Category Archives: Marketplace of ideas

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.

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.

Yeah, that’s what I always say about term limits

An argument against term limits, not for them.

An argument against term limits, not for them.

On the day of the Democratic debate, ThinkProgress had an essay headlined, “The First Democratic Debate Is Tonight. Too Bad The 2 Most Qualified Candidates Are Banned.”

When I saw the Tweet promoting the item, I clicked just out of morbid curiosity to see who else in the world they thought should be on the stage that already included the marginal O’Malley, Webb and Chaffee. I imagined it being someone to the left of Bernie Sanders, this being ThinkProgress.

But… again,this being ThinkProgress… their “two most qualified candidates” turned out to be… Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

And I found myself granting them the point, to a certain extent.

Not that I want a third term of either man (if only for their own sakes — I saw how the job aged them, and those extra terms killed FDR), but I’m always glad to see someone willing to challenge term limits.

Now if you’re going to have term limits, I suppose the chief executive would be the office to be thus limited — for all the cliche reasons such as preventing the development of a de facto monarchy and so forth.

But as the piece notes, the timing of the 22nd Amendment was pretty weird, and a little hard to accept as being at all about good government. The Republicans who had just gained control of Congress rammed it through shortly after the passing of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had shut them out of four elections in a row.

At almost any other time in history, one could have made a somewhat credible argument for limits that didn’t involve crass partisanship. But not at that time. Roosevelt’s was one of the most successful presidencies in our history. His time in office was a sustained argument against limits, not an argument for.

But set aside Roosevelt and partisanship. In general, limits are of dubious value for these reasons stated in the piece:

Term limits, moreover, come at a high price. They lock the most experienced potential executives out of office. They periodically place untested leaders in power who may not have the seasoning necessary to handle difficult issues that arise early in their term. They increase corruption by shifting power towards lobbyists. And they strip voters of their ability to make their own decisions. If the American people actually are uncomfortable with a third Clinton or Obama term, they have an easy solution: they can vote for someone else.

Yeah, I know. The 22nd Amendment is here to stay. But some of those same arguments militate against acting to limit other offices. Which is why I’ve used some of them in the past…

It was Clinton, then Sanders, O’Malley, Webb and Chaffee

I think maybe, just maybe, this was on CNN.

I think maybe, just maybe, this was on CNN.

As I said last night:

To elaborate a bit:

  1. Everyone seems to agree that HIllary Clinton towered over the others. That was certainly my impression, although I don’t think her performance was as flawless as some say: She started out hesitantly, just for a second or two, on more than one occasion — but then quickly recovered. Her best moments were when she demonstrated the self-assurance and courage to stand to the right of her opponents — defending capitalism (staking out the moderate position that capitalism is a glorious thing, although we should stand ready to address its worst excesses), and then being the one total grownup on the stage on the subject of Edward Snowden.
  2. Sanders showed why he’s wowing the disaffected left out there at his rallies, although I’m not sure whether the chicken or egg came first — is his delivery so practiced and effective because of all those successful rallies, or are the rallies successful because his delivery is that good. Anderson Cooper was of course completely right that in the extremely unlikely event that Sanders were nominated, the Republican attack ad writes itself (I hadn’t even known about the “honeymoon in the Soviet Union” part). But he remains a far more attractive candidate, based on the debate performance, than the other three guys on the stage.
  3. Next, we take a big step down to No. 3, Martin O’Malley. I honestly don’t remember much that he said now, but I do remember the sort of supercilious, holier-than-thou tone he had when he said a lot of it. All I remember right now was his mantra about Glass-Steagall, which I suppose he kept mentioning in order to run down Chaffee, who really needed no help on that score; he was scuttling his chances just fine on his own. Anderson Cooper dramatically underlined O’Malley’s weakness as a debater by doing what O’Malley so glaringly failed to do: taking a few words to explain what Glass-Steagall was.
  4. I had really expected more from Jim Webb. Maybe because he was a military guy and once served in a Republican administration, I guess I thought he’d be more UnParty than the others or something. But man, was he lame. He comes in as far behind O’Malley as O’Malley does behind Sanders. Was anyone looking at a stopwatch? If so, just how much time did he spend whining about not being allowed enough time? Oh, sure, you call time on ME, but you just let all the other kids go on all day, yadda-yadda… Cooper lectured him about it (another instance of the host presuming to correct the candidates, which was presumptuous as all get-out, but in the two cases I mention here, they really deserved it). Then there was that weird smile when he said that the Vietnamese who threw the grenade that wounded him wasn’t around to comment. What was that? And was that anecdote in any way relevant to the question?
  5. Then, in a category all on his own, there was Chaffee. Is he always like this? If so, how has he ever been elected to anything? His answer to almost every question was something like, “Hey, I was always against going into Iraq,” as though he couldn’t think of anything to say about this decade. And on the Glass-Steagall thing… Wow. Aw, come on, guys, cut me a break on that! I was new in town, my Dad had just died, I was this dumb kid, and it was my very first vote! Don’t you get a mulligan on your first vote?… Really? That’s your answer? You have your big moment on the national stage, you’ve had all these years to think about it, and that’s your answer? As someone I read this morning said, at least “Oops” was short.

