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Fri May 9, 2014, 09:04 PM

Friday Talking Points (303) -- Benghazi Frenzy!

OK, I fully admit I wrote that headline with the express purpose of putting two "Z" words next to each other, just because. I did (in my own defense) reject "Lazy-Crazy Benghazi Frenzy!" as too over-the-top, however.

Ahem. Where was I? Oh, right, last week's news....

Sarah Palin, for some reason, was in the news last week. No, really. Although, we have to say, the mighty have indeed fallen when this news consisted of an interview with the television show Extra, which exists solely because some folks find reading People magazine to be too intellectually challenging. Seems perfect for Palin, doesn't it?

Speaking of the shallow swamps of the superficial, the annual "let's mash-up Hollywood stars and Washington wonks" dinner party was held last week as well. Joel McHale did a pretty good job of roasting everyone, so check out the video if you missed it.

White House security has had a pretty rough week, as first a confused tourist tailgated the president's daughters' motorcade right through the checkpoint, and then two people chucked mysterious items over the White House fence. But the disturbing security news this week was actually bipartisan, as a man was also arrested for making death threats against John Boehner (for not extending unemployment benefits).

Moving on, we have several Republicans saying such vile things about their political opponents that their own fellow Republicans had to denounce them. First, there was the Tennessee state representative who blogged: "Democrats bragging about the number of mandatory sign ups for Obamacare is like Germans bragging about the number of manditory (sic) sign ups for 'train rides' for Jews in the 40s." Even after his fellow Tennessee Republicans condemned the language, he issued the most non-apology apology we've ever read, expressing his "regret that some people miss the point of my post. It was not to offend. It was to warn. In no way was my post meant to diminish or detract from the pain, suffering and loss of human life that occurred during this dark time in human history. Instead the post was meant to draw attention to the loss of freedom that we are currently experiencing."

Out in California, Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly caught some heat from within his party after he accused a fellow Republican in the race of supporting Sharia law. Because when the guy was a senior Treasury official, he participated in a forum to "inform the policy community about Islamic financial services, which are an increasingly important part of the global financial industry." This prompted an impressive denunciation from none other than Darrell Issa, who issued a scathing statement: "There is no place in any public discussion for this type of hateful and ignorant garbage. As far as I'm concerned, this type of stupidity disqualifies Tim Donnelly from being fit to hold any office, anywhere. Donnelly is no longer a viable option for California voters. It is crap like this that gives Republicans a bad name and there is no place in the Republican Party or in this race for someone like Tim Donnelly." We're not big fans of Issa in general, but have to compliment him on not holding back at all in his condemnation.

North Carolina's primary election generated some news this week. We speak, of course, of whether Clay Aiken won the Democratic nomination to run for a House seat this November. Even if he does manage to emerge victorious (the vote count is so close a recount may be in the cards), the district is pretty conservative, so it's a long shot at best (although the media would certainly love covering the race).

Seriously, though, the big race in North Carolina was Thom Tillis winning enough Republican primary votes to avoid a runoff with a Tea Party candidate (which would have cost him time and money). This is being touted as a big victory for the Establishment Republican wing of the party, but in reality Tillis is pretty close to a Tea Partier himself, when you take a look at his views. So pronouncements that the Tea Party is now dead are a bit premature, to say the least.

Senator Kay Hagen, whom Tillis is running to defeat, has pivoted from using anti-Obamacare fliers (in an attempt to scare Republican voters in the primary) to now giving a full-throated defense of the Medicaid expansion part of Obamacare. This is a potent issue for Democrats to use, in red states that turned down the expansion money, so other vulnerable Democratic candidates should take note.

Republicans as a whole seem to be pivoting away from their stated singular campaign theme of "Obamacare is the root of all the country's problems." There was a noticeable change this week, beginning with the Republicans holding a hearing where insurance company executives told them their made-up numbers were just flat-out wrong. This was followed by a politer-than-expected hearing for the woman nominated to lead the Health and Human Services Department (the replacement for Kathleen Sebelius). Add to this the fact that Republican candidates for Senate are getting more and more reluctant to even take a stand on whether expanding Medicaid is a good idea or not. And the Obamacare data keeps getting better, meaning that more and more Republican scare stories are fast being debunked. What it all signifies is a clear shift away from the "all Obamacare, all the time" strategy that was supposed to sweep Republicans to victory this year.

What was even more noticeable was what Republicans shifted to instead: Benghazi! Or, more accurately: "Benghazi! Benghazi! Benghazi!" Yes, the Republicans are doubling down on holding yet another investigation -- in the hopes that this time an actual scandal will emerge, somehow. Also, to tarnish Hillary Clinton (always a worthy motive in Republicanland). Watch for this Benghazi frenzy to play out all summer long, since Republicans quite obviously have nothing positive to offer the voters this year.

