Monthly Archives: January 2012

Mr. Speaker, that’s not tax reform. That’s legislative business as usual in South Carolina…

SC House Speaker Bobby Harrell addresses the Columbia Rotary Club Monday. At far left is Joel Sawyer, who introduced him. It struck me as ironic for Mark Sanford's former press secretary to introduce the former governor's nemesis.

Trying to remember how long I’ve been pushing for comprehensive tax reform in South Carolina. It’s at least two decades. Maybe a year or two past that.

The eerie thing about it is that almost every politician I’ve talked to during that period, especially those running for office, have earnestly assured me that they’re all for it. But somehow, it never happens.

Many, many committees and blue-ribbon panels have been set to coming up with a plan that will be rational, equitable, and adequate to meeting the state’s revenue needs. And all have either wandered off into a swamp somewhere, never to be heard from, or have filed plans that have promptly been dumped in the trash. And whenever enough of a hue and cry arises — such as the one from business leaders over the execrable Act 388 — lawmakers have sworn to deal with it, and appointed another panel to study the matter yet again, etc.

Speaker Bobby Harrell has apparently decided to end the farce by abandoning the concept of comprehensive tax reform altogether.

That’s the gist of what he told us at Rotary yesterday.

He said that when you try to get rid of all the irrational bits of our tax code — such as the $300 ceiling on the automobile sales tax, or the tangle of other exemptions that lead us to exempt more in sales tax than is actually paid — then everybody comes out of the woodwork and opposes you, and you fail.

So he proposes to pass bits and pieces of reform. On the grounds that that’s doable.

Which means, in South Carolina, business as usual. Because that’s what our lawmakers always do — pass a new law affecting some small piece (or for that matter, large piece) of our overall tax system, with little regard for how it affects other parts. So we get, for instance, multiple “reforms” that essentially remove the burden of supporting public school operations entirely from the backs of homeowners (that is to say, on the home that they live in), which means that businesses — including owners of rental property — are forced to pay much more in property taxes to make up the difference.

At least on the most recent such massive shift, some of the burden was put on the sales tax — which is now too high, really, especially considering that we don’t tax everything, or even close to everything, meaning that the things we do tax are taxes disproportionately. Which is not fair; nor is it a sustainable way to finance government.

So here’s what’s going to happen, based on knowing the guys who have been running the General Assembly (and especially the House) since I’ve been watching them (and no, Doug, term limits are not the answer, because if anything newer members have a greater propensity to do this, in my experience — largely because of their greater ignorance of the effects of what they do)…

We’ll see bills to cut more taxes, narrowly defined aimed at whichever categories of taxpayers are hollering the loudest at a given moment. And most likely, nothing will be done elsewhere in the tax code to offset that hole in the general fund. Or if something is done, it won’t be sustainable, and/or will create a new injustice that will later be addressed by more piecemeal “reform.”

What should happen instead? The following:

  1. Lawmakers should figure out, from scratch, what state government needs to do (build roads, run schools, enforce laws, keep air and water clean, etc.).
  2. They should then determine what it will cost to do those things.
  3. They should devise a tax system for raising that amount that is rational, fair, and sustainable. One that places no more restriction on economic activity than absolutely necessary, with the burden spread as widely as possible, and yet raises the needed amount reliably, with a minimum of peaks and valleys.

That’s what should happen. It is lawmakers’ duty to make those things happen. Because snipping here and putting on a patch there has never worked.

How many times have I written that now? I don’t know. Lots and lots…

SC Tweet of the Day, from Harvey Peeler

As you know, the best Tweeter in the SC House is Nathan Ballentine. His counterpart in the Senate is Harvey Peeler. And while it might be a stretch to call anything coming out of our General Assembly avant garde, Harvey’s Tweets at least strain at the bounds of the usual prosaic expressions one expects from a Republican legislative leader.

Kudos to him for this offering this morning:

I think the saying “at the end of the day” has reached the end of the day !

Thank you, senator, for reminding us that we no longer have the perpetrator of that particular verbal tic to kick around any more!

And now, it’s a great day in South Carolina!

Do you see South Carolina everywhere? I do

I’ve done so since I was very young. There was this chunk of tile — one of a number of irregularly-shaped pieces embedded into the ground as stepping stones leading to the back steps of my grandparents’ house in Bennettsville — that I thought had special, mystical significance when I was a small boy. It was shaped just like South Carolina.

Our state not only has the most beautiful flag (even it if is a bit over-evoked these days), but it possesses the most perfect shape. In fact, I can’t think of any other state that has a shape that is even mildly appealing (and Florida, as we all know, looks like a flaccid you-know-what). Our triangle is made even more perfect by the fact that it is slightly irregular — it’s not a mathematical triangle, which would seem cold and abstract. It’s formed by the natural confluence of the Savannah River and the Atlantic coastline. Its third line is a sort of hat worn at a rakish angle.

I could get really mysterious and Dan Brownish and talk about the delta of Venus and such, but it’s just a perfect, natural shape, immediately appealing to the unjaded eye.

And even at my age, I still see it everywhere. Such as in this drop of water on the faucet in the upstairs restroom at ADCO. OK, it’s a bit stylized, and the top has a bit of a cowlick, but when God was designing the natural laws governing water’s surface tension, he obviously intended that someday, it would pull a seemingly random drop into something approximating the shape of his favorite state. And I was there when it happened. Because He made me to be the sort to pick up on stuff like that.

