We'll get to that "WWRRD?" question at the end, I promise. But instead, I'd like to start off way out in space, if you don't mind. Just a little personal rant, to open with today. I invite you all to join me as I "space out" (so to speak).
To begin with, in space news, the fourth moon of Pluto was discovered this week. That's pretty exciting, right?
The bigger space news this week, sadly, was not that exciting. The final space shuttle mission just ended. Although I didn't see it specifically, a newspaper headline-writer with a sense of irony would have set the story under: "The Shuttle Has Landed." Because this week also saw an anniversary of import to the discussion -- 42 years ago this Wednesday, Neil Armstrong radioed back to Houston the immortal phrase: "The Eagle has landed," marking the first safe landing on Earth's natural satellite by the human species.
Of course, Armstrong slightly flubbed his much bigger line, later... but history has been kind to him on that regard. What Armstrong actually said when he set foot (or, his space-boot, to be more accurate) on the moon was: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." He forgot the indefinite article before "man" -- but it was later inserted for him by history, and his words will live forever (even the one he didn't actually say) as: "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."
Boy, those were the days, weren't they? Since then, America went back to the moon repeatedly, then designed a "space truck" to shuttle loads up to Earth orbit, and proceeded to use it to build the International Space Station. But then we stopped. We stopped reaching, and we stopped planning for the next step. Call it the ultimate bridge to nowhere. So, this week, our space shuttle program ended with the final landing in Florida.
That's kind of a shame, because we now have accomplished the "hard" part of further exploration -- and exploitation -- of space. Ask anyone who knows physics -- the tough part of any voyage into space is getting out of the deep "gravity well" on Earth. Once you've accomplished this, getting to the moon (or even Mars) becomes a lot easier to do. But without the space shuttle, it all just got a lot harder.
The easy way to fly to the moon (as opposed to the Apollo program, for instance) is to do it in at least two stages, with two separately-designed ships. The first would get up out of Earth's gravity, and then the second would get from orbit to the moon. We've already got the space station, so the hard part is done. Building a ship to get from the space station to the moon and back would actually be relatively easy -- because it would not require a gigantic rocketship underneath of it. Also, because aerodynamics are not even an issue. The first movie which ever took science fiction seriously showed how this would work (anyone who hasn't seen it should immediately rent or buy 2001: A Space Odyssey)... to the lilting tune of The Blue Danube.
If you were designing a ship for the orbit-to-moon segment of the trip, you could build this ship without having to worry about getting through an atmosphere. Because it wouldn't need giant rockets, it could be relatively small (watch film of the Apollo landers taking off from the moon to see what I mean). The moon's gravity is a lot easier to escape than Earth's, because the moon itself is a lot smaller than Earth. Build a few of these orbit-to-moon ships, and you could start shuttling the equipment needed to set up a permanent base on the surface. It wouldn't be all that technologically challenging to do so, given the state of the art today.
What it would need would be political will, and money.
To put that last in perspective, NASA's budget is about $19 billion. The Pentagon's budget is almost 35 times as big. We've certainly got our priorities straight, don't we? Sigh.
But to build a moonship in orbit (or even more ambitiously, a Marsship), you've got to have a sturdy Earth-launch vehicle which can get the parts up there easily. A space truck, in other words, with a giant bay to carry up those parts. Like the one we just grounded forever.
The whole thing is rather depressing, truth be told. I mean, the space shuttle certainly needed upgrading, and we should have spent the last decade working on "Shuttle II," but we missed that opportunity, too.
Our next launch vehicle may even be from a private venture. Perhaps that's the future of space travel -- private companies putting up the money, and then recouping their investment with a brand new space-tourism industry. This is already starting to take shape, but so far it has done so in baby steps. But I can't help but wonder -- maybe Richard Branson would be interested in opening the first hotel on the moon? VirginLuna, anyone? What do you think you could charge for a weekend in a Virgin Tranquility Base Hotel? You might even say you could "charge the moon" for it.
To bring this back to our theme this week (in an admittedly ham-handed segue), even Ronald Reagan had dreams about space -- and, no, I'm not talking about his "Star Wars" missile defense system nightmare. Reagan tried to get a project going (with one of those "within a decade" speeches) for a ballistic "space plane" that would have cut worldwide travel times beyond even what the Concorde could accomplish ("Washington to Tokyo in two hours"). It never got adequately funded, and died on the vine.
