A discussion Friday about lessons from Charlottesville

Photo by Evan Nesterak obtained from Wikimedia Commons.

Photo by Evan Nesterak obtained from Wikimedia Commons.

Remember a couple of months back, when I moderated a forum for the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council about the Bull Street redevelopment project?

Well, tomorrow we’re going to have another one that may interest you. It starts at 11:30 a.m. at the offices of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce offices at 930 Richland St.

The topic is “Lessons from Charlottesville.” The idea is to have a discussion about the implications for our own community arising from the issues raised there.

We expect 30 or so people, including Tameika Isaac Devine from city council, J.T. McLawhorn from the Columbia Urban League, and Matt Kennell from the City-Center Partnership.

Bryan came to the Bull Street one, and I think he found the discussion interesting. I did, anyway.

Whether y’all can come or not, I’d like a little advice. I’ve thrown together a short list of questions to offer to the group. The questions are just ways to keep the discussion going as needed. These discussions don’t follow a formal structure, with questions followed by timed answers, or anything like that.

Here are the ones I have. Suggestions?

  1. Could what happened in Charlottesville happen here? If not, why not? And if so, what can we do to prevent it?
  2. Even if we are spared the violence we saw in Virginia, how should we here in the Midlands respond to the issues that confrontation laid bare?
  3. President Trump has been roundly criticized for his response to what happened. What would you like to hear elected leaders in South Carolina say regarding these issues?
  4. Being the capital of the first state to secede, we have more Confederate monuments here than in most places. What, if anything, should we do with them?
  5. Has anyone present had a change of attitude or perspective, something that you’d like to share, as a result of the re-emergence of these issues onto the nation’s front burner?

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Sen. Graham, please stop pushing this awful plan

Graham pushing his proposal recently in Columbia.

Graham pushing his proposal recently in Columbia. FILE PHOTO

If Lindsey Graham succeeds in selling the Graham-Cassidy proposal for repealing Obamacare, it is what he will be remembered for.

At the moment, to watch him as bounces about on an apparent high because of the way Republicans are lining up behind his plan, that’s a thought that would please him.

But it ought to chill his heart.

Sen. Graham is a man who has courageously stood for wise policies at great political risk — immigration comes to mind, as does his efforts over the years to break partisan gridlock over judicial nominations. But with this, he is completely on the wrong track, poised to make health care less available — especially to the poor and vulnerable — than it was before the Affordable Care Act.

As The Los Angeles Times notes:

Not content just to roll back the expansion of Medicaid in the Affordable Care Act, it would cap funding in a way that would threaten services for Medicaid’s core beneficiaries, including impoverished disabled people and families….

Graham likes to talk about federalism — normally a word that pleases me, invoking the principle of subsidiarity — in selling his idea of taking federal money for healthcare coverage and handing it out to the states as block grants.

Since I (just like Lindsey) live in a state that has bullheadedly refused to expand healthcare coverage even when the feds were almost entirely paying for it, that idea is a nonstarter. Worse, it would take funding away from wiser states that have tried to cover more uninsured people.

Do you trust South Carolina’s current leadership to actually expand access to healthcare with such a block grant? I do not.

But perhaps the worst thing about the proposal is the way Graham — and other Republicans desperate to do something, anything to “repeal Obamacare” before the end of this month — are rushing pell-mell to push it through, absent careful consideration and without a CBO assessment.

Most of them, I gather, could not care less about the impact of this proposal on actual Americans, as long as they pass something they can toss as anti-Obama red meat to their base.

The American people do not want this bill:

The block-grant proposal at the center of Cassidy-Graham is astoundingly unpopular, with just 26 percent of all voters and 48 percent of Republicans telling pollsters that they favor it….

Frankly, I’m confident that it would be less popular if people knew more about it — which they don’t, because of the way this is being jammed through.

“Success” in passing this abomination could prove disastrous for Republicans — not only on the national level, but in the state legislatures they so overwhelmingly control, since blame for the mess it would create would be in the states’ laps.

Some speculate that in the long run it would make Bernie Sanders’ single-payer pipe dream viable, such would be the backlash it would cause. This is ironic, given the mean-spirited way Graham taunts Bernie in trying to sell his plan to the right: ““Bernie, this ends your dream.”

I’ve never been a Bernie Sanders fan, but that Trumpist applause line of Graham’s makes me more sympathetic to the cranky old socialist than I have ever been. After all, health care is the one issue on which Bernie is actually right.

Wiser Republicans, such as my man John Kasich, are trying their best to pull their party back from this precipice:

In a letter to Senate leaders, the group of 10 governors argued against the Graham-Cassidy bill and wrote that they prefer the bipartisan push to stabilize the insurance marketplaces that Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) had been negotiating before talks stalled Tuesday evening.

As I’ve said before, that’s what Graham and other more-or-less centrist Republicans should be doing — backing the far more sensible Alexander approach. Instead, our senior senator is rushing madly toward a disastrous policy.

Sen. Graham’s senses have deserted him on this matter, even to the point that he seems to exult that the Trump administration is backing his plan. That fact alone should sober him up and cause him to realize he’s on the wrong path, but it’s having the opposite effect.

And Lindsey Graham knows better. Or he used to…

Dominica is still incommunicado

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At the very bottom of The New York Times story about Puerto Rico being without power is this paragraph:

Maria had battered the island nation of Dominica a day earlier. Prime Minister Skerrit described the damage as “mind-boggling” and wrote on Facebook that he had to be rescued after winds ripped the roof off his official residence. But little information has emerged since then, with the storm having taken out phone and power lines on the island.

