Category Archives: Marketplace of ideas

Trying to make up my mind on the Lexington sales tax hike

This story in The State today reminds me that I have to decide by next week whether to vote for the Lexington County penny tax increase.

I checked with Warren Bolton to see whether they’re going to have anything about it on the editorial page. He said there will be something, and I look forward to reading it. Y’all may think of me as a guy who comes equipped with a full set of strongly-held opinions, and to some extent that’s true. But my daily discussions with Warren and Cindi — and back in the halcyon days, Mike Fitts and Nina Brook and before them John Monk and Claudia Brinson — helped me refine and correct and hone my views. I was always smarter about an issue after discussing it with them. Even if I still had the same general view I went in with (which, I admit, was usually the case), I had a better grasp on it, and had sanded off the rough edges, when I came out.US_One_Cent_Obv

And when, as with this case, I’m not sure what to think, such a discussion always helped me make up my mind. (That dynamic, by the way — the testing of one’s thoughts against those of a group of thoughtful people — is what editorials, and especially endorsements, are all about. Even if you disagree with the piece, and don’t change your mind, you’ll be smarter about the way you approach the issue for having tested your views against the ones you read.)

I know that if I could sit in a regular morning meeting with my friends on the edit board, I could arrive at a conclusion that I would be comfortable with, and that I could support and defend. Lacking that, I look forward to seeing what they publish.

The problem I have making up my mind on the Lexington penny is that it’s just for roads and infrastructure. I backed the penny in Richland because half of it went to the buses. I’d have backed it more enthusiastically if it had all gone to public transportation. But Lexington County largely turns its back on the bus system, and is all about cars and roads. Which bothers me…

OK, it’s not ALL about cars and roads. There’s some other infrastructure in there. But I’m happy to pay the Richland penny because it’s funding something that is an alternative to cars and roads, and which the community needed, and which it was having trouble paying for otherwise. (And though I do live in Lexington, I probably spend at least as much on taxable items in Richland.)

Then there’s also the problem that we’re already leaning on the sales tax too much in this state. It’s crept up to where it’s on the border of being too high if not there already, while property and income taxes aren’t bearing their share of the load (OK, business property taxes are, but primary-residence taxes are not).

And as I’ve said repeatedly, we have a mechanism for building and maintaining roads — the state gasoline tax. That needs to be raised, rather than just raising sales taxes here and there across the state.

At the same time, that is still a tough row to hoe, and in the meantime we have inadequate roads. So I struggle with this.

Maybe y’all can help me with this. The morning meeting is hereby convened…

What’s wrong with our politics? It’s the parties, stupid!

In The State today, there’s a column by Clive Crook of Bloomberg News that takes issue with Francis Fukuyama’s assertion that we are plagued by “too much democracy,” arguing that it’s more accurate to say, “The problem isn’t too much democracy; it’s too much politics.”

He elaborates:

You don’t measure the quality of democracy just by asking whether the politically engaged have voice, or by counting their opportunities to influence outcomes (for good or ill), important as those metrics may be. Democracy is also supposed to work for the disengaged. In that respect, this democracy is plainly failing.

America’s political class — candidates, interest groups, activists and their respective groupies in the media — can’t be faulted for lack of engagement. Boy, are they engaged. That’s fine, of course. (It would be even better if they were as interested in public policy as they are in the political contest as blood sport, but that’s another matter.) Outside that bubble, however, views of politics run the range from boredom to despair. And a main cause, I’d submit, is popular disgust with that very political class. More politics doesn’t necessarily get you more democracy, much less better democracy….

But when people say there’s “too much politics” in our, well, politics, they are confused. There’s nothing wrong with politics, per se. Properly understood, it is the set of mechanisms whereby human beings manage to live with each other, and when it’s working properly, it enables them to work together to get things of mutual benefit done.

Most of the time, when people say “politics” with a disgusted tone, they refer to contentiousness for its own sake. They refer to political actors working not to achieve something of benefit to the society, but trying to gain advantage for themselves and their own narrow ideological group.

The problem is that “politics” has come to refer to public affairs engaged in as a sport, in which there are only two sides, they are sharply separated, and one must win while the other must lose.

The system is rigged against those of us who would like to see change. Not by some class of insiders or by money contributed by a “one percent.” It’s rigged by the parties and their affiliated interest groups, who have set things up so that sensible ideas with broad, consensus appeal don’t have a chance.

Their most obvious mechanism for accomplishing this is the one mentioned in my last post: reapportionment. Every ten years, the algorithms have gotten more sophisticated, and so it’s child’s play for the party in power to draw, for instance, one super-safe Democratic congressional districts, and six others in which a Democrat will never have a prayer.

And so we have elections that are not elections, because our courts have held that incumbent protection (which really amounts to party protection) is an acceptable aim of reapportionment. So the only elections are the primaries, and they are geared to produce the most extreme, the most “pure,” expressions of the brain-dead ideologies that each party professes to embrace.

So is there any wonder that the rest of us are fed up, disillusioned?

What we need isn’t less politics; it’s more politics — the kind in which anyone has a chance to make his or her case in a fair election. We don’t have that now.

Showing a noble, inspiring faith in the possibility of politics

Sue and Jim Rex, at the American Party booth at the SC State Fair.

Sue and Jim Rex, at the American Party booth at the SC State Fair.

I went to the fair today, and saw the usual booths for the Democrats and Republicans, and stayed away from them.

But I stopped to chat at the American Party booth, because one of the founders of the party was there — Jim Rex.

Jim invited me to sign the petition to get a recall power onto the ballot — a measure that would allow voters to dump politicians who have broken the law.

