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Fri Aug 23, 2013, 09:23 PM

Friday Talking Points (270) -- The Dog That Didn't Bark, And Herding Stupid Insane Cats

Dog-lovers will have to wait for their portion of that headline until the awards part of the column; but as for the cats, I was struck this week by a funny comment on an article I was reading on the continuing civil war within the Republican Party -- written about how much they all hate Obamacare and (more importantly) how far they're willing to go to prove this to the nation. Unfortunately, I read this comment in passing and now can't even remember the article it was in response to, so I cannot adequately give credit where it is due. All I can say is the phrase is not original, and may have come from the comments to a Washington Post article online (maybe?).

The article detailed John Boehner's increasingly pretzel-like contortions in his attempt to have things both ways. The establishment Republicans have been pushing back very hard on the Tea Party radicals, because they know full well how the public would react to taking either the federal budget or the nation's creditworthiness hostage in a hissy fit over the looming full implementation of Obamacare. Boehner, like all Republicans who cling to whatever shreds of sanity the Tea Party still allows them to, thinks shutting the government down would be a bad idea, both practically (even if they did so, Obamacare funding wouldn't even be affected) and politically (see: Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton).

Boehner keeps trying to allow the Tea Partiers their rhetorical red meat, while at the same time vowing that hostages won't actually be taken (or shot) by the House Republicans. Something's got to give, and we'll all be watching in September to see exactly what that will be. For now, though, the best description came from the aforementioned commenter, who wrote something along the lines of: "Boehner's trouble isn't even that he's trying to herd cats -- it's that he's trying to herd stupid insane cats."

You can see what that stuck in my memory. Best description I've heard yet to sum up John Boehner's entire speakership, really.

What else was news in the political world this week? Well, there was Ted Cruz, pre-emptively releasing his Canadian birth certificate to the press. Cruz dreams of running for president in a few years, so he thought he'd get this out of the way now. As well as renouncing his Canadian citizenship, of course. Liberals across the land greeted the news with glee, and popped lots of popcorn in anticipation of what the "birthers" would have to say about the situation. Here we have someone born to an American mother and a non-American father, but not on U.S. soil. Just like... oh, I don't know, it rings a bell... every birther conspiracy theory about Barack Obama, right? So where will their outrage be directed this time?

I, of course, rose above this fray (well, at least until we get to today's talking points), and instead took the time to write a two-part column on the subject of "Is Cruz eligible?" Hey, August is a slow news month, that's my excuse. The best commentary I've seen yet on Cruz came in the form of a Jeff Danziger cartoon this week, though.

We had some sad news this week as well, as the Lusty Lady strip club in San Francisco just announced it can no longer keep its doors open, due to their rent being hiked from $5,500 a month to over $16,000. No, it's not what you think -- I've never even been inside the place, I swear!

Joking aside, though, this is indeed political news because the club was the center of the story told by the best modern pro-Union documentary movie I have ever seen: Live Nude Girls Unite! Anyone who wants an incredibly positive message about the benefits of unionizing, I strongly endorse checking this movie out, because it is fantastic and not at all what you'd think from the title. But now, through no real fault of their own, the Lusty Lady will be closing its doors, which is a sad end to the story.

In marijuana news (of which there seems to be quite a lot, this summer), Sanjay Gupta has been honored for his reversal and apology on the subject of medical marijuana by having a strain of weed named for him: Sanjay Gupta Kush. Far out, man. In a more serious vein, David Sirota wrote a great piece on why it was important for journalism that Gupta apologized, which is a great read. What else? This just in... Colorado voters still approve of recreational marijuana, according to the polls. Oh, and Tommy Chong bears the Seattle cops no ill will. As I've heard him state on previous occasions: "Can't we all just get a bong?"

Heh. OK, couldn't resist that last one, sorry.

Two other odds and ends, and then let's get to the awards. If you've ever wondered what the United States would look like if all 50 states were divided proportionally, by population, then check out this cool map to see. Interesting thought exercise, really.

