Happy Friday the 13th, everyone! It's even a double dose of triskaidekaphobia today, landing in 2013 as it does. Superstitious people, be careful today!
One more bit of minor calendar news before we get on with it: for the next two weeks, this column will be on hiatus. Instead, it will be pre-empted by our annual awards columns where we note the notable and laud the laudable from the past year. If you've got suggestions, feel free to post them on my site, where I"ve provided a handy (and extensive!) list of the categories, for your easy reference.
Let's take a quick look back at the week that was, which was actually chock full of political news. We'll begin in outer space and end up with amusing holiday news, so buckle your seatbelts, it's going to be a fast ride this week. So fast that we're not even going to explain the column's title until you reach the talking points at the end, just to warn you. Ready? OK, here we go...
In the race for a Senate seat in Hawai'i, George Takei -- otherwise known as Star Trek's "Sulu" -- has endorsed Colleen Hanabusa. Make of that what you will. President Obama got a bit spacey this week as well, while giving a Kennedy Center award to Shirley MacLaine. Obama quipped, for the occasion: "When you first become president, one of the questions that people ask you is, 'What's really going on in Area 51?' When I wanted to know, I'd call Shirley MacLaine." He followed this up with: "I think I just became the first president to ever publicly mention Area 51."
Hey, I warned you we were starting in outer space! Heh.
In spacey news (as opposed to news from outer space), Uruguay became the first country to just outright legalize marijuana. Closer to home, residents of Denver were pleasantly surprised when a local ordinance to ban marijuana smoking on private property visible by the public (your front porch, in other words) failed in the city council. The vote was 10-3 against, when earlier it was seen as likely passing by at least a 7-5 margin, so maybe popular opinion had something to do with that, eh?
President Obama had a pretty good week (if you don't count the guy waving his arms around meaninglessly next to him at Nelson Mandela's funeral, which wasn't really Obama's fault). Granted, PolitiFact did give him their "Lie Of The Year" award for that whole "you can keep your health insurance" thing, but that was a pretty foregone conclusion at this point. But the big news on the Obamacare front was that the website continues to work and people are signing up in much bigger numbers. We won't know December's numbers until next month, but the November numbers were released and they were a lot better than October's, that's for sure. But the main good news this week for Obama was that America didn't see night after night of news stories prominently featuring an error message page from the Obamacare website -- which is already making an impact, as Obama's job approval polling numbers seem to have turned around and are now heading upwards. So, all in all, a fairly good week for Obama.
A budget bill emerged from negotiations between Patty Murray (for the Senate Democrats) and Paul Ryan (for the House Republicans), which will postpone some of the budget nonsense for almost two years. This sounds like a good thing, but I have my doubts (which I aired earlier this week, if you're interested). The Senate Republicans are in a snit over that whole "nuclear option" thing, but Harry Reid fought back against their petty obstructionism by just holding 'round-the-clock sessions. "You want to pointlessly waste time? Fine -- we'll just do so in the middle of the night, how's that?" was the message Harry delivered. This should mean the other two nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court will be approved before they all go home for the holidays.
Speaking of holidays, atheists are having some fun this holiday season. In Florida (and also, apparently, Wisconsin), they have successfully navigated the red tape and have erected on public property (among all the other more well-known holiday displays) a Festivus pole. Some guy thought it'd be a hoot to make one out of empty beer cans, which is just downright hilarious. More power to him! Governments basically have two valid constitutional choices about religious displays on government property: allow all of them, or none of them. What they cannot do is to pick and choose. While Festivus pole displays are certainly amusing, what is even more provocative is a group of Satanists who are attempting to erect a permanent Satanist monument in Oklahoma, because they already have a Ten Commandments display. That whole "It's a good idea for religion to invade the public square" thing sure seems different when the shoe's on the other foot, doesn't it?
Let the "airing of grievances" begin! Happy holidays, everyone!
