How many more ways can this Kitzman thing get weird?

OK, we already knew that Eleanor Kitzman’s main qualification for the job of DHEC director was that she’s a passionately loyal Nikki Haley supporter.

And we’ve seen her be handed another job at the agency so she doesn’t have to wait around on Senate confirmation to start collecting a paycheck. (Admittedly, it’s as a mere hourly employee — one who makes $74 an hour, that is.)

And now there’s this:

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control board did not seek applications from anyone to fill the agency director’s job before voting to hire former state insurance chief Eleanor Kitzman, a campaign contributor to Republican Gov. Nikki Haley.

In response to an open records request from The State newspaper, DHEC said Thursday that while the board talked about several potential candidates, “no applications were requested or submitted.” The department thought Kitzman was the best person for the position, an agency statement said.

The State newspaper’s request, filed under the Freedom of Information Act, sought copies of job applications for the post vacated Jan. 8 by Catherine Templeton.

But agency spokeswoman Cassandra Harris and Freedom of Information Office director Karla York said they did not have any to provide. Only Kitzman’s resume was provided to the newspaper….

How many more ways can this nomination get weird?

Incoherently overheated headline of the day

guardian

And the award goes to… The Guardian, for “Romney decision clears path for next stage of Bush presidential empire.”

I’m not even sure what it means, beyond communicating the vague idea that The Guardian really has a thing about the Bushes, doesn’t it?

The hed would almost make sense if you substituted “dynasty” for “empire.” But I think somewhere in the lower reaches of some copyeditor’s brain was the mostly-suppressed, unacknowledged thought that “empire” had a more sinister ring to it.

The story itself doesn’t have quite the ring that the hed does. It’s fairly matter-of-fact. I am a little puzzled that the paper is going with such a limited, second-day approach on the breaking story. Romney’s bowing-out has farther-reaching impact than elevating Bush, if it even does that.

Romney himself seemed to be urging Republicans to look beyond Bush to “the next generation.” Bush at 61 is more or less in the usual age range for a presidential contender, so the implication is that Romney is thinking of someone else, someone with a name less well-known.

I found the way Romney put that sort of interesting:

“I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee,” Romney wrote. “In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case.”

I heard in that a hint of, You REALLY oughta be going with me, a guy who is well known and has taken his message across the country, someone who isn’t just getting started… but NOOOO, everybody said “Don’t run, Mitt,” so you’re on your own now, losers.

Hey, I’m holding out for a GOP nominee with a sufficient grasp of the English language that he knows “Democrat” is a noun, and the adjective is “Democratic.” That would be something (he said wistfully)…

Let’s ask the question: Does SC need SC State?

Or to ask it another way, does the state of South Carolina need to keep propping up an institution that has become a money sinkhole, and is not delivering on its mission, with a 13.7 percent four-year graduation rate?

This is a question, of course, that has hovered out there since USC and other formerly white institutions were integrated: Given that other state institutions are open to all, do we need a separate college that formerly existed just for folks who couldn’t get in elsewhere?

And when we ask that, we hear various arguments for why an institution like SC State — or such private colleges as Benedict — have a greater affinity for, and understand better how to educate, a portion of the population that still lacks the advantages and support systems that middle-class whites take for granted. That such historically black institutions are better at meeting such students where they are, and lifting them to where they want to be.

And perhaps that is the case.

But at some point, we need to look at whether that job of lifting up the disadvantaged is getting done, and how much we are spending on dubious returns.

Note:

Struggling S.C. State University wants an added $13.7 million from House budget writers to pay off a $6 million state loan and improve operations at the college, which has one of the worst graduation rates in the state.

The Orangeburg college must get out “from under this cloud” to improve its graduation rate, S.C. State president Thomas Elzey said after he made the school’s budget presentation Wednesday to S.C. House members.

“The negative kind of statements about the quality of this university and the value of this university (need) to be taken off the table because we are valuable, and we do offer quality,” Elzey said.

However, legislators focused on S.C. State’s financial and academic woes.

S.C. State’s enrollment has fallen 20 percent recently but the school failed to cut its budget to match lost tuition payments. As a result, the state’s only historically black public university owes vendors $10 million in unpaid bills. To reduce costs, cuts have been made to staff and are being considered for athletics, the school’s president said.

The school wants its state taxpayer money doubled – to nearly $27 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1, including money to pay off the state loan – from $13 million this year.

That request does not include any money to pay back a $12 million state loan – to be issued over three years – that the Joint Bond Review Committee approved in December….

I added the bold-faced emphasis in those two places.

An institution that in recent months and years has only been in the news for financial and leadership failures wants its appropriation doubled to get out “from under this cloud?” And then what? What are the realistic prospects going forward? What do we really expect in terms of improvement and reduced need for state infusions of money?

When the bond review committee gave the school that $12 million “loan” in December, Gov. Haley said they “gave it away because they know it can’t be paid back.” And I’m not seeing any indications that she was wrong to say that.

So… where are we going with this? Where can we realistically expect to be in five years if the state keeps funneling in the money?

And at what point is it not worth it anymore?

Even hometown Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter says “we’re going to have to exercise some tough love” with SC State. But how much more love of any kind is it worth investing?

These are very tough questions that everyone involved is hesitant to articulate. Maybe these questions don’t occur to anyone, but that would surprise me.

There may be a million — or 27 million (wait; 39 million counting money to pay back the loan) — reasons why I’m wrong (and heartless and insensitive) to raise such questions. I hope there are. I want to hear them.

But I thought I’d play the part of the little kid in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, if only to see if y’all can come up with those great answers for me. I want to be embarrassed for having asked such silly questions.

But I ask them because it seems that we’re just stumbling along from crisis to crisis here. And I think it’s useful to step back, and ask where we’re going, and whether we want to go there, and whether what we’re doing is getting us there…

The Nazi monster responsible for the ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ signs

work-will-set-you-free

I’d better go ahead and post this before the news hook gets away from me completely…

Soldiers, and nations, are frequently whipped up into a warlike state with examples of atrocities, real or imagined, committed by the enemy.

