Together And Apart

[ Posted Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 – 17:05 PDT ]

Scotland is set to vote two days from now on whether to remain a part of Great Britain and the United Kingdom or whether to declare itself an independent nation. Ironically, one of the unanswered questions in the vote will be whether Scotland (should it choose independence) will be allowed to remain in the European Union or will have to reapply to be admitted as a new state (which could force them to use the Euro as currency, rather than sticking with the British pound). Will Scotland stay together within the E.U. while it declares itself apart from the U.K.?

I have to state, up front, that I have only a superficial grasp (at best) of the issue of independence for Scotland. I cannot advocate for either side of the question, because I simply don't have enough knowledge of the many issues surrounding Thursday's vote. Also, I have no idea what the outcome of the vote will be, but at least in this I am not alone, as the polling has gotten so close that few are now predicting which way it will go. About all anyone can say with any certainty is that it will be a historic vote no matter what happens, since if Scotland leaves Great Britain it likely won't ever return and (conversely) if it stays it will likely be a long time before another such referendum is held.

What I find interesting in the debate over Scottish independence is the larger question of whether Europe itself is coming together or flying apart. Or, perhaps, whether it could manage to do both at the same time.

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In Celebration Of Our National Anthem's Bicentennial

[ Posted Monday, September 15th, 2014 – 16:53 PDT ]

This past Saturday and Sunday marked the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore, which occurred towards the end of the War of 1812. Tomorrow will be the bicentennial of Francis Scott Key completing the now-immortal lyrics he titled: "The Defence Of Fort M'Henry" -- later more famously known as America's national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner."

The War of 1812 was one of (if not "the") most pointless wars America has ever entered. American schoolchildren, of course, are not taught this; instead they are taught about the few American victories in the war -- most notably, the Battle of Baltimore (or the "Battle of Fort McHenry") and the Battle of New Orleans. Left mostly untaught are the disastrous campaigns to conquer Canada and the biggest wartime occupation of American territory in any war we've ever found ourselves in. Also unmentioned is the fact that the treaty which ended the war (the Treaty of Ghent) gave neither side much of anything, and in fact returned both the United States and Great Britain to the status quo ante bellum (or, for non-Latin speakers: "right back where we started from").

The War of 1812 was more significant for the domestic fallout and aftermath than for any actual military or diplomatic victories. The war essentially killed off one of the first American political parties -- George Washington's "Federalists." Two of the biggest military victories on land gave us two future presidents -- Andrew Jackson, who won the Battle of New Orleans, and William Henry Harrison. The war did also convince American politicians of the need for an actual United States Navy, which had never really previously existed (due to the fact that it cost a lot of actual money). And, of course, it did gain us our national song.

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Friday Talking Points [319] -- Slouching Off To War

[ Posted Friday, September 12th, 2014 – 15:56 PDT ]

This is a special edition of this column, for a number of reasons. The first is that we're back after a one-week vacation hiatus, but the most special reason (to us, at least) is that this is the seventh anniversary of the launching of the "Friday Talking Points" column, which first appeared both on my site and the Huffington Post on September 14, 2007. The more mathematically-astute among you may notice that 52 times 7 equals a lot more columns than 319. This is true. Twice a year we are pre-empted by our year-end awards columns, and then the rest of the time we were just on vacation or otherwise doing something else. Like last week, for instance. This has led us to count the column's birthdays using the calendar, rather than the metric of "every 52 columns."

Back in 2007, I thought it would be a good idea to write congressional Democrats a memo, in the hopes they could begin to learn a skill Republicans seem to be born with: the ability to stay on-topic and present your political ideas and agenda items succinctly and memorably to the public. I had grown tired of watching the Sunday political shows where Republicans all sang off the same songsheet while Democrats were easily led into the weeds with long rambling tangents to what they should have been saying that particular week. This early effort grew, in the following weeks and months, into the format we now use weekly: a quick rundown of amusing items in the political news of the week, the awarding of the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week and the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week, and then seven numerated talking points suggested for all Democrats to use to explain the Democratic position to all and sundry (especially on Sundry morning talk shows... so to speak...).