OK, this is running long, so let's just quickly review the marijuana and religious news, and then get on with the awards. Five Nobel Prize winners (in economics) made public a letter calling for a global end to the drug war, which was also signed by former Reagan cabinet member George Shultz. In Colorado, state legislators moved to provide an alternate banking system that will allow marijuana-based businesses to have a bank account just like any other business (a step which was necessary because although the federal Justice Department tried to issue guidelines for banks, they didn't go far enough and the banks are still refusing to allow marijuana entrepreneurs access to banking). While states are moving forward, the federal government still seriously lags in the legal sphere, which leads to situations where people charged with marijuana crimes can't even speak about their medical use in federal courts.

More amusingly, Republican House member John Mica brought a fake joint to a hearing on Washington, D.C.'s new decriminalization law. Mica introduced his "evidence" (this article is worth checking out for the photos alone) with: "I have this joint here. Don't get too excited out there, some of you, this is not a real one, it's a mock one." Pro-reform Representative Steve Cohen, a Democrat, then asked Mica if he had rolled it himself, which prompted the response: "No, I had staff do it. They have more experience." You can pretty much make up your own punchline to that one, folks....

Speaking of humor in politics, the guy down in Florida who successfully put up a "Festivus pole" (made out of beer cans) in his statehouse's holiday display last year is now taking on his local town council. Days after the Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of holding prayers before public meetings, Chaz Stevens sent his local town council a letter:

Dear City of Deerfield Beach;

With the recent US Supreme Court ruling allowing "prayer before Commission meetings" and seeking the rights granted to others, I hereby am requesting I be allowed to open a Commission meeting praying for my God, my divine spirit, my Dude in Charge.

Be advised, I am a Satanist.

Let me know when this is good for you.

We should be seeing more of this sort of thing in the near future, folks. After all, if the Satanists are getting public prayers, can the Pastafarians be far behind (and what would a prayer to the Flying Spaghetti Monster sound like)? Where are the members of the Church of the SubGenius™, for "Bob's" sake? The gauntlet has been thrown down, so who will next answer the call?


Both of our awards this week go to fairly obscure Democrats, however both were also fairly easy to choose because they stood out so prominently from anything other (or more well-known) Democrats did last week.

It is hard to top "Governor Saves Woman's Life" as a headline, after all. Which is why our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week is the governor of Oregon, John Kitzhaber. Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, was on his way to dinner when he saw "someone along the edge of the street who seemed to be attempting to resuscitate a woman." The governor immediately halted his car, got out, and began giving CPR until the paramedics arrived and took over. By doing so, the governor likely saved the woman's life.

Again, that's pretty hard to top. There are impressive things people do in the world of politics, but then there are also impressive things some politicians occasionally do just as a human being. This obviously falls in the latter category. For using his medical skills to save a woman in distress, Governor John Kitzhaber is unquestionably this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.

{Congratulate Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber on his official contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.}


Sadly, this one is also an easy call. It doesn't seem to have been in any way intentional, and the guy apologized profusely, but even so the magnitude of the error deserves a Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

Mike Wells, a Democratic candidate for the Fresno, California city council, created a flier which attacked his opponent over the subject of urban blight. The problem was the photo that someone chose for the backdrop. Instead of just a random burned-out building, what appeared instead was a photo of a building at Auschwitz.

Now, this doesn't seem to be in any way intentional -- in the CNN story, Wells is interviewed and looks and sounds appropriately shocked by the news that his campaign was guilty of such an egregious mistake. He apologizes with apparent sincerity.

But still, that's a pretty bad mistake for your campaign to make. Someone found that image and decided to use it. It was -- obviously -- not properly vetted. Wells wasn't trying to make a point, as some Republicans do when comparing Democrats to Nazis (for instance). He wasn't saying urban blight in any way meant we were all headed towards concentration camps, to put it another way.

But, unintentional or not, this graphic mistake on a campaign flier easily qualifies Mike Wells for this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. Other Democratic candidates, please take note: in this age of search engines, please double-check everything that appears in your campaign literature. The extra time you spend doing so will be worth it, if it avoids mistakes like this.

{Mike Wells is a candidate for office, not an officeholder, and our standing policy is not to link to campaign websites, sorry.}

[center]Volume 303 (5/9/14)[/center]

We've got a mixed bag this week in the talking points department. Most of these deal directly with the gigantic GOP pivot this week, from Obamacare to Benghazi. But then I just threw one curveball in at the end for the heck of it.

That's all you got?

The first thing that needs pointing out this week is the lack of any positive Republican campaign issue. The tone to take would be: "taunting."

"Is this really the only thing Republicans have got to run on in an election year? Really? The number one issue before the country right now is supposed to be Benghazi? Republicans have nothing else to run on, I suppose, since the American public agrees with the Democrats that the minimum wage should be raised, immigration reform should pass the House, Medicaid should be expanded in all 50 states, and that taxes on the one percent are low enough already. Since they can't run on any of these because they are so out-of-touch with the lives of everyday working Americans, the only thing Republicans know how to do is try to throw a bunch of mud in the hopes that something will stick to the wall. I don't know about the hardcore Republican base, but most of the rest of America has already moved on from rehashing Obamacare and Benghazi one last time. I mean, seriously, this is all the Republicans have to run on? No vision for the future at all? They can't come up with one positive reason why the public should vote for them?"

