The merchandising is strong with this one…


I hereby launch this blog’s official Most Absurd “Star Wars” Tie-In contest.

See if you can top this one — “Star Wars” bottled water. Near as I could tell without ripping the shrinkwrap, there was nothing about Star Wars on the actual bottles. So if you gave it to a kid in a vain attempt to get him to drink water instead of soda, it probably wouldn’t work. You’d get one of those “What are you trying to foist off on me, pops?” looks.

I’m pretty sure the only branding was on the plastic wrap holding the case together. Although if you’re sucker enough to buy one, and rip it open and prove me wrong, I will stand corrected.

The last couple of weekends I’ve been out toy-shopping for grandchildren, and seen just how far the Star Wars mania has gone. And of course I’ve noted the everyday, ordinary version of a toy, and next to it the version with Star Wars images and a price about 33 percent higher.

But I’ve not yet seen anything as ridiculous as the bottled water.

Yes, if ‘Downton Abbey’ were set in the US, it would be in SC


Soon after I moved back to S.C., I was struck by how much my home state was like the England of a couple of generations back — or at least, how its ruling class was like that of the older England. I’d read in books how when one member of the public school set met another, they could usually find a personal connection in one of three ways — family, school or military unit.

On one of my first visits to the State House, I either participated in or overheard conversations in which connections were made in each of those three ways. The Citadel or Wofford may not be Oxford, but the interpersonal dynamics were the same.

(Before I came home to SC, I had never in my work life — in Tennessee and Kansas — met strangers who could make personal connections to me, which gave me a comforting sense of professional distance from sources that I took for granted. Then, one of the first people I met at the State House — Joe Wilson, as it happened — heard my name and said, “Yes, I’ve met your father; he’s doing a great job.” It was bit of a shock. My father at the time was running the junior ROTC program at Brookland-Cayce High School after retiring from the Navy.)

All that was brought back to mind when I was reading a feature in The Washington Post this morning about the origins of the surnames of presidential candidates, and I got to this:


Possible national origins: Scottish or English
Meaning: Have you ever seen the show “Downton Abbey”? It’s a good show (or, at least, has had its good moments). It centers on an expansive British estate at which there are strict social norms and a reliance on maintaining the boundaries of proper manners. If it were in America, it would be set in South Carolina.

“Graham,” as it turns out, is a name identifying residents of Grantham in Lincolnshire. And Lord Grantham is the main character in “Downton Abbey.”

As for “Grantham,” it’s apparently a combination of “homestead” — -ham — and either the Old English word for gravel — grand — or a reference to the name “Granta,” which means “snarler.” Making Lindsey Graham actually Lindsey Guy-who-lives-near-a-gravelly-home-or-near-where-the-snarler-lives….

Yes. An American Downton would likely be in South Carolina. In the Lowcountry, I would expect. Think Hobcaw Barony or something like that…

Open Thread for Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Yeah, I know I’ve used the above cartoon at this time of year before, but it’s a holiday favorite by my old friend Richard Crowson. Richard and I go way back.

Some possible topics:

  1. Russian foreign minister calls plane downing ‘planned provocation’ — Kinda scary. Or, as John Wayne said to Kirk Douglas in “In Harm’s Way,” “A lousy situation, Commander Eddington.”
  2. Tense but Peaceful Protests in Chicago After Video Release — I would certainly think the protests would be peaceful. If I’m a protester, I’m like, “I was really mad that the cops initially lied, but now the cop’s been charged and this video’s been released, so the system worked. I think I’ll go home and see what’s new on Netlix.” But then, that’s me. When I’m mad, I don’t take to the streets; I write.
  3. Black Friday Falters as Consumer Behaviors Change — One of those end-of-an-era-type stories.
  4. US activists to launch Guantánamo protest along camp’s perimeter — Again, we have my failure to get protesters. I mean, POTUS is trying like fun to close Gitmo, and has not succeeded because of very obvious obstacles, but will continue to try. So the protest expects to accomplish… what?
  5. Midlands family says home was targeted by people assuming members are Muslim — Sheesh. Like we need this. Someone in the story refers to the racist perps as “gentlemen.” Yeah. Like the “gentlemen” who frequent “gentlemen’s clubs?”

Or whatever y’all have…


The puzzling, chronic snarl at I-26 and Sunset

The problem is with the folks following the red line -- exiting I26 coming from Charleston, and heading west on 378 toward Lexington.

The problem is with the folks following the red line — exiting I-26 coming from Charleston, and heading west on 378 toward Lexington. They completely block traffic on 378, for light cycle after light cycle.

