We've got everything from hippies to Satanists to cover this week, so let's just dive right in, shall we?
The Supreme Court heard a monumental case on marriage equality, which could indeed be their last case ever on the subject (if Justice Kennedy votes the way many expect him to, resulting in gay marriage in all 50 states). Feelings, as always, ran high on both sides of the issue, but more and more it's looking like a lost cause for all the "defenders of traditional marriage."
Interestingly enough, the best quote I read this week was from a Republican from Illinois, Senator Mark Kirk. For some context, Kirk faces a tough re-election race in a blue state, but even so, the sentiment is a brilliant one. Speaking to the crowd in front of the Supreme Court building, Kirk said: "As a history nerd, you could make the case that we could've lost World War II but for one British gay mathematician named Alan Turing. And we are a much more powerful country because of our gay community." Well said, Senator! We still hope Illinois replaces you with a Democrat, but credit is due where credit is due. Kirk is now the second Republican senator to come out in support of marriage equality (Rob Portman was the first). Even the Republicans running for president are reportedly beginning to realize what a tightrope the issue is going to become for them in June, when the court rules.
In other gay Republican news (there's a segue I never thought I'd write...), a state representative in North Dakota, Randy Boehning, came out as bisexual after he was "caught sending explicit photos on a gay dating app." Maybe now that he's out and proud, he'll actually vote for gay rights instead of against them (as he's done even in the past few weeks).
And in Republican family-values ("do as we say, not as we do") news, a Senate staffer for Mississippi's Thad Cochran told law enforcement that he planned to exchange the 181.5 grams of methamphetamine found in his house for "sexual favors." This is on top of the package of date-rape drugs from China that was intercepted in the mail (the reason his house was searched). This raises two puzzling questions, namely: "Why would you think you need date-rape drugs if you're already trading drugs for sex?" and: "181.5 freakin' grams of crank!?! That must mean a whole bunch of sexual favors! Are you sure you're healthy enough for that much sex?" More of those down-home, good ol' Republican family values, folks!
In other Republicans-behaving-strangely news, the Republican Party is apparently going to woo Latino voters by going on the attack against "anchor babies" and birthright citizenship. Representative Steve King (of course) introduced legislation and a hearing was held on it. The only problem was, the expert the Republicans came up with to speak is actually a stone-cold, flat-out racist. This was one of only three witnesses the Republicans called (the Democrats weren't allowed to call any), mind you. Nothing like that Republican minority outreach, eh?
Even stranger news from Republicanland: some people are convinced that the United States military is about to attack Texas. No, really. A training exercise ("Jade Helm") has entered the realm of the black helicopters (boy, doesn't that take you back to the 1990s?) in some people's imagination, making them cower in fear of an imminent Second Civil War. Or something. It's hard to figure out the ravings of lunatics, at times.
Of course, the option always exists to just have some fun with them, instead. Much of the conservative media just got punked, after a guy made up a story (and told it to a credulous conservative blogger) that Harry Reid's recent injuries were the result of a fight with his intoxicated brother Larry. The story then just took off and rattled around the rightwing echo chamber, much to the amusement of the guy punking them.
Enough Republican follies, let's instead turn to the Democrats. Hillary Clinton gave a pretty progressive speech on sentencing reform this week, as she begins to lay out the policy details of her campaign. She also tweeted a fun rainbow flag icon about the marriage equality case. But the real news on the Democratic side was that Hillary now faces an official, declared candidate: Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont. It's not even entirely clear, at this point, whether Sanders is going to officially join the Democratic Party (he's always called himself a "Democratic Socialist"). We'll have much more on his campaign later in the program, but the truly interesting question right now is whether the throngs (and the millions of dollars) behind the "Draft Elizabeth Warren" movement will now be satisfied to transfer their energies (and money) over to a candidate who is actually, you know, running. We'll see....