And that’s the way things still stand. My wife has had two conversations with stateside Peace Corps officials. In the first, they said all PC personnel are safe and accounted for.

That’s it. We haven’t spoken with our daughter or been able to communicate in writing. Which we’re anxious to be able to do.

And there have been virtually no news reports. I’ve grabbed the images above and below from the Facebook page of WIC News, “Your home for Caribbean and global news you can trust.” I hope they don’t mind my using them.

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‘The Vietnam War,’ Episode Three: ‘The River Styx’

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There are a lot of things I don’t understand about the war in Vietnam, and I’ve been hoping Ken Burns’ new series would help me sort out.

One is North Vietnam’s complicated relationship with, on the one hand, the Soviet Union, and on the other hand with China.

It would be so easy to explain the North as the Russians’ client state, and at times as I’ve read about the war, that has appeared to be the case. Other times, China seems to have played that role. And over the years, I’ve thought, how can both be true, given the bitter split between the world’s two biggest communist countries back in the ’60s?

And yet, I’m learning from the series, apparently the answer was indeed “both.”

Both poured considerable resources into helping the North — the Chinese sending 320,000 people (I’m saying that from memory — I didn’t write the number down during the show), and the Soviets sending vast amounts of materiel along with advisers.

How did Hanoi maintain that uneasy balance? With great difficulty, apparently.

And the split in those two nations’ attitudes toward Marxism’s inevitable march through history was reflected in North Vietnam’s leadership. Ho Chi Minh subscribed to the less aggressive, more accommodating approach pushed by Moscow. (He, for instance, was very upset that North Vietnamese gunboats had fired on Americans in the Tonkin Gulf.) Le Duan, who increasingly gained greater sway over Hanoi at Ho’s expense, favored the more extreme, violent, approach of the Maoists.

One thing about the commies: They weren’t monolithic. Which takes us back to my Unified Field Theory of human affairs: People are complicated, regardless of how they try to boil things down into simple ideologies.

Here’s a detail that particularly struck me last night: The part where China sent those 300,000-plus people to help with the war effort. They did it in a way that marked a profound contrast to the American approach: They send them to take on rear-echelon jobs to free North Vietnamese soldiers to go to the front.

In doing that, they embodied Donald Trump’s notion of international relations (reiterated in his speech to the U.N. yesterday): That every nation looks out for itself, that it’s all about self-interest.

Meanwhile, LBJ was sending entire American combat units over to fight, bleed and die for the Vietnamese.

The clip below shows the reaction of one Vietnamese woman to that. And there were many others like her. Key excerpt:

We’re such a small and poor country, and the Americans have decided to come in to save us — not only with their money, their reseources, but even with their own lives.

We were very grateful…

As I’ve done the last couple of days, my intention here is just to share a thought or two from the episode, something that jumped out at me, as a conversation starter. There was enough in last night’s episode to fill a book with.

Perhaps you would like to make other points based upon it…

KKK questions in the 5th grade, and the ‘virtues of slavery’

They may look scary, but look at it from their perspective, kids...

They may look scary, but look at it from their perspective, kids…

Well, we’re in The New York Times again. This time it’s for asking a bit much of 5th-graders in Irmo:

“You are a member of the K.K.K.,” the fifth-grade homework assignment read. “Why do you think your treatment of African-Americans is justified?”

The work sheet, given on Thursday as part of a lesson on the Reconstruction period, caused an outcry after one student’s uncle, Tremain Cooper, posted a photo of the assignment on Facebook.

“This is my little 10-year-old nephew’s homework assignment today,” he wrote. “He’s home crying right now.”

Mr. Cooper identified the teacher as Kerri Roberts of Oak Pointe Elementary School in Irmo, S.C., a suburb of Columbia, and added, “How can she ask a 5th grader to justify the actions of the KKK???”

Reached by phone, Ms. Roberts’s husband said she was unavailable and was “not going to comment on anything.”…

Hoo, boy.

Of course, that’s a perfectly fine question to ask, to get the ol’ gray matter working — in a graduate poli sci course. I think it’s a shame that Ms. Roberts — who is on suspension pending investigation of the incident — isn’t commenting, because I would dearly love to know the thinking behind asking 5th-graders to tackle it.

Had she even looked at the lesson before she passed it out? Or was this enterprise on her part? Had she decided to go for a real challenge, asking her students to reach for understanding beyond their years?

One thing I’ll say in defense of this: It’s a more reasonable question than this one asked in California:

In February, second graders at Windsor Hills Elementary School in Los Angeles were asked to solve a word problem: “The master needed 192 slaves to work on plantation in the cotton fields. The fields could fill 75 bags of cotton. Only 96 slaves were able to pick cotton for that day. The missus needed them in the Big House to prepare for the Annual Picnic. How many more slaves are needed in the cotton fields?”

Correct answer: “That’s a trick question! Masters don’t have to do math!”

Of course, we have at least one person here in South Carolina who might love to be asked such a question. His letter to the editor appeared in The State today:

Teach truth about the virtues of slavery

The recent controversy about Confederate monuments and flags ultimately revolves around one man and one question. The man is John C. Calhoun, the great philosopher and statesman from South Carolina, and the spiritual founding father of the Confederacy. The question is: Was Calhoun right or wrong when he argued, from the 1830s until his death in 1850, that the South’s Christian slavery was “a positive good” and “a great good” for both whites and blacks?