One such outrage stands out in my memory as having instantly brought the urge to kill to the front of my mind. It was several years ago. I was watching a documentary on PBS. I forget the title or overall thrust of it. But at some point, it showed Jewish concentration camp inmates who were well-dressed and apparently well-fed and well-treated. Some of them were playing classical music for an appreciative audience of other contented-looking inmates sitting on chairs out in the sun.

The footage had been staged and shot by Nazis for homefront consumption, for newsreels in German cinemas, to show the folks at home how well their former Jewish neighbors were doing in their new environment.

That’s what put the blood light in my eye. I wanted to personally kill every Nazi who had anything to do with such a profoundly evil deception, which forced actual victims to play a part in making the Holocaust look hunky-dory. And I regretted that I was much too late.

Theodor Eicke

Theodor Eicke

I have a similar reaction whenever I see a photo with a concentration-camp gate saying “ARBEIT MACHT FREI.” I want to find the monster who came up with the idea of mocking and taunting his wretched victims with such a message, with an added twist of Teutonic self-righteousness. I wanted to subject him to punishments our Constitution would regard as cruel and unusual.

In both cases, I think it’s maybe the appalling lie that dwells at the heart of these particular forms of cruelty that sets me off, that increases the outrage exponentially.

Anyway, I felt that impulse a number of times over the last few days. It seemed no coverage of the 70-year observance of the liberation of Auschwitz was complete without the image: “ARBEIT MACHT FREI”

And this time, I paused to find out who it was, if that could be determined. Wikipedia made it pretty easy:

The slogan “Arbeit macht frei” was placed at the entrances to a number of Nazi concentration camps. The slogan’s use in this instance was ordered by SS General Theodor Eicke, inspector of concentration camps and second commandant ofDachau Concentration Camp.

Eicke was not, to say the least, just another good German swept up in the Nazi madness. He was an SS-Obergruppenführer, a serious, hard-core National Socialist. How hard-core? He was one of the two who killed Brownshirt Chief Ernst Röhm following the Night of the Long Knives purge. Not that Röhm didn’t, you know, have it coming himself.

Eicke, too, is beyond my grasp. He died when his plane was shot down on the Russian front in 1943.

But at least I have a name to assign to the outrage now. One name, among the many responsible, of course…

 

Do you believe in the concept of the rule of law? If so, what is your personal relationship with it?

Rep. Hill, from his campaign Facebook page.

Rep. Hill, from his campaign Facebook page.

On a couple of occasions during my years chairing The State‘s editorial board, someone who had come to meet with us to advocate for a position on some complex issue would say, in response to our questions, “Wow. Y’all understand this better than a lot of legislators.”

I can’t recall now whether I was ever startled into saying this out loud, but I know what I wanted to say whenever this happened: “Well, I certainly hope so!”

You may think that sounds arrogant and conceited. But it wasn’t really. It was based in extensive experience with legislators like Rep. Jonathon Hill, R-Anderson, who distributed to SC judicial candidates a questionnaire with such questions as:

9. Do you believe in the “Supreme Being” (SC Constitution, Article VI, Section 2)? What is the nature of this being? What is your personal relationship to this being? What relevance does this being have on the position of judge? Please be specific….

14. Please name an example of a Federal violation of the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and state how you would respond as a state-level judge.

15. What role do you wish to play in effecting policy change?…

19. Would you ever assign the death penalty in a particular case? Under what circumstances?…

21. Do you believe unborn children have rights? If so, how would those factor in to your decisions as a judge?…

24. Would you perform a homosexual marriage, either voluntarily or involuntarily?

25. Does the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution apply only to the militia and military, or to the people at large?…

To which one naturally wants to reply:

  1. Do you believe in the rule of law and not of men?
  2. If your answer is “yes,” what’s with the questions?

This case illustrates well something else I’ve learned over the years, something which I continue to have trouble convincing Doug of: Experience as a lawmaker has value. Which is why, if all other things are equal, I’ll pick a veteran lawmaker over a novice.

You see, Mr. Hill is a freshman lawmaker, in his first month in office. He is, in fact, a 29-year-old freshman legislator, which means that not only does he not know much about the way the political and legal worlds work, but he’s not overly burdened with life experience in general.

To his credit, he seems to understand this, and is willing to learn. As he said after staffers of the state Judicial Merit Selection Commission diplomatically told him some of the questions were “problematic:”

“You live and learn,” said Hill, a 29-year-old Anderson businessman and freshman legislator. “Maybe next year I’ll be in a better position to — if I put out a questionnaire — to craft it in a way that would work a little bit better.”…

I find that reassuring. I am less comforted that he also said this:

Hill said he tried not to ask leading questions because he wanted honest answers. “If you’re a candidate and you tell me … what you think I want to hear … that doesn’t help me at all.”…

So, apparently, he actually thought that no one could infer where he was coming from from these questions. But again, he’s young.

Fortunately, as of The State‘s reporting of the matter, no judicial candidates had actually answered Rep. Hill’s questions. This should make us all feel better.

Arab Spring, Arab Schmring. How’d you like a piece of $25 million?

A colleague found this in her spam folder, and knew I’d enjoy it. I pass it on in the same spirit:

Hello,
I am Mr Hosni Mubarak   former leader of Egyptian   am  currently  released from  prison charges of complicity resulting from political turmoil during the 2011  the government has seized everything i have here and prevent us from traveling out of Egypt because  the released is conditional.

