Before we begin, our sincere condolences to the George W. Bush family for the loss of former White House pet Miss Beazley, who died this week. As always, we are strictly non-partisan in our love for "First Dogs" and "First Cats," because we feel the president's (any president's) humanity can only be improved by having a pet to play with on occasion (the photo of Bush with Miss Beazley which accompanies that article shows exactly what we're talking about). As Harry Truman famously put it: "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog." Our thoughts are with the Bush family in their time of loss.
OK, on to the more partisan slant on this week's news. We can even begin with a fairly non-partisan attack, on pretty much the entire Washington political class as well as all the media (excepting the Washington Post) for completely ignoring a story about Northrop Grumman overcharging the taxpayers to the tune of $100 million. While prominently reported by the Post, the story was quickly ignored by just about everyone else. Which is a travesty, really. The contract in question was for counter-narcoterrorism, ironically (since we complain about "corruption" in all those other countries so often), and included one employee who billed $176,900 for 1,208 hours in a 12-day period. In other words, more than 100 hours per day. To fight all those corrupt regimes down south, it is assumed. Still waiting for a congressional committee to be announced to look into this, but I'm not exactly holding my breath.
Nancy Pelosi named the five Democratic House members who will sit on the Benghazi committee this week (Elijah Cummings, Adam Smith, Adam Schiff, Linda Sanchez, and Tammy Duckworth). While Alan Grayson had previously expressed an interest, Cummings is the logical choice for the ranking member, since he's been such a burr in the side of Darrell Issa and already knows the material that will be discussed (all five members have served on committees which have previously investigated the matter, in fact).
Republican Alan West greeted this announcement by questioning Tammy Duckworth's "loyalties," a classy move if ever there was one. Let's take a look at their respective military records, shall we? Duckworth: one of first women to fly combat missions for the Army, helicopter hit by RPG, helicopter landed with Duckworth's help even though she sustained injuries which led to both legs and an arm being amputated. West: forced to resign to avoid a court martial for beating up and then firing a gun next to the head of an Iraqi detainee under his custody. 'Nuff said.
Speaking of Benghazi, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wrote an eye-opening look at the difference in the way two tragedies were treated by the president's opposition party. His comparison of Benghazi and the barracks bombing in Beirut is well worth a read (example: Ronald Reagan's response to questions as to why the Marines didn't have ammo or protective barriers in place was: "Anyone who ever had a kitchen done over knows that it never gets done as soon as you wish it would be").
Gay marriage is becoming legal in so many states, it's hard to keep up these days. As federal court after federal court strikes down laws against marriage equality, some (such as Pennsylvania's Republican governor) have realized it's a losing battle and thrown in the rainbow-colored towel, while others (such as Utah's Republican governor) are still warning of impending anarchy. For those keeping track: 19 states and D.C. now have full marriage equality. This week, that is. Stay tuned.
Fifty United States senators have signed a letter to the National Football League calling for the Washington [Ethnic Slurs] football team to change their name. No Republicans signed the letter, which was circulated among Democrats only (to be fair). The NFL punted (so to speak), in the midst of all their other current scandals and lawsuits.
John Conyers first lost his bid to have his name on the ballot, and then (late today) it was announced that he had won in federal court, and his name would be back on the ballot. Even if Conyers had lost his legal bid, it's a fair bet he would have handily won as a write-in candidate, since his constituents so strongly support him.
In marijuana news, a man in Texas is facing a sentence of life in jail for selling pot brownies. Because they don't weigh the illegal chemical, they weigh the whole brownie. An effort is underway to pressure Congress to change some of this problem by passing the Smart Sentencing Act, in the form of a "Dancing on the Ashes of the Drug War" video, complete with a tool you can use to send a letter supporting the bill to your members of Congress. And Kentucky has (astonishingly) quickly gotten the feds to back down on industrial hemp, and the package of hemp seeds which had been confiscated finally got delivered.
F.B.I. Director James Comey seemed to be saying that his agency was softening their stance on "not hiring anyone who has used marijuana within the last three years," in order to recruit the best and smartest computer experts in their war on cybercrime. Comey was quoted saying "I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cyber criminals and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview," but then he had to quickly walk this back, stating he had only been trying to be funny in the interview. Which means, as an upshot, that the War On Drugs is more crucial than hiring the best people to prevent hackers from attacking the United States. J. Edgar Hoover would be proud of this "purist" attitude, one can safely assume.
And finally, Barack Obama was scheduled to make the announcement that he had created America's newest National Monument in New Mexico (the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument). Being a nice day, the president decided to walk over, across the Ellipse. Along the way he chatted with tourists and posed for a photo or two. But we have to speculate on what his Secret Service code name must be, since he commented about the excursion: "It's good to be out. The bear is loose." The bear? Really? Well, we hope that's what he said, because at least one man seems to have now interpreted it as "bare."
According to one 18-year-old in Connecticut, Vice President Joe Biden deserves an award for being the "most delightful man in America." She wrote this to Biden in a letter asking him to be her prom date. Biden (wisely) declined, but did send a personal note and a red-white-and-blue corsage to the young woman, and invited her to the White House. This excellent response deserves at least an Honorable Mention, we have to say.