That’s enough to get a discussion started. Your thoughts?

"Secretary Clinton, do you want to respond?" "No."

“Secretary Clinton, do you want to respond?” “No.”

Alexandra nails it: Old Hickory should go, not Hamilton

Alexandra P

Alexandra Petri, making Hamilton’s case with sweet reason, plus an appropriate dollop of moral indignation. Harrumph.

I’ve become something of an Alexandra Petri fan, but just over the last couple of months. Which means I missed her excellent piece back in June about why it is so very wrong to replace Alexander Hamilton on the sawbuck, and not Andrew Jackson on the twenty.

She totally nailed it, as usual:

Word leaked Wednesday night that, yes, by 2020, there will be a woman on our currency. But not, as the campaign Women on 20s suggested, on the $20. On the $10 bill — in place of Alexander Hamilton.

This is horrible.

This had better be a stealth campaign by the U.S. Treasury to gain support for removing Andrew Jackson from the $20 and replacing him with a woman. Otherwise, it’s unforgivable.

This is change I do not believe in.

What cretin decided to make Hamilton go and let Andrew Jackson stay? Andrew “Indian Removal Act” Jackson? Andrew “Literally Murdered A Guy” Jackson? Andrew “Who cares what the Supreme Court rules” Jackson? Andrew “The Coolest Thing I Did As President Was Throw A Giant Cheese-Themed Houseparty” Jackson? He gets to stay? Look, I’ve thrown giant cheese-themed parties. I don’t belong on any currency. And, unlike Jackson, I had no responsibility for the Trail of Tears….

She nails it so well, I’m going to risk the wrath of The Washington Post‘s lawyers and go to the edge of the Fair Use envelope and jes’ stretch it a might, the way ol’ Yeager used to do out there over the high desert (as they haul me off, I’ll be screaming, “Call E.J. Dionne! He’s a friend of mine! And I know Kathleen Parker! And her husband, Woody! Do you know who I AM? I once had lunch with George Will!”), because I’ve just gotta give her reasoning for why Alexander Hamilton is so deserving:

Never Hamilton! Hamilton is a hero. Hamilton built this country with his bare hands, strong nose, and winning smile. He was the illegitimate son of a British officer who immigrated from the West Indies, buoyed by sheer force of intellect, and rose to shape our entire nation. His rags-to-riches story was so compelling that if he hadn’t existed, Horatio Alger would have had to make him up. Hamilton gave us federalism and central banking and the Coast Guard! He served as our first Secretary of the Treasury. He fought in the Revolutionary War. He started a newspaper. He weathered a sex scandal! He saved us from President Aaron Burr. He successfully imagined our country as the federal, industrial democracy we have today and served as an invaluable counterweight to Thomas Jefferson’s utopian visions of a yeoman farmers’ paradise. He founded the Bank of New York! He was so good at what he did that the Coast Guard was still using a communications guidebook he had written — in 1962! He was a redhead! He should be on more currency, not less. He should be on all the currency!…

Amen to all of that.

Had I lived back in those days, I’d have been a Federalist, so it’s good to see someone sticking up for our guy. (Although, as Federalists go, I prefer John Adams.)