Here’s some hyper-ultra-local for you… It will be relevant to anyone who lives in Lexington and has to drive into Columbia on a regular basis.

I’m puzzled by a phenomenon that has just cropped up in the last couple of weeks. I’m puzzled a) that it’s happening now and b) that it never happened before (to my knowledge; maybe I was just lucky before). File this under “the stupidity of crowds,” or something like that.

The interchange at Interstate 26 and Sunset/378 in West Columbia is… unusual. It opened for business about a decade ago after years of work. Replacing a conventional older interchange that was frequently the cause of a lot of traffic backing up toward Lexington, it was at first a bit confusing, but as locals caught on, it helped things flow much more smoothly. Occasionally, there’s somebody from out of town who misreads it, but mostly it’s worked pretty well.

Until just a couple of weeks ago.

Now, all of a sudden, if I’m heading home from downtown anywhere near rush hour, traffic will be backed up a mile or two on Sunset, starting at about Hummingbird or sooner. I mean standing still for long periods of time. Yeah, I know — rush hour is rush hour. But it didn’t get bad  until a couple of weeks ago, and I can’t figure out why.

I mean, I know what’s happening, because it’s easy to see when you finally get to the interchange: People getting off I-26 coming from the direction of Charleston, and trying to go west on 378 toward Lexington, are going ahead and turning when the intersection isn’t clear, and forming a line completely blocking 378. So people on 378 trying to go in either direction are completely blocked, sometimes for light cycle after light cycle.

I just don’t see why people started doing this all of a sudden, after not doing it for years. But they did, and it’s a huge pain.

Below is a shot of what it looked like at 2:22 p.m. yesterday. I was heading toward Columbia on 378 after having gone home for lunch. I had the green light, but we were going nowhere because all these people from the Interstate were blocking us.

Note that this wasn’t even at rush hour.

I just don’t get it. Why is this happening now?

snarl 2

That’s right. In SC, who the governor is matters more than who the U.S. senator is

The Washington Post was musing about why David Vitter’s prostitute problem didn’t keep him from being re-elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010, but did keep him from being elected governor of Louisiana this year.

And I was surprised and pleased to see that the Post, despite its Beltway perspective, had the insight to list this reason first:

1.  Louisianans care much more about who their governor is than who their senator is. It might be hard for many in Washington to grasp, but Louisiana is far from alone in caring more about who its governor is than who goes to the Senate from the state. (New Jersey, California and Texas are three others that jump to mind.) “Voters have a higher standard for governor than someone they send off to Washington,” said Bob Mann, a professor of mass communication at Louisiana State University who was a top aide to former senator John Breaux (D).

Added Curt Anderson, a Republican consultant who advises outgoing Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal: “In Louisiana, they take the governor’s race seriously. They feel like they are voting for the head man for the state. They do not take Senate races very seriously. The job of a senator from Louisiana is to go to Washington and try to stop the madness in D.C. and oppose [President Obama] Obama. That’s it. If you can do that, fine.”  

Simply put: The bar that Vitter needed to clear was MUCH higher in the governor’s race than in his 2010 Senate bid.  And he never really understood that or came close to clearing it.

Indeed. That’s a point I’ve made many times over the years here in South Carolina. In fact, back when the news first broke that Inez Tenenbaum was going to run for the U.S. Senate in 2004, I called her to ask why she wanted to waste time doing that; South Carolina needed a good governor far more than it needed to send its talent to Washington to engage in the eternal, pointless, partisan wars.

Yet time and again in this state and others, you’ve seen governors use their posts as stepping-stones to the Senate, sometimes even appointing themselves when a Senate vacancy occurs. I can’t speak for other states, but if talented, smart politicos really care about South Carolina, we can use them here a whole lot more than we can up there.

Of course, some people are more suited for the Washington stage than for the State House. Lindsey Graham comes to mind. And the country (not the state, but the nation) needs good senators — better ones than we have now. But here in SC, if someone has what it takes to be a good governor, I’d rather they stay here and run for that. Too few people who could make a difference do…

A few thoughts on ‘Spotlight’

One thing they definitely got right: The disaster area that is the typical reporter's workspace...

One thing they definitely got right: The grubby disaster area that is the typical reporter’s workspace…

I’ve had an extremely busy day and haven’t been able to keep up with the news. In any case, I was tired because I didn’t get home from the theater until about 10:30 last night, and then couldn’t resist popping my DVD of “All the President’s Men” into the player. I didn’t watch all of it, mind you, but… I was tired this morning.

I doubt that many of you have seen “Spotlight” yet, but you should. And against the day when you do see it, I thought I’d go ahead and share some of the things that struck me about it, most of which I shared with the audience last night during our panel discussion after the show.