I told him no, I don’t hold with recall petitions. I think elections come soon enough. Although I admit that allowing recall only in cases of illegality is a lot less objectionable than the kind they have in California and other places, which allow voters to dump pols between election on a whim if they choose (thereby eliminating even the rare glimpses of political courage that we occasionally see in non-election years).

Then, we segued into a polite argument about term limits, with me getting on a rhetorical high horse and saying I just have more simple faith in politics than he does. I trust the voters to decide for themselves whether they want somebody for one term, two terms, three terms or 20 terms.

I said that if he wanted to do something about cynical incumbents, noncompetitive elections and apathy, then go to work on a federal constitutional amendment that would end the way we apportion districts in this country. THAT is the cause of all the ills he deplores.

Anyway, looking at the picture I took above of the Rexes causes me to check myself — I shouldn’t have said I have more faith in politics.

There is no greater faith in our system than stepping out and starting a new party, and sticking to it and working as hard at it as the Rexes have, along with Oscar Lovelace and others.

Frankly, I find it inspiring, even when I disagree on policy proposals

More newspapers have stopped doing endorsements, and their excuses for this cop-out are as lame as ever

Politico notes that more and more newspapers are announcing that they’ll no longer do candidate endorsements.

And as usual with such cop-outs, their excuses for this are completely lame:

Papers in Michigan, Wisconsin, Maine and Texas have all announced this year that their editorial boards will no longer print the traditional candidate endorsements.

The Green Bay Press-Gazette said they are discontinuing the practice in order to be “an independent voice amid the growing clamor of voices espousing hyper-partisan views.”

Yes, that’s right. You are supposed to be “an independent voice.” And if you, the independent voice, won’t state a preference between the candidates, then the only people out there expressing a preference will be the “growing clamor of voices espousing hyper-partisan views.”

To continue:

It’s a trend that’s been spreading throughout the country, CJR reports. In 2012, the Halifax Media chain said they would stop endorsing ” because endorsing candidates could “create the idea we are not able to fairly cover political races.” The Chicago Sun-Times and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution have also ceased endorsing candidates.

Guess what? People will still accuse you of not fairly covering political races. As has always been the case and always will be the case, people will try to read a bias into every word you write. They will always be looking for an indication that you’re really for the other guy, and in their minds, they will find the proof in every news story.

That’s why, as an institution, you should be honest about any preference you do have. So at least readers can take that institutional preference into consideration in assessing the fairness of your coverage. It makes you more transparent, rather than forcing readers to guess about the biases that they assume you have.

Fortunately, there are still some editors out there who understand what newspapers, and especially editorial pages, are for. As CJR reports:

As for movement in the other direction? The Los Angeles Times, which gave up endorsements in presidential campaigns after 1972, in part because of conflict over its support for Richard Nixon, returned to the practice in 2008. The Times’ reasoning tracked pretty closely with the Chicago Tribune’s 2012 statement on why it plans to keep endorsing: Editorial boards take stands on political issues every day, and it would be odd or even irresponsible to go silent at such a key moment.

Amen to that. I’ve said the same many times: Every day of every year, newspapers publish their opinions on every policy issue under the sun — which is a fine thing in theory, but the fact is that in a representative democracy, a newspaper’s readers can’t do anything about most of those issues. The one time they all get a say is at election time, when they choose the people who actually will act on those issues.

To opine about these issues the rest of the time (and if you don’t think newspapers should express opinions at all, then that’s another issue for another day), and then fail to point out which candidates are most likely to enact the policies one favors, at the critical moment when readers all have a decision to make, is both lazy and cowardly.

Cowardice has always been a factor because close to half of the people reading any endorsement are going to get mad at you about it. So has laziness, as endorsements are labor-intensive. The “lazy” factor is playing a bigger and bigger role as newspaper staffs keep shrinking.

And so it is that I’ve been proud to see Cindi and Warren cranking out endorsements this week, here and here and here and here. I know how much work they’re putting into the process, and I appreciate it.

endorsements

Time for change: Scoppe column on judicial vote-trading

Did you see the exclusive story in The State the other day to this effect:

State and federal law enforcement officials are questioning S.C. legislators about potential illegal vote swapping in February’s race that re-elected the state’s Supreme Court chief justice, multiple sources have told The State….

Did you find yourself confused in reading it? Did you think to yourself, Don’t lawmakers trade votes all the time, on all sorts of issues? Since when is that illegal?

Well, Cindi Scoppe helps walk you through all that in her column today. She explains that yes, lawmakers routinely swap votes on issues — the General Assembly would get even less done if they did not.

But she also explains how a series of horrific events in 1995 that caused lawmakers to elect less-qualified jurists to the bench led to reform, and the practice was banned — with regard to judicial selection. (And ironically, the reform was passed by a vote-swapping deal between House and Senate conferees.)

Here’s her recap of what happened back then to lead to the reform:

it starts on a sunny spring day in 1995, when the Legislature elected E.C. Burnett to the Supreme Court and Kay Hearn to the Court of Appeals and re-elected Danny Martin to the Circuit Court. Mr. Burnett and Ms. Hearn were qualified for the positions, but analyses by the S.C. Bar and the Legislature’s judicial screening committee showed that they were the least qualified candidates in their hotly contested races. The committee found Mr. Martin didn’t understand the law at all, and the Bar had declared him unfit for the bench.

As senators filed out of the House chamber after the election, then-Sen. Robert Ford bragged about how it all happened: The Legislative Black Caucus pledged 20 votes for Hearn in exchange for Horry County votes for Martin and 18 votes for Burnett in return for four Spartanburg County votes for Martin; another five Spartanburg County legislators agreed not to vote in the Martin race.