Since I’m so late acknowledging this fine piece, here’s a video in which she reiterates her points (and which is on the Post’s website today):

Face it: The Pope is an equal-opportunity meeter

And now today, folks are making a fuss over this story:

Pope Francis met with a friend who is gay, and his partner, while in D.C.

A longtime friend of Pope Francis who is openly gay said Friday that he and his partner met with the pontiff during his recent trip to Washington, adding a new layer of fodder for Americans who are riveted by this pope and are scrutinizing his words and actions for affirmation of their own views….

Earlier, everyone was going on about the Pope meeting with the Kentucky clerk who didn’t want to sign off on same-sex marriages. Like that meant something. Even though the Vatican says it didn’t:

While conservative opponents of same-sex marriage have hailed the Francis-Davis meeting as validation of their cause, the Vatican said Friday that the encounter was not meant as an endorsement of all of Davis’s actions and views.

“The Pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis, and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects,” a Vatican statement said….

Face it, the guy likes people. He meets with them. From old friends to fallen-away Catholics such as Kim Davis.

That said, while I fully understand why the pontiff wanted to hug his gay friend, I don’t know why he met with Kim Davis as opposed to the millions of other people he could have had short private meetings with. Perhaps, as some conspiracy theorists have it, he was duped into it. Although I doubt that. This pope doesn’t do what he doesn’t want to do.

And he likes people. Including people you, or I, would rather he not meet with.

Personally, I was a little disappointed that he met with Ms. Davis, and not exactly for the same reasons that those who think people who oppose same-sex marriage are “haters” were. Every gesture makes a point (and this Pope is a genius of gestures and what they communicate), and any useful point to have been made by meeting with the clerk — re religious freedom — was made far more effectively and appropriately in his meeting with the Little Sisters of the Poor.

The Little Sisters are clearly in the right in their assertion of religious freedom — speaking from a Catholic perspective. And you know, while a lot of people who want him to be something else tend to forget it, the Pope is Catholic. They are a private, religious entity that the government is trying to force to do something against their beliefs.

Kim Davis, by contrast, is an elected public employee, with an obligation to perform her duties in complete accordance with the law as it exists, not as she would wish it to be. If she wishes to avoid conflict with her conscience, she can resign her public office. Big difference between that and being a private actor, like night and day.

Although it occurs to me that the difference between public and private, so obvious to those of us who live with and embrace the 1st Amendment, may not seem quite as stark to an Argentine of Italian abstraction. I don’t know. In any case, if he did meet with Ms. Davis to make a point, it likely would have been more about standing up for your principles than about same-sex unions or even contraception.

(Although, that said, his willingness to meet with dissidents here, in a free country, makes it seem even worse that he didn’t meet with Cuban dissidents in that oppressive country. I have a theory about that: He’s trying hard to open up Cuba to the Gospel, and doesn’t want to push too hard while the Castros are being so welcoming. The stakes are higher there, and gestures can have more severe consequences, especially upon those very dissidents, once the Pope leaves. He was, after all, a guest in both countries — and this country is infinitely more tolerant of in-your-face political gestures than Cuba is.)

Anyway, people shouldn’t overreact to these things. We get these extremes. The Pope meets with Kim Davis, and they’re all like, “He hates gay people!” Instead of concluding that, unlike a lot of people, he just doesn’t hate Kim Davis.

Then he meets with his gay friend, and they’re like, “He loves gay people!”

Well, of course he does. He always has, and always will. He’s that kind of guy. He loves everybody…

The Little Sisters of the Poor are all about love, too.

The Little Sisters of the Poor are all about love, too.

Why we need each other: ‘The $1,500 Sandwich’

We tend to put those who place their faith in the market economy at the libertarian end of the political spectrum, as far away from us communitarians as you can get.

But… the fact is that the modern marketplace itself, properly understood, starkly demonstrates that no man is an island, and that we are profoundly interdependent in the modern world.