First, a plug: That was my first time attending a show in the new Nickelodeon, and it was great. You should give it your custom if you don’t already. Andy Smith and the gang are doing a good job.

Now, my impressions…

I had said I was eager to see whether it really was the best newspaper film since the aforementioned Redford-Hoffman vehicle, and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, given that the cinematic art has improved over the last four decades (or is it me?), it was better in a number of ways, although there were one or two things ATPM did that this did not (I loved the awkward, naturalistic, disconnected conversations Woodstein had with their sources — very much like real interviews). I was particularly impressed by how thoughtful and nuanced “Spotlight” was. If you watched the trailer, you could be forgiven for thinking it would be a cartoonish, black-and-white depiction of courageous, hard-driving journos relentlessly bringing down wicked Cardinal Law and his army of perverts. It was way more intelligent than that.

The few, the intensely interested: About a third of the audience stayed for the panel discussion.

The few, the intensely interested: About a third of the audience stayed for the panel discussion.

For instance, while the film did show how a newspaper with the right resources and good leadership can peel away the layers hiding a dark secret eating away at its community, it did the opposite very well. By that I mean, it showed how a newspaper can fail to get that story, year after year. In a different context during our panel discussion, Charles Bierbauer mentioned the old saw that journalists live by, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” That very skepticism caused this team and the newsroom in general to fail to grasp the enormity of what they were facing. Yeah, they had a story about a pedophile priest on their hands, similar to a case they’d thoroughly covered years ago. But as indications emerged that maybe there were as many as 12 or 13 such priests in the archdiocese, then maybe as many as 90 (which would represent 6 percent, which a researcher told them they should expect — after all, that’s roughly the proportion of pedophiles in the adult male population), they just could not believe it. It was too outlandish; it didn’t fit their expectations in any way. John Slattery (of “Mad Men” fame) as Ben Bradlee Jr. spoke for all when he cried “b___s___!” to what the team had found at one point.

The members of the Spotlight team — three reporters and “player coach” Walter Robinson, played by Michael Keaton — were time and again dismayed to learn how they had missed the story over the years. After Robinson and a reporter ambush and harass a lawyer who has been dodging them, demanding that he provide the names of priests his clients had made claims against (leading to settlements that were sealed by the court), the lawyer finally explodes at them and says he had given the paper the names of 20 such priests several years ago, and the paper had essentially done nothing with it. Look at your own damn’ clips, he told them as he walked away. They look, and find a story buried inside. (This isn’t made clear, but I’m assuming they didn’t actually publish the names of the priests in that story — it would have been amazing if they had, without the kind of exhaustive investigation they were finally conducting at the time when the film is set, 2001-2002. You don’t run something like that on one lawyer’s say-so.)

The paper had also in the past brushed off a victim turned victims’ advocate, Phil Saviano, and an experienced editor can easily see why. When Saviano meets with the team and presents them with what he has, he starts out patient and then keeps slipping back into deep resentment that he had been ignored by others at the paper in the past, which causes him to lash out angrily. As he excuses himself to go to the bathroom, the reporters exchange a look behind his back. Yeahhh… one of those. We all have experience with sources like that. Full of passion, and full of stuff you can’t prove, and they come across as a bit unbalanced. Maybe he was abused, and it sent him over the edge. Or maybe the thing that sends him there is his frustration that no one believes the truth. At this point, the team is determined to find out if he’s right.

That the paper had missed opportunities in the past doesn’t mean the Globe is a bad paper; it’s far from that. This was just a particularly difficult story to a) believe, and b) nail down. Why, you wonder? Couldn’t they just go look at the court cases? No, they couldn’t. Lawyers for the victims who made claims — a small minority of the number of actual victims — generally didn’t file lawsuits in court. They went straight to the archdiocese, settlements were mediated, and the records were sealed. There would be a case over here that came to light, then one over there — and the paper covered those extensively, and everyone felt like they were on top of it. That there were so many priests, so many victims, that Cardinal Law was aware of the scope of it, that guilty priests would be shunted from one parish to another after useless “treatment,” all came as a shock as the resources of the Spotlight investigative team were devoted to the case.

And how did that happen? How was the decision made to have Spotlight drop what it was working on and bring to bear the kind of resources necessary to get the story at long last? That was interesting. It was the arrival of a new editor, Marty Baron, from The Miami Herald. He was an outsider in a newsroom full of people with deep Boston roots. He was Jewish in a Catholic town (all the members of the Spotlight team were raised Catholic, although apparently none were attending Mass any more). He wasn’t even interested in the Red Sox. He comes in feeling pressure to cut expenses, and focuses on Robinson’s team — four extremely talented, experienced reporters who only turn out a story about once a year (not because they were lazy, but because they put that much into their stories — making the team a very expensive luxury). And then he raises the question, if we’re going to have this team, why not have it look further into these sex abuse cases? He suggests they drop what they’re working on (some sort of police story) and turn to this. They do.