Grow up and put your clothes on

Two weeks ago, when I arrived back at CAE from my trip to Key West, I saw an unusual sight in the baggage claim area. A woman had brought two children to greet an arriving man — husband and father probably, but I have no way of knowing — and the kids were in their pajamas. Fine. Made sense, I suppose, being a little before 9 p.m.

But here’s the thing — the woman I took to be the Mom was in her bathrobe and slippers. Presumably, also pajama-clad beneath the robe.

This seemed a bit much. It’s not like the arrival was not scheduled, and/or was taking place at 3 a.m.

Then, I ran across this on the Web:

Pajamas are on the rise. Across the land, according to the Wall Street Journalteenagers have taken to wearing PJs all day, even in public—even to school! Apparel companies like Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle are cashing in on the trend, stocking their stores with leggings and sweatpants and other comfortable, flowy, elastic waistbanded apparel. Pajamas are even popping up in high fashion: Here’s Sofia Coppola happily, gorgeously stepping outside during the day in Louis Vuitton pajamas, and here’s designer Rachel Roy attending a movie premiere in her own brand of jammies. Last week, a women’s clothing site that tracks new “looks,” exhorted its customers to “get comfortable with pajama dressing.” Among its wares were several silk blouses selling for more than $200 each; a pair of silk drawstring plaid pants with elastic cuffs for $495; and these $845 (!) wide-leg print pants constructed out of sateen, a fabric that I think is mostly used to make bed sheets.

As you might expect, a whole lot of silly and just-plain-mean people aren’t happy about this nascent pajama craze. A number of school districts have banned sleeping clothes on the theory that they somehow inhibit students’ motivation. The idea, I guess, is that taking the time to dress up for school makes you ready to learn—which sounds plausible until you think about it for five seconds. Isn’t spending time worrying about what you’ll wear an even bigger distraction from academics?

Some people are so upset with pajamas they want to bring in the law. Michael Williams, a commissioner in Louisiana’s Caddo Parish, won national headlines a few weeks ago by calling for a ban on pajamas in public. Under Williams’ proposed ordinance, people caught wearing pajamas—which he defines as clothes sold in the sleepwear section of department stores—would be forced to perform community service. (I wonder if they would be required to wear orange jumpsuits—which look like very comfortable pajamas—while serving their sentences.) Williams told the Journal that the daytime pajama trend signaled America’s dwindling “moral fiber,” and then added a nutty slippery-slope argument to bolster his point: “It’s pajamas today; what is it going to be tomorrow? Walking around in your underwear?”

Precisely. And there’s nothing nutty about it, given that that’s precisely what I wear to bed, and I’m guessing a lot of guys are with me on that. I have only this to say about the PJ trend: I don’t hold with it. I mean, come on, people — make an effort. Count me among the “silly and just-plain-mean people.” Somebody’s gotta draw a line somewhere.

There are related phenomena which I will also decry. Saturday night, I saw an SNL rerun from just before Christmas. The musical guest was someone unfamiliar to me, a Michael Bublé. He is apparently a crooner who aspires to the Sinatra-to-Tony Bennett spectrum. Although I’m thinking Andy Williams-Wayne Newton is more like his speed.

Anyway, he was perched on a barstool with a microphone, dressed in black tie. Which was appropriate, this being well after 6 p.m. But here’s the thing: He hadn’t shaved in a day or two. And if his close-cropped hair had ever known a comb, it was not obvious. He kept smiling at the audience in this particularly smarmy manner, and all I could think was, Hey, you want to ingratiate yourself? Take a minute to shave. It’s not that freaking hard. It takes less time than putting on a tux. Give it a try.

I really don’t know what is supposed to be achieved with the “I can’t be bothered to shave” look. It wasn’t even careful, Sonny Crockett can’t be bothered to shave. It was actually like he got up that morning and looked in the mirror and said, Nah. Not gonna do it. I’m just going on live national TV, and my thing is to look like somebody from the 40s, when men were carefully barbered, but nah…

Back to the PJ thing. Ladies, if that’s what you want to do, go for it. But be advised — full-length PJs are not a good look, for anybody.

As for guys, I’ve gotta ask — how many guys even wear pajamas to sleep? I’m thinking, not that many. I mean, what’s underwear for? I know that nobody wants to see me in public in what I wear in the sack, and I respect that. So should everybody else.

Have you received your Amazon tax notice?

I have, one week after the Amazon guy came to speak to Rotary (sorry, last week was so busy I didn’t write about it).

I’m pretty sure this is the first one of these I’ve received. But then, I just recently got into ordering stuff from Amazon. Here’s what it says:

Hello from,

As you may or may not be aware LLC is not required to collect sales or use taxes in all states, including the state of South Carolina.

The South Carolina Department of Revenue requires us to provide the following notice to you:

You may owe South Carolina use tax on purchases you made from LLC during the previous calendar year. The amount of tax you may owe is based on the total sales price of the items you purchased during the previous calendar year. The total sales price of only purchases you had shipped to South Carolina in 2011 was $118.96. This is the amount that you may include on your South Carolina income tax return to calculate the appropriate use tax owed unless you have already paid the tax.While LLC does not report this information directly to the state of South Carolina we are required to provide this information to you based on South Carolina law Section 12-36-2691(E)(3).

As purchases from LLC can be made through various sales channels, we have included directly below your breakdown of purchases from the various channels.

