally being retired from official use -- only about 150 years after it should have been. At the end of the week, President Obama gave a moving eulogy for one of those killed by the racist domestic terrorist in Charleston, which was notable for his stirring rendition of "Amazing Grace."
Obama (and the country) got two very big pieces of good news from the Supreme Court last week, which upheld the plain intent of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. "Obamacare") and declared marriage equality throughout the whole of this great land. What was notable in both cases were the bitter, bitter dissents from the conservative justices. These dissents will provide lots of heaping doses of schadenfreude for progressives for years to come, that's our guess. Especially head-scratching was Justice Scalia opining on the difference between free love and marriage, which concluded with: "Ask the nearest hippie." We're not entirely sure, but this may have been the first time the highest court in the land has deferred judgment on legal matters to hippies, so that's an odd sort of milestone.
The conservatives on the court weren't the only ones being very sad about the two major opinions, of course. The conservative universe pretty much freaked out over both of them, in a frenzy of who could denounce the court in the whiniest terms possible.
There were a few other Supreme Court decisions of note, one dealing with citizens' movements to end gerrymandering (gerrymandering lost, the people won), and one on a Spider-Man toy where Elena Kagen had her own fun writing the opinion. Again, a historic precedent may have been set, since Kagen actually quoted a comic book ("[I]n this world, with great power there must also come -- great responsibility"). She also cracked a joke or two elsewhere in the text: "The parties set no end date for royalties, apparently contemplating that they would continue for as long as kids want to imitate Spider-Man (by doing whatever a spider can)." Points for style, Justice Kagan!
It's not just on the court, even Senator Al Franken is confident enough to actually make a joke or two once again to a national audience. Franken has been fighting to not appear as "just a comedian" ever since he ran for his office, so it's good to see him comfortable enough with the level of support from his constituents to occasionally return to his comedic roots. We certainly would encourage him to do more of this, as he's one of the sharpest wits ever to trod the halls of the Capitol.
Over in the freakshow that is the Republican presidential race, Bobby Jindal threw his hat in the ring with a bizarre video made with a camera hidden in a tree which shows his own children not exactly enthused with the idea of Dad running. Team Jindal (or a super PAC supporting him) then decided it'd be a good idea to get Twitter to "AskBobby" about stuff. This, predictably, led to all kinds of fun. Our favorite response: "@BobbyJindal #AskBobby I'm gay, an atheist & an immigrant. How would you work to punish me, while ignoring separation of church and state?" Heh.
Chris Christie joined the ranks of the Republican wannabes, because somebody apparently told him he's actually got a chance of becoming president. Over on the Democratic side, Jim Webb apparently got the same advice.
Ted Cruz annoyed a lot of people when he couldn't accurately remember quotes from his favorite episodes of The Simpsons, but then he atoned for this sin by cutting a hilarious video where he "auditions" for the show. His Ned Flanders was arguably the closest to sounding right, but his "Kang and Kodos" quip stole the show (which we're saving for the talking points section).
Rand Paul has been touted as somehow "reaching out" to minorities -- which is notable indeed for any Republican candidate -- but every so often he shows how truly tone-deaf he is on issues of race. This week, Paul felt it was a valuable use of his time to hold an hour-long meeting with Cliven Bundy, the gun-loving (and lawbreaking) rancher who was a rising star on Fox News right up to the point where he uttered a whole bunch of the most vile racist garbage imaginable (his basic position: blacks had it better under slavery). Way to reach out to minorities, Rand!
But when it comes down to the freakiest of the freaky in the whole Republican field, Donald Trump is very hard to top. Trump not only is running for president, he's apparently on a mission to singlehandedly destroy his own Trump brand, forevermore. So far, he's been doing a bang-up job! Now, Trump is no shrinking violet when it comes to stating his racist opinions, as the Washington Post helpfully documented. It's not like he suddenly woke up last week and decided that he didn't like Mexicans or anything. But because of his new prominence as a presidential candidate, people (and corporations) were now forced to notice Trump's ravings. His beauty contest got dumped from Univision, then NBC told The Donald "You're fired!" from his own The Apprentice shows, and by week's end stores were dumping Trump menswear and mattresses as fast as they possibly could. Trump mattresses? Really? Dang, some people will buy anything with a famous person's name on it, won't they?
All this attention created a mini-surge for Trump, who is now polling second among Republican candidates not only in Iowa and New Hampshire, but also nationwide. The other Republican candidates are, understandably, horrified by this development, because it means they're not going to be able to get away with just ignoring the ignorance coming out of Trump's mouth. Democrats, also understandably, are delighted to paint the entire Republican Party as marching in lockstep with Trump (since so many Republican candidates are so scared of refuting Trump, fearing a voter backlash).