If Calhoun was wrong, then there may be grounds for removing monuments and flags.

But if Calhoun was right, the monuments and flags should stay and be multiplied, blacks should be freed from oppressive racial integration so they can show the world how much they can do without white folk, the Southern states should seize their freedom and independence, and the North should beg the South’s pardon for the war.

Calhoun’s views are unpopular today because, since 1865, the Yankee-imposed education system has taught all Americans that the South’s Christian slavery was evil and that everyone is equal. But unpopularity cannot make a truth untrue, and popularity cannot make error truth.

WINSTON MCCUEN
AIKEN

“If Calhoun was right….”

Excuse me while I sit here and try to come up with a justification of Mr. McCuen’s point of view. It might be on the six-weeks test…

This is where the South Carolina Court of Appeals sits.

This is where the South Carolina Court of Appeals sits.

Another Democrat who apparently can’t afford a razor

Trent

 

I had to smile at this.

Remember I told you about that OZY profile of Jaime Harrison, in which I was quoted again noting that I’ll believe Democrats are serious about winning a congressional seat when they recruit a candidate willing to shave for the campaign?

Well, the writer of that piece sent me this today:

This website made me laugh and think of you — Dem running in a R-leaning Georgia seat formerly repped by centrist John Barrow. https://votetrent.com/

Whoa! That boy’s taking the whole facial-hair thing and squeezing it until it hollers!

He’s a little different from the hirsute ones who have run in South Carolina. Arik Bjorn and Archie Parnell, both being graybeards, had a sort of professorial look — they looked like they wouldn’t be out of place teaching a graduate-level course called “Marxist Perspectives on Shifting Gender Roles in Patriarchal Societies.”

Trent Nesmith, by contrast, has more of a hipster look going, and not just because of his youth. He seems to be saying, “Call that a beard? Check out this waterfall of fur!” Fortunately, his smile prevents you from thinking “Rasputin.”

Watch: I’ll get a lecture from Bud about focusing on style instead of substance. But that would be missing the point. The point isn’t the beard. The point is, how committed is the candidate? And when’s the last time you saw someone with a beard elected to high office in this country? And how big a deal is it to shave?

Yeah, you’re right — a beard is a stupid reason not to vote for somebody. But knowing how few bearded men (and even fewer bearded women, I’ll add for those who think I’m failing to be inclusive) get elected, you really have to wonder about the commitment of a candidate who won’t take the minimal step needed to remove a possible obstacle…

‘The Vietnam War,’ Episode Two: ‘Riding the Tiger’

As yesterday, I’m not going to try to review or summarize the entire episode. You can go watch it any time at the website.

Anyway, I wasn’t able to concentrate on it straight through. For whatever reason, the AT&T Uverse listing had the wrong time, and it was halfway over before I knew it was on. So I watched the second half, then the first. During it all, my real focus was on what was happening in Dominica, as you might imagine. So I went back after — we were up anyway, hoping for news out of the Caribbean — and watched some parts a third time.

But as I did yesterday, I’ll mention one thing that sort of blew me away.

It was that little voice memo that JFK left to posterity a few days after the coup in Saigon that resulted in the deaths of South Vietnamese President Ngô Đình Diệm and his brother, Ngô Đình Nhu.

Make no mistake, Diem was bad news. When the U.S. leaned on him to get him to stop oppressing the Buddhist majority in the country, and Kennedy decided to send heavyweight Henry Cabot Lodge as his new ambassador to emphasize the point, Diem waited until the old ambassador left and Lodge had not yet arrived, cut all wires leading to U.S. offices in Saigon, and rounded up thousands of monks and others across the country.

Diem

Diem

Like I say, bad news.

But the coup was badly botched form its inception. A memo was sent by a junior state department official to the generals plotting against Diem that urged them to go ahead. He ran it by JFK — over the phone, while Kennedy was on vacation at Hyannis Port. Kennedy didn’t hear the entire contents of the memo, and OKed it thinking his senior policy advisers were on board. They were not, and many would not have been.

A total clusteryouknowwhat.

But that’s not what impressed me. What impressed me was this a historical footnote that sent shivers down my spine. You might think it a small thing.

When narrator Peter Coyote says, “Three days later, he dictated his own rueful account of the coup, and his concerns for the future,” I thought to myself, It would be amazing if we could hear that account in his own voice, but I assumed that was impossible.

So I was amazed when I actually did hear Kennedy himself expressing his regret and self-blame. Apparently he said it into a Dictaphone or some other recording technology of the time.

You can hear it above. The most powerful part of it:

I, uh, feel that uh we must bear a good deal of responsibility for it, beginning with our cable of August in which we suggested the coup.

I, uh, should not have given my consent to it without a roundtable conference.

I was, uh, shocked by the death of Diem and Nhu… the way he was killed made it particularly abhorrent.

I found what Kennedy said to be stunningly frank. He took responsibility and analyzed his own failings as dispassionately as though he were examining an ant under a magnifying glass. Beyond his trademark “uhs,” which always punctuated his speech, there is no hesitation.

It was even more striking to me giving our current maddening experience with a president who is never at fault, who owns up to nothing, who lashes out childishly at anyone who might suggest that he could be. A man whose grasp of world affairs… well, go listen to his appalling speech at the U.N. today.

Knowing it was to be left to posterity, Kennedy could have tried to burnish his reputation, fix blame elsewhere, obfuscate. After all, it was a complicated situation, and very smart people in his administration were saying the development was on the whole a positive one. But he didn’t. His honesty, and the clarity of his thinking amid such shocking events, is startling.

