Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Specifically Vague

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) slammed President Obama for not have a specific strategy for dealing with ISIS, but can’t come up with one himself.

But then, he’s not the president.  What a relief.

Hell, even George Will is able to cut the president a little slack for not being able to herd the cats that are the alleged allies we have in Europe and the Middle East.  But Mr. McCain will never pass up a chance to remind us what fools we were to pass him and what’s her name over to lead the nation and chase kids off his lawn.

Love Them and Leave Us

I’m with Booman on this: what is with the right-wing punditry’s obsession with getting foreign leaders to run our country?

Ann Coulter wants Benjamin Netanyahu to be our president, Erick Erickson wants David Cameron to be our president, and Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle would be okay with either Netanyahu or Vladimir Putin being our president.

I’ve got a better idea: let Ann Coulter move to Israel, Erick Erickson move to Great Britain, and Kimberly Guilfoyle can move to Russia.  They’ll get the leaders they want and we’ll be rid of them here.  Win-win.

Salute Freedom Or Get Out

Someone needs to get their irony meter checked.  Via ThinkProgress:

A Florida mayor ejected one of his constituents from a City Commission meeting on Thursday because he declined to stand during the invocation and pledge to the flag at the beginning of the meeting.

Winter Garden Mayor John Rees, a nonpartisan official leading an Orlando suburb of about 37,000, was caught on video demanding that an audience member stand for a prayer, which thanked God for “allowing us to live in a country where we’re free to believe, think, and pray.”

The audience member responded, “I don’t believe I have to do that, thank you.” After the prayer, Rees again instructed the constituent, identified by the Orlando Sentinel as Joseph Richardson, to stand for the pledge to the flag as “children have to in school.” Richardson again politely declined.

“Okay. I asked him to either stand or please be escorted out as we do the Pledge,” Rees says in the video. “It’s just not fair to our troops and people overseas, sir.”

City police then enforced the mayor’s demand and Richardson left.

The Supreme Court has ruled that no one may be compelled to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.  A number of churches and denominations have specific imprecations against pledging to the flag or taking oaths, or even praying out loud.  But none of that seems to matter to Mr. Rees, who did it for the troops.  He perhaps will be explaining it to an attorney when he gets his ass sued in court for violating the spirit and the letter of the First Amendment.

Negotiating Over the Price

There’s an old joke about a guy who sees an attractive woman at a cocktail party.  He says to her, “Would you sleep with me for a million bucks?”  She looks him over and says, “Sure.”  He replies, “Okay, how about for twenty?”  She retorts, “Hell, no; what do you think I am?”  He says, “We’ve already established that.  Now we’re just negotiating over the price.”

That came to mind when I read this piece in the Tampa Bay Times:

Top aides to Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, two of the most vehement anti-Communist voices in Washington, took an all expenses paid trip to China this month courtesy of the Chinese government.

Sally Canfield, deputy chief of staff to Rubio, and Arthur Estopinan, chief of staff to Ros-Lehtinen, were part of a congressional staff trip facilitated by the U.S.-Asia Institute.

The trips, which include meetings with government officials in Beijing, have occurred since 1985, involving hundreds of lawmakers and staffers. They are a popular perk on Capitol Hill and come with luxury hotel stays and visits to top tourist sites, including the Great Wall. The cost can exceed $10,000 a person.

The Rubio and Ros-Lehtinen connection stands out because of their strong anti-Communism views. Both Cuban-American lawmakers have condemned the human rights records of China and Cuba and have opposed efforts to lift the U.S. embargo on Cuba. They also regularly criticize people who have gone to Cuba.

[...]

The Tampa Bay Times learned of the aides’ visits — which have not yet shown up in Senate or House disclosures — from a source backing a group that wants to see more normal relations with Cuba.

“It represents a real double standard,” said Chris Sabatini, senior policy director of the Americas Society and Council of the Americas, when the Times told him about the trips. “At the same time they are denying citizens’ right to travel to Cuba, they feel staff can travel to another country that has the same pattern of human rights abuses.”

[...]

Rubio’s spokesman Alex Conant wrote: “Senator Rubio has consistently condemned the totalitarian nature of the Chinese government, its record of systematic human rights violations and its illegitimate territorial claims. However, China is the most populous nation on earth, has the world’s second largest economy, has a significant nuclear weapons arsenal and is increasingly an economic competitor of the United States.

In other words, China paid for everything, including accommodations, travel, meals, and who knows what else, while if you took a trip to Cuba at the invitation of that government, bring your own soap.  A million bucks or twenty makes all the difference.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day

Charlie Chaplin, Modern Times

Having grown up in a union town that was near a large city that relied on union labor, I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the people who most hate unions are folks who think that it is unconscionable that workers should have the same rights as the managers and the owners of the company. How dare they demand a living wage and safe working conditions. Who do they think they are?