And it's only July! We've got a whole lot more track for this crazy train to run down before we're done, folks....
Let's see, what else has been happening in the world of politics? Recreational marijuana is now legal in Oregon (although they've still got to get their regulatory act together to create a full legal marketplace for weed). This just in: the sky did not fall. In fact, the sky is also still intact over Washington, Colorado, Alaska, and the District of Columbia. Chicken Little was wrong again!
And finally, does your state have a monument to the Ten Commandments on the grounds of your statehouse? Well, maybe you can get a statue of Baphomet placed beside it! The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled this week that their state's Ten Commandments monument had to go, as it is clearly a governmental endorsement of religion. This stopped the secondary effort by the Satanic Temple to erect their own statue. As a spokesman put it:
The entire point of our effort was to offer a monument that would complement and contrast the Ten Commandments, reaffirming that we live in a nation that respects plurality, a nation that refuses to allow a single viewpoint to co-opt the power and authority of government institutions. Given the Court's ruling, [The Satanic Temple] no longer has any interest in pursuing placement of the Baphomet monument on Oklahoma's Capitol grounds.
The statue, naturally, has a "public-friendly design," which might become "an object of play for young children." But they went ahead and cast the statue and all, so now they're looking for another suitable place to put it. You know, right next to a Ten Commandments monument in some other state. As the spokesman put it: "Arkansas is looking rather appealing." If you'd like to see it grace your statehouse instead, now is the time to act! After all, if one religious monument is allowed, then constitutionally all religious monuments should be allowed.
We have two awards to hand out in the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week category. We feel justified in handing the award out twice, because it has been two weeks since our last column.
The first goes to President Barack Obama, since he (and his legacy) have had an amazing couple of weeks. There was his eulogy (and singing) at the funeral last week. There were the two big Supreme Court victories. There was the whole Confederate flag debate. And Obama won a big victory on trade from Congress.
All that should have been enough to qualify for a MIDOTW award right there. But that list still isn't complete. Obama also personally announced (in a Huffington Post column) a long-awaited decision on overtime pay, which will better the lives of an estimated five million workers. Obama will raise the bar for mandatory overtime pay from the low $20,000s to over $50,000. Anyone making less than this will now automatically be entitled to overtime pay for more than 40 hours of work a week -- whether they're called a "manager" or not. Either they'll get more free time or more money in their paycheck for the hard work they put in.
The White House has been teasing this change since January, it bears noting. In fact, just a little over a month ago, we gave him a Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award for stalling the announcement for so long (back in FTP ). Now, politically, maybe they were holding this rule change back for a moment when it would do Obama the most good -- like, perhaps, just after he's annoyed the Labor folks with a free-trade congressional victory? But whatever the timing and however long the wait, the change will be a monumental one for a whole lot of workers, and -- crucially -- Obama doesn't need to get it through Congress, which means it'll actually happen next year.
This week also saw the normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba and a promise by America and Cuba to exchange ambassadors and set up embassies. This is an enormous political achievement for Obama, and will be a big part of his legacy, even if it was kind of overwhelmed with all the other news Obama was making these last few weeks.
There were even minor news items to cheer about as well. The Department of the Interior announced it will not be taking any bid from the Washington [Racist Football Team Name] to redo Robert F. Kennedy stadium, until they change their name. Bully for them!
And in news which will have far-reaching impacts, the Obama administration announced they're scrapping a special review that all scientific marijuana research has had to go through before being approved. No other drug -- not even LSD or heroin or cocaine or crystal meth -- had to get a "Public Health Service" stamp of approval, but cannabis did. The only reason for this review was political -- essentially, to deny all studies of marijuana that didn't begin and end with the preconceived notion: "marijuana is bad... 'mmmkay?"
The White House released a downright stunning statement (compared to the entire history of the federal government and marijuana research):
Drug czar spokesman Mario Moreno Zepeda said, "The Obama Administration has actively supported scientific research on whether marijuana or its components can be safe and effective medicine. Eliminating the Public Health Service review should help facilitate additional research to advance our understanding of both the adverse effects and potential therapeutic uses for marijuana or its components."
Common sense seems to be breaking out all over the place!
In any case, add up all the events of the past two weeks and it's easy to see why President Obama deserves a Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week. Not surprisingly, his poll numbers are up as well. In the Real Clear Politics daily average, his job approval rating hit 46.5 percent -- the highest it has been in over two years.
But we've also got another MIDOTW award to hand out, because Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders is out there burning up the hustings. Now, some of this was kind of inevitable. The die-hard Elizabeth Warren supporters were eventually going to have to give up hope and attach themselves to another (actual) candidate. Plus, the longer Joe Biden goes without announcing, the smaller the chances he'll actually make a run for it. Even so, though, Bernie is rising noticeably in the polls. He hasn't polled better than Hillary Clinton yet, but he's coming within reach in New Hampshire and he's not too far out of reach in Iowa. None of the other Democrats running has even managed to break out of the single digits, so the race at this point is shaping up as a "Clinton v. Sanders" bout.
