Welcome to yet another weekly wrapup column. Before we begin, a bit of program news -- this column will be on hiatus next week, because we'll be attending the annual Netroots Nation blogger bash in sunny San Jose, California. For anyone who is going, we'll see you there! For those who aren't, you'll have a two-week wait for your next installment of Friday Talking Points.
Last week, Republicans seem to have decided that the whole "autopsy" business after they got beaten so badly in the 2012 elections was just hogwash, and that they should double-down on their demonization and scapegoatery efforts. The "Plum Line" blog over at WashingtonPost.com has a good rundown (although now that the site is disappearing behind a paywall, I may have to reconsider linking to its articles in the future).
Build GOP support among Latinos? Nah, let's just deport all the DREAM kids, say the Republicans in the House. Bolster our numbers with gay-friendly youth? Hey, here's a better idea -- let's try overturning the end of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban! How about convincing some women to vote Republican? Hoo boy, don't even get me started. In fact, I'm going to devote most of the end of the column to this subject, because there were so many stupid things said and done by Republicans this week.
President Obama just announced he's going to send some weapons to the Syrian rebels, pleasing almost no one. The hawks are screaming Obama's too late, the doves are bemoaning our new involvement in a Middle East war, and the Syrian rebels would really prefer a no-fly zone to be enforced, but it's not at all clear Obama will consent to this much military support. Stay tuned.
The news that the National Security Agency is spying on everyone, all the time, was not entirely unexpected, of course, but it did indeed spark a debate over the subject which is long overdue. It was indeed interesting to see which politicians lined up on which side of the issue, since there was considerable crossover, complete with hawkish Democrats and libertarian-minded Tea Partiers staking out positions at odds with their parties.
Let's see, what else? The Obama administration is spending $180,000 each and every day ($300 million so far) fighting medical marijuana in states which have legalized it. In fact, more than half of the total money spent doing so has occurred on Obama's watch. Maybe it's time for some former Choom Gang members to start lobbying their erstwhile buddy? Or perhaps another tactic is the best idea -- get serious about some friendly marijuana "product placement" in popular culture. It did wonders for gay rights, that's for sure.
Democrats scored a big victory over Republicans this week, but it wasn't in the political arena but rather out on the baseball diamond. Apparently Congress holds a baseball game every year, and this year's game was a 22-0 rout, as the Democrats "shellacked" (heh) the Republicans. This is the most lopsided score ever, in the half-century history of the game, easily beating the 17-1 GOP victory in 1999 for first place. The more interesting game, given the previous paragraph, will be next week's softball rematch between the "One Hitters," a team made up of pro-marijuana activists, and "STOTUS" (or "Softball Team Of The United States") which is none other than the White House team. Last year, the wacky weed enthusiasts smoked STOTUS (oh, you just knew I was going to say that, didn't you?) by a whopping score of 25-3. Take me out to the ballgame, indeed.
Representative Jeff Merkley deserves at least an Honorable Mention here, for responding to the NSA scandal by proposing legislation (with a Tea Party cosponsor) to make public the decisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court. Obama says he thinks we should "have a conversation" about what the appropriate spying powers the federal government will be allowed? Fine. Then let's have some information to fuel that debate.
Representative Elijah Cummings is doing a fine job of exposing what a partisan hack Darrell Issa truly is, and for that he deserves his own Honorable Mention this week. Issa is the Republican chairman of the House committee responsible for overseeing the White House, and has used his position to paint everything under the sun as an evil Obama plot. His most recent attempt is to show somehow that the IRS scandal was really run from the Oval Office. His problem is that this is not where the facts are actually leading, because it did not happen that way. Issa appeared on a Sunday morning chat show and read excerpts from closed-door hearings his committee has been holding, trying to cherry-pick the worst-sounding bits to his advantage. He then stated that the full transcripts would be released.
Elijah Cummings is the ranking Democrat on the committee, and he appeared on television last Sunday to challenge Issa to do just that: release the full transcripts. Cummings pointed out that they had indeed found the culprit in the IRS -- and he was a self-described "conservative Republican." He sent word to Washington (not the other way around) about how the IRS was treating the Tea Party groups. Case closed, right?
Except that now, Issa has had second thoughts and is refusing to release the full transcripts. He knows full well that they will back Cummings up, and the entire scandal will melt like the spring snow. So he's going to keep hold of the transcripts until further notice, because they don't say what he would like them to say. Cummings has threatened to release the full transcripts on his own by the end of this week, so we'll see if he makes good on this threat. If he does, he'll easily be in the front running for the MIDOTW next week.