Obama made news at the start of the week by cracking jokes ("Bucket!") at the White House Correspondents Dinner confab (also known as the "nerd prom," for obvious reasons). Later in the week, it was announced that his presidential library will be in Chicago.
We've got one "you can't make this stuff up" horror story from the War On Drugs, and then we'll get to the atheists and Satanists. In a story that aptly begins with the line "The drug war means never having to say you're sorry," it was revealed that a federal judge agreed with the Drug Enforcement Agency that the government is not liable for one thin dime in damages, even though they acted abominably. A D.E.A. undercover informant essentially stole a truck from a small (two trucks, total) trucking company, drove it down to the border for a drug sting, loaded it up with drugs, and then got caught in a shootout that killed him. The trucking company sued but will not even be reimbursed for the "cost of repairing the bullet holes" in the truck, which was out of commission for two months. Not only does the D.E.A. get off scot-free, but there won't even be a trial which would expose all the facts of the case. Your tax dollars at work, folks! The article ends with:
It's interesting that this ruling comes down a week after D.E.A. administrator Michele Leonhart resigned after allegations that D.E.A. attended cartel-funded sex parties in South America. The D.E.A. took a truck, filled it with drugs, then screwed up and put the truck in the middle of a shootout that damaged the truck and killed its driver. Yet Leonhart was forced to resign because of sex parties.
It isn't the illicit stuff the D.E.A. does that should worry us; it's all the horrific stuff the agency does that we've somehow permitted to be protected by law.
Amen to that.
Speaking of guns and government, what exactly was a loaded gun doing in John Boehner's private bathroom on Capitol Hill? A child found the gun, which is (even more astonishingly) not the first time guns have been found in Capitol bathrooms. Draw your own conclusions.
And, finally, we have some good atheist news to report. Warren City, Michigan is about to get a "reason station" inside City Hall. It will be manned by Douglas Marshall, who just won his lawsuit to force the city to accept his booth, since they already allowed "prayer stations" run by churches in the same venue. He "plans to set up his reason station weekly with pamphlets that advocate for logic and separation of church and state," after the judge agreed with his point that free speech has to be open to all.
The Satanists, meanwhile, have also been busy on the legal front. A Missouri woman is invoking the same basic argument that was used in the Hobby Lobby case to challenge the state's new 72-hour waiting period to get an abortion. She wants a waiver from the law, stating: "I regard a waiting period as a state sanctioned attempt to discourage abortion by instilling an unnecessary burden as part of the process to obtain this legal medical procedure. The waiting period interferes with the inviolability of my body and thereby imposes an unwanted and substantial burden on my sincerely held religious beliefs."
This is the part that those advocating against strict church/state separation always seem to miss: laws that presume to promote "religious freedom" can be used by anyone from any religion, not just Christianity. The Constitution demands no less. Look for more and more of this sort of court case in the future, as the unintended result of theocratic legislating. Both the Satanists and the atheists are forcing everyone to realize the full extent of such laws, and should be applauded for doing so.
Seven Democrats in the House should also be commended for a letter to President Obama they wrote this week. An Honorable Mention goes out to all of them: Earl Blumenauer, Steve Cohen, Sam Farr, Barbara Lee, Zoe Lofgren, Jared Polis, and Eric Swalwell.
The letter encourages President Obama to name a new head of the D.E.A. who will better reflect (instead of fighting against) the administration's new policies on marijuana enforcement. It bluntly states that outgoing (in disgrace) D.E.A. chief Michele Leonhart "leaves behind a legacy of strident opposition to efforts to reform our nation's drug policy."
These seven Democratic House members are right. This is an opportunity for Obama to truly change the course of the ship of state. With a new Attorney General and a new leader at the D.E.A., the federal government could go a long way towards catching up with the states on the marijuana issue. In fact, we're kind of surprised there aren't more names on that letter.
But our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to newly-announced presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Sanders is going to face withering contempt from the inside-the-Beltway "serious people" in the media, so we thought we'd start his candidacy out by instead giving him a little respect.