As a result of this, I need somebody outside Egypt to represent my interest to manage our reserved funds value (25,000,000.00 U.SD) in long-term business venture especially in public and private business (including real estate investment,

I am willing to negotiate with you how much I will offer you to handle this for me after your acceptance. And all needed to proceed the legality and movement of the (25,000,000.00 U.SD) shall or will be duly obtained in due course.
Yours Faithfully,
Mr Hosni Mubarak

It’s not ‘rewriting history;’ it’s paying ATTENTION to history

Cindi Scoppe had a good piece on the issue of unnaming Tillman Hall at Clemson today.

Basically, she took apart the silly argument from certain quarters that changing such a name constitutes “rewriting history.” A salient passage:

The comparison to slave owners might work if this debate were simply about someone who owned slaves. That is, someone who was simply following the accepted norms of his day. That is not what Benjamin Tillman was.

Tillman, sans patch

Tillman, sans patch

Benjamin Tillman was an outlier, an extremist, a brutal racist even by the standards of his time. Many of his contemporaries considered him a dangerous man who wanted to push our state and nation in a dangerous direction — among them the men who founded my newspaper in 1891, for the primary purpose of opposing the new governor’s policies.

Many white people in post-Reconstruction South Carolina disliked black people, even considered them inferior. Most did not collude with lynch mobs and defend murdering black people, as Gov. Benjamin Tillman did. Most did not threaten to kill black people who tried to vote, as Mr. Tillman did in 1876. Most did not lead a militia that terrorized and killed former slaves in the Hamburg Massacre, about which Mr. Tillman frequently bragged that “we shot negroes and stuffed ballot boxes.” Most did not give speeches urging white people to prepare to respond with violence if black people tried to claim the rights promised us all under the U.S. Constitution, as U.S. Sen. Tillman did.

Sen. Tillman earned the name “Pitchfork Ben” when he threatened to impale President Grover Cleveland on a pitchfork. He was censured by the Senate for assaulting another senator on the Senate floor. Such brutality alone should have been reason not to name things after him….

Amen to that.

If one must honor Ben Tillman in order to respect history, then I will henceforth abandon my lifelong love of the subject. I not only have the prejudice here of a former editor of The State, which as Cindi says was founded to fight Tillman and all he stood for (which is why his nephew murdered our first editor). It’s my personal heritage. My ancestors despised him.

I’ve told you before the anecdote about my grandmother, as a child, living next door to Tillman in Washington, a state of affairs which appalled her parents (they later moved out to Kensington, Md.). She remembered sitting on his lap and asking what was under his eyepatch.

Her family provides the very contrast that Cindi points to. My grandmother’s family — my family — had owned slaves, long before she was born. They were of that time and that class (other ancestors of mine, however, were far poorer and therefore innocent of slaveholding). Her grandfather had served in the Legislature both before and after the War, and that was what that demographic did in South Carolina.

As uncomfortable as that personal history makes me, my family by contrast looks great next to Tillman, who was a monstrous figure.

Cindi’s piece mentions the decision to strip ex-Sheriff James Metts’ name from a boat landing. That was a perfectly appropriate thing to do, after the sheriff’s disgrace. But I tell you, I’d name the whole state for Jimmy Metts before I’d name a mad dog after Tillman. Metts is not 1,000th the malevolent figure that Tillman was.

I say that not because I want to rewrite history. I say it because I know my history (although still not nearly as well as I should, and my education continues), and choose to learn from it.

A defense of the sniper on moral grounds

Oh, not from me — I’m still as conflicted as ever about the role of the sniper. As you’ll recall, in my first of several posts about “American Sniper” (one before I saw the movie, explaining why I was eager to see it), I wrote:

I know y’all all think I’m an incorrigible warmonger and all, but I’m someone who does not blink at the dark thicket of morally impossible choices and ethical quicksand into which war leads us. And I’ve always marveled that anyone can live with himself after having killed as a sniper. Yeah, I know; a sniper can save a lot of his comrades’ lives and perform a useful function in a just cause. But a sniper isn’t running and firing at people firing at him, with his blood pounding in his ears and adrenaline drowning his senses. He calmly, analytically, scientifically, artistically, with great care, observes his magnified victim close-up through his scope for much, much longer than any other soldier ever has an enemy in his sights. And the target is unsuspecting. He has no idea that his death is coolly studying him for long minutes, and then choosing the instant to calmly blow his head apart.

A sniper can be a hero. Everyone he knows may praise him for his skill and devotion to duty. But how do you live with yourself after that?

And I still wonder about that. And I’m not sure the film gave me a satisfactory answer (which was perhaps too much to expect of a movie anyway). And maybe that’s because of the subject. I’ve started reading the autobiography upon which the film is based, and it seems fairly clear already that Chris Kyle was not the most introspective of men.

And while my uncertainty is not quenched by this either, I did get a little grist for my mill from a piece in the WSJ this morning. It’s by a comrade of Chris Kyle’s, defending the role of a sniper as in some ways more moral than what others do in war:

Snipers engage individual threats. Rarely, if ever, do their actions cause collateral damage. Snipers may be the most humane of weapons in the military arsenal. The job also takes a huge emotional toll on the man behind the scope. The intimate connection between the shooter and the target can be hard to overcome for even the most emotionally mature warrior. The value of a sniper in warfare is beyond calculation.

I witnessed the exceptional performance of SEAL, Army and Marine snipers on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. They struck psychological fear in our enemies and protected countless lives. Chris Kyle and the sniper teams I led made a habit of infiltrating dangerous areas of enemy-controlled ground, established shooting positions and coordinated security for large conventional-unit movement.

More than half the time, the snipers didn’t need to shoot; over-watch and guidance to the ground troops was enough. But when called upon, snipers like Chris Kyle engaged enemy combatants and “cleared the path” for exposed troops to move effectively and safely in their arduous ground missions. These small sniper teams pulled the trigger at their own risk. If their position was discovered, they had little backup or support….

He makes some good points, specifically about the fact that the sniper is the least discriminate killer on the battlefield. But as the writer acknowledges, that very specificity, that relationship between the sniper and the clearly observed individual he kills, is what would haunt me, on moral (or at least empathetic) grounds, were I ever tasked with such an assignment.