Total sales from $118.96

Please note the following:

  • The total sales represent all orders that were shipped to South Carolina during 2011.
  • Your purchases are subject to use tax unless an exemption exists under state law or you have already paid the tax.
  • A sale is not exempt under state law because it is made through the internet.
  • This information should not be used for any federal income tax reporting purposes.
  • We are required to provide this notice in accordance with South Carolina law Section 12-36-2691(E)(3).
  • Notifications were sent to customers that had purchases delivered to South Carolina. If you are not a resident of South Carolina, the most common reason for receiving this notification is that you may have sent a gift to a recipient in the state.

In addition, the South Carolina Department of Revenue requires us to provide you with the following links that you can use to get more information and pay any taxes due:

Use Tax Page:

How Do I Pay my Bill:

For more information you may also view our South Carolina Use Tax Notification Page at:


Customer Service

Something else to give my accountant when we get ready to do our taxes…

There goes my Hollywood career

OK, uh, somebody hipped me to the news that this is NOT a movie teaser, but has to do with an upcoming Super Bowl ad. Good. This is good… it means somebody out there is thinking about it, and maybe the folks who own the rights would like to do a deal with somebody who has the right idea. Which would be me. So Hollywood, if you’re calling, here I am… In the meantime, here’s the post I wrote when I thought that was a for-real mini-preview…

I’m not being facetious. I think my project might have had a chance — with the right connections, and with cooperation from those holding the rights to the first movie — and now it’s gone for good. I’m actually sort of depressed about this.

For several years, I’ve been kicking around an idea for a movie. It’s a really good idea. Good enough that my daughter gave me a “Scriptwriting for Dummies” book about four years ago to encourage me to go ahead and write it. But I was so busy then at the paper, and then I was unemployed (which is really, really time-consuming) and since then I’ve been trying to learn to be a Mad Man and develop my blog into a paying concern and occasionally doing freelance gigs, and, basically, it didn’t get written.

So now Hollywood has gone ahead with the project without me. And I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be nearly as good as if they’d heard my pitch.

My pitch would have been this…

Title: “Ferris Bueller’s Off Day.” Which is better than “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off 2.” Way better.

Mine was to be a political satire. For the simple reason that I can only think of one thing Ferris would have done with his peculiar talents. He was made for it. Like Tom Sawyer. Don’t you assume Tom would have gone into politics? Of course he would have. Same with Ferris — a preternaturally gifted politician. The kind who drives his opponents insane because he has this uncanny rapport with voters, everything slides off of him, and he always comes back — kind of like Bill Clinton.

In my script, Ferris would be a member of Congress. Not a senator. That would be too grand. Just another member of Congress, enjoying the perks of office, saying what he wants, voting how he wants, and getting repeatedly re-elected no matter what he does. Which, as I say, infuriates his political opponents. Such as Edward R. Rooney.

Mr. Rooney, having abandoned education as unsuitable to his talents, is an assistant chief of staff (actually, political director) for the incumbent president. He has a wonderful office in the West Wing. Great view. Grace has accompanied him on his career, and is still his secretary. All would be right with his world, except for one thing: Ferris Bueller. Still. Ferris, through no effort or merit of his own, is talked about constantly as a potential challenger to the president in the upcoming election.  He doesn’t encourage this talk, but he enjoys it. And everything he does seems to boost him in the polls, and make the president — or at least, his assistant chief of staff — look foolish.

Mr. Rooney has collected some major dirt on Ferris. I haven’t decided what Ferris has done (and he HAS done it; our boy is not innocent), but whatever it is, he’s done it “nine times.” Instead of to Ferris’ mom, Ed rehearses saying “nine times” to the media. At some point, he says it to Ferris’ administrative assistant, Cameron, relishing the threat. (I’m toying with the idea of the scandal having something to do with contributions to Ferris’ campaign fund from Abe Froman, the Sausage King of Chicago.)

OK, I’ve set the background. Here’s what’s happening as the movie opens… Ferris is lying in bed, glassy-eyed. Only this time, he’s not faking. Some of the scandal has broken over him at a time when he’s vulnerable. His marriage to Sloan appears to finally be over, due to his proclivity for — remember how, after asking Sloane to marry him, even at the moment when his world is about to come crashing down on him, as he’s racing to get home ahead of everybody, he stops and turns and introduces himself to the sunbathing girls? Well, that sort of thing has caught up with him.

He’s convinced that all his mojo is gone. Finally, at a critical moment in his career as the incomparable Ferris, he’s having an off day. An off day when all sorts of things he got away with in the past is catching up with him. Hence the title.

Meanwhile, Cameron — who straightened himself out and become a (relative) bundle of confidence after having that little chat with his Dad about the Ferrari — is the one calling Ferris and trying to get him to stop moping and take advantage of the opportunities that lie before him. Sure, there’s a scandal to deal with, but Cameron knows Ferris can deal with it — if he’ll just snap out of this funk.

Oh, yeah — Jeannie is an investigative reporter on The Hill. Something in her childhood instilled in her a deep-seated need to catch other people doing things that they shouldn’t. And she’s not partial. Investigating Ferris is fine with her, even though they made up at the end of the last movie.

Spoiler alert: At some point in the film, Jeannie starts to look into some irregularities involving Mr. Rooney. Also, at some point, Ferris does snap out of it and find a way out of the jam he’s in. Because, you know, off day or not, he’s Ferris Bueller.

Along the way, there’s a lot of fun with cameos from real-life Washington people talking about how awesome Ferris is, plus some regular man-in-the-street interviews. For instance, there’s an interview with a guy who works in the congressional parking garage, and the first question is, “Do you speak English?,” to which he replies, “What country do you think this is?” Simone, too, will be interviewed, and her reply will be something like her “31 flavors” line from the first movie.