Don't believe me? Well, it took the Washington Post about ten freakin' seconds after Sanders announced his candidacy to call him a hippie. Seriously. The article starts off with "Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) could be our first socialist hippie president," and then quickly moves on to talking about the "hippie migration" to Vermont in the 1970s. There's no quote from Sanders using the word to describe himself, mind you, instead they just cite an eight-year-old article from another publication that called Sanders a hippie. Actually, the full quote (which the Post felt the need to reprint) was: "a humorless aging hippie peacenik Socialist from Brooklyn."
We suppose we should be happy they didn't go full throttle and just call him a "dirty hippie." We've got a whole lot of this sneering punditocracy disdain ahead, folks, so buckle up.
We see Bernie Sanders and his campaign in a different light, of course. We see him instead as the best hope for Progressives in the 2016 campaign. He will be out there talking about the issues that matter to him, and those are the same issues that matter to a whole lot of Democrats out there. It'll be interesting to see what happens in the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire in the next few weeks, that's for sure. Right now, Hillary Clinton has (at worst) something like a 50-point lead over Sanders, but those polls were taken before he declared his candidacy.
To put this another way, Bernie Sanders deserves the MIDOTW this week because he threw his hat in the ring. No, he is not Elizabeth Warren. But, more importantly, he is running to become president, which she is not (and will not this time around). To us, that's impressive enough, for now.
[Congratulate Senator Bernie Sanders on his Senate contact page, to let him know you appreciate his candidacy.]
Kind of a dry week this week for disappointment. A conservative tried to gin up some scandals with a new Hillary Clinton book, but we're ignoring all that as partisan mudslinging nonsense for the time being. Ever notice how Republicans only have a problem with people getting rich when they're Democrats? When it's a rich Republican, well, he got there through hard work and smarts and plenty of bootstrap-pulling, but Democrats somehow never get the same treatment. Funny, that. I mean, does Jeb Bush truly want to get into his family relations with Saudi Arabia? Didn't think so.
We had one instance of monumental stupidity this week, which we have a sneaking suspicion came from (or was authorized by) a Democrat, but it's pretty small potatoes and therefore only really deserves a (Dis-)Honorable Mention. The Community Relations Board -- an official city board, mind you -- sent out two tweets asking: "Should Cleveland be burned down" like Baltimore and Ferguson. Again, these are people paid by the city, assumably to advance community relations. Somehow I don't think asking folks if the city should be burned down is quite covered by that mission statement. Kudos to Councilman Matt Zone for tweeting back: "are u out of ur mind" and putting the spotlight on the idiocy.
But, again, somehow a Cleveland city board screwup doesn't rise (or sink, we should say) to the level of a Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award, so we're not going to hand one out this week. Unless, of course, we've missed someone, so feel free (as always) to offer nominations in the comments, below.
Volume 344 (5/1/15)
As a counterbalance to most of the rest of the media (except for Rolling Stone, who published a pretty good bio article), we thought we'd give Bernie Sanders the respect and dignity of treating his ideas with the seriousness they deserve (but are not likely to get, if the first week is any indication).
So we're going to turn over this week's talking points to him. The following all can be found at his campaign website's issues page, where he explains what he'll be running on. The truly sad thing is that most all of these used to be pretty "mainstream" Democratic positions, but are now seen as some sort of "hard left" views. This only proves how much the party got yanked to the right in the 1980s and 1990s, really.
Our suggestion: when reading the following, ask yourself whether it'd be a popular position to take with a majority of the American public or not. Without further ado, here is who Bernie Sanders is and what he's running for, in his own words. These are presented unedited (except for one, where we joined two parts of his position on health care together) from the original webpage, which we encourage everyone to read in full.
A progressive agenda
The American people must make a fundamental decision. Do we continue the 40-year decline of our middle class and the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else, or do we fight for a progressive economic agenda that creates jobs, raises wages, protects the environment and provides health care for all? Are we prepared to take on the enormous economic and political power of the billionaire class, or do we continue to slide into economic and political oligarchy? These are the most important questions of our time, and how we answer them will determine the future of our country.