Yeah, yeah; in every large group there are bad apples and examples of bad faith and extremism. Welcome to the human race. The Republicans hold the unions up as the boogeyman of the Western world and label them as thugs… and give tax breaks to the corporations because they know that if they don’t, the corporations will kneecap them. Not literally; they’ll just stop giving them money, which, in corporate circles, is thuggery. The people who whine about “class warfare” always turn out to be the ones who are winning the war.

Perhaps one of the reasons that union membership is down is that unions have accomplished a lot of what they set out to do 100 years ago. Factories are safer, working hours are reasonable, wages are better than the minimum, and pensions provide some security. The unions have learned, however awkwardly, to accept that they have been successful, but they also know that if some people had their way in the world, they would turn back to clock to 1911, put children to work, take away the healthcare, and demand more production. After all, it works for the Chinese, and look how they’re doing.

By the way, not all union workers are Democrats; they certainly weren’t were I grew up. A lot of them are hardcore Republicans or conservatives — including police officers — who don’t care about the politics; they just want to be treated fairly. And a lot of people who are not union members are working under union contracts; in most places there is no requirement to join a union to benefit from their efforts. So while actual union membership may be down to 15%, the number of people who are part of the union is far greater. That includes public sector jobs as well as private. So the next time someone feels the urge to union-bash, be sure you’re not peeing in your own campfire.

Full disclosure: I am a dues-paying member of a union of sorts; I belong to the Dramatists Guild. It provides services for writers and lyricists and makes sure that when our works are produced, we have a fair contract and get paid our royalties. The joke among us is that we don’t go on strike; we just get writers’ block.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sunday Reading

Wales Ponders Independence — The referendum next month in Scotland has some Welsh thinking about their own nationality.  Karen Bennhold of the New York Times reports.

800px-Flag_of_Wales_2.svgTwm Morys was boiling carrots for his children when he momentarily stopped to recite a 15th-century battle chant in Welsh. Beating out the guttural consonants with a stave on his kitchen floor until they rang in every last corner of his farmhouse, Mr. Morys, a well-known poet, said it was time to put “fire in the belly” of his people.

He is not the only one. In the ancient mountains towering above this coastal town in northern Wales, where eight in 10 people speak the native Celtic tongue, and many carry names their fellow Britons would not dare pronounce, Welsh nationalists have their eyes firmly set on independence — Scottish independence.

Less than a month before Scotland holds a referendum on whether to leave Britain, Wales is watching with a mix of envy, excitement and trepidation.

“If Scotland votes yes, the genie is out of the bottle,” said Leanne Wood, leader of Wales’s nationalist party Plaid Cymru. Only one in 10 Welsh voters supports independence, compared with about four in 10 in Scotland, but Ms. Wood thinks that could change. “The tectonic plates of the United Kingdom are shifting,” she said.

Tremors from the Scottish debate can already be felt across Britain. Whatever happens on Sept. 18, growing demands for more regional autonomy will reshape the country. In Northern Ireland, nationalists spy an opportunity to revive dreams of a united Ireland. Cornwall recently won minority status for its Celtic inhabitants. Even the long-neglected north of England has turned up the volume, questioning an ever greater concentration of wealth in London and the southeast.

But in Wales, perhaps more than anywhere else, nationalists have made the Scottish independence bid their own in the hope that it will stir passions at home — if not for full independence, at least for more self-government.

Ms. Wood, who was once expelled from a legislative debate for referring to Queen Elizabeth II as “Mrs. Windsor,” has been to Scotland twice in support of the Yes campaign and plans to go again. The Welsh Hollywood actor Rhys Ifans has joined the #goforitScotland campaign. And Adam Price, an entrepreneur and prominent pro-independence thinker, has been campaigning in Scotland from a caravan, Welsh-style. “Caravaning for independence,” he calls it.

Others, like Mr. Morys, will gather in the Welsh capital, Cardiff, the week before the referendum for a series of performances to “whip up some Welsh enthusiasm,” stave in hand.

Wales and Scotland have much in common — not least an unfailing loyalty to any sporting side that plays against England, their once mighty and still dominant neighbor.

Ever since Margaret Thatcher, the conservative prime minister, shut their heavy industries, Scottish and Welsh voters have cast their ballot to the left of the English. There is, said Peter Florence, director of Wales’s Hay literary festival, a shared sense of not being represented in Westminster.

But Wales is smaller and poorer than Scotland. It has no oil to make up for the subsidies from London currently sustaining its public services. “We’re a hundred years too late,” Mr. Florence lamented, referring to the Welsh coal riches that once fired Britain’s industrial revolution. If he were Scottish, he would vote for independence, he said. “But we simply cannot afford it.”

Gerald Holtham, one of Wales’s most prominent economists, has done the math: Total government spending for Wales is 30 billion pounds a year, or about $50 billion, and tax receipts come to 17 billion pounds. “We’re talking about a gap a quarter the size of the economy,” he said.

Nationalists retort that Wales can escape poverty only if it takes charge of its own destiny. “No nation has ever ruled another well,” said Mr. Price, a former lawmaker who set up a technology company in Wales. “We are poor because we are not independent, rather than the other way round.”