Of course, this takes us to the old question of whether it is more moral to assassinate a problematic foreign leader than to engage in open warfare with his armed forces. If you look at it coldly, you say of course it is better to kill one bad (in your definition) guy than to take action that will almost certainly lead to the deaths of innocents. But then my inner Victorian Gent harrumphs loudly, horrified at the idea of specifically, deliberately, murdering a particular human being whose name you know. I feel a sort of atavistic aversion to regicide, I suppose.

Then there’s the problem that it’s almost impossible to deliberately take out an individual, as President Obama does with drones, without also killing innocents, or regular innocents.

There are no easy answers where war, or the semblance of war, is concerned.

Speaker appears ready to get to work on improving rural schools

This came over the transom this afternoon:

Speaker Lucas Reacts to Supreme Court’s Denial for Abbeville Rehearing

Releases names of the five plaintiff participants in the education task force

(Columbia, SC) – House Speaker Jay Lucas (District 65-Hartsville) announced the five representatives who will participate in the House Education Policy Review and Reform Task Force. These individuals were selected by the plaintiffs’ attorneys in the Abbeville v. StateSupreme Court case and their names were provided to the Speaker’s office on Friday.

The House and Senate asked for a rehearing in November after the Supreme Court issued its decision on the twenty-one year old case.  Speaker Lucas, a representative from the Pee Dee, submitted the request primarily because the Court did not provide enough clarity on how to proceed in its ruling.

“Today’s Supreme Count announcement further confirms the dire need for comprehensive education reform,” Speaker Jay Lucas stated. “In light of the Court’s decision to deny a rehearing, I am hopeful that the House Education Task Force will immediately begin its work to develop a robust strategy that ensures every child is given access to the best possible education in every part of our state. These five representatives from the Abbeville v. State case will provide significant insight and help create standards that put our state back on a path towards excellence.”

Representatives from Abbeville County School Districts v. the State of South Carolina

            Wanda L. Andrews, Ed. D.

Superintendent, Lee County School District

Former Assistant Superintendent, Spartanburg County School District 7

Former Deputy Superintendent, Sumter County School District 2

 

            David Longshore, Jr., Ph.D.

Former Superintendent and current consultant, Orangeburg County Consolidated District 3

Former Member, State Board of Education

Former President, South Carolina Association of School Administrators (SCASA)

Former President, SCASA Superintendent’s Division

Former Consultant, Educational Testing Service

Former Member, Board of Visitors, MUSC

 

            Terry K. Peterson, Ph.D.

Senior Fellow, College of Charleston

Education Advisor, C.S. Mott Foundation

Former Chief Counselor to U.S. Secretary of Education, Secretary Riley

Former Education Director, Office of Governor Riley

 

            Rick Reames

Executive Director, Pee Dee Education Center

Former Deputy Superintendent, Florence County School District 1

 

            John Tindal

Superintendent, Clarendon County School District 2

Former Chair, State Board of Education

Former President, South Carolina Association of School Administrators (SCASA)

            Former President, SCASA Superintendent’s Division

Seems like the speaker has a fairly healthy attitude on the subject, in that he’s ready to get to work on the problem. Or says so, anyway.

What Haley proposed isn’t a ‘road plan.’ It’s a tax cut plan

In the sake of clarity, The State‘s editorial Sunday about Nikki Haley’s “Let’s Make A Deal” proposal on paying for roads maybe what should have been an obvious point, although I had not yet thought of it this way:

WHEN MARK Sanford ran for governor in 2002, he proposed to increase our tax on gasoline and eliminate the state income tax. He didn’t claim it was a plan to save our roads. It was a plan to cut our taxes, plain and simple.

And that’s what Gov. Nikki Haley offered us in her State of the State address on Wednesday: a plan to cut taxes. Oh, she called it a plan to address what most businesses and lawmakers and many citizens consider our most urgent problem: our crumbling roads and bridges.

But it would cover barely a fifth of the need, and in reality it was just a warmed-over version of the Sanford plan. It should meet the same fate as the Sanford plan, which the Republican Legislature rejected, because lawmakers knew we could not afford a massive reduction in the money available to pay for schools and prisons and industrial recruitment and mental health and other basic services.

Gov. Haley did propose to spend the new gas tax revenue on roads: $3.5 billion over the next decade. But she also proposed to steal $8.5 billion from those core functions of government over that same period.

The governor says she’s making roads a priority (although really she’s making tax cuts the priority), and it’s true that we can fix a big problem in government by making it a priority. But if we aren’t careful, we create other problems, as we saw most recently with the cuts to our child-protection program that Gov. Haley now wants to reverse…

Yup. Instead of focusing on the problem under discussion, something of importance to everyone who cares about the state’s actual needs — the lack of funding for roads — the governor is really using that as a smokescreen to achieve an ideological goal that doesn’t address any actual problem.

That wasn’t fully clear to me until I saw the numbers: $3.5 billion for roads, but $8.5 billion for tax cuts…

I thought this headline, saying ‘people could die. That’s okay,’ was meant ironically. It wasn’t…

I got a bit of whiplash reading the opinion section on my Washington Post app over the weekend.

I saw this headline, “End Obamacare, and people could die. That’s okay.” Beyond that, all I could see without clicking on the link was part of this opening sentence: “Say conservatives have their way with Obamacare, and the Supreme Courtdeals it a death blow or a Republican president repeals it in 2017.”

And I thought, Oh boy, some liberal is engaging in standard partisan hyperbole, trying to make us think that those horrible Republicans think it’s OK that people would die if Obamacare were repealed. Sheesh.