But it’s easy, if you’re not a journalist, to focus on the superficialities in the situation. A member of the audience asked me about that aspect of the story — the Jewish outsider being the only one who could make this bunch of hometown mackerel snappers take on the church in the most Catholic city in the country. I pointed out that he was missing the most salient aspect of Baron’s outsider perspective. It wasn’t that he was Jewish, or that he didn’t care about baseball. It was that he was from Florida — born in Tampa, coming up through the Herald‘s newsroom.

I could identify with his perspective. When I arrived at The State after having spent most of my career to that point in Tennessee, I was shocked to find out how much of public life in South Carolina could remain hidden — closed records, closed meetings. In Tennessee, we had had a Sunshine Law based on Florida’s groundbreaking open-government law. We’d had it when my career started. It spoiled me. I would hear stories of the bad old days before the law, when government bodies could go into something called “executive session” and shut out the press and the public, and I would shudder at the idea of such a thing. Then I came to South Carolina, where government bodies regularly go into executive session. It was like I’d been transported to the Dark Ages. Shortly after I arrived here, Jay Bender came to brief editors on improvements to FOI law that he and the Press Association had managed to push through the recent legislative session. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I kept saying things like, “That’s an improvement? You’re kidding me! You couldn’t do better than that?” I don’t think I made a good first impression on Jay.

(As governmental affairs editor, I was determined to break through the culture of closed doors. This led to an embarrassing situation one day. I left the newsroom to go check on my reporters and see what was happening at the State House. There was an important meeting going on somewhere that I was concerned we were missing. I spied a closed door, to one of the rooms off of the lobby near the exterior doors that open to the sweeping outdoor steps, and I strode over and put my hand on it. One of the loungers in the lobby called out that I shouldn’t barge in; there was a meeting going on. Aha! I thought. I self-righteously (I mean, I really made an ass of myself) replied, in a dramatic tone, “I know. That’s why I’m going in!” and pushed the door open with a flourish. It wasn’t my meeting. It was a couple of guys having a private chat, and they looked at me like I was crazy. I muttered something, backed out sheepishly, closed the door and endured the laughter of the lobby as I resumed my search.)

So, when Baron expressed surprise that it was so hard to get access to records in the sex-abuse cases, I felt his pain. And it made all the sense in the world that he would decide to overcome the barriers whatever it took, and suggested Spotlight drop what it was doing and get all over it. Which, as I said, they did. And they got the job done, against the odds.

I spoke of nuances. I loved a couple of the touches that undermined popular prejudices about the church, even as the film told in detail of the exposure of the church’s darkest secret. Sure, Law was the villain of the piece, but he was no Snidely Whiplash curling the ends of his mustache. Early on, when he meets Baron — one of those meetings that a new editor routinely has with key people in a community — he speaks of when he, too, had been an outsider, standing up for civil rights in Mississippi.

As for the old saw about a celibate priesthood being the culprit — hey, you don’t let ’em get married, so they take it out on the kids — there was a very interesting touch in the film. Stanley Tucci, wearing an impressive hairpiece, appears as attorney Mitchell Garabedian — as an Armenian, another outsider — who has decided he will try to make the abuse problem more public by actually suing on behalf of his victim clients in open court. He’s an irascible guy, and it takes some time for reporter Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) to build a relationship of trust with him. At one point as they’re getting to know each other, Garabedian asks Rezendes whether he’s married. Rezendes says he is (although apparently, it’s complicated). Garabedian asks whether his demanding job causes problems in the marriage. Rezendes admits it does. Garebedian says yeah, that’s why he never married: His work is too important, and he just doesn’t have the time. Which, you know, is the rationale behind priests being celibate — that they’re supposed to devote themselves entirely to being shepherds.

All in all, a rich feast of a film, that never falls back on easy answers. You should see it.

Open Thread for Monday, November 23, 2015

"OK, I need y'all's John Hancocks on this ASAP, because I need to get busy on the Constitution..."

“OK, I need y’all’s John Hancocks on this ASAP, because I need to get busy on the Constitution…”

Slow news day so far — unless you’re in Brussels, or Paris — but let’s see if we can identify some topics to talk about:

  1. Locked Down for 3rd Day, Brussels Hunts Terror Suspects — The city is shut down, but the police have been busy — 20-something raids have produced 21 arrests, but the chief target has eluded authorities.
  2. Pfizer-Allergan Deal Shifts a U.S. Giant to Foreign Address — Yes, the deal brings with it “significant tax benefits.”