And (we saved the best for last), a man named Bruce Roter is pushing the idea for a museum for political bad behavior -- a "Hall of Shame" for politicians -- in New York's state capitol of Albany. Political corruption has a long and storied (and, sadly, ongoing) history in New York which reaches back farther than even Boss Tweed, so it'd be pretty easy to fill such a museum with exhibits, one assumes. In fact, if the idea catches on, every state capitol in the land could have their own museum, as well as a National Political Corruption Museum on the Mall in Washington, D.C. What a great idea!

From an article which interviews Roter about his idea:

Roter says visitors would be asked to pay a bribe instead of an admission fee. The cafeteria would serve pork. The gift shop, meanwhile, could have figurines that feature people in suits and say, "I bought this legislator in Albany, New York!"


The jokes just write themselves, folks....





Onward to the doggie subject. In specific, the Sherlock Holmesian "dog that didn't bark in the night."

At the start of this year's "town hall season," I (and many others) predicted that immigration would be the number one subject for shouting and fulminating from the Tea Party crowds in Republican districts. I was wrong, however. This wave of anti-immigration feeling never really materialized, even with a well-financed attempt by a rightwing group to gin such anger up.

Even more amazing is that even when the subject did come up, there were people in the audiences with pro-immigration messages to counter them. This was by design, not by chance. Democratic groups launched an effort earlier this year to attend such town halls, and make sure that even Republican members of Congress heard from those who approved of the Senate's immigration reform plan. To date, this has been so successful that the mainstream media has pretty much completely ignored the issue. That's saying something, because they're usually hungry for "screaming crowd confronts congressman" stories this time of year. Because the responses were more balanced, though, those stories have not appeared. It seems the Righties were more het up over the (perceived) impending Obamacare doom.

For making the effort, however, we're going to award a "crowdsourcing" Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award to everyone who took the time to attend a town hall in your area just to stand up and support immigration reform and a path to citizenship. Your efforts may pay off if the House actually passes something this year, but you have already earned recognition for blunting the anti-immigration efforts of others.

So for everyone who took the time and effort to do so, our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award this week is for you. Well done!





Before we get to this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award, we've got some more marijuana news. Bad news, this time.

One side effect of Sanjay Gupta's apology was that it spurred at least a few members of the White House press corps to wake up and start asking some serious questions on the subject. They got nothing more than a polite brush-off, as usual, but the fact that they even asked the question is an admirable change for the better. Oxymoronically-named White House spokesman Josh Earnest stated this week that the "president acknowledged that the priority, in terms of the dedication of law enforcement resources, should be targeted toward drug kingpins, traffickers, and others who perpetrate violence in the conduct of the drug trade... that that is the best use of our law enforcement resources."

Got that? The priority is reducing violence. This was soon followed by the news that the Drug Enforcement Agency is now cracking down on the use of armored cars by medical marijuana providers to transport money. You just can't make this stuff up, unfortunately. From the Huffington Post report:

Less than two weeks after Attorney General Eric Holder announced plans for sweeping drug sentencing reform to help fix a "broken system," the Drug Enforcement Administration has ordered security and armored vehicle companies to quit serving state-legal cannabis providers, according to industry sources.

The DEA, an arm of Holder's Department of Justice, confirmed the order to The Huffington Post, but wouldn't elaborate.

Armored vehicles allow California's legal medical marijuana dispensaries a secure way to transport large amounts of cash. The services are critical, since federal authorities pressured banks and credit card companies to stop servicing the pot industry in 2011.

"In 2011 they closed our bank accounts, which forced us to handle and store cash on-site," said Steve DeAngelo, executive director of Oakland dispensary Harborside Healthcare, in a release. "Now they have denied us any secure way to transport that cash to those whom we owe money, like the City of Oakland and the California Board of Equalization."

DeAngelo told The Huffington Post that the DEA's order contradicts the administration's stated policy.