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper deserves at least an Honorable Mention this week as well, for signing a bill which will allow the state to spend $10 million on medical marijuana research. This makes perfect sense, given their new state laws, but Hickenlooper has so far been rather reluctant to get behind the pro-marijuana movement in his state, so we have to applaud him for signing the new bill into law.
But the winner of the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award is none other than President Obama's new nominee for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro.
I've seen Castro speak, at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, and he was impressive indeed (as is his twin brother Joaquín, who serves in the House of Representatives). Julián Castro was named to the job not because he gives a good speech, though, but because of his impressive record on housing within his own city.
To jump from a city mayor's office to the presidential cabinet is an impressive career move, we have to say. Many expect Castro to climb even higher in politics, and he is now being mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate. That's a pretty impressive week, we have to admit, so we hereby award the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week to the new nominee for H.U.D. secretary, Julián Castro.
[Congratulate Mayor Julián Castro on his official contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
There has been a scandal growing at the Veterans Administration, but up until now we have not commented on it nor handed out MDDOTW awards. There's a reason for this, and the reason is that we're waiting for the report to come out specifying the scope and depth of the problems at V.A. hospitals across the country. This report is expected as early as next week, so we don't have much longer to wait.
President Obama publicly commented on the scandal this week, but according to some pundits, he didn't show enough anger. This has been a continuing theme his entire presidency, as the press really really would like him to yell and scream on such occasions. Don't believe me? Here is what Chuck Reid of CBS News asked the president during a 2010 press conference on the BP oil spill crisis:
"You said earlier that the president is enraged. Is he enraged at BP specifically?"
"Frustration and rage are very different emotions, though. I haven't -- have we really seen rage from the president on this? I think most people would say no."
"Can you describe it? Does he yell and scream? What does he do?"
Dana Milbank of the Washington Post continues this tradition this week, calling for more anger from President Obama.
Calls for the head of the V.A. to resign or be fired have come from all corners, as time goes by. But Obama's been wrong in the past to force people out at the drop of a hat (see: Shirley Sherrod), so we are willing to wait another week for the report to be made public.
In an admittedly non-scientific poll of their own members, the organization VoteVets tried to quantify how actual veterans are feeling about Eric Shinseki right now. From their results: "Out of the total group polled, only 17 percent believed that Secretary Shinseki should resign. A whopping 60 percent said he should not resign, with 23 percent saying they weren't sure yet." Of those who receive medical care from the V.A.: "again, there was no overwhelming call for Shinseki to step down. Sixty-two percent said he should not resign. Twenty-four percent said they weren't sure, with the remainder, just 14 percent, saying he should. That's interesting, in that those who actually receive V.A. care are the least likely to say Shinseki should resign. Listening to the news, you would think that those who get V.A. care would be up in arms, with torches and pitchforks, calling for Shinseki's head. That just isn't the case."
So we're going to wait at least one more week before either calling for Shinseki to resign or to award him the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. When the facts are in, we will react accordingly.
Since this scandal was so front-and-center this week, we have no other candidates for the MDDOTW award. If you have nominees for someone I've overlooked, let me know in the comments, and I'll consider your suggestions.
Volume 305 (5/23/14)
OK, we've got a fairly freewheeling (and a bit reactionary) set of talking points this week, mostly because a lot happened. So much happened, in fact, that I couldn't even squeeze in the tongue-in-cheek reference to fighting a duel which happened between Republican Steve King and Democrat Chuck Schumer (which is pretty funny, in fact, especially Schumer's response).
If you find this week's talking points a bit too zany, well, earlier this week I wrote a much more serious column about a political ad from Montana -- which features a rape survivor talking about what a "personhood" law would have meant when she was 14 years old. This entire column is written to urge other Democrats "this is really how you should be speaking about this issue," in fact. So if you're looking for my serious advice this week to Democrats on talking points, you can find it there.
Which clears the decks for talking points this week on election silliness, Republican silliness, and Pentagon silliness -- covering the field (you just can't make this stuff up, folks) from The Dating Game to a zombie attack.
Only off by only 10,000,000 or so
This was just downright funny.
"Lo, how far the Tea Party has fallen. Not only has every Tea Party candidate been defeated in the Republican Senate primaries so far, but they can't even put together a decent rally anymore. The so-called 'Operation American Spring' rally which took place last Friday was supposed to have 10-to-30 million people marching on the nation's capital. One of the few attendees put the crowd's number more accurately at 'hundreds.' Well, I guess they fell only a few tens of millions short of their expectations, eh? I remember when a good Tea Party rally would at least bring out a few tens of thousands, but it seems those days are gone forever, eh?"
In other election news...
"While one Republican candidate in New Jersey is using the novel campaign technique of suing his Republican opponent for defamation, it seems that Mississippi's politics are even more down-and-dirty than New Jersey's, these days. Mississippi is the last chance Tea Partiers have of taking down a Republican senator in the primaries, but the race has now become downright bizarre. Tea Party bloggers have set a new low for mudslinging, sneaking onto the grounds of a care facility and taking photos of Senator Thad Cochran's disabled wife, and then posting these images online. While several arrests have been made of Tea Party organizers, the Tea Party candidate Chris McDaniel has not yet been tied to this disgraceful and disgusting effort. It remains to be seen what this will do for his chances in the upcoming primary election, though. Definitely a race to keep an eye on."