  3. Carson credits Thomas Jefferson with helping craft Constitution — Which would have been a neat trick, since he was in France at the time. He also alleged recently that none of the members of the Continental Congress had previously held elective office, which is also a complete fantasy.

  4. NPR is graying, and public radio is worried about it — That is to say, its audience is graying. Well, you know, it’s a very sober, responsible, thorough, grown-up sort of news source, and if you want your news Jon Stewart-style, it’s just not gonna be for you…
  5. Police: Man struck by dancer at MB club after he insulted her weight — She slapped him four times, according to the report, and then the bouncers tossed him out with extreme prejudice. You know what? I don’t want to sound cynical, but I’m beginning to doubt that all of the clientele at “gentlemen’s clubs” are actually gentlemen.

Please feel free to suggest your own topics.


Come see ‘Spotlight’ tonight at the Nickelodeon

Look! Journalists walking through a newsroom -- and it's not empty!

Look! Journalists walking through a newsroom — and it’s not deserted!

I was interested in seeing “Spotlight” because I’d heard it was the best newspaper movie since “All the President’s Men.”

That’s a high bar. I recently watched it again and was surprised how well it held up. I went to see it at the time because it was topical, and because Woodward and Bernstein were heroes to my generation of journalists. I was really startled at how good it was, independent of all that, going on 40 years later.

And I’ve seen Michael Keaton in a good newspaper movie before. I really identified with his character in “The Paper.” Of course, that was largely played for laughs, making it nothing like this film, which I’m anticipating being rather grim.

So, wanting to see it anyway, I was pleased to get an invitation to come watch it at the Nickelodeon tonight, and then participate in a panel discussion with Charles Bierbauer and Sammy Fretwell.

Y’all should come. The movie starts at 6:30 p.m., and the discussion follows.

The folks at the Nick asked me how I wanted to be billed on the website. I said, “Given the subject, I guess you could call me a 35-year veteran newspaper editor who is also a Catholic.” Which they did.

Bennettsville boy makes good

And no, I’m not talking about Hugh McColl, or even yours truly, who was considered to have done fairly well in the wider world until I got laid off. (You doubt my celebrity in the place of my birth? Consider that I was once invited to address the Rotary at Bennettsville’s now-defunct Farron’s Restaurant — which was not defunct at the time. Of course, the invitation did come from my uncle.)

No, I’m talking about Aziz Ansari, whose celebrity now exceeds Hugh’s, and even mine.

The above moment in the pilot of “Parks and Recreation” was a sort of milestone for our hometown. It was, I believe, the first time a recurring character on a prime-time network show said to the world, “I am from Bennettsville, South Carolina.” The fact that he followed it up with “I am what you might call a redneck” hardly takes away from that proud declaration. We Marlboro Countians have a great appreciation for irony.

The irony goes deeper, however, than the assertion that the Indian-American is from Bennettsville and not, as Amy Poehler’s character had guessed, a Libyan.

The fact is that Aziz — since he’s a homeboy, I feel free to call him “Aziz” — has greater claim to Bennettsville than I do. Sure, I was born there (while he was born in faraway Columbia), but only because my mother went home to have me while my father, a newly minted Naval officer, was attending a school in San Diego. I grew up thinking of it as home because it was the place I returned to each summer to visit my uncle and grandparents between new postings to places where I would live for a year or so and never return to.

The one time I lived in Bennettsville almost year-round was the 1967-68 school year, when I was in the 9th grade at (also now defunct) Bennettsville High School. So if you walk down Main Street, you may not be able to find anyone who knows me, although you may run into an older person who will remember me as the boy who yelled right out at the preacher in church, completely cracking up the congregation, in the middle of an otherwise stultifyingly boring sermon in 1957. No, I’m not making this up. I have it on good authority that when my name comes up in B’ville, if it does come up, the conversation inevitably moves to the yelling-in-church incident. I’m quite the local legend for that. It probably surprised no one that I became a writer of opinion; I am after all The Boy Who Didn’t Know When to Shut Up.

But Aziz actually grew up there, and attended Marlboro Academy, which (irony again) is where most of the white kids went after BHS was finally completely integrated at the start of the 1970s. (When I was there I had black classmates in homeroom and P.E., but we were then under the “Freedom of Choice” system in which everyone declared which school they wanted to go to each year, and only the very bravest African-Americans dared to say that they wanted to go to the “white” school — something I didn’t really appreciate at the time; I actually thought the school was integrated.)