And then, I clicked on the link, and the first thing I saw was that the author of the column, Michael R. Strain, “is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.” And I thought, Wow, that’s counterintuitive, for someone from AEI to be castigating Republicans for wanting to end Obamacare. AEI must represent a broader spectrum of viewpoints than I had thought. I wonder if this guy gets ostracized by the OTHER “resident scholars,” or do they respect his take on things? If such a piece is coming from AEI, it must really be interesting…

And then, I started reading. And quickly realized there was no irony or hyperbole involved here. This guy was serious. He really was saying that people will die if Obamacare goes away, and that that’s OK. What’s left of Jonathan Swift must be rolling over about now.

Here is the operative passage:

During the health-care debates of 2009, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) brought a poster on the House floor: “The Republican Health Care Plan: Die Quickly.” In the summer of 2012, when Obamacare was threatened by a presidential election, writer Jonathan Alter argued that “repeal equals death. People will die in the United States if Obamacare is repealed.” Columnist Jonathan Chait wrote recently that those who may die are victims of ideology — “collateral damage” incurred in conservatives’ pursuit “of a larger goal.” If these are the stakes, many liberals argue, then ending Obamacare is immoral.

Except, it’s not.

In a world of scarce resources, a slightly higher mortality rate is an acceptable price to pay for certain goals — including more cash for other programs, such as those that help the poor; less government coercion and more individual liberty; more health-care choice for consumers, allowing them to find plans that better fit their needs; more money for taxpayers to spend themselves; and less federal health-care spending. This opinion is not immoral. Such choices are inevitable. They are made all the time.

He goes on, of course, to explain that what he means is that we make decisions that result in people dying all the time. For instance, if we really didn’t want anyone to die in a traffic accident, speed limits would be set at 10 mph. But we make a tradeoff.

And of course, our healthcare payment system makes decisions not to pay for potentially life-saving care all the time. That was what was so ridiculous about the overheated rhetoric from the right about “death panels” — did Sarah Palin et al. not see that insurance companies, in their bids to hold down costs, have long acted as “death panels”?

But still, I was startled. One seldom sees the case for death made so openly…

Origins of the term, ‘sniper’

sniper

I think this is an actual photo of ‘American Sniper’ Chris Kyle in action. I found it at a webpage dedicated to him, which you can see by clicking on the image. I hope it’s OK that I used it…

 

Since I’m a subscriber, I can’t tell whether y’all would be able to read this WSJ piece or not, but in case you can, I thought I’d share this link to a piece that was in the paper over the weekend headlined, “Hero or Killer? The Ambivalence of the Word ‘Sniper’.” It’s something I’d been wondering about, and I might not be the only one.

The hed is a bit misleading. The piece doesn’t really meaningfully get into the deeper moral implications of the word. In fact, it doesn’t really matter what we call it, in terms of that. There’s no doubt that there’s a great deal of moral ambiguity attaching to the sniper’s role. As I’ve written before, I don’t see how a sniper ever justifies his job to his own conscience, however many comrades’ lives he saves. As for the false dichotomy offered in the hed, well, I don’t see why a sniper (or any soldier) can’t be both hero and killer, whether deeply conflicted or cold-blooded about it.

Whether you can read the piece or not, here’s an excerpt:

The word has its roots in “snipe,” the name for a family of wading birds….

Game lovers found the bird notoriously hard to hunt, thanks to its erratic flight pattern….

In the 18th century, hunters with an accurate shot pursued “snipe-shooting.” Shortened to “sniping,” it took on a military meaning among British soldiers in colonial India.

In 1773, newspapers in England carried a “Letter From Bombay” about the previous year’s siege of Broach (now known as Bharuch) on India’s west coast. The letter-writer described how native combatants were skilled with a long musket that would allow “a man to hit an orange at the distance of 150 yards four times out of six.” The letter also told how soldiers, when erecting a battery, would draw fire from these sharpshooters by putting a ribboned hat on the end of a staff. “The soldiery,” the correspondent said, “humorously call it sniping.”…

Back in India, harassing shooters came to be known as “snipers.” An 1807 report by Major Jasper Nicolls, which was used in a court-martial trial, told of clearing out an area of soldiers, “though much annoyed at times by snipers.” For another century, press accounts of “snipers” in India and elsewhere invariably described such “annoyances” from enemy lines. That began to change with World War I, when the “sniper” became a military specialist trained on high-value targets….

Legislative progress (or at least, progress toward progress) against criminal domestic violence

Just a couple of things to share with you from the last couple of days, reflecting progress on criminal domestic violence over in the State House — actual progress in the Senate, and movement toward progress in the House.

This came from Senate Republicans on Wednesday:

Senate Judiciary passes Criminal Domestic Violence Bill

Proposal Heads to Full Senate for Debate

Columbia, SC – January 21, 2015 – Recognizing the need for immediate movement on the issue of domestic violence, the Senate Judiciary today passed legislation that would get tougher on offenders, as well as restrict gun ownership for many of those convicted of criminal domestic violence.

S.3, sponsored by Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin and others, is the first major piece of domestic violence legislation in years. Among other provisions, the bill would increases the penalties and prohibits those who have committed Criminal Domestic Violence from possessing a firearm for 10 years.

“We in state government have a duty to protect the most vulnerable in South Carolina, and tragically, that too often ends up being members of an abuser’s household,” Martin said. “South Carolina has been among the worst in the nation in domestic violence for far too long, and I’m hopeful the full Senate will address this bill quickly.”

“As a former solicitor, I’ve seen the tragedy of domestic violence more than I’d care to recall,” said Senator Greg Hembree. “When you look at those statistics, domestic violence deaths have too often involved firearms and repeat offenders. This is a commonsense way to make sure that offenders with a history of committing violence in the home are punished have a lessened ability to commit violence in the future.”

“I’m incredibly proud of my colleagues of Judiciary for moving so quickly on this bill,” said Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler. “This is a bill that has been a long time coming, and I’m hopeful that we can get it to the House quickly for consideration.”