Sigh. Doesn't anyone read science fiction as a kid anymore? We can do this stuff if we try, folks.
We've got to at least give Elizabeth Warren a nod, here. The outgoing acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau certainly deserves at least an Honorable Mention this week. Warren conceived of the bureau in the first place, and has spent the last year (the law which created the C.F.P.B. just had its first anniversary this week) setting it up and getting it going, all the while facing the arrows and slings of outrageous (and outrageously fortunate) bankers. Warren was the perfect choice to set up this agency, and we wish her well in her future pursuits, among which may be a run for Teddy Kennedy's old Senate seat in Massachusetts. More on the Warren situation in a moment, though.
Also deserving of an Honorable Mention this week are Leon Panetta and Barack Obama, who both just hammered in the last nails on the coffin of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The new Secretary of Defense and the president both certified that the Pentagon is now ready (or will be in 60 days, more accurately) to begin admitting openly-gay members of our armed forces. While this is indeed a momentous day, as we mentioned today's actions were no more than checking the box of the last item on the list of things which had to happen before DADT finally goes away, meaning they'll have to settle for Honorable Mentions.
Because this week, none other than Senator Dianne Feinstein wins the coveted Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Feinstein held hearings this week on getting rid of the other odious federal anti-gay policy, the Defense Of Marriage Act. She also introduced a bill in the Senate to wipe DOMA off the books.
Of course, she knows it is simply not going to pass the Republican House. It may, in fact, not even pass the Senate this year. But that doesn't mean it isn't worth pushing. DOMA is going to cause all sorts of unnecessary complications with dropping DADT in the military, and it is flat-out unconstitutional on the face of it. DOMA may actually be overturned through the courts, but that certainly isn't any sort of reason for Democrats in Congress to stop trying to get rid of it legislatively.
Senator Feinstein is taking the lead in this fight right now, and for doing so she certainly deserves the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Keep fighting the good fight, DiFi!
[Congratulate Senator Dianne Feinstein on her Senate contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]
Before we get to the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award, we've got to hand out a (Dis-)Honorable Mention to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Because Reid tried to pull a political stunt, only to "take it back" within a day or so.
Reid announced earlier this week that the Senate was going to stay in session -- including weekends -- until the debt ceiling debate was concluded. This is somewhat of a gimmick, since they can't do much of anything until a deal is struck over at the White House, but it's a good gimmick as far as I'm concerned. Let the American people see you guys hard at work! I'm sure there are plenty of other things you could be doing in the meantime, while waiting for the debt ceiling bill, right?
Reid then doubled down on the gimmick, by taunting the House of Representatives for ignoring his gimmick and deciding to go home this weekend. Reid essentially called the House slackers for not working through the weekend.
Today, Reid humbly announced that the Senate was going home this weekend, after all. It seems that there may be some spending issues in the debt ceiling deal, and all spending bills must originate in the House, so the Senate can't do anything until the House acts. Since the House was going home, the Senate might as well call it a day and pack it in.
This is pathetic. I mean, I know the whole thing was a gimmick in the first place, but still, it's not exactly "Give 'em Hell, Harry!" type of stuff, is it?
But the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week is President Barack Obama. Not for all those rumors about what he's been willing to deal away in the debt ceiling debate. Rumors don't earn you a MDDOTW.
Instead -- fairly or not -- President Obama disappointed a lot of Democrats this week by not nominating Elizabeth Warren to be the first official head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Instead, Obama named one of her deputies, Richard Cordray to head the agency as it was officially "born" this week.
Now, as we said, the howls of betrayal from the Left over Warren not being nominated may be fair, and then again they may not. The rumor mill immediately began speculating over Warren's possible bid to defeat Scott Brown and retake Ted Kennedy's Senate seat for Democrats. If Warren is planning on doing so, it would seem likely that she herself told Obama not to name her. Warren herself wrote a pretty glowing public recommendation for Cordray this week, so you've got to wonder.