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Obama Poll Watch -- August, 2014

[ Posted Thursday, September 11th, 2014 – 16:04 PDT ]

A mixed month

First, a program note is in order. This column is woefully late, I realize. I was on vacation for the first week of the month, and then the backlog of important issues demanded my attention earlier this week. Also, since September is already one-third over, I am not going to offer up many predictions at the end of the column, since I feel it would be cheating when I've got data to look at that I normally wouldn't. Also, because I am feeling lazy. All in all, what this means is that it's going to be a very short column this month, so my apologies. We'll be back on our normal schedule next month, I promise.

OK, with that out of the way, let's take a look at how President Obama did in job approval polling last month. The results were mixed, but overall fairly positive. Here's the new chart:

Obama Approval -- August 2014

[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]

August, 2014

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A Reluctant Warrior

[ Posted Wednesday, September 10th, 2014 – 19:54 PDT ]

President Barack Obama has always been a reluctant warrior. It is, in fact, one of the big reasons he was elected, since America had turned away from the cowboy swagger of Bush and Cheney by 2008. Tonight, President Obama laid out the case for escalating a war we've already begun, in Iraq and Syria. He presented his plan to the public, and gave his reasons for why America should become more involved in the fight against the Islamic State (or, variously, ISIS or ISIL), and explained what America would and would not be doing in the coming months.

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The Challenge From The Left

[ Posted Tuesday, September 9th, 2014 – 16:41 PDT ]

By the time I post this article, the election returns may have already been announced in New York state's Democratic gubernatorial primary. I state this up front to let readers know that I'm writing this before knowing how big a margin of victory the current governor, Andrew Cuomo, manages to gain over his Progressive challenger, Zephyr Teachout. Cuomo's victory is pretty much a foregone conclusion, but the size of his victory may be an important gauge of the growth of the Progressives, or what has previously been called "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party." If Teachout does better than expected, it could have reverberations in the next few years, as the 2016 presidential contest gets underway.

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Coyly Campaigning In Kansas

[ Posted Monday, September 8th, 2014 – 16:39 PDT ]

[Note: You'll have to forgive my somewhat-belated commentary on the shakeup in the Kansas Senate race, but I was on vacation all of last week.]

Last week, a political tornado of sorts happened in Kansas (of all places), raising the possibility of this Senate race becoming the tipping point which could decide partisan control of the Senate for the next two years. Democratic candidate Chad Taylor attempted to drop out of the race completely, clearing the field for Independent Greg Orman to take on sitting Senator Pat Roberts. Orman, however, is being coy by refusing to announce which party he'll caucus with on the all-important vote for Senate Majority Leader, should Orman win his race. If he does beat Roberts, Orman will become the third sitting Independent in the Senate.

While Democrats are usually said to have a 55-45 advantage in the current Senate, their actual number is technically "53+2," since both Vermont's Bernie Sanders and Maine's Angus King do not call themselves Democrats, while generally caucusing with Democrats (at least, for leadership votes). In addition, before he retired, Connecticut's Joe Lieberman was forced to run as an Independent when he lost his Democratic primary. Added together, that would be four senators in the past few years who were (or are) not formally members of the Democratic or Republican parties. That's not an overwhelming amount of senators, so it'd be premature to declare it any sort of general trend, but it is nonetheless interesting in a wonky sort of way. Added to the mix was the recent news from the Alaska governor's race, where the Democratic candidate formed a fusion ticket with the Independent in the race (putting the Independent on top of the ticket, with the Democrat running for lieutenant governor).

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From The Archives -- The First "Friday Talking Points"

[ Posted Friday, September 5th, 2014 – 15:00 PDT ]

Because I didn't know what I was getting into, this article's original title was "Memo To Democrats: Talking Points" -- it wasn't until I had done a few weeks' worth that I settled on the column series' current label.