Our real Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week is... are you sitting down?... really, you should sit down, this might be something of a shock... (drumroll)... Attorney General Eric Holder.
I told you it was going to be a shock.
Now, I'm not the biggest fan of Holder, as even the casual reader of this column knows, and indeed I would cry no tears if he announced his impending retirement. And giving him this award can be criticized for two big reasons, the first of which is that the real credit may belong to his boss, President Obama. The second reason is that we're giving him an award for finally doing the right thing -- but only after one whale of a lot of stalling and fighting hard to do the wrong thing.
But, this week's announcement that the Justice Department is going to drop its appeal against providing the morning-after birth control pill to anyone who needs it comes as such a welcome change that we feel the award is deserved. After all, Holder could have kept fighting this right up to the Supreme Court, but he finally backed down when it was pretty plain that the appeals court was going to rule against him.
I've been writing about this for a long time now -- from two months in to Obama's first term, as a matter of fact, all the way up to just last week. Obama, as candidate, promised he would end George W. Bush's policy of overriding science with political calculations. Obama, as president, continued trumping science with politics in the case of the "Plan B" pill. But Obama and Holder have now thrown in the towel. The pill will now be available to anyone, over-the-counter, without age or other restrictions. As the scientists said it should be.
As I mentioned, you can make the case that Obama deserves the credit for realizing it was time to stop fighting, but he hasn't publicly taken this credit, so I'm going to hand the credit to Holder instead. Plus, Holder just sent strong signals that he's ready to do some oversight on the NYPD's "stop and frisk" policies, so he's done more than one good thing this week.
Holder was saying an interesting thing last weekend, when asked if he's going to continue in his job or step down. Instead of a full-throated "I'll be here until 2017," Holder instead responded that he's going to remain Attorney General until all the projects that he's currently interested in are completed. That's a much shorter horizon, and it might explain why we're getting some interesting news out of the Justice Department from cases which haven't been in the political spotlight. Perhaps Holder is clearing his desk in preparation for a late-summer exit? It's something to keep an eye on, that's for sure.
In the meantime, shocking though it may be, Eric Holder is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week winner this week.
[Congratulate Attorney General Eric Holder via the White House contact page, to let his boss know you appreciate his efforts.]
Well, we should begin by handing Senator Dianne Feinstein a (Dis-)Honorable Mention award, for (once again) staking out a position to the right of Attila The Hun (or John McCain, take your pick) on the subject of national security and privacy rights. Oh, sure, there are other disappointing Democrats, but DiFi just seems like the appropriate one to single out, don't ask us why.
We have some reservations, as we did with the MIDOTW, about our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week. Carl Levin disappointed many by squashing an amendment to the military appropriations bill which would have taken the prosecutorial decisions in sexual assault cases in the military out of the hands of the commanders. The Pentagon heavily resisted the move to do so, championed by Kirsten Gillibrand, and in the end Levin agreed.
We must state, to be absolutely fair, that Senator Levin's replacement for Gillibrand's amendment is actually pretty good. It institutes several necessary reforms to the Pentagon's policies. There are a lot of good ideas in Levin's version of the amendment, many of them just as strong as the details in the Gillibrand proposal. So, while Levin's version is watered-down and does not include stripping the decisions from the commanders (considered crucial by many), it still will achieve a lot of good.
But Levin could have allowed Gillibrand's language to move to the Senate floor. There, it would have been tested in front of the full Senate, and if it succeeded would have set up a strong position in the inevitable bargaining with the House. It's not like letting it out of committee would have been the last chance to change what Gillibrand was proposing, and it would have been a strong message of support to allow it to move forward. By killing the idea off in committee, however, the subject will not get the media and public attention it really deserves. Which was what was so disappointing.
Of course, no one is more disappointed than Senator Gillibrand, but I would be willing to bet she's not done fighting for the idea. It may get brought up on the Senate floor, and if it doesn't make it into this year's appropriation bill, then I predict the Pentagon will have one year to prove that just by using the tools Levin has allowed, they can clean up their act.
We may have to wait that year. This week, Carl Levin decided so. For killing the Gillibrand idea in committee, we have to reluctantly give the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week to him.
[Contact Senator Carl Levin on his Senate contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 262 (6/14/13)
For the past few months, it has seemed like the Republicans say or do something offensive to women, women's rights, women's pay, women's health, or just something so downright stupid as to defy any further categorization. This week, however, we had to expand to every talking point except the first one (which was included, well, because it really begged to be laughed at).