On the other hand, almost all (44) of the Senate Republicans have signed a letter which states in no uncertain terms that they will block any nomination to this agency, which they hate on general principles (more on this in the talking points). The rationale for not naming Warren was always that she was "unconfirmable" in the Senate -- but the Republicans are saying nobody is going to be confirmable. Which means that Barack Obama is going to be forced to name Cordray in a recess appointment -- most likely in August, after Congress takes off for a month. And, this thinking goes, if he's going to have to recess-appoint someone anyway, why not Warren herself?
Well, we'll see whether Warren jumps in the Senate race or not. If she does, than the rap Obama's been getting all week from the Left may not have been justified. If she doesn't, then maybe he deserves the liberal wrath he's been getting.
Either way -- rightly or wrongly -- by sheer volume, President Obama disappointed more folks out there than any other Democrat this week. Which earns him his fourteenth MDDOTW.
[Contact President Barack Obama on the White House contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 174 (7/22/11)
We're going to have a non-standard format this week for the talking points. Instead of our usual seven snippets of ways to advance the Democratic argument (and shoot down the Republican nonsense), we're only going to have three items this week, and (strictly speaking) only one of them is really a talking point.
First off, we're going to have an image, rather than a talking point, and the story which goes with it. Secondly, we're going to have a mini-rant which should have enough talking points contained within it to keep the FTP traditionalists happy, who are looking for their weekly fix of "Political (Democratic) Framing 101." Thirdly, we're going to hoist Republicans on the Ronald Reagan skewer, as promised.
So, while it may be a little out of the ordinary for us, we hope you'll enjoy this week's talking points.
Stand with the Lady!
Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Allen West are having a spat. DWS (as we have always liked to call her here) set off West by saying the following about him on the House floor (they're both House representatives from Florida; West actually lives in DWS's district):
The gentleman from Florida, who represents thousands of Medicare beneficiaries, as do I, is supportive of this plan that would increase costs for Medicare beneficiaries. Unbelievable from a member from south Florida.
This doesn't actually sound that bad, but it is reportedly what ticked West off. He then sent an outraged email to DWS (and the leadership he mentions it in, as well). Here is the full text of the email:
Look, Debbie, I understand that after I departed the House floor you directed your floor speech comments directly towards me. Let me make myself perfectly clear, you want a personal fight, I am happy to oblige. You are the most vile, unprofessional, and despicable member of the US House of Representatives. If you have something to say to me, stop being a coward and say it to my face, otherwise, shut the heck up. Focus on your own congressional district!
I am bringing your actions today to our Majority Leader and Majority Whip and from this time forward, understand that I shall defend myself forthright against your heinous characterless behavior......which dates back to the disgusting protest you ordered at my campaign hqs, October 2010 in Deerfield Beach.
You have proven repeatedly that you are not a Lady, therefore, shall not be afforded due respect from me!
Steadfast and Loyal
Congressman Allen B West (R-FL)
You've got to love that "Steadfast and Loyal" sign-off.
Anyway, the email got leaked to the media (obviously), and ever since the two have been making all the political hay they can over the incident. While the terms "heinous, vile, despicable, coward, and disgusting" certainly are offensive, the focus from the Democratic side has been more on the "you are not a Lady" bit.
Congressman Bruce Braley from Iowa was the most clever in his reaction, though. His office had buttons printed up which are now being worn on the House floor by many Democrats. Here is a picture of the button, which speaks for itself (photo provided by Braley's office):
GOP is anti-consumer and pro-Wall Street
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a Democratic success story. In the face of Republican obstructionism, the bureau was created as a part of the Dodd/Frank bill last year. This week, the C.F.P.B. finally came into being officially.
What has always astounded me, however, is that Democrats don't toot their own horn on this issue, every chance they get. The bureau itself (and the rest of the Dodd/Frank financial reforms, for that matter) have been under heavy attack from Republicans both while the bill was being fought and ever since Democrats managed to pass it. This is a perfect issue for Democrats to point out to the voters, especially heading into an election season. It is one of the few Democratic issues which lends itself to oversimplification. Which makes it perfect for talking points. Rather than list a whole bunch of tiny talking points, though, I thought I'd just roll them all into one, here.