“All kind of deals was made,” Sen. Ford told reporters. “I had to sell my soul to 10 devils.”

No one denied the deals, because vote trading always had been a part of judicial elections — whether the votes involved other judicial races or legislation. And why not? Trading votes is a natural part of the legislative process….

As so often during his lamentable lawmaking career, there was the brazen Robert Ford, standing as the poster child of bad government. But of course, he was just the most visible manifestation of something much more widespread. Perhaps we even owe him a debt of gratitude for making the unsavory situation so much more obvious.

That’s all history, but the thing that deserves even more attention is this conclusion:

I supported the current system for a long time, because it was such a huge improvement over what came before. But it never was a good system, because it encourages the sort of logrolling that is alleged to have occurred in the chief justice race, and because it allows one branch of government to control the judiciary.

And if one person rules the House with an iron hand — one person who is not the governor, who is not elected by all the voters of this state, and who is not accountable to the public for his power — it allows that one person to control the judiciary. As felt so disturbingly to be the case as we watched Mr. Harrell’s treatment in our courts in the weeks and months leading up to his indictment this summer on public corruption charges.

That’s sort of new, and sort of not.

I have long held the position that we should switch to a different method of choosing judges, preferably one like the federal system — the governor nominates, and the Senate confirms. That spreads out the power across the other two branches of government, and makes sure that the one individual having extensive say in the matter is one elected by all of the people, not just one House district.

But since the reforms of the 1990s, which did much to inject merit into the current system of election by the General Assembly, I (and the editorial board) acknowledged that the system was much better than it had been, and so we let judicial selection slide to a back burner. We still advocated for change when the subject came up, but we didn’t drive it the way we did so many other issues.

The events of the past year or two — with Bobby Harrell trying to bat the judiciary around like cat with a chew toy, so soon after a dramatic example of his power in choosing justices — mean it’s time to move real, substantive reform to the front rank of priorities.

It’s high time to stop letting the Legislature choose judges, all by its lonesome.

So which is it? Is SC economy in the tank, or doing great?

Apparently riffing on a release sent out by the SC Democratic Party, Will Folks writes:

Is it a “great day in South Carolina?”

Not if you live in Cheraw or Bennettsville, S.C.  These two rural towns are reeling after a recent announcement from Bi-Lo – a regional grocery store chain that operates roughly 200 supermarkets in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

According to reporter Mary Edwards of WMBF TV (NBC – Myrtle Beach/ Florence, S.C.), Bi-Lo is shutting down stores in Cheraw and Bennettsville – a move that will leave 130 employees out of work.

The job losses are coming sooner rather than later, too, with the store’s regional public relations manager telling Edwards the stores will be closing prior to November 19 of this year.

Happy Thanksgiving, right?…

Remember Colonial Stores?

Remember Colonial Stores?

As a native of Bennettsville, I can remember when it had a thriving retail environment, with a bustling Main Street and several supermarkets in the downtown area — Winn-Dixie, Colonial (anybody remember Colonial Stores?), an A&P, and later, a Harris Teeter.

Not so much anymore. I haven’t counted the grocery stores lately, but it’s been awhile since downtown has been what it was.

But the view can still look pretty good from Columbia, as Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt writes today in The State — and he has plenty of facts on his side:

By any measure, South Carolina is on a roll. Over the past four years, we have been making major gains — gains that are bringing economic stability and opportunity to communities across the state.bobby_hitt_110111

We’ve celebrated big recruitment wins, including announcements by the world’s top automotive and aerospace companies, boosted opportunities for small businesses and created an environment that encourages existing industry to continue expanding in our state.

The facts are clear: Trend lines show unemployment on the decline while the number of South Carolinians working has risen to historic highs. Our economy is humming, and companies around the world are choosing South Carolina as a place where they can succeed….

That team approach starts at the top, with Gov. Nikki Haley personally invested and fully integrated in what we’re doing, meeting and speaking with prospects or our existing companies. As the CEO of the state, she understands the importance of customer service and a personal touch. In fact, one thing we hear from clients all over the world is that she readily gives them her cell phone number and says to call her with any issues….

So which is it? Is our economy in the dumps, or thriving?

Fearing U.N.’s ‘Agenda 21′ down in Charleston

Paranoia strikes deep in the heartland. And also on the coast. I rode on an elevator with Matt Kennell of City Center Partnership this morning, and he was marveling at the credulity of those in Charleston who believe that “smart growth” is some sort of U.N. plot to undermine the American Way.

Here’s what he was referring to:

Where builders and planners see combining high-density housing, retail and offices as the wave of the future, residents from Mount Pleasant to James Island see problems – crowded schools, lack of parking and an end to small-town lifestyles.

Now, they also have complaints that high-density residential developments, bicycle lanes, mass transit and “sustainable” or “smart” growth are part of a 22-year-old United Nations plot to undermine the American way of life.

“It’s all a part of this Agenda 21,” said Mount Pleasant native Cindy Anderson, referring to the Coleman Boulevard Plan. “They will push us all into these urban centers – that’s the plan.”

Bill Eubanks, the creative director of Urban Edge Studio at Seamon, Whiteside & Associates, who authored Mount Pleasant’s Coleman Boulevard master plan, said he’s heard concerns about Agenda 21, a 351-page document outlining ideas to address poverty, housing and environmental problems, including climate change.

