Monday, September 22, 2014

A Little Night Music

The equinox is tonight at 10:29 EDT.  Autumn arrives for folks in the Northern Hemisphere, but for my friend Mike in Adelaide, it’s the first day of spring.

Nevertheless, a lot of people are remembering the last rose of summer.

Now The Irish

Because it worked so well for the Scots:

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said Scotland’s “inspiring” referendum on independence would accelerate a vote to unite Ireland, a prospect quickly dismissed by Unionists who share power in Northern Ireland.

Scotland spurned independence in a historic vote that threatened to rip the United Kingdom apart but an electrifying campaign has emboldened separatist movements across Europe from Catalonia to Flanders.

Predominantly Catholic Nationalists in Northern Ireland, who remained part of United Kingdom in a northern province dominated by Protestants after the Irish state secured independence from Britain in 1921, maintained a studied silence in recent weeks.

Although the pro-British Protestants still make up a majority of the Northern Irish population, Nationalist leader Adams intensified his push for a border poll – which is allowed no more than once every seven years under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement peace deal.

Sinn Fein has argued that under the terms of the agreement, there is a right to a referendum and that there should be a debate on the issue. “The campaign in Scotland will accelerate that entire process,” Adams told Irish national broadcaster RTE.

The difference between Ireland and Scotland is that the debate over Scottish independence was based on political and economic power.  In Ireland, it is largely based on religion.  It’s not as if that’s ever been an issue in national politics before, has it?

Fast Food Nation

Yet another reason to skip Sunday morning tee-vee:

“Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd on Sunday described the 2014 midterm elections as a battle between “Starbucks nation” and “Chick-Fil-A country.”

He split the U.S. into the Democratic urban areas that drink Starbucks and the Republican rural areas that eat Chick-Fil-A.

According to Todd, there are a few Senate seats up for grabs in Chick-Fil-A-loving states like Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia, giving Republicans the advantage. And he said that the major battlegrounds are Colorado and Iowa.

He said that Democrats will need to deploy major get-out-the-vote efforts in urban centers. Perhaps at Starbucks?

[facepalm]

I did a search for Starbucks in Petoskey, Michigan.  I used to live there; it’s a resort community but also rural and pretty conservative.  There’s a Starbucks there.  Then I did a search for Chick-Fil-A: “Your search for Chick-fil-A restaurants near [ Petoskey, MI US ] found no locations. Please try another address to find a restaurant near you.”

There are no Chick-Fil-A’s in either Montana or North Dakota, but there are Starbucks in both states.

If this is NBC’s idea of how to explain complex political issues — by where we get our junk food — maybe it is time for the giant meteor to crash into the planet and end it all.

Just Like Old Times

Paul Krugman on the GOP blame-the-victim attack on the unemployed.

Last week John Boehner, the speaker of the House, explained to an audience at the American Enterprise Institute what’s holding back employment in America: laziness. People, he said, have “this idea” that “I really don’t have to work. I don’t really want to do this. I think I’d rather just sit around.” Holy 47 percent, Batman!

It’s hardly the first time a prominent conservative has said something along these lines. Ever since a financial crisis plunged us into recession it has been a nonstop refrain on the right that the unemployed aren’t trying hard enough, that they are taking it easy thanks to generous unemployment benefits, which are constantly characterized as “paying people not to work.” And the urge to blame the victims of a depressed economy has proved impervious to logic and evidence.

[...]

Is it race? That’s always a hypothesis worth considering in American politics. It’s true that most of the unemployed are white, and they make up an even larger share of those receiving unemployment benefits. But conservatives may not know this, treating the unemployed as part of a vaguely defined, dark-skinned crowd of “takers.”

My guess, however, is that it’s mainly about the closed information loop of the modern right. In a nation where the Republican base gets what it thinks are facts from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, where the party’s elite gets what it imagines to be policy analysis from the American Enterprise Institute or the Heritage Foundation, the right lives in its own intellectual universe, aware of neither the reality of unemployment nor what life is like for the jobless. You might think that personal experience — almost everyone has acquaintances or relatives who can’t find work — would still break through, but apparently not.

Whatever the explanation, Mr. Boehner was clearly saying what he and everyone around him really thinks, what they say to each other when they don’t expect others to hear. Some conservatives have been trying to reinvent their image, professing sympathy for the less fortunate. But what their party really believes is that if you’re poor or unemployed, it’s your own fault.

Having just seen Ken Burns’ documentary on the history of the last 100 years in America as seen through the lens of the Roosevelts, it is a stark reminder to hear again the voice of a politician that essentially echoes that of the robber barons of the 1890′s and the 1920′s.  How little things have really changed since then, and even though it took wars and revolutions to try to change them, they still sound like John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan: screw you if you haven’t got a million bucks lying around, and I don’t have to explain a damn thing to anybody.