Senator Patty Murray's budget deal with Paul Ryan was impressive for being struck before the eleventh hour, but that's about it, really. There are plenty of reasons the budget itself isn't all that impressive, so we just can't see handing out an award for what is, essentially, doing her job. She's been honestly trying to reach this deal since April, so it's not really her fault it's late -- but it's also nothing to cheer about at this point.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau just did something impressive, as well, but then overseeing the banks and heavily fining them when they transgress is, once again, the whole purpose of the C.F.P.B. in the first place. Just doing their jobs, as cop on the beat, but worth at least mentioning here.
This week, however, we have to admit that the choice for Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week was fairly obvious, even if somewhat overly sentimental. Hey, 'tis the season and all of that, right?
This week, Senator Bob Menendez proposed his hand in marriage to Alicia Mucci, in the rotunda of the United States Capitol. That's pretty downright romantic, at least to the politically wonky. For such a wonderful gesture in such a historic setting, Menendez wins this week's MIDOTW award, and also our sincere wishes for all the happiness in the world for the couple.
[Congratulate Senator Bob Menendez (and his new fiancée) on his Senate contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
Former San Diego mayor Bob Filner was sentenced this week for his grab-assing ways, but we'd prefer to just forget all about him, personally. Part of his sentence is being barred from politics in the future, so that's at least something.
Democrats can also breathe a sigh of relief that the senator dealing with a chief of staff who was apparently into child porn is a Republican.
The "most disappointed" Democrat this week may have been Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, as her plan to deal with sexual assault in the military failed to make it into the big Pentagon bill. But she isn't giving up this particular fight, so the idea may re-emerge later.
But, with an eye to the 2014 midterms, we have to give Pete Festersen the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award, for -- mere weeks after announcing his run for a House seat from Nebraska -- announcing that he won't be running after all. This is somewhat bizarre, since it is such a quick turnaround in such a short period of time. He was considered a strong candidate, and Democrats are going to need every strong candidate they can recruit if they have any prayer of taking back the House next year.
So, for jumping in the race and then almost immediately jumping back out again, Omaha City Council President Pete Festersen is our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.
[Contact Omaha Councilmember Pete Festersen on his official contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 285 (12/13/13)
This week's talking points start out with the budget deal, segue into the Republican Civil War, and end up with a few other subjects worth discussing in the upcoming week. As always, these are provided for Democrats to use everywhere in political discussion, from the workplace watercooler to the Sunday morning political chatfests.
Also, don't forget, this will be the last Friday Talking Point column of 2013 (as we will be presenting awards for the next two weeks), so we'll see you all next year, folks!
Only five months late!
This first one is a little annoying, if only because it shows how far from normal operations Congress has truly moved. And, of course, which side is responsible -- a point Democrats should loudly be making, right about now.
"You know, to hear the pundits speak, it is some sort of Festivus miracle that Republicans and Democrats came to a budget agreement this week. While it will avoid the second government shutdown of the year, it's really not all that impressive when you consider that we should have had this deal in roughly July. In April, Paul Ryan joined with Patty Murray to call for a conference committee on the budget. One week later Ryan did an about-face on 'regular order' and decided that Republicans shouldn't even appoint such a conference committee. From April right up until Republicans shut down the government in October, the Senate tried to name such a committee and were filibustered by Republicans a total of nineteen times. The budget deal which emerged this week isn't that extraordinary -- it could easily have been worked out on time, say before the August recess. The fact that that didn't happen is entirely the fault of Republicans, who did everything they could to block even the formation of such a committee -- in both houses of Congress. When you look at the bigger picture, it's pretty obvious which side has been trying to get this deal for a long time, and which side hasn't."
A handy map of holiday misery
Some staffer deserves a raise for this one.
"The biggest complaint Democrats have with the budget deal is that it cuts off over a million people depending on unemployment benefits, and does so at the cruelest time of year, in the midst of the holidays. The Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee have helpfully provided an interactive map, which you can use to see exactly how many people will be adversely affected by this, state by state. I would encourage the media to make heavy use of this map, when interviewing Republicans who refused to extend unemployment benefits for their own constituents, because you can see how many of them there are in every state. Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grinch have nothing on these people, and this map shows how painful this reality is soon going to be for so many."