Then, this came across from the new House speaker yesterday:

Speaker Lucas Applauds CDV Ad Hoc Committee
Legislation will introduced in the House next week 

(Columbia, SC) – House Speaker Jay Lucas (District 65-Darlington) issued the following statement after the House Criminal Domestic Violence Ad-Hoc Committee completed its responsibilities and reached an agreement on legislation.

South Carolina unfortunately ranks second in the nation for women killed by men as a result of domestic violence.  This unacceptable statistic deserves immediate attention and the government has a responsibility to enact significant reforms to our laws.  Speaker Lucas is very pleased that the dedicated members of this committee have been working diligently since August to extensively investigate ways to better protect our citizens from abuse.

“Criminal domestic violence has no place in a civil society,” Speaker Lucas stated.  “Our government has a responsibility to dramatically change our laws so that we can offer our citizens the best possible protection from those who attempt to inflict senseless harm. I applaud Chairwoman Shannon Erickson and the rest of this steadfast committee for their dedication and hard work on this extremely important issue and I look forward to seeing this piece of legislation progress through the South Carolina House of Representatives.”

Chairwoman Shannon Erickson stated, “I am proud of the work of this committee. We were able to spend time listening to the concerns of domestic violence victims in addition to concerns from the law enforcement agencies charged with prosecuting their offenders. After months of work, we have a piece of legislation that will give added protections to victims, respect individual rights as well as crack down on violent domestic offenders. I want to thank Attorney General, Alan Wilson, and each individual who contributed to this much needed reform. Our work is not yet done, but we remain dedicated to strengthening justice for victims in South Carolina.”

The legislation agreed upon in this ad hoc committee will be introduced in the House of Representatives next Tuesday and proceed through the proper legislative channels.

Members of the Criminal Domestic Violence Ad-Hoc Committee:

            Rep. Shannon S. Erickson, Chairwoman (District 124-Beaufort)

Rep. J. David Weeks, Vice Chair (District 51-Sumter)

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (District 66-Orangeburg)

Rep. MaryGail K. Douglas (District 41-Fairfield)

Rep. Ralph Shealy Kennedy (District 39-Lexington)

Rep. Deborah A. Long (District 45-Lancaster)

Rep. Peter M. McCoy, Jr. (District 115-Charleston)

Rep. Mia S. McLeod (District 79-Richland)

Rep. Robert L. Ridgeway, III (District 64-Clarendon)

Rep. Edward R. “Eddie” Tallon, Sr. (District 33-Spartanburg)

Rep. Anne J. Thayer (District 9-Anderson)

Key provisions included in the legislation:

·         Removes the word “criminal” because domestic violence itself is a crime

·         Increases penalties for criminals by moving from a strictly occurrence based model to one that considers degree of injury; orders of protection; occurrence; and enhancements such as abuse to pregnant women, strangulation or incidents occurring in the presence of a minor

·         Extends time period for a bond hearing to ensure a judge has all necessary information

·         Allows the bond judge to consider not only the danger of the alleged criminal to the community, but also to the alleged victim

·         Develops a fatality review committee to study domestic violence cases which result in death

·         Adds domestic violence education to the curriculum for compressive health classes required in middle school

·         Allows judges to proceed with the case without the presence of the victim

·         Permits the Department of Social Services to study a voucher system for child care to allow the victim to appear in court

I’m noticing that Speaker Lucas has a penchant for these ad hoc committees, I suppose as a means of greasing the skids — getting some consensus from various stakeholders — before going through the actual, official bill-considering process.

Here’s hoping it works, on worthwhile bills such as these appear to be.

In any case, I’m glad to see interest from the speaker’s office in getting some things done. Lucas appears to working energetically to get beyond the malaise — actually, worse than malaise — of Bobby Harrell’s last years in office.

As to the merits of the bills — well, I’ll be interested to see what emerges as these bills move along, and see what comes out in debate. But for now, having GOP leadership in both houses showing this kind of eagerness to protect women, in a state so notorious for not doing so, is encouraging.

Today is not as great a day in SC as yesterday was: Bose shutting Blythewood plant

Nikki Haley’s is lucky this didn’t break a day earlier. It would have taken some of the shine off her State of the State address…

Haley’s ‘solution’ for roads: Rob the general fund

On my way home last night, listening on the radio, I heard some things from our governor that sounded pretty good to me, including her continuing initiatives to try to help out poor, rural schools. It was refreshing to hear a South Carolina Republican say, in such a prominent venue, “for the first time in our history, we acknowledged that it costs more to teach those children mired in poverty than those born into a secure economic situation.”

I was less enchanted a moment later, when she announced, “And all of this will be done without spending a single new tax dollar.” In other words, any gains we make in education will be accomplished by cutting back on something else that state government does.

And that brings us to her proposal on paying for roads, which is essentially to take the money out of the general fund, underfunding some other state function.

She says she can go for doing the right and logical thing, the obvious thing we should do without any conditions or contortions — raise the gas tax. But only if we cut the unrelated income tax. (And restructure the transportation agency, which of course is fine — I’ve advocated it for more than two decades — although not necessarily a thing we should hold our breath on while roads and bridges fall apart.)

The foolishness of this would be immediately apparent to everyone if it were a one-to-one swap. If the income tax was dedicated to paying for roads, then no one could miss the idiocy of raising revenues for roads with the left hand while lowering them with the right.

But the income tax doesn’t pay for roads; it goes into the general fund to pay for the rest of government. And among the hate-the-government crowd, the Haley proposal will make sense. How do they get there? By clinging to the belief that most government spending is waste anyway. And to the even more absurd belief that if you just cut off the money tap, efficiencies will magically appear, and only the “waste” will be cut.

I’ll say to this what I always say to such proposals: If you believe the general fund can do without those revenues, then tell us what you want to cut. Make the cuts first, and then reduce the no-longer-needed revenues.

But they won’t do that. That would be hard. They prefer the magical-thinking approach — just cut off the money, and everything will work out OK.