How long will it be, we wonder, before Hillary takes notice? Bernie has been drawing record crowds -- including the biggest campaign rally yet of any presidential candidate from either party, when Sanders got a capacity crowd of 10,000 in Madison, Wisconsin.
Sooner or later, the media is going to have to quit their snarky attitude towards Sanders and start taking his policy agenda items seriously. So is Hillary Clinton, for that matter. Because it's pretty obvious more and more voters are doing just that. The overwhelming consensus from all of them: "Bernie's the real deal."
For his Madison rally alone Bernie deserves his own Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Looks like the Sanders campaign will soon be scouting out bigger and bigger arenas for him to speak in!
It's hard to get too excited about any of the disappointing Democrats this week. We've got (Dis-)Honorable Mention awards for both New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, for engaging in a public spat that basically boiled down to: "You can't get anything done in Albany!" "No, you can't get anything done in Albany!" Sigh.
But we also have two Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards to hand out. The first goes to an old story in California, one which we recounted way back in FTP . State senator Leland Yee just pled guilty this week to gun-running, extortion, and accepting bribes while in office. Back then, we gave the MDDOTW award to the California state senate Democrats, who were dragging their feet on kicking out not just Lee but two other senators charged with serious crimes. But we went back and looked, and we hadn't actually given Yee himself an award, so we're kind of retroactively awarding it this week.
The second award is more timely, since it goes to newly-announced presidential candidate Jim Webb. Now, Webb used to be the senator from Virginia. And he had a long career in the military. Even so, when he jumped into the Confederate battle flag debate, the result was the wishy-washiest statement from any candidate to date -- and we include the Republicans in that. Here is what Webb had to say, on his Facebook page:
This is an emotional time and we all need to think through these issues with a care that recognizes the need for change but also respects the complicated history of the Civil War. The Confederate Battle Flag has wrongly been used for racist and other purposes in recent decades. It should not be used in any way as a political symbol that divides us.
But we should also remember that honorable Americans fought on both sides in the Civil War, including slave holders in the Union Army from states such as Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware, and that many non-slave holders fought for the South. It was in recognition of the character of soldiers on both sides that the federal government authorized the construction of the Confederate Memorial 100 years ago, on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery.
This is a time for us to come together, and to recognize once more that our complex multicultural society is founded on the principle of mutual respect.
Is Webb for official governmental recognition of the Confederate battle flag? It's impossible to tell, at least from this statement. Is he for it flying over statehouses? Hard to say, really. Does he personally approve of the flag or not? Who knows... maybe, and then again maybe not.
Running for president means showing leadership. Webb's flag response shows none. At best, it's a ham-handed "can't we all just get along," but at worst Webb is supporting those who are supporting the flag's continued use by state governments. This is nothing more than a politician talking out of both sides of his mouth, folks. He obviously wants to have it both ways, which at this point is pretty indefensible (or should be, for a Democratic presidential candidate).
Webb has no excuse, really. He won his Senate race against George "Macaca" Allen (remember him?), a man who wore a Confederate flag pin for his high school senior photo and also had Confederate flag plates on his car in high school -- in California, for Pete's sake (not exactly the Deep South). Allen's first statewide race (for Virginia governor) featured a television ad with the flag prominently displayed. He opposed a state holiday for Martin Luther King Jr., unless it was merged with a holiday to honor Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. While serving in the Senate himself (before Webb ran against him), Allen played the role of a Confederate officer in a movie. So it's not like Jim Webb is any stranger to the Confederate battle flag being smack dab in the middle of a political race.
For his mealy-mouthed response to the issue, and for showing not a scintilla of leadership, Jim Webb has more than earned his Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.
[Leland Yee is now a private citizen, and it is our policy not to provide contact information for anyone out of public office. While Jim Webb is a candidate running for president, he is also currently a private citizen, and our editorial policy also forbids linking to campaign websites, sorry.]
Volume 352 (7/3/15)
OK, since it's a holiday weekend already (meaning few people will likely read this far), we're going to get silly with the last four talking points. Normally we save one silly item for the last, but today we're just overwhelmed with silliness. The first three are serious and important issues for Democrats to speak out about, but from number four onwards, it's just a holiday lark.
Have a happy Fourth of July everyone, and don't burn your fingers on the grill (or, later, lighting fireworks). Happy birthday, America!
Five million paychecks
This is a big deal, despite getting kind of buried in all the other news that's been happening. So point it out!