So his Bennettsville credentials may be more solid than mine, but at least I can say I was a Green Gremlin (possibly the quirkiest, coolest school mascot ever), and he was not.

So there.

Anyway, have any of y’all seen his new show on Netflix, “Master of None?” It’s pretty funny. Not something you want to turn on until after the kids have gone to bed, but funny. Check it out and we’ll discuss it here…

Supt. Hamm’s letter about Spring Valley incidents

I’ve finally, finally, finally gotten caught up on my email for the week, so I’m belatedly sharing with you this message from Sen. Joel Lourie. He sent it out to member of the Richland County legislative delegation, with this note:

Dear Fellow Members of the Delegation –

By now, each of you should have received the attached letter from Dr. Hamm regarding the incident at Spring Valley High School.  I have heard from many parents throughout the district who have indicated their support for the way this crisis was handled, and a strong sense of optimism in moving forward.  I believe there will be positive changes that come out of this unfortunate situation.  On a statewide level, we should re-visit the “Disturbing Schools” section of state statute to insure that we are not criminalizing incidents that could be handled administratively.  I also want to thank Dr. Hamm and the administration and board for their professionalism and sensitivity in dealing with this matter.

Best regards always –

Joel Lourie

I’m in complete agreement with him that the “disturbing schools” law needs to be addressed — in fact, I see that as the one legitimate response the delegation may have to these school matters.

I would copy here the contents of the note from Dr. Hamm, but unfortunately, it’s one of those PDFs that won’t let you copy and paste the text.

But you can read it by clicking here

Not to be outdone, Graham calls for war ‘with no limits’

Just in case I missed it in my daily perusal of The Washington Post (and somehow I had), Sen. Graham’s office made sure I knew that, while Jeb! Bush may be calling for boots on the ground, Graham is not going to give up his status as the undisputed hawk in the field:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is readying an authorization of military force against the Islamic State that would allow the United States to attack the militant group’s allies anywhere, and with no timetables.

“ISIL is a more credible threat to our homeland than al-Qaeda,” Graham said in an interview, referring to the Islamic State by one of its other names. “We need to have an authorization of force that is not limited by geography, time, or means.”

The resolution, which Graham plans to officially introduce after the Thanksgiving recess, is being shaped and shopped around to senators on Wednesday. “No geographic limits are placed on American military or intelligence services in the fight against ISIL,” reads the outline of the in-process legislation. “No expiration date. No prohibition on sending American forces on the ground to combat ISIL. No prohibitions on the ability of the United States to disrupt online terrorist recruitment activities, online terrorist propaganda, or terrorist communications.”

All of that makes Graham’s AUMF further-reaching than any comparable ones — none of which have gotten traction in Congress….

Read the whole story here.


THIS would be too much government, FYI

Frequently, my libertarian friends here on the blog accuse me of loving Big Government so much that I’ve never seen an expansion of it that I didn’t like.

Not true. And in his column today, George Will reminded me of a Trump proposal that I regard as an utterly unwarranted and highly objectionable expansion of government:

Watch Trump on YouTube and consider his manner in light of his stupendously unconservative proposal, made one day earlier, for a federal police force. (It would conduct about 500,000 deportations a month to remove approximately 11.4 million illegal immigrants intwo years).

I am completely opposed to turning this nation into a police state.

Remember this next time you wonder where I would draw the line.

Open Thread for Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Some possible topics:

  1. At the Citadel, Bush calls for US ground forces to fight Islamic State — OK, now we have the basis for a political discussion about options. And it appears that Bush has decided a bold proposal will get him some traction, and if it doesn’t — well, he’s finished anyway.
  2. Alleged ringleader in Paris attacks killed in raid, officials say — He didn’t get far. He was right outside Paris.
  3. Richland 2 postpones trips to Washington, D.C., after Paris attacks — This sort of surprises me. Does it surprise you? First Bartlet hides his M.S.; now this.
  4. Martin Sheen salutes ‘courage’ of son Charlie after HIV announcement — Well, you’ve gotta support your kid. But this has to be causing headaches for C.J. Cregg.

Or whatever you’d like to bring up…


Terrorists able to hide their communications? Thanks, Edward Snowden!

This one is for those you who think Edward Snowden’s betrayal of his country (“Betrayal of his country?” What a quaint concept! How droll! This old guy is really out of it!) did no harm.

Of course, Snowden fans won’t be bothered by it, thanks to the pied piper effect he has on privacy fetishists. They’ll still think it’s a good thing. But it isn’t.