Remember the kid who woke up with his face in a puddle of drool on his desk? He’ll do the same in this movie, only his desk is on the floor of the House.

Ben Stein will be in it. Charlie Sheen will do a cameo…

Look at me. I keep saying “will,” when I should say, “would have.” Because my chance has passed me by.

I know I’m going to see this movie, and I’m probably going to hate it. Because I’ll know what it could have been…

First, they came for the Tweets…

I’m not usually persuaded by “slippery slope” arguments, deeming them intellectually lazy. But I have to confess to being a little bothered that Twitter is announcing it has the capability, which it is willing to apply, to censor Tweets by country.

Twitter still maintains that “our policy and philosophy about the importance of supporting free expression has not changed.” But it doesn’t answer the question of whether it would have helped Egypt and other regimes suppress the Arab Spring.

It does draw the line at making a devil’s bargain, as Google did for a time, with China.

Twitter offers the example, to make us feel better, of cooperating with Germany’s anti-nazi laws. So… we’re supposed to feel good that they’re willing to suppress fascism, but personally, that’s a bit outweighed by the fact that the first country they come up with as an example is German. No offense, meine Kameraden.

This makes me wonder… something I am not at all happy about is that the most-viewed video (65,281 views) I’ve ever put on YouTube is a clip of neo-Nazis saying “Sieg Heil!” on the State House steps four years ago (and two make it worse, two other, longer clips I shot at that same rally rank fourth and fifth, which really creeps me out). So I guess that would have been censored, had Twitter been in charge — in Germany, at least.

I like that Twitter is trying to be, if this isn’t too much of an oxymoron, transparent about its censorship:

We haven’t yet used this ability, but if and when we are required to withhold a Tweet in a specific country, we will attempt to let the user know, and we will clearly mark when the content has been withheld. As part of that transparency, we’ve expanded our partnership with Chilling Effects to share this new page,, which makes it easier to find notices related to Twitter.

But I’m still not thrilled about it. You?

Newt admits he was wrong… OK, who are you, and what have you done with our Newt Gingrich?

All right, technically it wasn’t Newt himself who made the admission, but his “camp.” But until he leaps forward to call his campaign people liars, I’m taking it as an admission from Newt.

Here’s what CNN is reporting:

(CNN) – Newt Gingrich’s campaign admitted Wednesday night the former House speaker was inaccurate when he claimed his team offered several witnesses to ABC News to refute statements made by Gingrich’s second wife in a controversial interview aired last week.

CNN Chief National Correspondent John King reported the campaign said it only recommended Gingrich’s two daughters from his first marriage, who wrote a letter discouraging ABC to release the interview…

R.C. Hammond, the campaign’s press secretary, told CNN the only people the campaign offered to ABC were the speaker’s two daughters, Jackie Cushman and Kathy Gingrich Lubbers, who make regular appearances for their father on the campaign trail…

How satisfying it must have been for John King to report that story, eh?

By the way, in case you have trouble keeping the relationships straight, these are his daughters by his first marriage. The one making the allegations was his second wife.

Oh, and ABC reported what they had to say the same day as running the ex-wife interview, which was also the same day that Newt unfairly and untruthfully lambasted ABC.

This is a job for… SEAL Team Six, the closest thing to superheroes that real life offers

They’re not the Justice League of America, or even the Avengers (although the name sometimes fits). They don’t wear colorful tights. But SEAL Team Six is the closest thing we’re likely to see in real life to a band of superheroes.

First bin Laden, now this:

KHARTOUM, Sudan — American Navy Seals swooped into Somalia early on Wednesday and rescued two aid workers, an American woman and a Danish man, after a shootout with Somali gunmen who had been holding them captive in a sweltering desert hide-out for months.

Under a cloak of darkness, the Seals parachuted in, stormed the hide-out, killed nine gunmen and then whisked the aid workers into waiting helicopters, Pentagon officials said. The Seals were from the same elite Navy commando unit — Seal Team Six — that secretly entered Pakistan to kill Osama Bin Laden in May, senior American officials said, though the rescue mission in Somalia was carried out by a different assault team within the unit…

I'm pretty sure this is NOT what SEAL Team Six looks like...

They just keep doing these amazing things that no one else seems able to do anymore, outside of the IDF and Mossad, and what have they done that seemed quasi-superhuman since the raid on Entebbe?

You know what else? We don’t know their identities. They could be named Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne, for all we know.

OK, I’ll stop with the riffing on the superhero thing. But I like that we don’t know who they are. It allows us to see them as an extensions of all of us, however unheroic most of us may be.

The fact that they’re out there, doing this stuff without any personal fame, makes us think that The Onion was wrong: Steve Jobs was NOT “The Last American Who Knew What the F___ He Was Doing.”

Very good to know.

Only one dark lining in this silver cloud: Ron Paul might get the notion that with these guys active, we can just do away with the rest of our military, and still be fine. And the idea could catch on…

Ghosts of SOTU speeches past

An outfit called Bankrupting America sent out this video last night before the State of the Union address. I didn’t get around to seeing it until today. As the release promises, “The video highlights 3 decades of State of the Union presidential promises on fiscal discipline.”

There’s also a fact sheet that goes with it.

I find being part of a long, ongoing tradition to be very reassuring, don’t you? See, it doesn’t matter whether they’re Democrats or Republicans — presidents are all pretty much alike. People don’t change. Makes us feel… solid,  grounded.