Three weeks later, he was dead….

jfk consent

My mind and heart are focused on Dominica tonight

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This morning, I knew that Hurricane Maria was headed toward Dominica, the tiny Caribbean island where my daughter lives in sight of the sea.

But I was reading that it was a Category 1, and I knew that my daughter would be with the other Peace Corps personnel in a hotel in the city of Roseau — a place U.S. officials considered safe.

I’d heard that by the time the storm reached Puerto Rico it might be a Category 4, and I took that to mean AFTER Dominica. And I had exchanged Facebook messages with my daughter, and she seemed unworried. This was the third time this month the Peace Corps people had gathered at that hotel ahead of a storm, and to her, it seems to have become something of a routine.

So I was shocked when I got come and learned that it was bearing down on Dominica as a Category 4.

And I realized my mistake: American news is tailored to American audiences. And too few Americans are familiar with the Caribbean, beyond a vague notion that Puerto Rico is there. So when that report said it would be a Category 4 when it reached Puerto Rico, it was assuming I didn’t care about Dominica.

But I do. A lot.

Now, American news media have caught on to the existence of the island, and are reporting such things as ”

“‘Extremely dangerous’ Hurricane Maria heading for Dominica, Puerto Rico”

It’s supposed to hit at about 9 p.m. We’re trying to stay in touch with my daughter, but how long will they have wi-fi? If they lose that, and phone service, we’ll just have to wait. Like this is the 19th century or something.

Anyway, that’s what’s on my mind and in my heart tonight. Prayers will be appreciated.

A Dominica scene.

A Dominica scene.

First video for James Smith’s campaign-to-be (one hopes)

Joel Lourie shared this with me this afternoon, and I’m sharing it with you.

Rep. James Smith is apparently moving closer and closer to launching a campaign for governor, and I think that would be a pretty exciting development. Because, frankly, I’m not terribly inspired by any of the other choices we have before us next year.

I had thought we could look to Henry McMaster for good things, in spite of the inexplicable aberration of his endorsement of Trump. After all those years of Sanford and Haley, both determined not to work constructively with the Legislature, it looked like we might have someone willing to lead.

But nope. What was his first significant act, the one that defned his first legislative session as governor? After Speaker Jay Lucas and other GOP leaders had had the guts to stand up and both fund and reform our roads, Henry stabbed them in the back with a veto, an action that had nothing to do with leadership and everything to do with craven political calculation.

If others now eyeing the office would be better, they haven’t shown it yet.

But James Smith is a guy who has worked with Republicans and his fellow Democrats to try to make South Carolina a better place for its citizens. This is a guy who has served in the trenches for 20 years, not just somebody who has been all about the next big office.

James embodies service, in every sense. This is the man who, with a comfortable billet as a JAG officer, gave it up to enlist as just another dogface so he could go fight after 9/11. He was told that’s what he would have to do to join the infantry, so that’s what he did. He went through basic training as just another another grunt — except he was twice the age of the recruits he was determined to keep up with. He made it, and ended up in combat in Afghanistan, serving with his fellow South Carolinians — Republicans, Democrats and independents.

Y’all know me. Y’all know how much I respect that sort of thing. But the kind of character he showed in that has been borne out in his conduct as a lawmaker.

Have I always been a James Smith supporter? Nope. We didn’t endorse him the first time he ran. We liked him and his Republican opponent, but we went with the Republican. He’s spent all the years since showing me that we might have gotten that one wrong.

Anyway,  this should be good. Ginger, get the popcorn

Capt. Smith takes aim...

Capt. Smith takes aim…

First episode of Ken Burns’ ‘The Vietnam War’

Ho Chi Minh, third from left, stands with Americans of the OSS in 1945. Not sure, but I think that's Dewey to his left.

Ho Chi Minh, third from left, stands with Americans of the OSS in 1945. Not sure, but I think that’s Dewey to his left.

The first American military death at the hands of Vietnamese communists was possibly the most tragic, because it helped lead to all the others.

Lt. Col. Peter Dewey, only 28 years old (which makes his rank rather startling), was our man in Saigon at the end of World War II. As the various powers who had just won the war were figuring out their relationships in Southeast Asia, Dewey — the head of our OSS team in Vietnam, was leaning toward supporting Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh.

Dewey

Dewey

This made some sense, as Ho at the time still had pro-American leanings, despite his devotion to Leninism.

But the senior Allied officer in country was British Maj. Gen. Douglas D. Gracey — a colonialist who was all for helping the French reassert control over their colony. Gracey ended up sending Dewey home. On the way to the airport, Dewey refused to stop at a roadblock, yelled at the Viet Minh sentries in French, and was shot and killed by them.

Ho Chi Minh wrote a letter of condolence to President Truman.

From then on, Western powers increasingly sided with their French allies, and things got worse and worse…

That’s one thing I learned from the first episode of Ken Burns’ latest opus, “The Vietnam War.”

On the whole it was very helpful and educational. I only have one beef:

The episode told a clear, coherent story that set the stage, starting with the beginning of French rule in the 1850s and running up to 1961. As long as it stuck to that, it was solid. But the filmmakers kept cutting away to little snippets foreshadowing our involvement at its height in the late ’60s. We’d be learning what happened in the1940s, and suddenly someone would be talking about his experience as a marine in 1969.