"The C.F.P.B., or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is a perfect example of the difference between Democrats and Republicans. The C.F.P.B. was a Democratic idea, and it has been fought by Republicans from Day One. The idea behind the C.F.P.B. is a simple one -- the American public shouldn't have more consumer protection when buying a toaster than they do when they sign a mortgage or credit card agreement. That's it in a nutshell. The same way a toaster manufacturer has to follow basic safety rules so that their toaster doesn't burn down your house when you buy it, the big banks on Wall Street should have to only offer safe financial products as well. I remind you, when left to their own devices, the Wall Street bankers caused the economy to collapse.
"So Democrats decided to make things a little better for the consumer, instead of always allowing Americans to be at the bankers' mercy. The C.F.P.B. will mean that all mortgages will be a lot easier to understand. It will mean no more pages and pages of fine print on a credit card agreement, with hidden fees and costs to the consumer. Wouldn't you like it if every credit card agreement had to be only one or two pages long? That's what the C.F.P.B. will do for every American.
"The C.F.P.B. will, to put it another way, be fighting for the consumer. Democrats think the big banks on Wall Street dictate enough of what the federal government does already, and so we set up this tiny corner of the government to be on the side of the little guy for once, instead of always being on the side of making life easier for the fatcat bankers to rip everyone off. That's not so hard to understand, is it?
"Throughout all of this, Republicans fought us tooth and nail, every step of the way. They're still fighting. This week, on the anniversary of the law setting up the C.F.P.B., the Republican House passed a bill that would gut the bureau's power. Democrats are not going to let them get away with this, though, because we'll be fighting the Republicans every step of the way as they try to dismantle the only government agency looking out for consumers instead of the banks.
"Why are the Republicans so pro-bank? Well, they've always been pro-bank. Why are they so anti-consumer? Well, when the big banks on Wall Street phone up their Republican cronies in office and tell them what to do, then the Republicans follow their marching orders.
"Democrats are fighting for you -- the little guy -- in this fight. Republicans are fighting for Wall Street to continue the same crooked practices which got us into the whole mess a few years ago. Democrats are pro-consumer, and Republicans are pro-bank. It's really that easy to understand."
And finally today, we ask the question "What Would Ronald Reagan Do?" as we have been promising all along. This is my sole contribution to the Kabuki theater which is the debt ceiling debate this week, and I can't even claim I dug it up on my own.
It was actually the Progressive Democrats in the House which were pushing this all week long, and they've got an excellent point.
Since the Republican Party now worships at the altar of "Saint Ronald of Reagan," it's always fun to set them back on their heels by pointing out the hard, cold fact that Ronald Reagan would simply not be acceptable to the Republican Party as it stands today. The Tea Party's influence capped a long trend in the GOP of becoming more and more ideological and less and less willing to get anything done by compromise. Reagan himself was never that hardline, though. Reagan raised taxes multiple times, for instance. And Reagan found himself in the same position on raising the debt ceiling which Barack Obama now occupies, a total of eighteen times during his presidency. And, in each of them, he did exactly what Obama is now doing -- asked for the debt limit to be increased. You can even hear the Gipper himself, in a weekly radio address, begging Congress to up the debt ceiling.
Any Democratic politician who is being interviewed on national media this week should have a copy of the following letter, sent by Reagan to Howard Baker (Senate Majority Leader, at the time). Rub this in Republicans' faces, every chance you get. Helpfully point out that all Republican House members already have a copy of the letter, since the Progressive Caucus hand-delivered them earlier this week.
Preface your reading of the letter, of course, by asking Republicans "What would Ronald Reagan Do?" just to drive the point home.
This letter is to ask for your help and support, and that of your colleagues, in the passage of an increase in the limit on the public debt.
As Secretary Regan has told you, the Treasury's cash balances have reached a dangerously low point. Henceforth, the Treasury Department cannot guarantee that the Federal Government will have sufficient cash on any one day to meet all of its mandated expenses, and thus the United States could be forced to default on its obligations for the first time in its history.
This country now possesses the strongest credit in the world. The full consequences of a default or even the serious prospect of default by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate. Denigration of the full faith and credit of the United States would have substantial effects on the domestic financial markets and on the value of the dollar in exchange markets. The Nation can ill afford to allow such a result. The risks, the cost, the disruptions, and the incalculable damage lead me to but one conclusion: the Senate must pass this legislation before the Congress adjourns.
I want to thank you for your immediate attention to this urgent problem and for your assistance in passing an extension of the debt ceiling.
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