I would say, though, that one of those presidents actually did something about it: Bill Clinton. The video doesn’t mention that. But the fact sheet dismisses it this way: “Despite two years of on-budget surpluses, deficit spending in other years added to the debt.”

Oh, the video also assumes that the only way to reduce the deficit, and the debt, is by reducing spending. Raising taxes, and simply growing the economy to increase revenues, are not considered. In case you didn’t notice that.

Mitt defends media from Newt. So I guess it’s true: Romney IS a RINO

What other explanation could there be for siding with the godless news media against a fellow Republican. Oh, Mitt… I’m glad Spiro Agnew isn’t alive to see this…

Now you see, that was mockery — what I just did, in my headline and lede. The Politico item I’m about to quote is headlined, “Mitt Romney mocks Newt Gingrich’s attacks on media.” But what follows doesn’t support that. It’s more like “criticizes” or “corrects” or, perhaps most accurately, “takes exception to.” At least going by the words. Maybe he said them in a snarky way. Maybe I need to see the video…

In any case, here’s what he said:

“It’s very easy to talk down a moderator. The moderator asks a question and has to sit by and take whatever you send to them,” Romney said on Fox News. “And Speaker Gingrich has been wonderful at attacking the moderators and attacking the media. That’s always a very favorite response for the home crowd.”…

But the former Massachusetts suggested that being on the offense against the media doesn’t equate to the more important skill of being able to take on other rivals in the presidential field.

“It’s very different to have candidates go against candidates, and that’s something I’ll be doing against President [Barack] Obama if I get the chance to be our nominee, that this guy has been a failure for the American people, he has not gotten people back to work, internationally he shrunk the power of our military. He has to be a guy who we replace from the White House,” he said.

Graham or DeMint? Or, to put it another way, Reagan or Ron Paul? Whither goest the GOP in the world?

Charleston’s City Paper records another skirmish in the internecine battle between Republicans over America’s role in the world:

After the Republican presidential debate in Myrtle Beach last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham said on Fox News, “I hope people in the country understand that we’re Ronald Reagan Republicans in South Carolina. We believe in peace through strength and we’re not isolationists.”

In an interview the next day, Graham’s fellow South Carolinian Sen. Jim DeMint said on Fox Business,”If we spread ourselves too thin around the world we’re not going to be able to defend the homeland, particularly with the level of debt that we have right now. It’s foolish for us to think that we can have military bases all over the world, spend billions of dollars when we’re going broke back home. It just isn’t going to happen.”

Austerity may be a bad word to Graham when it comes to Pentagon spending, but for DeMint it’s the very definition of conservatism. When Republicans like DeMint and his Senate ally Rand Paul say that Pentagon spending cuts must happen, Republicans like Graham and his Senate ally John McCain call such actions “isolationist.” When Paul was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010, McCain said he was worried about the “rise of isolationism” in the GOP. When Paul later led the charge against President Barack Obama’s military intervention in Libya, both Graham and McCain trotted out the isolationist label again…

I’m sure you don’t have to ask where I stand.

Translate, please: Is that some sort of threat?

So what do you think this other former speaker is saying about Newt Gingrich when she says, “There is something I know.”

Taegan Goddard over at Political Wire says, “It doesn’t seem like Pelosi is bluffing” when she says that.

But it seems to me it could be read two ways:

  1. She’s saying there’s a deep, dark secret, yet unknown except by her, that will do in Newt in a fall campaign.
  2. She’s simply emphasizing that, based on what is already widely known — especially among those who served with him — she knows that he won’t be president.

Which do you think it is? Or is it something else? Or nothing?

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney says he sure wishes he knew what that secret was. I’ll be he does.

And Gingrich’s reaction is pure Newt:

She lives in a San Francisco environment of very strange fantasies and very strange understandings of reality. I have no idea what’s in Nancy Pelosi’s head. If she knows something, I have a simple challenge: Spit it out.

“Eisenhower of our generation” visits Columbia

Some guy who needs a haircut, the general in mufti, and our senior senator./photo by Christy Cox

Gen. David Petraeus, now of the CIA, spoke today in Columbia, at the Riley Institute’s David Wilkins Awards for Excellence in Legislative and Civic Leadership luncheon.

Rep. James Smith and former Blue Cross CEO Ed Sellers were the recipients. It was James (a.k.a. Capt. Smith) who, in his acceptance speech, called Petraeus “the Eisenhower of our generation.” I concur. There’s no general officer in recent years who combines Ike’s strategic vision, diplomatic skill and leadership qualities to the extent that Gen. Petraeus does.

For his part, Petraeus praised not only James and Ed, but the troops he has felt privileged to lead before joining Central Intelligence. He called them “our new greatest generation.”

Those who serve certainly deserve that sobriquet. The difference is that they are only a tiny sliver of an actual generation, unlike the one that overcame the Depression and beat Hitler and Tojo.

Which only underlines how much the rest of us owe to them, each of them, from the commanding general to the lowliest buck private.

You know you’re really over the top when Rush Limbaugh advises you to chill

The Slatest brings my attention to two fascinating items bearing on the GOP field’s new front-runner:

First item:

Newt, a.k.a. Maximus the Entertainer, said he won’t participate in any more debates if the crowd isn’t allowed to roar. “The media is terrified that the audience is going to side with the candidates against the media, which is what they’ve done in every debate… The media doesn’t control free speech. People ought to be allowed to applaud if they want to.”