It was jarring and distracting, and, I felt, rather condescending. It was as though Burns and Lynn Novick were saying, “We don’t think you have the attention span to stick with this narrative, so we’ll give you little bits of what you tuned in to see…”

I didn’t like that a bit. But on the whole, a solid start…

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Hey! Alla you kids, get offa my Blossom Street!

This was on Friday, as I sat through several light cycles waiting to turn onto Pickens.

This was on Friday, as I sat through several light cycles waiting to turn onto Pickens.

Have you made the mistake of trying to get anywhere on Blossom Street — say, between Five Points and the Congaree River bridge — since the kids came back to campus?

If so, you know why I say “mistake.”

The worst point is at the intersection of Blossom and PIckens, which I at least attempt to traverse several times a week.

It has never been this bad, or even close. This no doubt has something to do with the record freshman class, but it seems like there must be three or four times as many students in the past.

And all, of course, driving cars.

On Friday, stuck through about four full cycles of the traffic light trying to turn left onto Pickens from Blossom, I glanced over at the sidewalk on the north side of Blossom, and suddenly flashed on a memory: It was me as a freshman, that one semester I went to USC, walking with groceries back from the Winn-Dixie in Five Points (where the Walgreens is now) to my room in the Honeycombs.

Which reminded me that I only knew of one guy on the floor of my dorm who had a car. I once got a ride from him to the K-Mart in Cayce on the way to the airport to pick up something that my uncle in Bennettsville needed, and which he could only get from K-Mart, to his knowledge. (It was vacuum cleaner bags. Remember, there was no Amazon.)

Not one other time, that whole semester, did I need to go anywhere in Columbia that I couldn’t easily walk.

So… I’m going to shock everyone by making a commonsense suggestion: Why can’t USC at least bar resident freshmen from having cars on campus?

If we can’t do that, then USC and the city need to get together and figure out something to do about the daily problem on Blossom…

This was a few days earlier than that...

This was a few days earlier than that…

Sorry to hear about Devo’s injury

There was the usual small talk about the weekend at the Monday morning meeting today at ADCO. And in the middle of some football talk — which, as you might expect, caused my mind to drift away a bit — I heard someone say “Devo” and “broken leg.”

So I perked up for a second — I hadn’t heard anybody mention those guys in years — then drifted back into my reverie…. But I was yanked back a couple of times by hearing “Devo” again.

I’m still not sure what happened. Which member of Devo was injured? How did it happen? And why did I keep hearing the name in a football context? My hearing might not be great, but one thing I’m sure of, based on pictures such as the one below: Those guys never played football. You can’t fool me — those are the wrong kind of helmets.

Anyway, whomever was hurt, I’m sorry to hear it and hope he’s up and around soon. The thing to do is to shake it off. Are we not men?…

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Graham reaches across aisle on cybersecurity

That Kirsten Gillibrand is just all over the place this week — standing next to Bernie Sanders to back single-payer, and now teaming up with our own Lindsey Graham:

Gillibrand, Graham Propose Legislation to Establish National Commission on Cybersecurity of U.S. Election Systems

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today introduced bipartisan legislation to establish the National Commission on the Cybersecurity of the United States Election Systems.

She's everywhere!

She’s everywhere!

The Commission – based on a model similar to the 9/11 Commission that investigated the terror attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania – would look into the cyber-attacks that took place during the 2016 election cycle and make recommendations on the best way to protect our nation going forward.

Cyber-attacks, in particular those from foreign intelligence services hostile to democracy, are a growing threat to candidates and political parties. They also pose a danger to nonpartisan election officials and election infrastructure, which are responsible for keeping accurate tabs on voter rolls and vote tabulation.

“There is no credible doubt that Russia attacked our election infrastructure in 2016,” said Gillibrand“We need a public accounting of how they were able to do it so effectively, and how we can protect our country when Russia or any other nation tries to attack us again. The clock is ticking before our next election, and these questions are urgent. We need to be able to defend ourselves against threats to our elections, our democracy, and our sacred right to vote. I am proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation to create a 9/11-style Commission to defend our democracy and protect ourselves against future attacks on our country.”

“Hostile governments like Russia don’t believe in democracy,” said Graham.  “They have shown an eagerness to meddle in elections in the United States and other democratic nations.  We need to ensure we fully understand the threat they pose and the best practices to protect ourselves from future attacks.  But Russia is not our only worry.  We could face future attacks from North Korea, Iran, China, and others who oppose American foreign policy and reject the values we hold dear.  This issue should be beyond partisan politics as it strikes at the heart of our democracy.  We must take steps to ensure that we protect the integrity of our elections from hostile, outside, and foreign influences.”

Members of the Commission would be selected by state election authorities and congressional leadership so that a comprehensive group of experts would be able to make recommendations to lawmakers on how to address the concerning vulnerabilities of our election systems.

The Commission would do the following:

  • Identify action steps or prevention measures which address cybersecurity vulnerabilities related to the 2016 election in the United States;
  • Document and describe any harm or attempted harm with respect to election systems in the United States in 2016;
  • Review foreign cyber interference in elections in other countries in order to understand additional cybersecurity threats, interference methods, and successful defense mechanisms;
  • Make a full and complete accounting of what emerging threats and unmitigated vulnerabilities remain and identify likely threats to election systems in the United States; and
  • Report on the recommendations of the Commission for action at the Federal, State, and local level.

#####

Hey, Doug! I’m doing ten thousand steps a day, too!

The view from my elliptical trainer, in my home office (yeah, that's "The West Wing" on the tube).

The view from my elliptical trainer, in my home office (yeah, that’s “The West Wing” on the tube).