“I have looked into the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory claims and not only do I think they are unfounded, I think they are absolutely ludicrous,” he said. “Worse than that, buying into this ridiculous fear-mongering can stand in the way of both sustainability and smart growth – something our communities really need.”…

Apparently, “Agenda 21″ is to development what “Common Core” is to education standards — some sort of dog-whistle thing that only the conspiracy-sensitive can hear.

Those who fear this supposed agenda say it could lead to people getting out of their cars and riding mass transit. Which, of course, sounds awesome. I don’t know whether the U.N. has a plan for that, but I do. Alas, I don’t think any of us will live to see it where we live…

Why DO Americans freak out so over single-payer?

One recent morning, I watched another episode of “The West Wing” while on the elliptical trainer. It was the one titled “Drought Conditions,” the 16th episode of Season 6. It’s the one you might remember best from the scene when Josh and Toby actually get into a fight, right there in the West Wing, and Toby gets a nasty cut on his cheekbone. (See above.)

At this point in our story, Josh has left the White House to manage Matt Santos’ bid for the Democratic nomination for president. His candidate has done better than expected in New Hampshire, but Josh is worried about another candidate who has come out of nowhere to start grabbing support that should go to Santos. This new candidate, Rafferty, is using language that Toby once wrote for Bartlet in favor of a single-payer health care system. Toby admits he’s been collaborating with Rafferty. This is what precipitates the fight.

Anyway, there are two or three conversations about this, and we pick up on the fact that, way back before they won the White House, everybody else had to talk Toby (and presumably President Bartlet) down from their politically unpalatable position.

This was so familiar to me. This episode aired two years before I wrote my column asking why no presidential candidate, even in the Democratic field, dared to say “single-payer,” other than fringe extremists such as Dennis Kucinich. Barack Obama certainly didn’t dare say it. My attitude was much the same as Toby’s: What’s the point in even having Democrats, if they can’t stand up for something so obvious, so commonsense, so entirely accepted in the rest of the advanced world — and so in their wheelhouse ideologically?

Anyway, I finished watching the episode just as I finished with the elliptical trainer. (I do 40 minutes, which is almost perfect for watching American “hour-long” commercial TV shows.)

While doing my crunches and stretches after, I put on a few minutes of a “30 Rock” that I’d started watching previously. It’s the one when Jack and Avery have their baby, reluctantly, in Canada after failing to get back across the border before she gave birth.

Which leads to this exchange, which interrupts a phone call Jack is having with Liz Lemon:

Avery: This woman is trying to tell me that we don’t have to pay for any of this.

Woman: Right. The Canadian health care system…

Jack: Oh, no you don’t. We will not be party to this socialist perversion. You will take our money.

Woman: I’m sorry, sir, I can’t do that.

Liz (on the other end of the phone): Oh, this is gonna be good.

Jack: Avery, can you walk yet?

Avery (rising from her bed, holding the baby): I am right behind you, Jack.

Jack: Let’s go find a Canadian who will take our money.

That is played for laughs, and it is hilarious, particularly Jack’s hyperbolic crack about “socialist perversion.”

But what it’s making fun of isn’t funny. Why DO Americans freak out so over something that Canadians and Brits take for granted?

Y’all know me. I’m a center-right kind of guy (if you must place me on that stupid left-right spectrum), and on some things a neocon. I want the federal government out of things it has no business in, such as education (which means, by the way, that I would never vote for the fictional Matt Santos — he comes across like he’s running for school board rather than POTUS).

But putting everybody into the same risk pool and eliminating profit from the payment system just seems like common sense, not radical at all. Paying my premiums (or if you prefer, taxes) for coverage that I can never lose, no matter where I go to work in the future, also just makes sense to me. Having something simpler than either the patchwork of private coverage or the complex maze of Obamacare just makes sense to me.

I don’t get why it doesn’t make sense to other people — and in fact, freaks them out so. I mean, intellectually I understand that some people have a sort of religious horror of the government being involved with anything. I accept that they are that way. But I have trouble understanding why they’re that way. Why do Americans get so worked up about something that other people who are so like us culturally — such as the Brits, and the Canadians — take for granted, as a matter of course?

Some of y’all have tried to explain it to me in the past. Maybe you should try again. Maybe I’ll get it this time. Then again, maybe not.

The thing is, I can probably recite all of the objections. The words I know. What I don’t get is the passion, the horror at the idea. It’s the emotion that eludes my understanding…

Headlines about Eric Holder

As a former front-page editor, I found the different approaches taken by three great newspapers in announcing the resignation of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder mildly interesting:

  1. Holder to Resign as Attorney General — The Wall Street Journal takes the plain, unadorned approach.
  2. Holder, Liberal Voice, to Quit as U.S. Attorney General — The New York Times throws in some analysis, bordering on making an editorial judgment. Interesting choice. Of course, this being the Times, we might see that as an honorific.
  3. Eric Holder, first black attorney general, to resign — The Washington Post charts a middle ground. They wanted to say more than the WSJ was saying, but didn’t want to venture into subjectivity. So they point out something about him no one can argue with. Of course, if I’m Holder, I’d prefer the NYT approach. I’d be thinking, “That’s it? That’s all you think of when you see me?”

    Yeah, I know. It seems like I think about these things too much. Well, I used to get paid to do that, and it’s hard to stop…

 

So are things hunky-dory, or are we all gonna die?

I was struck by this contrast in The State this morning…

First, from a David Brooks column:

Widening the lens, we’re living in an era with the greatest reduction in global poverty ever — across Asia and Africa. We’re seeing a decline in civil wars and warfare generally.