Here’s a tip, Mr. Big Brain Who’s Written a Bunch of Books: “Media” is a plural noun. So you should say, “The media are terrified” and “The media don’t control free speech.” Just for future reference, professor.

Second item:

Rush Limbaugh wants Newt Gingrich to ease up on his recent offensive against the media, warning that such theatrics may play well with some conservative voters but will only get him so far in his quest to be the next president.

Yes, that Rush Limbaugh. According to the Daily Caller, the conservative radio host took some time on his show Monday to warn Newt on his favorite debate subject. “The days of being able to keep this momentum going by ripping on the media are over. The standing ovations for taking on the media are over, or they have very short lifespan,” Limbaugh said, adding, “You can only go to the well so many times on this stuff.”

Wow. When Rush tells you to chill, maybe you’d better. Not like he’s a model of self-restraint or anything…

‘Are you not entertained?’ The increasing futility of the GOP nomination process this year

Bret Stephens really sliced and diced the Republican presidential field in today’s Wall Street Journal, in a piece with a headline that does not equivocate: “The GOP Deserves to Lose.” After predicting, as have I, that Barack Obama will win re-election, he goes on to excoriate the challengers:

As for the current GOP field, it’s like confronting a terminal diagnosis. There may be an apparent range of treatments: conventional (Romney), experimental (Gingrich), homeopathic (Paul) or prayerful (Santorum). But none will avail you in the end. Just try to exit laughing.

That’s my theory for why South Carolina gave Newt Gingrich his big primary win on Saturday: Voters instinctively prefer the idea of an entertaining Newt-Obama contest—the aspiring Caesar versus the failed Redeemer—over a dreary Mitt-Obama one. The problem is that voters also know that Gaius Gingrich is liable to deliver his prime-time speeches in purple toga while holding tight to darling Messalina’s—sorry, Callista’s—bejeweled fingers. A primary ballot for Mr. Gingrich is a vote for an entertaining election, not a Republican in the White House.

Newt reminds me less of Claudius than of the fictional Maximus in “Gladiator.” Are you not, indeed, entertained?

And last night, we didn’t even get that. Mitt Romney, looking every inch the sap gladiator whose role in the ring is to approach the headliner hesitantly and poke at him before getting killed (could he have seemed MORE desperate?), dutifully played his part. But Newt, now in the position of front-runner, wouldn’t fight. He didn’t do what he had done in South Carolina, where he recklessly drove the mob wild.

So I have to ask, if there are to be no more circuses, where’s our bread?

Yo, Sun-Times: Why not just get rid of your whole editorial board while you’re at it?

Here I am hard at work -- taking notes, recording audio, and shooting video -- in an endorsement interview in January 2008. This is actually probably the only photo that exists of me doing this.

I’ve seen some mealy-mouthed excuses and lazy cowardice in my late lamented newspaper career, but I don’t recall when I’ve seen anything to match the Chicago Sun-Times’ decision to abandon political endorsements, which was announced in the paper today.

You can read the whole sorry mess at the paper’s website, but I’m going to copy some passages here in order to take issue with the painfully flawed logic in the tortured editorial.

But first, I want to place this within the context of the recent history of newspapers ceasing to be run by editors with both feet firmly planted in their communities, willing to engage those communities on every level, and being run instead by corporate bean-counters. Not to put too fine a point on it.

In the declining days of the Knight Ridder empire, after the emperor had capriciously moved the capital from Rome (Miami) to San Jose (Constantinople), I attended the last official meeting of KR editorial page editors. It was in San Jose.

EPE meetings were always odd affairs. When publishers met, they had common business to discuss, since money matters were run by corporate. Even the newsroom editors had things to discuss when they met, because of some shared resources, and the fact that they ran big, expensive departments that were intimately tied in with what was happening in the financial side. But since the KR value of not telling papers what to do editorially was absolute (one of the very good things about Knight Ridder, when it was good), there wasn’t much to talk about when we eccentrics from the editorial side were brought in. We got to meet, and talk shop, and hear about interesting things people with similar jobs to ours were doing, but there wasn’t really much point for KR to convene us, as there was nothing we did together, and that’s how we liked it — which was why we only had the meetings about every five year.

But at this last meeting, Tony Ridder had a suggestion. And I won’t call Tony “the emperor” in this context, because he in no way tried to make us do this. He was just making… a suggestion. And it was this: He didn’t think we should endorse in presidential elections. He had two reasons: One, we should be concerning ourselves with local issues, not getting distracted by Washington stuff. Second, from what he could tell, the only thing such endorsements did was make at least half of the readership mad at the paper, and newspapers could ill afford that.

A couple of more junior, less-secure editors made polite noises in response, but others among us explained in pretty strong terms why we had no interest in following that suggestion. I was one of the latter, partly because I never felt insecure in my job right up to the day I got canned, but mainly because we thought it was an awful idea. Especially from a South Carolina perspective. Yeah, maybe you should sit it out if you were in California, but in South Carolina, presidential politics — at least during the nominating process — is big local news. (Of course, I had no argument with the assertion that a newspaper’s main value is its local coverage, and its editorials on local subjects.)

Beyond that, I think there is nothing more lazy or cowardly for a newspaper to do than to fail to express its preference for a candidate — when it has a preference — for public office. If you don’t endorse, you might as well not express opinions about anything. We live in a republic, and our readers can’t act on most of the things we opine about. That power to act is delegated to elected representatives. So… we’re going to express opinions about why this should happen, and that shouldn’t happen, for four years, on subjects regarding which our readers are little more than spectators (sure, they can write letters and such, but it’s still an indirect involvement), but then, when readers actually have to make the critical decision of who will be making those decisions for the next four years (or two, or six), we’re going to clam up?