Which side are you on?
The budget agreement did have one positive effect for Democrats, however.
"It seems to be open civil war on the Republican side these days, after the budget agreement which was just reached. Speaker John Boehner seems downright angry at one wing of his own party, in fact, which he made crystal clear this week. Republicans seem to be choosing sides right now in the battle between the Tea Partiers and the Establishment Republican faction. The media, when interviewing any Republican in the foreseeable future should begin by asking 'which side are you on?' in this intraparty schism. This fight is getting ugly, folks, and it looks like it's only going to get uglier throughout the Republican primary season. So it will be essential to know which side people are on, and which faction they are following. The voters deserve to know."
What kind of sandwich?
This is the equivalent of standing in a schoolyard and yelling "Fight! Fight!" when two adolescent boys are exchanging blows. But you know what? That really doesn't bother us all that much.
"In fact, it's hard to keep track of the heavyweight bouts without a scorecard in the Tea Party/Establishment Republican boxing extravaganza. I see a top Tea Party aide was fired this week in the House, and watching John Boehner channel Howard Beale in sheer frustration is also amusing as all get out. But I have to say the most enjoyable quote of the week came from staunch House Tea Partier Tim Huelskamp, whom Boehner purged from the House budget committee last year. Speaking of Boehner, Huelskamp said, and I quote: 'The Speaker is usually one to call a crap sandwich a crap sandwich. He used a different word for that, I think, in which -- I do not care to use that language.' Sandwiches aside, the... um... crap seems to have truly hit the fan over in Republicanland."
Please, more Christine O'Donnells!
This one is just pure snark. So be it.
"As a Democrat, I heartily encourage the Republican Party -- both factions -- to spend lots and lots and lots of money during primary season. I think it gives a boost to the American economy when Republicans fight other Republicans for the nomination to run for Congress, in fact. So I'm very optimistic that all the millions of dollars that will be spent in the next few months for these Republican-on-Republican fights are a dandy sort of stimulus for sign-makers, robocallers, and also local television and radio stations. So, please, Republicans -- spend as much as you possibly can on the primaries next year! You'll be giving the American economy a shot in the arm by doing so. Nothing more patriotic than that, is there? Of course, what Democrats are really asking Santa for right about now is not just a brutal Republican primary season, but for multiple Republicans to win their party's nomination who are just like Christine O'Donnell and Todd Akin."
1.2 million people
Obamacare numbers are just going to keep getting better and better. We won't have another set of data until early January, so make the best of the numbers we've got for now.
"The entire idea of the Affordable Care Act was to get more Americans insured. Even with the website failures in the first two months, Obamacare has now helped over a million people who have either enrolled in private insurance or signed up for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program. That is 1.2 million Americans who will be covered, starting next year. While this number isn't large enough yet, this data doesn't include people who have signed up since the website was fixed, so it's only going to grow over time. But already -- even with all the problems -- Obamacare has helped 1.2 million people."
War On Women continues
Just learning how to talk to women isn't enough, guys. Here's one prime reason why.
"A week ago, prominent Republicans were in the news for holding meetings teaching their fellow Republicans 'how to talk to women.' This is part of their 'rebranding' effort, and is designed to make them appear more palatable to this important demographic group. Democrats aren't exactly worried that Republicans will be making many inroads among women voters, though, because while Republicans are going to school on 'how to talk to women,' other Republicans continue to man (pun intended) the barricades in their ongoing War On Women. In Michigan, women will now have to purchase separate 'rape insurance' because the wise old men of the Republican Party have decided what is appropriate women's health insurance in their state. Democrats are going to keep increasing their share of the women's vote, because Republicans can try to sugar-coat their anti-woman policies all they want, but women voters are just not that stupid."
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