The long-term deterioration of the middle class, accelerated by the Wall Street crash of 2008, has not been pretty. Today, we have more wealth and income inequality than any major country on earth. We have one of the highest childhood poverty rates and we are the only country in the industrialized world which does not guarantee health care for all. We once led the world in terms of the percentage of our people who graduated college, but we are now in 12th place. Our infrastructure, once the envy of the world, is collapsing.
It's shameful that we've allowed this to happen. We are not a developing nation, dependent on foreign aid to survive. We are the richest nation in the history of the world. We were the birthplace of Yankee ingenuity in the 19th century, the arsenal of democracy in World War II, and the undisputed economic powerhouse of the last century. Once, our infrastructure was the envy of the world. Today, we're judged to be in 12th place internationally. While bridges are collapsing around us, we're spending only half as much as Europe on infrastructure and just over a quarter as much as the Chinese.
Is this the best our country can do? No. We can and we must do better. That's why we need to invest at least $1 trillion over five years to rebuild America. This will not only make us safer, more productive and more efficient, but it will generate income and create jobs -- lots of jobs. The estimate is that this $1 trillion investment will create and maintain 13 million jobs -- which is exactly what our economy needs. We have ignored our infrastructure crisis for too long. The time to act is now.
Bold action on climate change
The United States must lead the world in tackling climate change and make certain that this planet is habitable for our children and grandchildren. We must transform our energy system away from fossil fuels and into energy efficiency and sustainable energies. Millions of homes and buildings need to be weatherized, our transportation system needs to be energy efficient and we need to greatly accelerate the progress we are already seeing in wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and other forms of sustainable energy. Transforming our energy system will not only protect the environment, it will create good paying jobs.
Unless we take bold action to address climate change, our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are going to look back on this period in history and ask a very simple question: Where were they? Why didn't the United States of America, the most powerful nation on earth, lead the international community in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and preventing the devastating damage that the scientific community was sure would come?
Progressive tax reform
At a time of massive wealth and income inequality, we need a progressive tax system in this country which is based on ability to pay. It is not acceptable that major profitable corporations have paid nothing in federal income taxes, and that corporate CEOs in this country often enjoy an effective tax rate which is lower than their secretaries. It is absurd that we lose over $100 billion a year in revenue because corporations and the wealthy stash their cash in offshore tax havens around the world. The time is long overdue for real tax reform.
Expand Social Security
Millions of seniors live in poverty and we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country. We must strengthen the social safety net, not weaken it. Instead of cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and nutrition programs, we should be expanding these programs.
The goal of an effective health care system is to do everything possible to enable people to live long and healthy lives. Sadly, the American system fails to do that and falls behind many other countries. While we devote 18 percent of our gross domestic product to health care, we rank 33rd in life expectancy and 34th in infant mortality, and trail in many other health outcomes. A Harvard University study indicated that, incredibly, some 45,000 Americans die needlessly each year because they do not get to a doctor in time.
I start my approach to health care from a very basic premise: health care is a right, not a privilege. Unfortunately, uniquely among major nations, that statement is not true for the United States, where access to health care depends on how much money you have and what your employer is willing to provide.
. . .
If our goal is to provide high-quality health care in a cost-effective way, what should we be doing?
Clearly, we must move toward a single-payer system.
The health insurance lobby and other opponents of single-payer care make it sound scary. It's not. In fact, a large-scale single-payer system already exists in the United States. It's called Medicare. People enrolled in the system give it high marks. More importantly, it has succeeded in providing near-universal coverage to Americans over the age of 65.
$15.00 an hour
The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is a starvation wage. We need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage -- $15 an hour over the next few years. No one in this country who works 40 hours a week should live in poverty.
Chris Weigant blogs at:
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant
Become a fan of Chris on Huffington Post
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
All-time award winners leaderboard, by rank