The scope of the problems we face are way below historic averages. We face nothing like the slavery fights of the 1860s, the brutality of child labor and industrialization of the 1880s, or a civilization-threatening crisis like World War I, the Great Depression, World War II or the Cold War. Even next to the 1970s — which witnessed Watergate, stagflation, social decay and rising crime — we are living in a golden age.

Our global enemies are not exactly impressive. We have the Islamic State, a bunch of barbarians riding around in pickup trucks, and President Vladimir Putin of Russia, a lone thug sitting atop a failing regime. These folks thrive only because of the failed states and vacuums around them.

I mention all of this because of the despondency and passivity and talk of unraveling that floated around this summer. Now there is a mood of pessimism and fatalism evident in the polls and in conversations — a lack of faith in ourselves.

It’s important in times like these to step back and get clarity….

Then, from this feature from Carolyn Click about Rosh Hashanah starting tonight:

Jews mark the beginning of the High Holy Days at sundown Wednesday with the observance of Rosh Hoshanah, entering a time of personal reflection that comes amid a backdrop of fighting in the Arab world, a deadly Ebola outbreak in Africa and other world calamities.

“I think everyone is feeling the drumbeat of war in their ear,” Rabbi Jonathan Case, leader of Beth Shalom Synagogue on Trenholm Road, said Tuesday.

Older members of the congregation, those who lived through World War II, “feel that they have been in this place before,” Case said, “that the world seems to have gone awry. There is no doubt that people are scared.”…

Maybe Brooks is being a bit of a Pollyanna, but it would seem the Rabbi — or the people he’s referring to — are getting a tad overwrought. WWII? The Holocaust? Compared to now?

I think maybe Brooks and some of the folks at Beth Shalom should get together and compare notes…

The worst idea the new American Party has come up with

I really groaned when I saw this:

Party to undertake “Recall” initiative for elected officials

In the interest of holding our elected officials accountable and in keeping with our Party’s core principles, the American Party is undertaking a RECALL initiative in South Carolina. This initiative is aimed at enhancing governmental accountability by amending the State Constitution to allow registered voters to recall elected officials who violate the trust placed in them by the electorate.

We would like to invite you to join us at our press conference to announce this initiative:

Thursday, September 25th
10:00am
1st Floor State House Lobby
(enter through visitor’s entrance under the north state house stairs)

Please be on hand by 9:45am. Contact Scott Malyerck at (803) 446-2881 with any questions.

Thank you for your continued support.

Dr. Jim Rex and Dr. Oscar Lovelace

This alternative party had already succumbed to the temptation of embracing other populist nostrums that sound far better, to the unthoughtful, than they are in reality — term limits, for instance.

Recall petitions are as bad as government by plebiscite, which I half expect Messrs. Rex and Lovelace to embrace next.

One of the worst thing about politics today is that elected officials are so busy looking over their shoulders, fretting about the next election, that they seldom pause to govern. This would make the looming pressure of election hover over them even more ominously and destructively. The perpetual campaign would, if anything, be even more omnipresent.

We need lawmakers who can step away from whatever fads and fashions are running through the electorate at a given moment long enough to deliberate and govern. This pulls them in the opposite direction.

This is disappointing.

Regarding Scotland, I add my cheers to Friedman’s

Friday night, I ran into our own Phillip Bush at the Greek Festival. He had a pint of beer in hand, which he had obtained at the craft beer stand next to the main tent, where Greek-flavored music was being performed. I asked if he would recommend one of the beers. He said that, Anglophile that I am, I should get a Skunk Cabbage ESB, to celebrate the Scots’ rejection of separatism.

Which I did. And I congratulate the local brewers — I liked it better than the legendary Fuller’s ESB.

But I congratulate the Scots even more heartily. And I share this Tom Friedman column, which Samuel Tenenbaum brings to my attention:

Three Cheers for Pluralism Over Separatism

MADRID — THIS was an interesting week to visit Britain and Spain — first to watch the Scottish separatists push for independence and then to watch Basque and Catalan separatists watching (with disappointment) the outcome of the vote. One reaction: I’m glad a majority of Scots rejected independence. Had they not, it would have clipped the wing of America’s most important wingman in the world: Britain. Another reaction: God bless America. We have many sources of strength, but today our greatest asset is our pluralism — our “E pluribus unum” — that out of many we’ve made one nation, with all the benefits that come from mixing cultures and all the strengths that come from being able to act together.

As I’ve asked before: Who else has twice elected a black man as president, whose middle name is Hussein, whose grandfather was a Muslim, who first defeated a woman and later defeated a Mormon? I’m pretty sure that I will not live long enough to see an ethnic Pakistani become prime minister of Britain or a Moroccan immigrant president of France. Yes, the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., reminds us that we’re still a work in progress in the pluralism department. But work on it we do, and I’ll take the hard work of pluralism over the illusions of separatism any day….

Graham, McCain blame Obama for not stopping ISIL earlier

This is from an op-ed piece by the two senators in National Review:

President Obama cannot avoid his share of responsibility for the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). As dangerous as ISIS is now, its rise was neither inevitable nor unpredictable. Time after time, President Obama had the opportunity to act when U.S. engagement could have made a decisive difference, and in pulling back from America’s traditional leadership role, he left a vacuum for other, more dangerous actors to fill. As a result, the situation in Iraq and Syria has descended into a crisis that poses a direct threat to the United States. Worse yet, our options for countering this threat are fewer and far worse than they were just a few years ago.