Here’s what’s going on:

Senate Intelligence Committee leaders are vowing to explore ways to grant more government access to secure communications, after intelligence outfits failed to pick up on direct chatter between the perpetrators of the Paris attacks.

Lawmakers said it was time to intensify discussions over what technology companies such as Apple and Google could do to help unscramble key information on devices such as Iphones and apps like WhatsApp, where suspected terrorists have communicated. Those companies made changes last year to their smartphone operating systems preventing the companies themselves from accessing that information…

“It is likely that encryption, end-to-end encryption, was used to communicate between those individuals in Belgium, in France and in Syria,” said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), following a closed-door briefing for committee members on Tuesday. “It’s a wake-up call for America and our global partners that globally, we need to begin the debate on what we do on encrypted networks, because it makes us blind to the communications and to the actions of potential adversaries.”…

Makes sense. The idea of allowing terrorists to privatize their use of public bandwidth so that they can kill innocents is an outrage, and fortunately one that is easy enough to address — technically, anyway. But there’s a rub, and you probably already know what it is:

Previously, the government could issue a warrant to force tech companies to cough up data from its users. But following the Edward Snowden leaks, and a heightened sense of privacy from the public about the government’s access to personal information, companies began clamping down….

Sure, there are other obstacles, such as Silicon Valley’s greed: As The Wall Street Journal reports,  the problem is “technology companies that sell products based on the promise that corporate data will be secure from hackers and government surveillance.” But politically, I believe that could be overcome, leaving the ridiculous attitude that Snowden has engendered in this country as the main problem.

If we can overcome that, we’ll have taken an important step back toward sanity in our security arrangements.



Columbians, did you vote today?

forum four

The candidates at last week’s Community Relations Council meeting, apparently listening to one of my questions.

And if you did vote and don’t mind sharing, how did you vote, and why?

And if you think such questions are none of my or anyone else’s business, fair enough. What can you share. Any trouble voting? Were you alone at the polling place, or was the turnout better than anyone expected?

And regardless of how you voted, or would vote if you could (since the political entity of Columbia encompasses a much smaller area than the economic community, many of us lack the franchise), who do you think will win, and why? And is that a good or bad thing?

In other words, this is an Open Thread on the municipal runoff today…

Barring Syrian immigrants: Prudent or ‘shameful?’


Over the last day or so, we’ve seen a huge rush by Republican politicians — from presidential candidates to state legislators to governors, including our own — to bar Syrian refugees from our shores.

President Obama has termed the proposal to let in only Christian Syrian refugees “shameful.” My initial reaction yesterday was to say he was right. For me, it was the religious test more than anything else. Nothing speaks more directly to what this country is about than to respect freedom of belief and expression. Y’all know how I oppose “hate crime” laws, because I believe it’s unAmerican to punish beliefs or attitudes? It’s related to that. Punish actions, not beliefs. Bar terrorists, not Muslims.

But overall, is it “shameful” to say, hey, wait a minute on letting Syrian refugees into the country, after at least one of the Paris attackers got into Europe that way? Not necessarily. There’s an element of pragmatic self-preservation in it.

Do I think nativism and xenophobia are mixed up in it? Yes. Do I think there’s an element of We’ve got ours, so pull up the ladder behind us? (The “ours” being an element of security that Europe lacks.) Yes.

But I don’t think it’s inherently evil to take care in such a situation. Just because some unpleasant impulses are mixed up in the situation doesn’t mean it’s wrong to have second thoughts.

Most of us today condemn the practice of interning Japanese Americans during World War II. We associate it with the racism that was so common in America at the time, and yep, that was mixed up with it. But it wasn’t irrational to have a security concern about people on our shores who may have had some sense of loyalty to Japan. It was an overreaction, knowingly locking up thousands of loyal Americans in order to contain a supposed spy or two. It was going after squirrels with an elephant gun. It was an injustice — it was thousands of injustices. It was unfair. Ultimately, it was wrong.

But it wasn’t irrational. We know, for instance, of the Niihau Incident, in which a nisei couple aided a downed Japanese pilot from the Pearl Harbor attack. Humans are complicated; their loyalties not always easy to predict.

Does that excuse the internment? No, because loyal Americans were treated unjustly. It was wrong. But I don’t join with those who seem to believe it was all about racism. Were there plenty of Americans who wanted to see the Yellow Peril locked up? Sure. But that’s not all it was.

Bottom line, it’s wrong to slam the door on Syrian refugees. But while I know nativism and intolerance play a role in many people’s eagerness to do so, that’s not all that’s going on.

It’s complicated.

It’s very easy to do what partisans do: To notice that it’s Republicans calling to bar the refugees, and Democrats calling it “shameful,” and use it as another excuse to split us into two reconcilable camps — the good people over here, and the bad people over there.