Like so many, this particular mania started with an iPhone app.

Or maybe I can blame Doug Ross. After all, he had been bragging to me about his 10,000 steps  a day — which sounded extreme to me — just a day before this happened.

Or maybe it was the app.

Anyway, I was having lunch with some folks from ADCO, and a couple of the women were wearing Fitbits, or something like that. To make conversation, I asked if they had apps on their phones that tracked their data. Then a little light went off in my head. I remembered that awhile back I had started to use this Health app that I think came with my phone — I went in and entered some basic stats and such — but then had lost interest and forgotten about it.

Curious, I called it up, and to my surprise saw that it had been counting every step I took, every day, for two years!

I also saw that, thanks in part to my morning workouts on the elliptical trainer, I was frequently doing six or seven thousand steps a day without knowing it. And I’d exceeded 10,000 a couple of days when I was at the beach earlier this summer.

So the next day (Aug. 31), I started actually trying — I added some time to the morning elliptical workout (I’m up to 35 minutes now), and started taking a walk around the neighborhood with my wife in the evening. And if that’s not enough (it usually is), a very few more minutes on the elliptical does the trick.stats

And bingo! I’m not just doing 10,000 a day, sometimes I go over 12,000 without meaning to.

(Oh, and I hope it won’t offend Doug and Bud too much, but I do take a day of rest once a week. Usually, it will probably be Sunday. But this week, as you can see from the stats at right, it was Wednesday. That’s because I gave two units of platelets Tuesday evening at the Red Cross — I went for a long walk downtown on Tuesday at lunchtime to get in my full 10,000 without the evening walk — and that always takes something out of me more than just platelets. I need the next day to recover my energy.)

Also, yesterday morning my weight was down to 172.2 — better than it’s been in… a while. (When I started the morning workouts a couple of months back, I was usually well over 180, sometimes more than 185.)

And I feel pretty good about it. And it’s weird how motivating it is to watch those steps mount up on the app. Silly, but it works. I let nothing stop me, so far. Last night, my wife didn’t feel like walking, so I did another 35 minutes on the elliptical — 70 minutes for the day — bringing my total to 11,730. I’m a machine!

Anyway, I’m telling you all this in order to put pressure on myself to keep going. Sorry to use you that way, but it’s for my health, you see…

My home office, where the elliptical magic happens.

My home office, where the elliptical magic happens.

Open Thread for Thursday, September 14, 2017

Y’all haven’t really been interested in my (admittedly quirky) posts so far today, so talk amongst yourselves about whatever. Here are some possible topics. (Oh, the video? It’s about Dreamers. Get it? Dream On?):

  1. Trump Now Says He Backs Deal to Protect ‘Dreamers’ — That’s his position on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, however… Meanwhile, GOP’s Ryan dismisses potential DACA deal between Trump and Democrats. Oh, and Trump’s until-now loyal base is ticked
  2. U.S. Supreme Court justice wants others to think like lawyers — This was Samuel Alito, speaking at the dedication of the new USC Law School. This should make Juan’s day. But yeah, I think we’d be better off if more people did think like lawyers. Not everybody. But more people.
  3. After Oval Office meeting, Tim Scott says Trump ‘got it’ on Charlottesville — Yeah… OK… riiight. Poor Tim Scott. He’s trying so hard to hang onto this being-a-Republican thing in the age of Trump. It can’t be easy for him.
  4. Frank Vincent, Who Portrayed Dapper Mobsters, Dies — Best known for telling Tommy (Joe Pesci) to go get his shinebox…
  5. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft will soon crash into Saturn — its final screaming success — There’s no astronauts, but it’s a pretty good story, anyway. 15 hours left as I type this…

Cassini

Random images I shot and sort of like…

I Tweeted this out with the words, "Warm light of the setting sun falls on the heart of downtown Columbia -- seen from @CapCityClubCola."

I Tweeted this out with the words, “Warm light of the setting sun falls on the heart of downtown Columbia — seen from @CapCityClubCola.”

First, I’m not claiming these images I shot yesterday are great. I did not set out to take great images. I did not set out to shoot any images. It’s just that, when you have an iPhone, you shoot things like these as you go along. I do, anyway.

I took this still life on the bar at the Cap City Club, a moment before the shot above.

I took this still life on the bar at the Cap City Club, a moment before the shot above.

I’d like them better if they were of higher resolution. I wish I could have shot them with a high-end SLR, a digital version of the Nikon 8008s that sits in a drawer in my bedroom, and has for years, because it uses film. But I don’t have one of those.

But that doesn’t bother me much, because you don’t get trivial, serendipitous photos if you wait until you’re lugging a camera around. A virtue of this (relatively) new world of photography is that you’re always ready to shoot, limited only by the length of time it takes to whip out your phone (not long for me, since I’m one of those geeks who keeps it in a holster on his belt).

Anyway, they’re not much, but I thought I’d share…

This was a disappointment. The sight of workers backed by the big, blue sky was way better IRL.

This was a disappointment. The sight of workers backed by the big, blue sky was way more striking IRL.

Pharma Bro’s going to jail, but we can’t lock them all up, can we?

Pharma Bro

What a weird world we are living in.

You probably saw this last night:

NEW YORK — A federal judge on Wednesday revoked the $5 million bail of Martin Shkreli, the infamous former hedge fund manager convicted of defrauding investors, after prosecutors complained that his out-of-court antics posed a danger to the community.