But even he conceded that the time for Welsh independence has not come. First, he said, “We have to learn to be a nation again.”

Unlike Scotland, whose Parliament voted to join England three centuries ago, Wales was conquered in 1282. The Scots kept their own legal system, schools, universities, church and, with it all, a strong civic identity distinct from England’s. Welsh institutions were swallowed whole; the Welsh dragon, which flutters proudly and ubiquitously on the high street in Caernarfon, is nowhere to be seen in the Union Jack.

“We were England’s first colony,” said Eirian James, owner of Palas Print, a local bookstore with mainly Welsh-language fare. Every time she visits relatives in southern Wales, she has to take a train through England. To this day, most transport links run from west to east, toward England, rather than along Wales’s north-south axis.

The Welsh tourism board proudly promotes the fact that there are more castles per square mile in Wales than anywhere else. For locals, those castles are another reminder of early occupation.

Full disclosure — At least one branch of my family tree grew in Wales.

Doonesbury — Parental guidance.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Long Weekend

This is the unofficial end of summer for a lot of people in the Northern Hemisphere.  Enjoy the last trip to the beach or to the mountains or wherever you find rest and peace.

This is where I’ll be.  Or at least close to it.

The Beach 2

Friday, August 29, 2014

Fashion Plate

I heard that the twittersphere got all twitterpated because President Obama wore a tan suit at his press conference yesterday.  Well, if that’s what sets off the bird-brains, so be it.

Obama Speaks on the Situation in Ukraine

But now I hear that Rep. Peter King (R-NY) is angry about it, too.  Via TPM:

“There’s no way any of us can excuse what the president did yesterday,” King said on NewsMaxTV on Friday. The interview was flagged by Buzzfeed. “When you have the world watching … a week, two weeks of anticipation of what the United States is gonna do. For him to walk out —I’m not trying to be trivial here— in a light suit, light tan suit, saying that first he wants to talk about what most Americans care about the revision of second quarter numbers on the economy. This is a week after Jim Foley was beheaded and he’s trying to act like real Americans care about the economy, not about ISIS and not about terrorism. And then he goes on to say he has no strategy.”

So wearing a tan suit makes him appear un-presidential?  Really?

Check this out:

C3657-13

Okay, Mr. King, if you say so.

Real Family Values

Watching the clip below made me feel awful for the kid being violently abused by his family, but it also reminded of another young man in a similar situation coming out to his family.  The outcome is entirely different.

Now that’s a family.

How They’ll Win

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is the Senate Minority Leader and is in a tough re-election campaign for his seat.  So he’s appealing to like-minded donors such as the Koch brothers to help him stay in office.  Of course he has to promise them something in return.

Via The Nation, Mr. McConnell told them and others that if he becomes the Senate Majority Leader, he’ll mess with every piece of legislation he can.

So in the House and Senate, we own the budget. So what does that mean? That means that we can pass the spending bill. And I assure you that in the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what’s called placing riders in the bill. No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We’re going to go after them on healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board (inaudible). All across the federal government, we’re going to go after it…And we’re not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That’s all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage [sic]—cost the country 500,000 new jobs; extending unemployment—that’s a great message for retirees; uh, the student loan package the other day, that’s just going to make things worse, uh. These people believe in all the wrong things.

Charlie Pierce:

Dear Democrats: Here’s the thing.  A full 74 percent of Americans polled favored raising the minimum wage. Mitch McConnell just spit in their eye to curry favor with two Americans. A full 69 percent of Americans polled favored extending unemployment benefits. But none of them are named Charles Koch or David Koch, so Mitch McConnell believes they don’t count. Mitch McConnell has handed you a nice juicy steak out of which you can make a meal. Please don’t waste time waiting for the sauce.

Here’s another thing.  There are more Democrats in this country than there are Republicans.  In every race that is up for election in the Senate, Democrats outnumber Republicans, including states like Kentucky and Iowa and Michigan.  But those votes only count if they actually get out there and vote.  Republicans know this, which is why they have spent the last six years trying to make it harder for people who vote for Democrats to vote.

Do you see the point I’m making here?  If we don’t, they do.

Gun Tourism

People from all over the world are flocking to places like the range in Arizona where a 9-year-old accidentally killed an instructor with an Uzi.

With gun laws keeping high-powered weapons out of reach for most people — especially those outside the U.S. — indoor shooting ranges with high-powered weapons have become a popular attraction.

Tourists from Japan flock to ranges in Waikiki, Hawaii, and the dozen or so that have cropped up in Las Vegas offer bullet-riddled bachelor parties and literal shotgun weddings, where newly married couples can fire submachine gun rounds and pose with Uzis and ammo belts.

“People just want to experience things they can’t experience elsewhere,” said Genghis Cohen, owner of Machine Guns Vegas. “There’s not an action movie in the past 30 years without a machine gun.”

Hey, Disney World and Cedar Point, you’re missing out on a lot of action unless you open up The Wonderful World of Carnage.