Another "how the mighty have fallen" story leads the rest of our roundup of election follies.
"I see that conservative darling Dinesh D'Souza has now pled guilty to committing election fraud, so of course I'll be expecting that every single Republican who has ever uttered a single word on the subject of election fraud will now be denouncing D'Souza to the skies, right? And, of course, using the word 'illegal' to describe him, now that he is an admitted lawbreaker. Yes, that was sarcasm, in case you're wondering. I also note that Asa Hutchinson forgot his ID card when he went to vote in his state's primary election. His answer to the problem? Send a campaign staffer to his house to retrieve it. Now I understand -- if you have problems with voter ID laws, just let your aides take care of all the paperwork! That's sure to be a viable answer for everyone affected, right? Yes, I'm being snide, because what else can you be when poll workers are now quizzing people about what is on those IDs -- maybe the GOP will come out in favor of going back to 'poll testing' as their next step, what do you think? Or perhaps back to the 18th century, where only property owners could vote -- an idea Republican House member Ted Yoho recently expressed support for. The only question to seriously ask at this point is how far back in history do Republicans really want to take this country, when it comes to voting rights?"
Disrespecting the troops
Immigration reform was in the news this week.
"Republican leaders in the House have now shown their true colors. A Republican member wanted to bring up an amendment, during debate over the military appropriations bill, which would have allowed those young people who serve in the U.S. military even though they are not citizens to be rewarded by legalizing their immigration status. This was unacceptible to the House Republican leadership. Even fighting and putting your life on the line for America is not enough to satisfy the extremists in the party who do not want any immigration reform ever. That, in my book, qualifies as disrespecting the troops of your country, nothing less."
Reid calls Boehner's bluff
"Let's have a quick review of the positions Speaker of the House John Boehner has taken in the past few weeks on immigration reform, shall we? First he said he couldn't possibly pass a bill through the House because he can't trust that President Obama will obey it. When asked, he could not name a single thing Obama could do to regain that trust. So Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made a counteroffer -- pass comprehensive immigration reform which wouldn't go into effect until 2017, which is after Obama leaves office. Reid's exact words were: 'Let's pass immigration reform today and make it take effect at the beginning of 2017. Republicans don't trust President Obama. Let's give them the chance to implement the bill under President Rand Paul or President Theodore Cruz.' This exposes the reality that Republicans didn't even trust President George W. Bush on immigration policy, which means they likely will never trust any president. Which was immediately proven by Boehner's response: 'Such a scenario would eliminate any incentive for the administration to act on border security or enforce the law for the remainder of President Obama's term.' So, according to Boehner, the House under his leadership is never going to pass a single bill on immigration reform -- something Latino voters have already taken note of, I might add."
GOP's spectacular failure to reach out to women
This one is pretty astonishingly unbelievable. Watch the video yourself, it's only a minute or so long. I wrote about this earlier this week, to express my own outrage, if you're interested in more than just a talking point.
"I see that the Republicans keep trying to get better at reaching out to women voters, but they also keep massively failing in their attempts to do so. In Colorado, the Republican governor's candidates held a debate which was supposed to be about 'Women and Colorado's Future.' But the way they invited four women panelists up to the stage to ask questions of the candidates simply has to be seen to be believed. Not only did the moderator state that it would be, quote, so much more ornamental, unquote, to have women on the stage, but he also played the theme music from The Dating Game -- to make it more fun for the dear ladies to take the stage, while he intoned 'Bachelor One, Bachelor Two, Bachelor Three,' to describe the three male candidates. What freakin' decade do these people think it is? This is the vaunted Republican outreach to women? Wow. No wonder single and young women are fleeing the party in droves, if condescension is the only thing Republicans have to offer them."
Zombie apocalypse defense plan
Chalk this up as another story (right when the Pentagon's budget is being debated in Congress, no less!) that was absolutely ignored by the media. I have no idea why, personally.
"It was reported this week that the Pentagon has developed a plan to combat any future attack by zombies. Called 'CONOP 8888,' or 'Counter-Zombie Dominance,' this plan has apparently been in place since 2011. I quote from the plan itself:"
This plan fulfills fictional contingency planning guidance tasking for U.S. Strategic Command to develop a comprehensive [plan] to undertake military operations to preserve 'non-zombie' humans from the threats posed by a zombie horde. Because zombies pose a threat to all non-zombie human life, [Strategic Command] will be prepared to preserve the sanctity of human life and conduct operations in support of any human population -- including traditional adversaries.
"I wish this was a joke, but right there in the plan's disclaimer section is the statement: 'this plan was not actually designed as a joke.' Well, I'm sure we'll all breathe a little easier tonight knowing that the Pentagon has already prepared for any upcoming zombie apocalypse. The only question that remains is whether our Godzilla Response Plan is robust enough, I suppose."
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