The honest thing would be to say, here is the thing that I think is less important than funding roads. But that would incur a political cost. The governor, and those who will support her idea, just want the warm-and-fuzzy credit that comes from cutting a tax, any tax.

This is the kind of proposal you make when you’re more interested in staying in the good graces of the Grover Norquists than you are in governing.

I think our governor has matured in office in a number of ways. She used to call the discomfort of mainstream Republicans over her sudden rise “a beautiful thing,” with a twinkle of malice in her eye. Now, she uses that phrase in a more positive way:

Whether I’m in California or Connecticut, Montreal or Minnesota, the story of South Carolina’s success is front and center. Everywhere we go there is excitement – and frankly, not a small amount of envy – over who we are and what we’ve been able to accomplish. It’s a beautiful thing….

But the deal she is proffering on roads is a dereliction of responsibility.

Again, if we want better roads, we should dig into our pockets (and into the pockets of visitors who use our roads) and pay for them. Magic beans are not a solution.

Turning our backs on the world

The problem is not that Barack Obama didn’t go participate in a feel-good march in Paris.

The problem is that when he pauses to talk about what he considers to be important, the rest of the world hardly gets a mention.

Dana Milbank went into this at some length in his column yesterday, headlined, “On terrorism, the State of the Union is strangely quiet.” An excerpt:

Not since before the 2001 terrorist attacks has there been such a disconnect between the nation’s focus and the condition of the world. As threats multiply in the Middle East and Europe, President Obama delivered on Tuesday night an annual message to Congress that was determinedly domestic. And his inward-looking gaze is shared by lawmakers and the public.

Thousands of foreign fighters have joined with Muslim extremists in Syria and Iraq, and their fanatical cause has inspired sympathizers across the globe: 17 killed by terrorists in Paris; terrorism raids and a shootout in Belgium; a hunt for sleeper cells across Europe; a gunman attacking the Canadian Parliament; an Ohio man arrested after buying guns and ammunition, allegedly with plans to attack the Capitol. Even Australia has raised its terrorist threat level.

And yet, when it comes to countering the terror threat in America, the State of the Union is nonchalant. “We are 15 years into this new century, 15 years that dawned with terror touching our shores,” Obama said at the start of his speech. “It has been, and still is, a hard time for many. But tonight, we turn the page.”

Obama, full of swagger, turned the page — several pages — from the start of his address, when he assured Americans that “the shadow of crisis has passed,” before arriving at his discussion of national security.

He went 32 minutes, more than halfway through his speech, before mentioning the “challenges beyond our shores.” He said that “we stand united with people around the world who’ve been targeted by terrorists, from a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris.” But he dwelled on the topic only long enough to say he’d “continue to hunt down terrorists and dismantle their networks” and “keep our country safe while strengthening privacy.”…

Essentially, the president paused in his lengthy examination of domestic policy to say, “And oh, yeah, the rest of the world, yadda-yadda…”

Of course, we’ve been hearing plenty of criticism along those lines from some of the president’s rivals, but the truth is the the GOP on the whole (with the exceptions of Lindsey Graham, John McCain and a few others) is offering no alternative vision for how we should conduct the affairs that are the primary reason for having a federal government. As Milbank noted, “The response to Obama’s address, delivered by new Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), gave terrorism no more prominence than Obama did. Indeed, the new Republican Congress has been just as domestic in its emphasis.”

Daniel Henninger wrote in The Wall Street Journal this morning about how jarring it was to see “American Sniper” Tuesday night, then return home to watch the president’s lack of concern about the world on display:

Opinions will differ, often bitterly, on the war in Iraq and the reasons for it. In the movie, a painful funeral scene captures that ambivalence. But what is just not possible to choke down is President Obama’s decision in 2011 to reduce the U.S.’s residual military presence to virtually zero. It was a decision to waste what the Marines and Army had done.

Announcing the decision at the White House on Oct. 21, Mr. Obama said, “After taking office, I announced a new strategy that would end our combat mission in Iraq and removeall of our troops by the end of 2011.” (Emphasis added.)

Military analysts at the time, in government and on the outside, warned Mr. Obama that a zero U.S. presence could put the war’s gains and achievements at risk. He did it anyway and ever since Mr. Obama has repeatedly bragged about this decision in public speeches, notably to the graduating cadets of West Point last May.

In January, months before that West Point speech, the terrorist army of Islamic State, or ISIS, seized back control of both Fallujah and Ramadi in Anbar province. The month after the West Point speech, the city of Mosul and its population of one million fell to Islamic State, and here we are with the barbarians on the loose there, in Yemen, in Nigeria and in France.

Watching “American Sniper,” it is impossible to separate these catastrophes from seeing what the Marines did and endured to secure northern Iraq. Again, anyone is entitled to hate the Iraq war. But no serious person would want a president to make a decision that would allow so much personal sacrifice to simply evaporate. Which, in his serene self-confidence, is what Barack Obama did. That absolute drawdown was a decision of fantastic foolishness….

But we expect that from Henninger and the WSJ, right?

So let’s consider what the editorial board of The Washington Post had to say last week in an editorial headlined, “The U.S. fight against jihadism has lost its momentum:”

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S neglect of the anti-terrorism march in Paris seemed reflective of a broader loss of momentum by his administration in combating Islamic jihadism. Five months after the president launched military operations against the Islamic State, fighting in Iraq and Syria appears stalemated. The training of Iraqi army units for a hoped-for counteroffensive is proceeding slowly and, according to a report by The Post’s Loveday Morris, looks under-resourced. Weapons and ammunition are in such short supply that trainees are yelling “bang, bang” in place of shooting.