I say “cowardly,” because Tony was right about one thing: There is nothing a newspaper can do that will make people madder at it than to endorse a candidate. So the quickest way out for the timid is not to endorse. Not all editors have the gumption for it — not to mention the business-side types. (Why, back in MY day as an editor, we made people hate our guts, and we LIKED it, dagnabbit!)

Also, if you were to drop any sort of endorsement, it would be the presidential — because the paper’s franchise is local. But here’s the value of doing it anyway: Most of a newspaper’s endorsements — to state legislature, city council, clerk of court, etc. — involve people about whom the typical reader knows nothing. Not so with the presidential, the reader being bombarded with information about the candidates. Thus, the reader is more empowered to judge the quality of the board’s reasoning when it reads a presidential endorsement — and can use that perspective to judge the degree to which it trusts the paper’s reasoning on the more obscure offices. And that’s important.

But I’m getting ahead of myself in arguing the purposes of endorsements — indeed, of expressing opinions at all. I’ll make the rest of my argument in response to the specifics of the Sun-Times editorial itself.

I won’t attack each and every paragraph, just the ones that most betray a lack of understanding of what endorsements, or for that matter editorials in general, are all about. Let’s start with the fourth graf:

Those days are gone. Most good newspapers today attempt to appeal to the widest possible readership, including people of every political persuasion, by serving up the best and most unbiased news coverage possible. They want to inform you, not spin you.

“Not spin you.” Wow. A spin doctor is someone paid to present only information that favors his client, and to obscure information that does not. Is that really how you’ve been treating your readers during the 71 years you’ve been doing endorsements? Really? Well, shame on you. But that certainly isn’t my understanding of what an editorial board is for. You express opinions, as an institution, because you respect your readers. Your newsroom is dedicated to giving them all the objective information it is within the power of its resources to gather and present — pro, con, and every other point along the spectrum. The editorial page is where you acknowledge that “who, what, where, when” are not enough for the reader to have a full understanding of the issue. The editorial page is where you go into deeper dimensions; it’s where you treat the reader like an adult human being, not as some fainting violet that’s going to wilt in the face of an honest opinion. It’s where you provide your best take on the issue, as well as a variety of other opinions, giving particular precedence to the opinions that oppose your own. And by engaging with that, the reader is given grist for his own intellectual mill, so that when he makes up his own mind, whether he agrees with you or not, his opinion will be stronger and better-considered for having been tested against other carefully-considered ideas. If that’s what you call “spin,” I feel sorry for you, because whatever experience you’ve gained from running an editorial board in the past has been lost on you.

Oh, and finally, if you only want to inform in the narrowest sense, why not do away with the editorial pages? Entirely. Next graf:

With this in mind, the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board will approach election coverage in a new way. We will provide clear and accurate information about who the candidates are and where they stand on the issues most important to our city, our state and our country. We will post candidate questionnaires online. We will interview candidates in person and post the videos online. We will present side-by-side comparisons of the candidates’ views on the key issues. We will post assessments made by respected civic and professional groups, such as the Chicago Bar Association’s guide to judicial candidates.

So… let me see if you have this right — you’re going to provide only uncontestable facts, plus ratings and opinions from OTHER people, but you’re not going to dare offer any interpretation of your own? This is worse than I thought. It’s one thing not to say, “We pick THIS guy,” but to refrain from saying, when warranted, “this guy’s position on this particular issue is awful, and here’s why,” you are once again abdicating everything that an editorial page is for.

I mean, if the above is what the editorial board is going to be doing, what the hell is your newsroom doing? Because all of the things you listed are completely within the newsroom’s purview, and require no editorial license. Next graf:

What we will not do is endorse candidates. We have come to doubt the value of candidate endorsements by this newspaper or any newspaper, especially in a day when a multitude of information sources allow even a casual voter to be better informed than ever before.

Yep, that’s right. Readers are drinking information from a firehose. Which is why it is more critical than ever for a serious medium to say, here, to the best of our ability to discern after many years of observing these things professionally, are some ways to make sense out of all this stuff being thrown at you. In addition — and this may be both the strongest reason to do endorsements, and the point that is most at odds with your newfound, excessive humility — you have access to the candidates that your readers don’t have, in spite of all that repetitive, superficial information flowing past their ears. You can, on behalf of your readers, sit down with candidates and question them extensively. It may be unfashionable to acknowledge than an experienced editor has expertise to share, but at least you can admit that you have access that gives you a basis for decision that the reader doesn’t have. You should express what you think, with ample information to back it up, and let the reader make up his mind whether he would reach the same conclusions. Which is a thousand times better than the kind of fodder for thought that he’ll get from a 30-second ad paid for by a superPAC.

As a professional, non-partisan (and I think you ARE saying here that you’re not partisan; in which case I’m proud of you there) observer with rare access, you have an obligation to share with your readers the kind of insight they won’t get from any other source — especially from the self-serving politicians, whose endorsements might easily be based in the desire to get a job in the administration of the successful candidate, or on something even more unsavory. The thing is, you HAVE an opinion regarding the suitability of a candidate, 99 percent of the time — if your brain is fully functioning. Not to share that opinion with your readers is inexcusable.

Now, the worst paragraph so far, which is so awful, I’m going to consider it in two parts. First, the less bad part:

Research on the matter suggests that editorial endorsements don’t change many votes, especially in higher-profile races.