Benghazi fundraising

Democrats are already finding some traction with this one, as they well should.

"OK, so let me get this straight. The new Benghazi investigation -- what is it, the sixth? seventh? -- is supposedly going to ferret out how Benghazi was used politically by one party. That, after all, is supposed to be the heart of this so-called 'scandal.' Well, I would direct any Republicans who wish to see what politicizing Benghazi looks like to the national Republican Party, who is now fundraising off of the Benghazi hearings. Yes, you heard that right, folks -- the Republican Party is begging for partisan donations over the deaths of four Americans. That's something they never even accused President Obama of, and it is downright despicable. Speaker John Boehner refuses to say so, and he refuses to stop trolling for campaign cash by using this tragedy for nothing but political purposes. If anyone had the slightest doubt that this entire 'investigation' is nothing more than a purely political (and cynical) exercise by the Republican Party, look no further than this odious fundraising effort. I think it's pretty obvious which party has politicized Benghazi, and I don't think we need any more hearings to figure it out."

The families don't want it

Nancy Pelosi has been leading the charge on this one.

"You know, John Boehner, when he was asked why he wasn't telling his fellow Republicans not to fundraise using Benghazi, responded by taking the high road, saying 'Our focus is on getting the answers to those families who lost their loved ones. Period.' But members of two of the four families affected have contacted Democrats to say that they would really prefer not to be subjected to yet another rehashing of their loved one's death. So Boehner is at least half wrong when he says he is speaking for 'those families who lost their loved ones' -- something the media might want to ask him about the next time he refuses to end these disgraceful Republican fundraising efforts."

Uninsured rate down again

Democrats, of course, shouldn't allow Republicans to fully pivot away from Obamacare. Especially since the good news just keeps rolling in.

"The best measure of whether Obamacare is achieving its goals is how many Americans remain without health insurance. Gallup has noticed a big downturn in this number, ever since the first Obamacare open enrollment period began. In the third quarter of 2013, a full 18 percent of Americans did not have health insurance. This number has dropped every month since, and is now down to 13.4 percent -- the lowest-ever rate since they've been asking this question in their polls. What this means is that at least 4.6 percent of Americans are now insured -- people who didn't have insurance before Obamacare started. Of course, 13.4 percent is still too high, but I fully expect this number to shrink over the next few years, as more and more people benefit from Obamacare. Because Obamacare is working exactly as it was designed, as evidenced by the fact that more and more Americans are now insured."

The bills are being paid, too

Republicans royally shot themselves in the foot over this one. Thankfully, Obamacare covers such self-inflicted injuries.

"Last week, Republicans in Congress tried to pull a fast one with a report that they said showed only 67 percent of people who had signed up for Obamacare had actually paid their first bill. They were so confident in their cooked-up numbers that they held a hearing for the insurance company executives. This spectacularly backfired in their faces, however, when all the insurance companies stated that the actual rate of people who paid was between 80 and 90 percent. This is only the latest Obamacare Republican lie to be debunked, folks -- there are certainly plenty of others. Maybe this is why Republicans have begun backing away from their single-minded focus on attacking Obamacare, who knows?"

How many are being denied Medicaid? And why?

Kay Hagen is leading the charge on this one, but all vulnerable Democrats should take note (and insert the correct figures for their home states).

"Senator Kay Hagen was in the news recently, pointing out that 500,000 North Carolinians are right now being denied Medicaid because the Republicans in her state don't want them to have any health insurance. Denying your people Medicaid because you hate President Obama might have sounded like a good thing a few years ago, but now we are beginning to see what this actually means to people's lives. It means millions of Americans who don't get health insurance because they live in the wrong state. If you live on one side of a state line, you and your family can afford to go to the doctor when you get sick; but if you live on the wrong side, it means you have to suffer because you can't afford health care. All because Republicans hate Obama -- there's simply no other reason for it. How can Republicans defend the position of denying so much peace of mind to so many of their own constituents? It's tragic, when you get right down to it."

Half a ton of weed

And finally, some good news. This is kind of funny, when you read the headline, but what it signifies is a much-needed shift in federal policy.

"The federal government just upped its order of legal marijuana by roughly half a ton. That's right -- over 1,400 pounds of legal federal marijuana will be available next year, folks! While this may sound amusing, what it means is that the federal government appears to be getting serious about allowing unbiased medical research on marijuana. This is the weed that is provided to approved studies of marijuana, and it has been kept so low because in years past, the federal government refused permission to anyone who wanted to study marijuana's benefits, instead of starting their research with the predetermined outcome that all marijuana is bad in all situations. The Justice Department has shown signs that it will be loosening up on granting permissions for serious medical research already this year, and the news that they have expanded the legal crop this year by half a ton means that -- hopefully -- multiple studies will now be allowed to happen. That, as Martha Stewart would say, is a good thing."

[center]Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
All-time award winners leaderboard, by rank[/center]

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