Iraq, moreover, is the theater where U.S. engagement is most aggressive; elsewhere, the Obama administration appears to be passively standing by as jihadists expand their territory, recruitment and training. In Libya, the job of stemming an incipient civil war has been left to a feckless U.N. mediator, even though the Islamic State is known to be operating at least one training camp with hundreds of recruits. In Nigeria, where a new offensive by the Boko Haram movement has overrun much of one northeastern state, a U.S. military training program was recently canceled by the government following a dispute over arms sales.

The bankruptcy of U.S. policy toward the Syrian civil war was underlined again on Wednesday, when Secretary of State John F. Kerry expressed hope for a patently cynical and one-sided diplomatic initiative by Russia, which has been working to preserve the regime of Bashar al-Assad. It’s been nearly a year since the last U.S. diplomatic effort to end the war collapsed, and the administration continues to offer no strategy for how to stop the regime’s assaults on moderate Syrian forces it is counting on to fight the Islamic State. It has ignored widespread assessments that its program for training Syrian forces is too small and too slow….

This is a bad situation for our country and our allies. And I worry that it won’t get any better as the 2016 presidential campaign gets under way. No wonder Lindsey Graham is thinking of running — it may be the only way most of the world gets talked about.

Columbia’s new poet laureate, Ed Madden

Hey, did you know that Columbia had a poet laureate? Neither did I. It’s a new thing.

In fact, it didn’t become official until after the governor’s people had ditched the state’s poet from the inauguration ceremony — although the city had apparently made the decision to create the office earlier.

There’s a release about it here.

Madden,Ed 2008

Ed Madden — 2008

Anyway, the city’s first-ever official poet is USC English prof Ed Madden. This caused me to quote Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf: “I know him!” Which is not something I can usually say about distinguished poets.

Ed was one of the first batch of eight Community Columnists we appointed back when I was first editorial page editor at The State, winning out over hundreds of competing entries in our contest. He and the others would write one column each a month for our op-ed page, for which we’d pay them a modest fee. Back in the days when there was money for such things.

So I knew he could write. I just didn’t know he did it in verse.

And you know what? The poem he read before the mayor’s State of the City speech last night is pretty good. Not to pick on Marjory Wentworth, but I think his piece was better than the one that she didn’t get to read at the Haley shindig. Having majored in history and journalism, I don’t have the words for explaining why that is, except to say that it strikes me as way literary and stuff.

Here it is:

A Story of the City

(for the 2015 State of the City Address by Mayor Stephen K. Benjamin, 20 Jan 2015)

 

In the story, there is a city, its streets

straight as a grid, and in the east, the hills,

in the west, a river. In the story,

someone prays to a god, though we don’t

know yet if it is a prayer of praise

or a prayer for healing — so much depends

on this — his back to us, or hers, shoulders

bent. We hear the murmur of it, the urgency.

In the story a man is packing up

a box of things at a desk, a woman is sitting

in a car outside the grocery as if

she can’t bring herself to go in, not yet.

Or is the man unpacking, setting a photo

of his family on the desk, claiming it?

And is the woman writing a message to someone—

her sister maybe, a friend? In the story,

a child is reading, sunlight coming through

the window. In the story, the trees are thicker,

and green. In the story, a child is reading,

yes, and his father watches, uncertain

about something. There is a mother, maybe

an aunt, an uncle, another father. These things

change each time we open the book, start

reading the story over. Sometimes a story

about trees, sometimes about a city

of light, the city beyond the windows of a dark

pub, now lucent and glimmering. Or sometimes

a story about a ghost, his clothes threaded

with fatigue and smoke, with burning—you smell him

as he enters the room, and you wonder

about that distant city he fled, soot-shod,

looking back in falling ash at the past.

Sometimes it’s a story about someone

singing. Or someone signing a form, or speaking

before a crowd, or shouting outside a building

that looks important, if only for the flag there,

or the columns, or the well-kept lawn.

By now it’s maybe your story, and the child

is your child, or you, or maybe we’re telling

the story together, as people do, sitting

at a table in a warm room, the meal

finished, the night dark, a candle lit,

an empty cup left out for a prophet,

an empty chair, maybe, for a dead friend,

a room filled with words, filled with voices,

the living and the dead, someone telling

a story about the people we are meant to be.

 Ed Madden, Poet Laureate, City of Columbia

Above is video of him reading it. Click on this link to go straight to the poem.

It’s Big Block of Cheese Day! (But no Leo, I’m sad to say…)

Sure, it’s a political gimmick, signifying little — and let me stress that I am no fan of Jacksonian populism — but this got a smile out of me. If you, too, are nostalgic for the Bartlet administration, you should definitely watch the above video.

Alas, the founder of Big Block of Cheese Daymy favorite Bartletista, Leo — is no longer with us, and his absence makes for a slightly sad note in the reminiscence. But I enjoyed it anyway.

From the release from the real West Wing:

Here at the White House, we’re dedicated to making President Obama’s administration the most open and accessible in history. That’s why, for the second year in a row, we thought it’d be a gouda idea to brie-unite a certain cast of characters to help us bring back a tradition that dates back to the days of President Andrew Jackson.

On February 22, 1837, President Jackson had a 1,400-pound block of cheese hauled into the main foyer of the White House for an open house with thousands of citizens and his staff, where they discussed the issues of the day while carving off slabs of cheddar.

This year, we aim to do even feta. On Wednesday, January 21, in fromage to President Jackson (and to President Bartlet, if you’re a fan of The West Wing), we’re hosting the second-annual virtual Big Block of Cheese Day, where members of the Obama administration will take to social media to answer your questions about the President’s State of the Union address and the issues that are most important to you.

Log on to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr, and ask away using the hashtag#AskTheWH. We’ll do our best to answer as many questions as we can.

So be sure to visit WhiteHouse.gov/SOTU to watch the State of the Union address on January 20, 2015 at 9 p.m. ET and check out the schedule of all the ways you can engage on the following day, January 21. We camembert to think you’d miss it….

And here’s the original… I hope that someone at the White House today is meeting with the Cartographers for Social Equality….