At least four of President Obama’s key decisions stand out…

Boiled down, the four are:

  1. The “failure to leave a residual force in Iraq in 2011.”
  2. In 2012, “when President Obama’s entire senior national-security team — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, CIA Director David Petraeus, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey — identified the threat posed by radicalization in Syria and recommended a proposal to arm and train elements of the moderate Syrian opposition.”
  3. “President Obama’s decision not to strike the Assad regime in September 2013 after Assad crossed the president’s own red line…”
  4. “Finally, in the fall of 2013, President Obama refused to launch targeted strikes against ISIS in Iraq when some U.S officials and Iraqi leaders were urging him to do so…”

Hindsight is indeed 20/20, but in this case, a lot of people were seeing trouble back then, and trying to tell the president. Of the four, I continue to find No. 2 the most startling. That wasn’t about the president’s political opponents second-guessing him. It was about him ignoring his whole team.

SC Club for Growth endorses Democrat. In related news, temperature in Hades drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit

This had social media buzzing this morning:

Columbia, SC – The South Carolina Club for Growth, a network of fiscal conservatives, made history today by endorsing its first statewide Democratic candidate – Ginny Deerin – who is running for Secretary of State.Headshot_Ginny_Deerin_color_SM

“We are endorsing Ginny Deerin for three reasons,” said SC Club for Growth Chairman Dave Ellison. “First, her plan to cut the budget, cut the fees and cut regulations in the Secretary of State’s office compellingly aligns with our commitment to fiscal conservatism.”

“Second, her opponent – the 12-year incumbent – has allowed the Secretary of State’s office to become a bloated bureaucracy that wastes taxpayers’ money and makes doing business in our state more cumbersome for South Carolina companies and charities.”

“Third, Ginny Deerin wants to make our state government more efficient, not only by cutting the budget, fees and regulations in the Secretary of State’s office but also by making the Secretary of State an appointed office, rather than an elected one.”…

The SC Club for Growth, up to now, was best known as Mark Sanford’s most reliable cheerleaders. While he was governor, the organization seemed to exist primarily for that purpose. It has from the start been the champion of the kind of airy, theoretical, ivory-tower, Ayn Randian libertarianism that Sanford represented (as opposed to the more populist, down-home, nitty-gritty, anti-intellectual Tea Party libertarianism that Nikki Haley represents).

So yeah, this is kind of a milestone. While the Club certainly has not loved all Republicans in the past — just as Mark Sanford never did (and the Club went after the ones he really didn’t like) — but this is the first time it has been sufficiently down on a Republican as to endorse a Democrat instead. So I guess that makes Mark Hammond a bit of a record-breaker, too.

Not sure what kind of an impact, if any, it will have — partly because I’m not sure how many of those folks who will vote for anyone or anything with an “R” after its name have even heard of the Club for Growth.

But it’s interesting…

By the way, my first instinct when I saw the news was to be a wise guy about it:

But I see that she’s posted some of the social media buzz about the nod on her website. And well she might: If not for this, you might have gotten to Election Day and beyond without ever having heard of her. So even if it’s just because of the novelty of the thing, this helps.

Deerin 2

Arrrggghhh! Sheheen ad appropriates one of Haley’s most clueless tropes

Doug Ross brought this to my attention with the words, “You’re not going to like this… Sheheen using Haley-speak to bash Haley.”

Boy, was he right.

As I said just yesterday in a comment on the importance of civics education:

… I’d like our electorate to be sophisticated enough that no one who says “I want to run government like a business” (which shows a lack of understanding of both government and business) would ever get elected. I’d want every voter to understand the basic, profound ways in which government and business are different and SUPPOSED to be different….

The link was to a previous post that referred to how, even back in the days when we used to endorse her for the House, it drove me nuts to hear Nikki Haley repeat that phrase.

So imagine my dismay to see this ad, in which a Sheheen surrogate says, without a trace of irony or suggestion that he is mocking the opposition:

I think government should run like a business and be accountable.

The addition of “and be accountable” is intriguing, and interesting twist. Because one of the chief differences between a business and government is that government is expected to be accountable in ways that a private business most assuredly is not.

So one is tempted to hear that as, “I think government should be run like a business, but still held accountable, like a government.” Unfortunately, he doesn’t mean it that way.

The speaker cites an incident in which the head of a corporation — Target — stepped down when hackers breached credit-card customers’ information.

Well, that’s not a case of someone in business being HELD accountable by anyone other than himself. In government, it’s different. This election is about whether the present governor will be held accountable by the voters. Government has that mechanism, and business does not. Customers of Target do not get to vote the CEO out of office. See the difference?

The fact that voters don’t always vote wayward politicians out of office is one of the messy facts of democracy that makes business owners — who run their own businesses the way they see fit, and see that as the natural way to run anything (when it most decidedly is not the way to run a government in a republic) — think government should run more like a business.

When it shouldn’t.

Lindsey Graham’s reaction to Obama’s ISIL speech

Above is a video of Lindsey Graham speaking on the House floor about the plan for combating ISIL that President Obama spoke about last night.