I enjoyed this little demonstration of that fact in this passage from a Cato Institute blog (of all places), quoted by The Wall Street Journal today:

From an online post by Cato Institute researcher and editor Chelsea German, Sept. 25:

What would life be like without exchange or trade? Recently, a man decided to make a sandwich from scratch. He grew the vegetables, gathered salt from seawater, milked a cow, turned the milk into cheese, pickled a cucumber in a jar, ground his own flour from wheat to make the bread, collected his own honey, and personally killed a chicken for its meat. This month, he published the results of his endeavor in an enlightening video: making a sandwich entirely by himself cost him 6 months of his life and set him back $1,500. . . .

The inefficiency of making even something as humble as a sandwich by oneself, without the benefits of market exchange, is simply mind-boggling. There was a time when everyone grew their own food and made their own clothes. It was a time of unimaginable poverty and labor without rest.

We are light years removed from the society of totally independent yeoman farmers that Thomas Jefferson idealized. And personally, I would never have wanted to live that way, anyway.

I liked this parenthetical from the Cato post, which the WSJ left out:

(It should be noted that he used air transportation to get to the ocean to gather salt. If he had taken it upon himself to learn to build and fly a plane, then his endeavor would have proved impossible).

Kind of reminds me of that joke about the hubris of science:

God was once approached by a scientist who said, “Listen God, we’ve decided we don’t need you anymore. These days we can clone people, transplant organs and do all sorts of things that used to be considered miraculous.”

God replied, “Don’t need me huh? How about we put your theory to the test. Why don’t we have a competition to see who can make a human being, say, a male human being.”

The scientist agrees, so God declares they should do it like he did in the good old days when he created Adam.

“Fine” says the scientist as he bends down to scoop up a handful of dirt.”

“Whoa!” says God, shaking his head in disapproval. “Not so fast. You get your own dirt.”

Actually, the version I heard was more involved, with the scientist saying something like, “First, I’ll mine for the requisite minerals, and…” But the punchline was the same: “Get your own dirt,” or maybe “Make your own dirt.”

You get the idea.

The political points made by Pope Francis to Congress

Yeah, it’s kinda uncool and even tacky to interpret the Holy Father’s words in political terms, but this is a political blog, so I thought I’d share this NPR piece, “The 10 Most Political Moments In Pope Francis’ Address To Congress.” Here are the 10 moments, with my comments appended.

  1. Embracing John Kerry — Significant because of Kerry’s position on abortion, which got him in trouble with the hierarchy several years back.
  2. A call to rise above polarization — See, I knew it! Both the Democrats and Republicans may want to claim him, but this Pope is UnParty all the way!
  3. A call for the country to open its arms to immigrants and refugees — Because you know, America, you are a nation of immigrants.
  4. A reminder on abortion — Hugs or not, don’t forget that you’re still wrong on this one, Secretary Kerry.
  5. Strongly advocating for abolishing the death penalty — Another aspect of the Consistent Ethic of Life.
  6. Poverty and the necessity of ‘distribution of wealth’ — Not a big applause line with the GOP members, I imagine (I didn’t actually see the speech).
  7. Business should be about ‘service to the common good’ — Which means, don’t be like VW.
  8. Calling on Congress to act on climate change — God, who made the Earth loves it, and we are its stewards.
  9. Anti-war message and a call to stop arms trade — OK, so he had some admonitions to throw my way, too. And I don’t disagree, much as that might surprise you.
  10. The importance of family and marriage — As y’all know, I’m definitely totally with him there. As my grandchildren grow, I’m more and more about it all the time.

NPR said:

There were political messages that challenged the orthodoxy of both American political parties, but, in this 51-minute address, there were a lot more points of emphasis Democrats are happy about — and that put some pressure on Republicans.

But here’s the thing: If you’re Catholic — meaning that the you believe the things that Catholics believe, rather than just being culturally a mackerel-snapper — you can’t be comfortable in either of the two major parties.

Occasionally over the years, when people have asked me where I am on the political spectrum, I have said I’m not on the spectrum; I’m Catholic.