While awaiting sentencing, Shkreli has harassed women online, prosecutors argued, and even offered his Facebook followers $5,000 to grab a strand of Hillary Clinton’s hair during her book tour. Shkreli, who faces up to 20 years in prison for securities fraud, apologized in writing, saying that he did not expect anyone to take his online comments seriously, and his attorneys pleaded with the judge Wednesday to give him another chance.

“The fact that he continues to remain unaware of the inappropriateness of his actions or words demonstrates to me that he may be creating ongoing risk to the community,” said U.S. District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto, in revoking his bond.

“This is a solicitation of assault. That is not protected by the First Amendment.”…

And… I think the judge is right, as weird as it is to think of saying “pull Hillary Clinton’s hair” being on a par with yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater. (If he’d just said, “I’d like to pull her hair,” that would be one thing. But offering to pay people to do it?)

But everything about this situation is weird. And weird in ways that are fairly unique to the times in which we live.

The strangeness starts with Shkreli himself. His own attorneys defended him with the argument that Hey, he’s a weird guy. He can’t help it. He’s always been this way.

But in the past, did people described as being as “strange” as “Rain Man” rise to make millions in business? Yeah, maybe they did — but their weirdness was easier to hide.

What has changed is the shape and consistency of the public sphere. In the past, a guy like Shkreli might spout nonsense like “Bring me a hair from Hillary Clinton’s head!” from a barstool — until the bartender cut him off — but no one would hear him past the end of the bar.

Now, there’s social media, and any idiot with the ability to create a username and password — not a high bar — can immediately have a reach that mass media outlets in the past would have envied, instantly sharing his ravings with the entire planet without having to pay a dime to do so. And this virtual social sphere, not having had thousands of years to develop customs and standards, is a verbal Wild West.

Outside this blog and other mediated spaces, there are no rules. Of course, some people — being civilized souls — will restrain themselves. Civilization is not entirely dead. But millions of others will not, and will revel in the lack of constraints.

And while Shkreli is an unusual, extreme case, this lack of constraint is particularly common among certain demographic subsets. Forgive me for stereotyping, but I’m mostly picturing disaffected young men, who care nothing for civility toward society as a whole but will go to any extremes to draw the attention — and possible approval, even admiration — of others like themselves.

Whether you’re talking Pharma Bros or Bernie Bros or Neofascist Bros or simply fraternity bros, we are unfortunate enough to live in a time when it’s harder to simply ignore them and wait for them to outgrow it. And of course, the “bro” period lasts much longer than it once did, far beyond the age when they would have done a hitch in the Army and/or gotten married and had kids of their own and otherwise taken on responsibility in the past.

And we can’t just throw them all in jail, can we?

Why doesn’t the political mainstream back the only commonsense approach to paying for healthcare?

single

The first time I wrote about single-payer, in a column at The State, my headline was “Can anyone (any viable candidate, that is) say ‘single-payer?’

That was 2007. As I said at the time:

CAN ANYONE among those with a chance of becoming president say “single-payer?” If not, forget about serious reform of the way we pay for health care.
It doesn’t even necessarily have to be “single-payer.” Any other words will do, as long as the plan they describe is equally bold, practical, understandable, and goes as far in uprooting our current impractical, wasteful and insanely complex “system.”
And the operative word is “bold.” Why? Because unless we start the conversation there, all we might hope for is that a few more of the one out of seven Americans who don’t have insurance will be in the “system” with the rest of us — if that, after the inevitable watering-down by Congress. And that’s not “reform.” Actual reform would rescue all of us from a “system” that neither American workers nor American employers can afford to keep propping up.
But the operative word to describe the health care plans put forward by the major, viable candidates is “timid.”…

Which is what led us to “Obamacare,” an overly complex, timid approach that still leaves millions of Americans uncovered.

But when I wrote that, I knew we weren’t likely to do any better than that, because the only “name” Democrat willing to say “single-payer” was Dennis “The Menace” Kucinich.

And today, the charge is led by… Bernie Sanders. And even he wants to call it something other than single-payer — namely, “Medicare for All.”

The somewhat better news is that he has 15 senators with him this time (all Democrats, of course) — only 45 votes short of what it would take to get the proposal through the Senate before it went down in flames in the House, as it surely would.

Never mind that EVERY alternative advanced looks insanely over-complex and inefficient next to a system that simply covers everybody. No more worrying about making too much money, or too little money, or getting laid off and losing your medical coverage. Or sticking to a lousy job for the benefits, rather than going out and doing something bold and courageous that might help build our economy. No more of doctors having to employ people who spend all their time trying to navigate the bewildering array of different kinds of coverage their patients have.

And I’ve never heard a reason not to do this that didn’t sound idiotic. The most devastating argument opponents come up with is that you might have to wait for certain kinds of procedures. Which certainly beats waiting until you die if you don’t have coverage under the current non-system.

Other countries, including those most like our own — Britain and Canada — adopted this approach long, long ago. But in this country, we have this completely irrational resistance that makes it impossible even to have a calm conversation about what makes sense.

It’s time we got over that. And we may be making progress in that direction. But we have such a long, long way to go…

Graham should drop his healthcare proposal, support Alexander’s efforts

Graham pushing his proposal recently in Columbia.

Graham pushing his proposal recently in Columbia.

I’ve already written dismissively of Lindsey Graham’s approach to healthcare “reform.”

Today, with it getting so much more attention, I share with you this view of it, headlined “New Trumpcare Deserves a Quick Death.” An excerpt:

On Wednesday, a group of Republican senators plan to release a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act. It comes from Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and they will market it as a bill that gives states the flexibility to create the system that they want.