Also because I was unaware that I was starting a long-running series, the format is rather crude and the talking points were of a more general or generic nature (rather than being specifically targeted to individual issues). It was more advice on how to craft your own talking points, in essence. The awards didn't occur to me until I had done over a month of these columns, and the snazzy graphics were also added later, by our in-house cartoonist. So you'll have to forgive the raw and unfinished look of this column. As I said, I didn't know what I was starting -- who knows, if the original had run on a Wednesday, maybe I never would have followed up with the "let's wrap up the week" concept. About the only thing I kept consistent was to limit the list to only seven items, really.

This column was written over a year later than the other ones I've run this week, right around the time I launched my own blog. But, being the first of its kind, I thought it was a good capstone to this week of looking back to the very start of my blogging career. Have a great weekend everyone, and remember that fresh new columns will start up once again on Monday. Thanks for your patience in reading this week's re-runs, as well.


Originally published September 14, 2007, titled:
"Memo To Democrats: Talking Points"

So Petraeus and Crocker have reported, President Bush has spoken to the nation, and the congressional war debate is slated to begin in earnest next week. Since the Democrats seem to be incapable of staying "on message" the way Republicans so effortlessly manage to do, I'd like to steal a page from the Republican playbook. It's an idea whose time has come: Democratic talking points.

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From The Archives -- Rape And Murder Should Not Be A Cartoon

[ Posted Thursday, September 4th, 2014 – 15:00 PDT ]

I knew I had written about this subject previously (which still annoys me no end, whenever I see it on my television screen), but I was kind of surprised to see how far back this piece was dated. This was the seventh blog post I ever wrote for the Huffington Post.


Originally published July 20, 2006

Where are all the "Ban Video Game Violence" crusaders when you need them?

There has been a trend in the television news media over the last decade which needs to be stopped. This trend is to show animated mockups while reporting war stories. These seldom enhance the news value of the story, instead merely giving viewers something to watch while the anchor reads the story.

This reduction of war to the level of a video game is disrespectful and demeaning for all concerned: soldiers who fight and die on the battlefield; relatives of soldiers who watch their loved ones' deaths reduced to a cartoon; the news media for sanitizing the brutality and reality of war to the level of a bloodless video game; and finally the viewing public for being essentially told they are children who can't handle adult images of combat wounds and death.

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From The Archives -- Allow Minimum Wage Workers To Share Congress' COLA

[ Posted Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014 – 15:00 PDT ]

You'll note, when reading this article, that since it was written, a minimum wage hike did actually pass Congress. You'll also note that they did not add a COLA provision to the bill. While the issue has come up again recently (with proposals to raise minimum wage to $9.00 or $10.00 an hour), this time around there does seem to be a serious push towards adding in a COLA, so that this will never again have to be such an enormous partisan battle in Congress. This is progress, and is good news (or, at least, it will be if-and-when it becomes law). This was the third blog post I ever wrote.


Originally published June 14, 2006

At least Congress appreciates irony. The following two AP stories appeared within hours of each other, both written by Andrew Taylor:

"House Panel Recommends Minimum Wage Hike"

"House Lawmakers Accept $3,300 Pay Hike"

The first article details how the House Appropriations Committee voted 32-27 to approve an amendment to a health and education bill to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25. The author of the amendment, Rep. George Miller [D-CA], is quoted saying, "The minimum wage is lower than it has been at any time since 1956. Congress' refusal to raise the minimum wage shows an utter disrespect for millions of Americans who work hard every day and still struggle to meet even the most basic needs." He obviously feels strongly about it, but unfortunately the minimum wage raise will probably not survive when it gets to the House floor since the Appropriations Committee doesn't even have jurisdiction over the issue. In other words, there's virtually no chance the Republican-dominated House is going to pass it any time soon. The article should really have a sub-head reading: "But It Ain't Going To Happen".

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