Today, the Pope reminded me why…

Why would anyone expect the Pope (or the Church) to be ‘in sync’ with the world?

pope background

In the days leading up to the Pope’s present trip, I’ve seen a number of things like this story from The Washington Post over the weekend:

Poll: Americans widely admire Pope Francis, but his church less so

Pope Francis is adored by American Catholics and non-Catholics, who have embraced his optimism, humility and more inclusive tone. But as the 78-year-old pontiff arrives in the United States for his first visit, the public’s view of the Catholic Church is not nearly as favorable, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

That gap will be masked by the huge throngs of Catholics greeting Francis in Washington, New York and Philadelphia. Many of them see him as an agent of change, with a majority of Catholics saying that the church is in touch with them — a reversal from two years ago, when 6 in 10 said the church was out of sync….

Things like this puzzle me.

Do people really think that the church, or the pope, is supposed to be “in touch” with views that are popularly held in the wider world? Why? (And if people don’t expect that, why am I always reading stories about whether the pope and the church are in touch and in sync? Why would it matter otherwise? And the implication is that it does matter. Otherwise, why keep bringing it up?)

Oh, I can list the reasons why — ours is a democratic country, where institutions are expected to reflect the views of a majority, or they lack legitimacy. A country where it would occur to someone to do a poll on what people think of the pope is a country that will talk about whether the pope or the church is “in sync” or “in touch” with prevailing views.

But it seems to me that anyone who is familiar with Christianity, or with the Judaism out of which it grew — and I’m talking basic cultural literacy here; I’m not expecting people to have doctorates in theology — would understand that there is a basic expectation that God’s will and the ways of the world are not the same thing, and are as often as not at odds.

I’m not arguing here, to a diverse audience, that you should accept that the church is right about everything. I’m saying that, if you understand what the church is supposed to be — an expression of God’s will in the world — you would not for a moment expect its teachings to line up with the results of polls.

That’s just not in any way a reasonable expectation.

And it was never thus. This isn’t about the church or the pope being at odds with modernity. Despite what many may think, this generation is no worse than those that went before it. Nor — and this is an important point that still others fail to understand — is it any better. I could quote from Ecclesiastes here, but I’ve always found that book confusing, so never mind.

The church, and the Temple before it, were always supposed to be at odds with the wicked world out there, as I was reminded by the first reading from this past Sunday, from the book of Wisdom (which, regrettably, some of my Protestant friends don’t have in their Bible):

The wicked say:
Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us;
he sets himself against our doings,
reproaches us for transgressions of the law
and charges us with violations of our training.
Let us see whether his words be true;
let us find out what will happen to him.
For if the just one be the son of God, God will defend him
and deliver him from the hand of his foes.
With revilement and torture let us put the just one to the test
that we may have proof of his gentleness
and try his patience.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death;
for according to his own words, God will take care of him…

There are other passages, I’m sure (and some of my more evangelical friends out there probably know them by heart) that speak even more clearly to the divide that should exist between the church and what is popular, whether in the 1st century B.C., or in the present day.

Again, I’m not asking you, my nonCatholic friends, to believe that when the church is at odds with what is popular, the church is always right. You’re not going to believe that, so why waste my breath? I’m just saying that no sensible person should have an expectation that the church, when it is right, would be “in sync” or “in touch” with what is popular according to polls.

In fact, if the church were thus wedded to current views, that should make us suspicious.

So I guess I should be suspicious that at the moment, more people do say the pope and the church are in touch with them. But I chalk that up to the awesome job this pope is doing as a messenger. The church hasn’t changed any of its teachings under him; but he is much, much better than his predecessors at selling the more appealing things that the church is about (and supposed to be about).

A hypothetical church that was indeed completely “in sync” with God’s will would have a lot of “yes” in it, as well as a lot of “no.” Francis is way, way better than, say, Benedict, at expressing the “yes” so that people hear it.

And I honor him for that…

Fiorina won the JV debate last time. This time, it was Graham

JV debate

Yeah, Santorum — we caught you smiling…

Actually, I have only partial knowledge of how he did, because all I’ve seen is a few clips from the not-ready-for-prime-time debate.

What I’m talking about is how it played, which is of course of tremendous importance in politics. And it played like this:

And then there was this:

Lindsey Graham tops the undercard debate, but Donald Trump dominates

The most memorable performance in the undercard Republican presidential debate came from Sen. Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina.

Serving his third term in the Senate and now one of the party’s leading lights on foreign policy, Graham still found himself at the trailers’ table Wednesday night. But he was easily the funniest of the four early-evening debaters and offered something of a split-personality vision: half gloom and war, half cornball humor.