Here are some excerpts from Graham’s speech:

  • “About the speech last night, what bothered me the most was the way it started. The President tried to tell us that as a nation we’re safer today than we have ever been. Do you believe that? I don’t. There are more terrorists, more organizations with more money, more capability, and more weapons to attack our homeland than existed before 9/11. We’re not safer than we were before 9/11 and that’s just an unfortunate fact.”
  • “Every president, every senator makes mistakes. History judges you not by the mistakes you make but by what you learn from them.”
  • “Here’s what I ask of the President – stop caveating everything. Look the enemy in the eye and say ‘We will destroy you’ and stop. Look the American people in the eye and say ‘We have to win, we will win and I will do what is necessary to win.’”
  • “The American military…..they’re tired, but they’re not too tired to defend this country.”
  • “The President also said this operation against ISIL will be like other CT (Counter-terrorism) operations over the last five or six year. No, it will not! This is not some small group of people running around with AK-47s. This is a full blown army. They were going to defeat the Kurdish Peshmerga, a pretty tough fighting group, if we hadn’t intervened. To underestimate how hard this will be will bite us.”
  • “Mr. President, please be honest with the American people about what we face. Somebody’s got to beat this army. This is not a small group of terrorists. They have howitzers. They have tanks. They are flush with money. They are getting fighters from all over the world. But they can and will be defeated. They must be defeated.”
  • “There is not a force in the Mideast that can take these guys on and win without substantial American help.”
  • “Mr. President, if you need my blessing to destroy ISIL, you have it. If you need to follow them to the gates of hell, I will send you a note – ‘go for it.’ If you need Congress to authorize your actions, let me know. You say you don’t and I agree with you, but if it makes us stronger for this body to vote in support of your plan to destroy ISIL, I will give you my vote. But here’s what I expect in return — your full commitment to win.”
  • “One thing I can promise the American people – if we take on ISIL and lose – we will unlock the gates of hell. And hell will come our way.”

Graham speak

I don’t see how police body cams will help with this problem

shooter

Normally, I find Nicholas Kristof’s columns to be models of calm reason. They tend to add up nicely.

So I was disappointed with this one from last week, which you may have seen in The State today.

First, I was disappointed because I thought both Kristof and I had written before about this first-person-shooter test, which gauges the extent to which we — regardless of how enlightened we may be on the subject of race — are more likely to shoot first at a black man than at a white one. But I couldn’t find where I wrote about it before. If anyone can point me to it, I’ll be grateful.

Anyway, according to Kristof, here’s what the test continues to find:

Joshua Correll of the University of Colorado at Boulder has used an online shooter video game to try to measure these unconscious attitudes (you can play the game yourself). The player takes on the role of a police officer who is confronted with a series of images of white or black men variously holding guns or innocent objects such as wallets or cellphones. The aim is to shoot anyone with a gun while holstering your weapon in other cases.

Ordinary players (often university undergraduates) routinely shoot more quickly at black men than at white men, and are more likely to mistakenly shoot an unarmed black man than an unarmed white man.

I’m typical. The first time I took the test, years ago, I shot armed blacks in an average of 0.679 seconds while waiting slightly longer — 0.694 seconds — to shoot armed whites. I also holstered more quickly when confronted with unarmed whites than with unarmed blacks.

In effect, we have a more impulsive trigger finger when confronted by black men and are more cautious with whites. This is true of black players as well…

I tried taking the test (again) this morning. I don’t think it was working right. It kept throwing scenarios at me well past the five minutes it was supposed to take, so I just quit after awhile, and therefore didn’t get graded.

I found the interface rather glitchy. Many times I would press either the J key (to shoot) or the F key (to holster) and it wouldn’t register. I’d be told I was dead, or merely out of time. But then, even when it did register, I was very often too late. That’s the crux of the test, you see — not to give you time to think. If I were a cop in a real situation, I would take that second to think. Maybe I’d be dead as a result, but I would take the second.

I did accidentally shoot a “good guy” at least three times — about the same number of times that I holstered when the guy had a gun, meaning I was dead. On a couple of the innocents I shot, I noticed before the image was gone that my victim was black. But that points to another flaw with the test: I tended to see the gun before I saw the guy. Several times, I would shoot, be told I’d made a good shot, and then the picture would be gone before I could look to see if the guy was black or white.

As for that quick-holstering thing — why would a cop holster his gun, when unthreatened, as quickly as he’d fire it if threatened? The natural reaction would be to keep the gun out, keeping options open, for a bit longer — wouldn’t it?

Anyway, the sad thing is that, assuming there is bias in our shooting tendencies (and as I said, I never got my test results), how are we supposed to be reassured by this:

There’s some evidence that training, metrics and policies can suppress biases or curb their impact. In law enforcement, more cameras — police car cams and body cams — create accountability and may improve behavior. When Rialto, Calif., introduced body cams on police officers, there was an 88 percent decline in complaints filed about police by members of the public….

OK, maybe. But how does that help with the shoot-don’t shoot equation? If that is reflexive, and tends to play out even when we know we’re being tested on it, what good does the body cam do? Seems to me there is still a marginally greater chance that black suspects will be shot. The only difference is that with a body cam, there’s more likely to be huge community outrage over it.

Right? Or am I wrong? My point is, either these atavistic impulses are reflexive — in which no amount of supposed “accountability” will stop bad things from happening — or they are not. Which is it?

ISIS, the Black Hole of Evil

Flag_of_The_Islamic_State.svg

If Iran, Iraq and North Korea once constituted the Axis of Evil, what is ISIS?

It’s the Black Hole of Evil. It’s growing rapidly in mass, sucking in territory throughout the regions of the Tigris and Euphrates, and sucking in people — the sort who flock to evil and wish to be a part of it — from across the globe. You’ve probably already seen the statistic that there are more British Muslims in the jihadist force now than there are serving in the British military.

By comparison, al Qaeda is the Quaint Mom-and-Pop Shop of Evil, tut-tutting on the sidelines as its onetime offshoot grows and grows and grows, committing atrocities at which bin Laden’s old organization blanches.