"Next year, when the new rule goes into effect, an estimated five million middle-class workers will get a break. Instead of their employers demanding they essentially work many hours for free -- what has been called 'wage theft' -- everyone making up to $50,000 will be eligible for mandatory time-and-a-half overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours a week. There's a reason the Labor movement got the 40-hour workweek standard enacted, and that reason is to leave workers enough free time to spend with their own families. If they are required to work more, they should be justly compensated for giving up that free time. When the old standard was set, back in the 1970s, it covered over half of America's workers. But because the limit had not been changed in so long, it only now covers a tiny fraction of workers -- those making about $11 an hour or less. President Obama's new standard will cover at least 40 percent of all workers. This is good news for America, and great news for those five million families. If an employer wants a worker to put in a 60-hour workweek, then they should have to pay overtime. It's really that simple."
Civil rights don't end at the altar
What with the good news on the marriage equality front, many are assuming the battle is over. It's not.
"I call on all Democratic candidates for president -- indeed, I call on all Democrats -- to boldly stand up for adding the words 'sexual orientation' to federal civil rights laws. Any federal laws which have a list of 'race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender' should be changed to also include 'sexual orientation.' In far too many states, civil rights for gay people -- beyond the right to marriage -- simply do not exist. You can be fired in half of America's states for being gay. You can legally be discriminated against for housing. It's perfectly legal to do so, by state law. Now that we have achieved marriage equality, it is time to provide iron-clad civil rights guarantees to all gay Americans in every state. The best and fastest way to do so is to add 'sexual orientation' to all federal civil rights laws. It is the right thing to do, and I want to hear each and every presidential candidate make a firm promise to put this item near the top of their agenda. While celebrating the Supreme Court victory, it is important to remember that civil rights do not end at the altar."
Bernie's actually pretty mainstream
The press are finally being forced to notice Bernie. But they've got a long way to go, obviously.
"You know, I have to laugh whenever I see media stories about Bernie Sanders out on the campaign trail. And no, that doesn't mean I'm laughing at the lame jokes lazy journalists make about his hair or his rumpled suits. I'm laughing instead at the idiocy of the inside-the-Beltway attitude that Bernie is somehow 'extreme.' When you go down the list of policies Bernie's running on, you find that almost all his issues poll overwhelmingly well with the public at large. Mandatory vacation time for workers? Mandatory sick leave? Taking on Wall Street? Free college tuition? A $15 minimum wage? All poll with big majorities -- sometimes in the 60-to-80 percent range. How can issues that are popular with 60 or 70 percent of the public be seen as 'extreme' in any way? There's a word for such issues, and it's not 'extreme' it is in fact 'mainstream.' Bernie's pulling in the biggest crowds of anyone -- that's anyone, Democrat or Republican -- running for president. There are several reasons why this is the case, and the inside-the-Beltway journalists need to wake up and discover Bernie's mainstream agenda for what it truly is."
A divine sense of humor
Just to remind everyone, this is where the silliness begins. The following was a reaction from Paul Begala (Clinton consultant from way back) on the news that Donald Trump is doing so well. Best Trump reaction we've seen yet!
I am a person of faith -- and The Donald's entry into this race can only be attributed to the fact that the good Lord is a Democrat with a sense of humor.
Twirling, always twirling
Ted Cruz, as noted earlier, put out a funny video this week. It would be an act of downright political malpractice if no Republican running against him ever uses this in an attack ad. Context: Cruz is actually quoting Kodos and Kang, the aliens from The Simpsons, from the "Treehouse of Horror" episode where they throw the Clinton/Dole presidential election. Even so, the funniest part (and the reason other Republicans should really use the clip) is that Cruz actually does perform a twirl, while reciting the quote:
"Forwards, not backwards! Upwards not downwards! And always twirling, twirling for freedom!"
Kumbaya moment, with dip
This one is too funny.
"I see that President Obama and Jeb Bush actually strongly agree on one thing. Yes, it is comforting to know that even political rivals from across the aisle can join together in standing up for all that is good and right in the world. While Democrats and Republicans, and Bush and Obama in particular, can disagree about practically everything under the sun, it's good to know that both Jeb and Barack draw the line at the bizarre notion of putting peas in guacamole."
Won't you please come to Chicago
And, finally, this one is personal.
"Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in his dissent in the marriage equality case, told us all to, quote, 'ask the nearest hippie' what they think about marriage. Well, I can think of no better weekend for Scalia to do just that, and I invite him to travel to Chicago and mingle with the crowds at the final Grateful Dead shows ever. There will be roughly 60,000 hippies in one place, so Scalia shouldn't have any problem finding the 'nearest' one. From a relevant song (from another band of the era), I quote: 'Somehow people must be free/I hope the day comes soon/Won't you please come to Chicago/Show your face.' C'mon, Antonin -- if you want to talk to some hippies, this is your best chance!"
-- Chris Weigant