But that’s deeply misleading. While it would theoretically give states more flexibility, the bill would mostly rob states of money to pay for health insurance — and millions of Americans would lose coverage as a result. Think of it this way: Every reader of this newsletter has the theoretical flexibility to buy a private jet.

Cassidy-Graham, as the bill is known, ends up looking remarkably similar to previous repeal attempts. It would likely result in 15 million Americans losing their insurance next year and more than 30 million losing it a decade from now (based on analyses of an early version of the bill, which was similar to previous Republican health bills). “The similarities are more striking than the differences,” Aviva AronDine of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities told me.

The same column hints at a far better way for our senior senator to direct his energies:

There is also good reason to hope that Cassidy-Graham dies quickly. Members of both parties — like Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican — now seem open to a bipartisan bill to fix some of Obamacare’s problems. A Senate committee held a hearing on the subject yesterday. But it was clear at the hearing that Republicans have a hard time talking publicly about bipartisan compromise so long as the fantasy of a beneficial repeal bill remains alive….

Indeed. Y’all know I’m a Lindsey Graham fan (most of the time), but I was a Lamar Alexander fan long before that. And this time, Lamar is clearly in the right of it. And what Graham is doing is actually an impediment to wise policy.

It amazes me that anyone from South Carolina could think that turning it all over to the states could be a good idea, given that our solons utterly refused a Medicaid expansion underwritten by the Feds simply because it was associated with “Obamacare.”

Lindsey should drop his bad idea like a hot potato and get behind Alexander’s effort. Or better yet, support Bernie Sanders’ single-payer approach. But somehow I’m thinking the Alexander option would be less of a strain for him.

It’s time to get past this “Repeal Obamacare” mania that afflicts Republicans, and get on to serious matters of governance…

The way to bring Americans together is fairly obvious

Young_men_registering_for_military_conscription,_New_York_City,_June_5,_1917

As soon as I saw this headline this morning:

Americans are stuck in bubbles. Here’s a way to pop them.

I thought, “The answer is obvious: National service.”

Y’all have heard my theory before, I’m sure: That American politics starting being nasty, with Democrats and Republicans thinking of each other as “the enemy” rather than as fellow Americans, when men who had not served together in the military started rising to top leadership positions in both parties.

Civil deliberation, a process upon which our republic relies in order to work, went off a cliff about the time Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich rose to lead their respective parties. What did they have in common? Neither had had the melting-pot experience of military service. Before them, political leaders who had not served in uniform were rare. After them, that was the norm.

And from then on, the partisanship got worse and worse. Guys who had served together had had an early formative experienced that forced them to realize that they had something fundamental in common with other Americans, regardless of race, religion, social class, regional origin or political views. As different as they might have been going into the Army, basic training taught them they were all just dogfaces. (Those who went into the Navy, Marines and Air Force had similar leveling experiences.)

But never mind me and my theory. Richard Cohen’s column this morning makes the same point, as you can tell he’s going to do from the first graf:

I once had a very close friend named Charlie. We spent every day together, and much of the night, too. I got to learn about his family and old neighborhood, and he got to learn about mine, and then one day I saw him no more. I went my way, and he went his, and it has been many years, but I remember him still. We had been in the Army together….

I was 23, an erstwhile claims guy for an insurance company who had been plodding through college at night, six credits a semester. At Fort Dix and later Fort Leonard Wood, I got thrown in with country boys who had never had a toothbrush (the Army gave them false teeth) and tough city kids who strutted the barracks by day but cried for their mothers in their sleep at night.

I learned about their lives, even their sex lives (I will spare you), and I got to like them, and some of them liked me as well. We all had the same goal, which was to get through training. We all dressed alike, ate the same food, showered together and, over time, became a single unit. I mostly hated the Army, but I mostly loved those guys.

Now the Army is for volunteers only. Now affluent kids go to schools and colleges with similar people and, afterward, work is usually not much different. They don’t know anyone who never used a toothbrush or cries in the night for his mother or speaks in a Southern accent so thick in molasses it might as well be a foreign language. These folks do not, in short, know America….

OK, I’ll stop there lest I get in trouble with the Post for exceeding Fair Use. But you get the idea.

You should read the whole thing, and when you do you’ll find that Cohen is not advocating a reinstatement of the draft.

Nor am I, at least at this moment in our history. Reinstating the draft would be problematic today. To cite but one problem, it would be politically difficult to institute a draft of males only. I’m not going to get into why I’d oppose drafting women and girls today; I’ll just say that I (and a lot of other people, including many, I suspect, who wouldn’t admit that was why they opposed the draft) don’t hold with it. Besides, the generals don’t really want draftees anyway — they much prefer to command patriotic and motivated volunteers, and it’s hard to blame them.

So it’s hard to make the argument right now that it’s a national security necessity.

Another problem I have is that as great a unifier as the draft was in its time, it was far from perfect. For instance, it left out guys like me. I’ve always sort of resented that — I’m a fairly healthy guy who could have made a contribution. At the same time, I can understand not wanting a soldier who, separated from his medications, could have an asthma attack in the middle of a battle and let the unit down.

But surely I could have been useful. That’s why I join Cohen in calling for a broader sort of national service that includes everybody, as they have in such places as Denmark, Sweden, Austria and Norway.

It would be good for those involved, and good for the country.

And it would send my libertarian friends ’round the bend, so there’s that cherry on top as well… :)