In an otherwise humorless foursome, Graham delivered the jokes that were the night’s most repeated lines. In explaining his call for more bipartisan cooperation, for instance, he harkened back to deals that President Ronald Reagan and Democrats struck over a drink: “That’s the first thing I’m gonna do as president. We’re gonna drink more.”

In explaining his position that more legal immigrants were needed to pay into the retirement system as baby boomers retire, Graham used a one-liner about a famous — and infamous — senator from his home state.

“Strom Thurmond had four kids after he was 67. If you’re not willing to do that, maybe we need a better legal immigration system,” Graham said….

So go ahead. Heap the usual pile of scorn, abuse and calumny on our senior senator. It’s what y’all always do. I expect you’ll start with something like, “Maybe he should run for court jester instead of president. He’s already the biggest joke on the national stage.”

It’s easy to be scornful. It’s hard to put yourself out there and do your best, especially when all you get is ridicule and abuse…

Tweets from the debate (Kathryn, look away)

debate stage

I know Kathryn hates it when I do this, and most of the rest of y’all just ignore it. But I’m going to post it anyway, because this is how I commented on the debate, and I’m not going to type all this stuff all over again (copying the embed codes over is tedious enough).

Some people liked my comments — I got 13 replies, 17 reTweets, two new follows and 37 favorites. (A little disappointed on the follows — usually I get closer to 10 during such an event with so much interaction.) I didn’t bother to count the Facebook responses (my Tweets automatically post there as well), but it was at least a couple of score.

If running these prompts no discussion, so be it. But at least I made it available to those who don’t indulge in Twitter:

Scoppe: Lawmakers have more constructive things to do than go off on Kulturkampf chase

And she’s right. From her column today:

Last week, the committee voted to distract itself from the intensive reviews it has pledged to complete this year of the huge Transportation Department and nine other state agencies, adding an investigation into the relationship between Planned Parenthood and four state agencies.

Now, there are circumstances under which it might be a good use of the panel’s time (or at least not a bad use) to jump into the political firestorm that has been raging nationally since the release of secretly recorded videos showing Planned Parenthood officials talking cavalierly about harvesting and selling aborted fetal tissue to medical researchers.

It certainly would make sense, for instance, to add that line of questioning if the panel already were reviewing the agencies it plans to call in for questioning: the Medical University of South Carolina and the departments of Health and Environmental Control, Health and Human Services and Social Services. But it’s not.

It might even be a worthwhile question for the panel to pursue if no one else was examining whether any fetal tissue was being harvested in South Carolina, and whether any state funds were supporting that. And if there were anything to suggest that what we know has happened in California and Oregon might be happening here. And if the committee weren’t already overloaded.

But none of that is the case….

Cindi and I disagree on the abortion issue, if I remember correctly. But I could be wrong about that; we never really got into it, as an issue for the board to address. Why? For the same reason I moan when I see our public conversations careening off into Culture War territory: At least here on the state level, such issues do little beyond dividing us into irreconcilable camps. Nothing is resolved, and everyone is so embittered that there is no appetite for seeking consensus on other issues that we could, conceivably, agree on.

For similar reasons, we stayed away from such things as the same-sex marriage debate (and of course, when I was on the board, so did Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.) Now some would say that issue has been resolved, this latest mini-drama in Kentucky notwithstanding. Of course, a lot of folks think Roe v. Wade settled the abortion issue. It did not. But I do think the gay-marriage issue is different. We’ve moved much closer to consensus on that, and the issue is not the sure-fire source of pointless division that it was not long ago.

Abortion, of course, is as divisive as ever.

And it’s distressing to see our lawmakers, who have only recently started getting serious about providing oversight of state agencies, to waste energy on something that accomplishes nothing beyond giving members a chance to signal on which side of the irreconcilable divide they stand.

Cindi’s good idea for Greenwood monument could be applied in a lot of areas

Cindi Scoppe had a good column about the absurd problem that the town of Greenwood faces. The town decided some time back that it wanted to revise the lists of dead from the world wars on local monuments so that they were no longer separated into “white” and “colored.”