So our theme this week, obviously, is The Continuing War On Women, being waged by those in the Republican Party who couldn't define the term "demographic suicide" if their lives depended on it. Or, literally, if their party's future lifespan depended on it.
They're makin' a list, checkin' it twice
I realize it's exactly six months too late (or too early) to use a heading like that, but this one is so jaw-droppingly amusing that I couldn't resist.
"I notice the Republicans in Virginia passed a new law forbidding anyone from getting what used to be public records -- the names of those who have valid gun permits. Republicans are very afraid that the government was going to make a big list of everyone who owned a gun, of course. But as the new law was about to take effect, one group tried to request everyone's gun permit records before the deadline. How horrible! It's nefarious and frightening that such requests were made -- to list all the gun owners! Why oh why won't someone stand up for the Second Amendment?!? The amusing thing about this story is that the group which had requested all the gun records was none other than the Republican Party of Virginia. They've been using such records for years to build their mailing lists, apparently. So the only ones making giant lists of gun owners -- what the Republicans who passed the law in the first place were scared of, mind you -- were none other than themselves."
Idiots talking about rape
Todd Akin is no longer around to provide such shining moments from Republicanland, but there's always someone to step up and fill his shoes, it seems.
"Republican House member Trent Franks this week once again proved that Republicans are just becoming more and more divorced from reality. In the last election cycle, we had Republicans informing the voters that women's bodies could perform magic and shut down during rape, so they wouldn't become pregnant, as well as informing rape victims that if they got pregnant that the baby was a gift from God. This week, Trent Franks stated that, quote, the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancies are very low, unquote. The Republican War On Women continues apace, folks, led onward by the Makin' Stuff Up Battalion. Women of America are taking note, every time some ignorant buffoon says something like this, I can assure you."
This is a dandy followup to that last one.
"Don't believe me? Here's a Republican talking about the whole House debate last week -- which, incidentally, was over restricting women's rights. Republicans voted to ban abortion after only 20 weeks, and they refused to even consider exceptions for rape, incest, and the health of the mother. Here's what Republican House member Charlie Dent had to say about his own party: I discouraged our leadership from bringing this to a vote on the floor. Clearly the economy is on everyone's minds, we're seeing very stagnant job numbers, confidence in the institution of government is eroding and now we're going to have a debate on rape and abortion. The stupidity is simply staggering. Unquote. That's a Republican talking, mind you. He's right, too -- the stupidity is indeed staggering."
Of course, this sort of thing is happening on the state level as well.
"I see that Wisconsin's Scott Walker is going to sign a bill mandating that the state government get between a woman and her doctor in the most intimate invasion of privacy imaginable. A bunch of old men have decided that they want to 'play doctor' or more accurately 'practice medicine without a license' by dictating transvaginal ultrasounds for women who want an abortion. There is absolutely no medical necessity, this is just the moralizing from a Republican Party quite happy with 'big government' whenever the subject arises of a woman in the privacy of an examination room. Women voters in Wisconsin, please take note."
Thanks for mansplaining it to us
I don't believe I've ever used this neologism before in my writing, but the time has indeed come.
"Up in Maine, meanwhile, we have a Republican who generously took the time to (as they say) 'mansplain' to all the ladies how a man's brain is completely different than a woman's, when contemplating the costs of health care. His big man's brain told him that all the women of Maine really just needed him to inform them of their biological and mental differences from his alpha-male Republican brain. You can't make this stuff up, folks. His logic? Men are from Mars, yadda yadda yadda. Or something. Maybe he'll mansplain it to us all in greater detail later, who knows?
It's not just Akin
"I know it's getting hard to keep track of all the inane, demeaning, ignorant, and downright moronic things coming out of the mouths of Republicans as the War On Women continues. But now there's a handy website you can refer to in case anyone needs reminding of how hostile the Republican Party has gotten towards women's rights. It's an easy name to remember, too: ItsNotJustAkin.com. I know it's hard to keep up, when these gems of wisdom keep on being uttered by Republicans at such a frenetic pace, so if you ever think you've missed one, head on over to ItsNotJustAkin.com to check."
Surprised no GOP filibuster on this one
Glory be! The Senate managed to get something done!
"In fact, with all the dismissive attitudes coming from Republicans, I am downright amazed that the Senate is in fact actually expanding their women's bathrooms, to cope with a record-high number of women senators. What with everything else the GOP has decided to obstruct to help America's women out in any way, shape, or form, I'm actually stunned that they didn't try to filibuster this, too."
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