In this post, I’m deliberately resisting that, doing my best to see the merits of each position. Although in the end, I’m for carefully letting refugees in, with our eyes wide open. Which appears to be what we’ve been doing.

Open Thread for Monday, November 16, 2015

President Barack Obama welcomes Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius of France before meeting with European leaders on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey, to discuss the terrorist attacks in Paris, Nov. 16, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama welcomes Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius of France before meeting with European leaders on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey, to discuss the terrorist attacks in Paris, Nov. 16, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

A quick once-over of today’s news:

  1. Obama rules out Syria ground invasion in passionate defence of Isis strategy — Yeah, that’s from The Guardian, hence the British spelling. Meanwhile, Hollande vows to destroy ISIS, saying “France is at war” and “They are not out of our reach.” So remind me, because I’m getting confused: Which of them leads France, and which the United States? I mean, it’s like he’s taunting Obama, saying such things as “It is not about containing, but about destroying that organization.”
  2. Governors bar Syrian refugees — This morning, it was Alabama, Michigan and Texas moving to bar the furriners on account a them all being terrorists. Now, it’s up to 16 governors — all Republican. Please don’t say South Carolina will be next… Please don’t say South Carolina will be next… Actually, I’m going to go out on a limb and say I don’t think Nikki Haley would do something like that. And not just because she’s my girl since her leadership on the flag. I think that, as the child of nonChristian immigrants, she knows better… POTUS is right when he reacts to some GOP candidates’ demagoguery by saying a religious test for immigrants would be “shameful.”
  3. USC students protest inequalities — The group “did not provide complete details of all the incidents that led to the protest Monday.” So, just because, I guess. Get back to me when the football team threatens to boycott the next game. Come to think of it, a move like that could help the team’s win percentage this year…

That’s enough. If y’all want to talk about other stuff be my guest, but that’s a plateful…

Funniest SNL skit ever… to me… at least on paper…


I say “to me” because it was inside humor; it could not possibly have been as funny to someone who has not sat through thousands of news meetings just like the one portrayed, and suffered just the way Phil Hartman’s character suffers in the skit. (I’d love to know who wrote it. It had to be a fellow sufferer, because only someone who has been there and listened to such nonsense could possibly have come up with some of the touches in the dialogue.)ATT_b1_Bradwarthen_233x233_011515_d2

And I say “at least on paper” because, to my disappointment in going back and watching it again, I see that the actors were a bit off. There were stumbles by Rob Schneider, and even Phil Hartman, who otherwise is brilliant as the one sane man in the room. I wish in retrospect that they’d shot it as a short film in advance, as SNL sometimes does, to iron out those little problems with timing. I find myself wondering whether the actors just lacked energy because, having never been newspaper editors, they just did not understand how hilarious this was.

Unfortunately, the live audience hardly laughed at all, which probably persuaded Lorne Michaels that insider newspaper humor doesn’t sell.

Anyway, I’m sharing this because of a Twitter exchange I had Saturday night:

Perhaps so. I forget what the show did right after 9/11. But that reminded me that, ironically, one of the funniest things SNL ever did was about Pearl Harbor. Fortunately, the skit ran 50 years to the day after the attacks, and that amount of time having passed gave the show license to make fun.

And it was just so, so real. How many times have I been in such meetings, trying to sell something important as the lede story, while my fellow editors oohed and aahed over minor crime news, or the fact that “the lady bulldogs have a chance of going to the state finals this year.” And as one who has always had little patience with other editors’ overreaction to the weather (my general guiding principle on that is that if I want to know what the weather is, I’ll step outside) this is a battle cry that resonates in my heart:

“I’ll tell you what’s happenin’ in the weather: IT’S RAININ’ BOMBS IN HAWAII; that’s what’s happening…”

There’s just one brilliant line after another, such as “Do we have one Japanese person in Turrell?” and “Now Bill, that is something that affects our readers — they’re going to have to pay for those typewriters!” Someone had to have been taking notes during real newsroom budget meetings to come up with dialogue such as that.

But the very best touch of all is when you see the paper roll off the press, and the Pearl Harbor story is played at the bottom of page 7, under the news that Phil Hartman’s character has, understandably, shot himself. It appears under this savagely brilliant, one-column headline:


… because, you know, you can’t be too careful. Do we KNOW that they were Japanese? And we’d better put “base” in quotes rather than step out on a limb…

Live-Tweeting the Democratic debate

dem debate

Missed most of the first half-hour because I lost BOTH TV signal and my wi-fi. Up and running now, though.