"Either there is a very serious disconnect between the views of the administration and law enforcement on ground, or the administration is playing a cynical double game," DeAngelo said.


He's right about that. Last week, we awarded Attorney General Eric Holder the coveted MIDOTW for seeming to take the Justice Department in a new direction, but this week we've got to at least hand out a (Dis-)Honorable Mention to him for such a whiplash-inducing turnaround.

The irony and hypocrisy was best summed up by the brilliant headline the Huffington Post created for the story: "Step 1: Force Pot Clubs To Use Cash. Step 2: Bar Them From Hiring Guards. Step 3: Finger-Wag About Drug Violence."

But we had to reserve the MDDOTW this week for none other than Bob Filner. Reports haven't been confirmed, but it seems that Filner has finally resigned his mayor's job in San Diego, after the eighteenth woman accused him of sexual harassment.

While resigning was the right thing to do, he should have done so about six weeks ago. We gave Filner his first MDDOTW back in FTP (264), and we sincerely hope that this week will be the last chance we ever get to award him another one (for the record, this will be his third award -- we gave him one last week as well).

To coin a phrase, don't let the door grab your ass on the way out, Bob... just go.

{Contact San Diego Mayor Bob Filner on his official contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions (but you'll have to hurry!).}




Volume 270 (8/23/13)


Since this is the silly season, most of our talking points this week are nothing more than pointing out Republican silliness. It's a thankless job, but someone's got to do it.

Today, we'll start with one actual Democratic talking point (because it is so excellent), move along to one rather convoluted setup to a talking point from a Republican (which now proves false an incredibly silly bit of nonsense making the rounds in Rightwingistan), and then we're just going to make fun of Republicans for the remaining five talking points. Hey, it's August, what more do you want?



The job-killing sequester

In fact, this is the only serious Democratic talking point at all, this week. It comes from Democratic House leader Chris Van Hollen, when asked to comment on John Boehner's new plan for passing a short-term temporary continuing resolution omnibus budget bill, which would leave the sequester untouched and kick the crisis down the road a few months. Van Hollen responded with nothing short of a beautiful talking point, one that Democrats should be practicing for use in the upcoming weeks. Seriously, it's been a while since I've heard such a good framing of the Democratic side of any debate:

The sequester is killing jobs every day. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office tells us we will lose almost a million jobs by this time next year. That is unacceptable and we will continue to push for a balanced plan to replace the job-killing sequester.




Grassley's admission

This is going to become a bigger deal in September when the whole Obamacare battle is joined, but here's a handy quote for Democrats to reference. The issue is whether Congress is "exempt" from "Obamacare" or not. The answer is "yes and no." But not the way Republicans would have you believe.

This one requires a little setup, so bear with me. When the insurance exchanges were proposed, Republican Chuck Grassley tried a little trick to embarrass Democrats. He introduced an amendment which decreed that Congress -- all the congressfolk and their staffs -- would have to participate in the insurance exchanges. Democrats surprised him by calling his bluff, and they added it to the Obamacare law. But there's a big round-peg-in-square-hole problem with doing so. The exchanges are for people who are buying their own insurance -- outside of the normal employer-based insurance system, and out of their own pockets. But Congress (and their aides) do have employer contributions. Their insurance costs are covered (at the rate of 75 percent) by their employer. So they'll be the only ones in the exchanges with employer donations.

What to do? Cut off their employer benefits, and let them fend for themselves? Well, no. They'll be getting the same employer subsidy they've always gotten (the same as most employees who receive health insurance from their employers), but will still have to shop in the exchanges.

This all sounds pretty dull, but Republicans have taken to somehow claiming that that dastardly Obama has "exempted" Congress from "Obamacare." The answer to this nonsense is that they are not exempt from the exchanges, but they will keep their employer benefit.