Footnote:  On a brighter note, the heirs of Rockefeller have decided that they want nothing more to do with the oil business because of its impact on the climate.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sunday Reading

Please Sir, I Want Some War — Charles P. Pierce on the Senate voting to fund the war against IS and then beat it out of town.

The Congress did a ring-and-run on increased United States involvement in the whatever-the-hell-it-is against ISIS-or-ISIL-or-OASIS-or-whatever the hell it is. It took a vote. The Senate passed the bill to “arm and train” the Syrian rebels vetted personally by John McCain, and then everybody beat feet out of town for the homestretch of the campaign. To their eternal credit, both Edward Markey and Senator Professor Warren voted against the bill. (Nice job getting photographed in the Times walking into the Capitol with Bernie Sanders, Senator Professor. Very, very well-played.) If you’re keeping score at home, four “vulnerable” Democratic senators voted for the bill, including New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen, which can be seen as somewhat ominous. Mark Begich of Alaska voted against it, which can be seen as more than a little brave. Joe Manchin, who had serious doubts about the whole thing two days ago, felt very strongly both ways and voted for the bill, which can be seen as Being Joe Manchin.

(My favorite Informed Speculation is that Senator Professor Warren’s vote is a “good contrast” to Hillary Clinton’s vote for the Iraq War in 2002, and will help SPW with the party’s progressive base, wah-dee-doo-dah, when SPW runs for president, which she is going to do no matter how often she tells us she’s not. These people are worse than the old guys who used to hang out at the OTB on Eighth Avenue.)

And, because this is the Senate, and because the Republican party is insane, the vote for arming rebels in the Levant also was a vote against allowing the likes of Ted Cruz and Jeff Sessions to have another tantrum and shut down the government over…immigration.

[...]

And then the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body took a powder. The permanent ruling council of brass hats, however, remains unconvinced. (Although The Washington Post story is very curiously sourced. The only on-the-record military dissenter it cites is a retired general who doesn’t work for the administration any more. There is an oblique reference to an incident involving a battle in Iraq a year ago, and a quote from Rep. Buck McKeon, who, as far as I know, is not a general. That General Martin Dempsey left open the possibility of ground troops at some future date is hardly proof of a permanent “rift,” and neither are a couple of quotes from former Secretaries of Defense and from elsewhere in the national-security peanut gallery. And, just so we’re all clear, when there’s a disagreement between the president and a current military commander, the president wins. Every time. Don’t like it? Move to Myanmar.) I think the whole notion is a trifle nutty as presented; we’re going to arm people to fight both the Assad government and ISIS? More guns to that part of the world? It feels to me like the mission has already begun to creep. And it also feels to me like foreign policy is being made from the precincts under Lindsey Graham’s bed.

A Poor Place to Live — Kyle Munzenrieder in the Miami New Times reports on the gap between rich and poor in Miami.

As Miami’s real estate market has boomed to glittering new heights of luxury since 2010, the area’s median household income remains the second lowest of any major metro area while poverty has continued to increase. It’s embarrassing, if not depressing.

According to new data released this week from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the median income for a household in the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metro area is just $46,946 in 2013.

That’s the second lowest level in the nation’s top 25 metro areas. Only Tampa has a lower median household income. In fact, the two Florida metro areas are the only areas on the list where the median income is less than $50,000.

The median income is actually down from 2012, when it was $47,154. Though, it’s slightly up since 2010 when the median income was $45,352.

Meanwhile, poverty levels in the city have only gotten worse since 2010, with 17.7 percent of South Floridians now living below the poverty line.

In fact, 7.4 percent of South Floridians live on an income of less than half of what’s considered poverty (compare that to the national average of 7 percent). Another 10.3 percent live on an income that is 50 percent to 99.9 percent of the poverty line (compared to the national average 8.8). An additional 5.7 percent live above the poverty line, but make no more than 125 percent of the poverty threshold (nationally it’s 4.8 percent).

Miami has the second highest level of those living in poverty or near poverty, behind only Riverside, California.

In 2012, 17.5 percent of South Floridians lived in poverty. In 2010 that number was only 17.1 percent.

Miami certainly seems to be proving that old cliché: as the rich get richer, the poor get poorer.

The Queen Accepts — Andy Borowitz on Her Majesty’s largesse for an errant child.

LONDON (The Borowitz Report) – In the aftermath of Scotland’s “no” vote in the referendum on becoming an independent country, Queen Elizabeth II, of Great Britain, took to the airwaves on Friday morning to inform the people of Scotland that she “graciously and wholeheartedly” accepted their apology.

“Although the matter of independence has been settled, one question remains very much open,” she said in an address televised across Scotland. “And my answer to that question is this: yes, I forgive you.”

The Queen made only scant reference to her obscenity-laden tirade on Thursday, in which she reamed the Scots for even considering breaking away from the United Kingdom.

“Like any parent with a naughty child, I became a little cross,” she said. “I forgive you for provoking me.”