Is that what you really think an endorsement is about? Yes, of course, it’s gratifying if a majority of voters agrees with you. But you are not a political consultant. Your job isn’t to get anyone elected. Your job is to share with readers the best you’ve got on every level — simple facts, analysis, perspective and yes, your informed opinion. Don’t hold anything back. What happens after you share it is up to the reader/voter.

Another school of thought, however — often expressed by readers — is that candidate endorsements, more so than all other views on an editorial page, promote the perception of a hidden bias by a newspaper, from Page One to the sports pages.

This is the biggest canard of all. Read your own words again. The only way you have a “hidden bias” IS IF YOU’RE HIDING IT!!!!! Everybody has a “bias.” Everybody has opinions, if they are human. Everybody has somebody they’d rather see elected than someone else. The editorial page is the one place where you level with the readers and tell them what that “bias” is. Then you have empowered them to judge everything else in the paper, and whether you’re being fair or not, by your honestly stated opinion. This is basic, people! This is Editorial 101! Do you even have any idea why you get up and come in to work every morning? Apparently not, because what you just said is the sort of thing I would expect to hear from someone who not only has never spent a day working at a newspaper (much less on an editorial board), but has never spent any time seriously thinking about it.

Perhaps you’ve noticed by now that I have strong opinions on this subject. And notice that I’m sharing them with you. That’s because I don’t have, and have never had, a “hidden bias.” I give it all to you straight.

A bit further down:

We pride ourselves in offering a smart editorial page that is deeply engaged in vital civic issues, and we will continue on that course. We have in the last year singled out for special attention a handful of issues on which we believe great progress must be made for the sake of Chicago’s future, beginning with the quality of our public schools, the health of our local economy, the city’s and state’s shaky finances, the crying need for alternatives to prison for low-level nonviolent offenders, and the integrity of our political system. We want a cleaner lake and a cleaner river. We want safer parks and streets. We want an end to daily traffic gridlock.

We’ll keep pushing.

You will? Because I couldn’t tell for sure that you were going to express actual opinions on those subjects, much less offer opinions that “push.” I was worried that you were going to write some “he said, she said” on those subjects the way you’re planning to do on endorsements. Singling out “for special attention” issues “on which we believe great progress must be made” doesn’t tell me that you’re going to describe what progress looks like. But I will remain hopeful, even though you give me a thin basis. (You’re against traffic gridlock? Well, aren’t you stepping out on a limb…)

Can it get worse? Yep:

But our goal, when we’re not too much on our high horse, is to inform and influence your thinking, not tell you what to do.

Oh, you’re just so humble it’s a wonder you don’t sink right through the floor. “Not tell you what to do.” Really? Really? Is that what you think it’s all about? Then, once again, why do you have an editorial page?

Any newspaper editor who thinks what he’s doing in expressing opinions is telling readers “what to do,” and actually expects them to DO it, is a candidate for protective restraint. He can’t be trusted crossing the street alone.

The editorial page is, once again, the place where you treat readers like grown-ups. You have enough respect for them to know they’re going to make up their own minds. But it takes even greater respect to understand that when you tell them how you’ve made up your minds, they are big enough to take it, and study on it, and pass judgment for themselves on what you have to say. The more arguments you are exposed to, the harder you have to think to make up your own mind, and the better your conclusions are in the end. It’s the same with readers. They aren’t idiots. Engage them. Respect them. Tell them what you think; don’t hold back.

Because if you don’t, you are insulting them by expecting them to believe that you have no opinions. And if you treat them like that, I don’t see why they should read your newspaper at all.

Take a look at that Gingrich upturn, will ya?

This image was Tweeted out today by, and I was really struck at what support for Gingrich looks like when you represent it on a fever chart.

See the red line? That’s Gingrich. And it all happened in less than a week.

Just when we’d all been debated to death, all of a sudden a couple of them make all the difference.

OK, maybe it wasn’t entirely the debates — there had been movement along about Jan. 12-13. But most of this was last week.

I don’t know when I’ve seen a surge like that…

At least they didn’t show favoritism

Rand Paul, with his family and a staffer, arrives at an airport during his 2010 campaign./photo by Gage Skidmore

Sounds to me like the TSA people did what they should in this case:

Sen. Rand Paul, an outspoken opponent of the TSA’s pat-down searches, says he was “detained” in the Nashville, Tenn., airport on Monday morning after refusing to undergo the search himself.

The news originally came via his communications director, Moira Bagley, who tweeted: “Just got a call from @senrandpaul. He’s currently being detained by TSA in Nashville.”

The Associated Press quickly followed up with the libertarian-leaning Republican with a phone interview, during which Paul explained that he had been “detained” by TSA officers after setting off one of the airport’s image scanners and subsequently refusing to submit to a pat down. As a result, he said that he missed his flight to Washington, D.C., where he was slated to speak at the March For Life later Monday.

A TSA spokesperson released a statement to Politico about its protocol in such situations, but did not refer directly to the specific incident. “When an irregularity is found during the TSA screening process, it must be resolved prior to allowing a passenger to proceed to the secure area of the airport. Passengers who refuse to complete the screening process cannot be granted access to the secure area in order to ensure the safety of others traveling,” said spokesperson Jonella Culmer.

Makes sense to me. If somebody’s making a point of being uncooperative with the established procedures for keeping terrorists off an airliner, being pulled off to a separate room is the very least that should happen.

If you want to fly on an airliner with other human beings, you should be prepared to be a big boy about it, and follow the rules.