Got all of that? Sorry for the extended intro, but it's all necessary to understand why the following quote is so important. Because, while Republicans now claim that this is some sort of sneaky Obama trick or something, Chuck Grassley himself (the guy who wrote the amendment, remember) stated exactly how it was supposed to work when he wrote the bill. Here is Grassley in his own words, from a written description of the plan to the Senate Finance Committee -- which, coincidentally enough, is exactly how it will be implemented. Democrats should print this out and keep it handy, because it proves absolutely that (1) Obama had nothing to do with it, and (2) sorry, but there just is no conspiracy here at all.

This amendment would require that, notwithstanding any other provision of law, beginning in 2013, Members of Congress and Congressional staff must use their employer contribution (adjusted for age rating) to purchase coverage through a state-based exchange, rather than using the traditional selection of plans offered through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP).




GOP mispeling (part 1)

Another Tea Partier has announced he'll be entering the race against a conservative senator. In memorable fashion!

"I see that Tennessee's Lamar Alexander is the most recent senator to face a Tea Party challenge in the primaries. Or maybe not. It seems, from his first announcement of his bid for office, that state representative Joe Carr is actually running for the 'U.S. Sentate,' so maybe Alexander doesn't need to worry all that much."



GOP misssppelling (part 2)

OK, the spell checker seems to be having some problems...

"I also see that down in Alabama, a candidate for the House is trying to get all his fellow candidates to sign a pledge to swear they'll fight any sorts of rights for gay people. However, one of the items in the pledge list caused me to scratch my head a bit -- the one that states: 'the tenants of my church oppose gay marriage.' Maybe they're part of the 'Rent Is Too Damn High' Party, or something? It's hard to tell."



Fishing for votes

There are all sorts of fishing metaphors you could use with this one ("fish or cut bait" perhaps?).

"I see that Liz Cheney is finding out that it's harder to pretend she's a Wyoming resident than she thought -- I see that she had to pay a $220 fine for lying about how long she had lived in Wyoming in order to get a fishing license. So not only does this exacerbate her 'carpetbagger' problem for her Senate run, but she's soon going to find out that Wyoming voters take their fishing responsibilities a lot more seriously than she might have imagined. Perhaps Cheney picked the wrong pond to fish for votes in, after all."



Ted Cruz, citizen of the world!

Oh, you just knew I wouldn't let Cruz off the hook, right? Oh, wait a minute, that metaphor seems to be left over from the previous talking point, sorry....

"I would urge every single person who ever questioned Barack Obama's birth certificate to apply the same amount of scrutiny and logical reasoning to Ted Cruz's Canadian birth certificate as they did to Obama's. In fact, I'd go even further, and suggest that a full investigation of Cruz is now necessary, since he recently stated that he is secretly a citizen of Ethiopia. How can we be sure where this man's loyalties lie? With his father, and Castro's Cuba? With Canada, and their socialized medicine? With Ethiopia, for Pete's sake? Somebody needs to get Orly Taitz on the phone right now and light a fire under her, because it's high time to file some court cases, folks! Or, at the very least, it's time for all those Republican legislatures out there to brush off their laws about who can legally appear on the ballot for president. After all, it would be logically consistent for the birthers to do so, right?"



Obama Derangement Syndrome

And finally, we must end with a medical diagnosis. Sorry, but the prognosis for recovery looks pretty dim right now....

"If ever there was a more concrete measurement of 'Obama Derangement Syndrome,' I am blissfully unaware of it. A recently-conducted poll among Republicans living in Louisiana showed that more of them placed the blame for the botched response to Hurricane Katrina at the feet of Barack Obama than former President George Bush -- who was actually in office when it happened. Seriously, you can't make this stuff up, folks -- 29 percent of GOP voters in the Pelican State blame President Obama for Katrina, whereas only 28 percent blame Bush. As far as they're concerned, almost one-third of the GOP voters are convinced that because everything is Obama's fault, Katrina must have been his fault, too. An astonishing 44 percent of them aren't even sure where to lay the blame -- which is a measure of the average attention span of Republicans, I suppose. But still, have you ever seen more convincing evidence of Obama Derangement Syndrome than this? Because I haven't."



Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
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