I was inspired to this observation by Richard Cohen’s reflection today on the Islamic State as an expression of evil:

I used to not believe in evil. When Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union “the evil empire,” I thought it was a dandy phrase but also a confession of ignorance. The word itself connotes something or someone diabolical — bad for the sake of bad. The Soviet Union was bad, I conceded, but not for no reason. It was bad because it was insecure, occupying the flat, inviting, Eurasian plain, and because it had a different system of government that it dearly wanted to protect. Reagan had it right, though. The Soviet Union was evil.

Now we are facing a different type of evil. The Islamic State, in whose name Foley was beheaded, murders with abandon. It seems to love death the way the fascists once did. It is Sunni, so it massacres Shiites. It is radical Sunni, so it eliminates apostates. It is Muslim, so it kills Yazidis, a minority with a religion of its own, and takes as plunder their women as concubines. Men are shot in graves of their own making.

The Nazis are back — differently dressed, speaking a different language and murdering ostensibly for different reasons but actually for the same: intolerance, hatred, excitement and just because they can. The Islamic State’s behavior is beyond explication, not reacting as some suggest to the war in Iraq — although in time it will try to settle some scores with the United States — but murdering and torturing and enslaving because this is what it wants to do. It is both futile and tasteless to lay off blame on others — the West, the colonialists of old or the persistent Zionists — or to somehow find guilt in the actions of the rich or powerful because they are rich or powerful. You can blame the victim. You can even kill him….

Cohen was in turn inspired by this essay by Martin Amis in the Financial Times over the weekend. I’m still plowing my way through that. More observations may be forthcoming in this space…

Maybe the terrorist who killed Foley was a British subject, but there’s no way he was a ‘Westerner’

News reports such as this one challenge our convictions about citizenship and identity in a modern, pluralistic, liberal democracy:

The beheading of an American journalist at the hands of a London-accented extremist prompted deep reckoning among Britons on Wednesday over the particularly vicious role their countrymen are playing in the destabilization of the Middle East.

Security officials in London have been sounding the alarm for more than a year over the large number of foreigners in Syria, with the chief of Scotland Yard telling reporters last week that about 500 Britons are among the thousands of Westerners who have joined the fight….

I’ll confess right now that my first reaction is one that is unworthy of someone who prizes living in a pluralistic society. My first thought is, “That was no Englishman. That was a foreigner who had lived in England.”

But then, I have to correct myself: If Scotland Yard says there are “500 Britons” fighting for ISIS, then I have to take it to me that they hold British passports (I sincerely doubt that the Yard is referring to the old ethnic identity of Briton, as in the people who lived in Albion before the Angles and the Saxons showed up.)

And if they hold UK passports, then they are Brits. They are British subjects, with the same rights and privileges as Sir Paul McCartney or Hugh Laurie or David Cameron. That’s the way it is, and the way it should be. To say they are less English (or less British) than James Bond because they belonged to a culture that made them likely to become Islamist terrorists is to deny what separates us from the cultural fascists of ISIS.

However, all of that said… I still don’t see how they, or the 100 or so Americans among the terrorists, can be called “Westerners.” That implies a cultural orientation, one which these fighters categorically and viciously reject. Western culture is something they are against, presumably. They may hold passports from Western nations, but everything they are cries out against all that is Western — including our pious, correct insistence that legally, they are just as British as Monty Python.

Terrorists such as these challenge our vocabulary. We must choose our words carefully, as we are trying to define a new thing, a thing that if it had its way would kill us all. A decidedly unWestern thing…

Is it too late for Hillary Clinton?

I say no. But then, I’m old school. I would have been happy being a liberal in the age of JFK, or conservative during the Eisenhower administration. But today’s “liberals” and “conservatives,” who strain the very meaning of the words, leave me cold.

Note that this isn’t about me being a grandfather. I’ve been disaffected this way for most of my adult life. You’ll note that my examples of what I prefer date from before I was old enough to vote.

What I like about Hillary Clinton is that she gets what the presidency is about. And on the issues that are most important to the job — foreign policy, and America’s role in the world — she is consistent with presidents throughout my lifetime. Despite the overheated rhetoric of left and right, there has been an essential consensus among those who actually make it to the White House, providing a consistency in our nation’s most important policies.

Hillary Clinton is at home in that continuum, probably because she’s been secretary of state and has been at the hub of executive decision-making for more than two decades. Other likely (or at least talked-about) candidates, from Rand Paul to Elizabeth Warren, are strangers in that land.

But some of these very qualities have caused some to deride Mrs. Clinton as an anachronism, as being out of touch, for instance, with millennials over such issues as NSA surveillance. As though being in touch with them on something like that were a good thing. Let’s see… would I want someone who is a grownup on national security, or someone who thinks Edward Snowden is a hero? Hmmm…

Anyway, for the opposite point of view, I point you to this piece, conveniently headlined, “Hillary Clinton is an anachronism.” Or consider recent comments from the kiddie corner, such as Rand Paul calling her “yesterday’s news,” or Marco Rubio calling her “a 20th century candidate.” (Of course, those of us who remember Walter Cronkite hosting “The Twentieth Century” still think the phrase invokes modernism, don’t we?)

Even a supporter, Howard Dean, says this to our old buddy Peter Hamby:

“Hillary, she has been on the scene since, what, 1992?” he said. “To elect Hillary, the country would have to do something we’ve only done once in my lifetime, with Reagan over Carter, which is the country would have to go back a generation. Usually, you don’t go back.”

Still, he said Clinton “might be a great candidate because of that.”

Hey, that’s what I think (that last part). I don’t think either party has produced any candidates worth writing home about during this century so far. OK, except for Barack Obama. But the bloom is kind of off that rose these days.

What do y’all think?