The Queen ended Friday’s address to the Scottish people on a conciliatory note. “Let us all, each and every one of us, move forward now as one great nation, enjoying the benefits and the history of our glorious and historic union,” she said. “Even the forty-five percent of you who are wankers.”

Doonesbury — Catching a break.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Friday, September 19, 2014

From the Department of the Painfully Obvious

Wow.  You could have knocked me over with a shovel with this news via the New York Times:

The parade of politicians on the Sunday morning talk shows veers to the right, not the left.

Conservative members of the current Congress have appeared more often on the network talk shows than their liberal counterparts. Senators and representatives from the conservative end of the ideological spectrum have made 57 percent of the appearances, compared with 42 percent for liberals, according to an Upshot analysis of data collected by American University.

This slightly lopsided distribution is primarily the result of three Republican senators’ frequent visits to the network shows: John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell. Because of the Republican Party’s control of the House during the past three years, its leaders and committee chairmen are presented with more opportunities to discuss the latest political news.

Participants in the 2008 and 2012 presidential nominating contests also helped boost conservative representation: Paul D. Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman who was the G.O.P.‘s 2012 vice-presidential nominee, made 46 appearances between early January 2009 and Aug. 3, 2014.

[...]

As we’ve previously reported, John McCain, the Arizona Republican senator, sets the standard for lawmaker appearances on the shows.

Which is why I spend my Sunday mornings in the silence of the Quaker meeting.

Rated Arr

I feel that it is my obligation to warn you that today is Talk Like A Pirate Day.

PirateyActor Robert Newton, who specialized in portraying pirates, especially Long John Silver in the 1950 Disney film Treasure Island, the 1954 Australian film Long John Silver, and as the title character in the 1952 film Blackbeard, the Pirate,[10] is described as the “patron saint” of Talk Like A Pirate Day.[1] Newton was born in Dorset and educated in Cornwall, and it was his native West Country dialect, which he used in his portrayal of Long John Silver and Blackbeard, that some contend is the origin of the standard “pirate accent”.[11]

The archetypal pirate grunt “Arrr!” (alternatively “Rrrr!” or “Yarrr!”) first appeared in fiction as early as 1934 in the film Treasure Island starring Lionel Barrymore,[11] and was used by a character in the 1940 novel Adam Penfeather, Buccaneer by Jeffrey Farnol.[11] However it was popularized and widely remembered with Robert Newton’s usage in the classic 1950 Disney film Treasure Island. It has been speculated that the rolling “rrr” has been associated with pirates because of the location of major ports in the West Country of England, drawing workers from the surrounding countryside. West Country speech in general, and Cornish speech in particular, may have been a major influence on a generalized British nautical speech.[12][13] This can be seen in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance, which is set in Cornwall; although the play did not (originally) use the phrase “arrr”, the pirates used words with a lot of rrr’s such as “Hurrah” and “pour the pirate sherry”.[14]

Sorry, Bob.

Chicken Hawks

Not that I’m in favor of going to war, but at least you would expect the Senate to take a vote on it when asked.  Via Greg Sargent:

Today, the Senate is expected to authorize the funding and arming of the Syrian rebels, and then leave town without holding any vote on the broader American escalation — a striking abdication of Congressional responsibility.

In other words, the only war vote we’re getting is on the narrow question of funding the Syrian rebels. Yet even here, that vote will be stuffed in with a vote on funding the government — there won’t be any stand-alone vote on the war piece.

And then they ran for the exits like someone popped the top on a can of Ebola.

So all those butch Republicans like Lindsay Graham were all gung-ho for full scale Armageddon war on ISIS as long as they’re not the ones who actually have to vote on it.

Swearing Off

God is no longer required to be your co-pilot.

Airmen taking their enlistment or officer appointment oaths can omit the words “so help me God” if they choose, Air Force officials announced Wednesday.

The policy change comes after an atheist airman at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada struck out the words on his Department of Defense reenlistment paperwork and ran afoul of a policy that prohibits omissions. The case went up to the Department of Defense General Counsel, which issued an opinion saying the language could be left out if the airman preferred. All of the other military services have allowed the alternate language for years.

“We take any instance in which airmen report concerns regarding religious freedom seriously,” Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said in a statement. “We are making the appropriate adjustments to ensure our airmen’s rights are protected.”

This ruling has the usual suspects all twitterpated — Pat Robertson even got a touch anti-Semitic (blame the Jews!) — but there’s a little thing called the Constitution that explicitly forbids any religious test for holding a government job.  Rail on, supercilious twits.

Scotland Votes “Nae”

Via the BBC:

Scotland has voted to stay in the United Kingdom after voters decisively rejected independence.

With the results in from all 32 council areas, the “No” side polled 2,001,926, votes to 1,617,989 for “Yes”.

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond called for unity and urged the unionist parties to deliver on more powers.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said he was delighted the UK would remain together and said the commitments on extra powers would be honoured.

The best part — aside from the fact that it was settled peacefully and democratically — is that we won’t be plagued with endless clips from Braveheart any more.