But the Legislature’s execrable Heritage Act, which was passed years ago for the now-irrelevant purpose of protecting the unlamented Confederate flag on the State House grounds, forbids the town from doing so. Which is absurd and wrong on several levels.

And unfortunately, Speaker Jay Lucas’ Shermanesque statement that while he is speaker, no more exceptions will be made to the Act, period, means there’s no hope for what the town wants to do. (I can appreciate Lucas’ pragmatic desire, once the good work of lowering the flag was done, to get onto other issues without distractions, but this is a particularly unfortunate effect of his declaration.)

Anyway, I like Cindi’s solution:

We should all hope that once cooler heads prevail, the speaker will walk back his Shermanesque statement, and the Legislature will give the American Legion and the city of Greenwood control over their own property — and give all local governments and private entities control over their property as well, for that matter.

If that doesn’t happen, there’s a better solution than a lawsuit: The folks in Greenwood should take up a collection for a new sign, to erect next to the monument, that says: “These lists of Americans who gave their lives for our nation remain segregated in the 21st century because the S.C. General Assembly either opposes integration or refuses to let local governments make their own decisions or both.”

That idea could be applied in a lot of situations where the Legislative State ties the hands of local governments. For instance, signs could be posted at Richland County polling places saying, “You are waiting in such long lines because the Legislature, in its ‘wisdom,’ gives control of the voting process to the local legislative delegation.”

Given the many ways the Legislature reaches down to meddle in local affairs, the possibilities for applying this idea are practically endless…


Anybody want to talk about Hiroshima?


Atomic cloud over Nagasaki, by Hiromichi Matsuda

There’s been a lot out there about the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Most of it seems to be of either the “look at the horrible thing we did” or “Thank God for the Atom Bomb” varieties.

In other words, they tend to be couched in the binary, either-or, good-or-bad, black-or-white terms that curse our public discourse these days.


And I can’t subscribe to either approach.

I certainly can’t go along with the “America is horrible and should apologize” approach, as exemplified by the piece I linked to above. If the topic weren’t so horrible it would be comical. Like so much that Salon publishes, it condemns our leaders of 1945 in terms fashionable in 2015 — those old white guys were a bunch of hateful, insensitive racists, so no wonder they did what they did.

But I can’t say “Thank God for the Atom Bomb,” either. Not because I think the bombing of either Hiroshima or Nagasaki was particularly egregious. After all, the previous firebombing of Tokyo was worse. But that very context — the fact that the bombing of population centers was taken for granted by both sides as an acceptable strategy — is the thing that bothers me, a lot.

In saying that, don’t think I’m judging our WWII leaders by modern standards — or by the standards of, say, the 19th century, when such widespread killing of civilians was unthinkable, in large part because it was impossible. Our leaders in those pre-smart bomb days assumed that the bombings were necessary to winning the war, an imperative that might be a bit hard for a lot of people to understand today, when we speak of “exit strategies” with hardly any reference made to the concept of “victory.”

And I applaud their determination to win the war. I see victory in that conflict as every bit as important as did FDR and Churchill. I just don’t know that bombing cities was necessary to victory. How can I know? The variables are too many to game out an alternative history in which we don’t bomb cities, yet still win.

I just cannot say with an undivided mind that bombing civilians was necessary or defensible. That practice will always temper the triumph of “the Good War” in my mind, even as I long for the kind of moral clarity and unity of purpose that our nation experienced then.

All of that said, though, given that the decision to drop the Big One, twice, on Japanese cities was made against a backdrop in which it made consistent strategic sense, and was even seen as a humane alternative to an exponentially worse version of the battles for Iwo Jima and Okinawa, which is what it was assumed (with good reason) the invasion of the Japanese home islands would be… I can’t go along with the “Truman was wrong” camp. I suspect I’d have made the same decision, although I thank God I never had to.

But maybe the issue is much, much clearer to y’all. So I’ll hand it over to you…

Is ‘populist’ sometimes a euphemism for ‘stupid?’

I sort of felt like Gerald Seib, the Wall Street Journal‘s Washington bureau chief, was tiptoeing around something in this political analysis, which seems to go nowhere really, reaching no coherent conclusion (it read less like something a senior political writer is inspired to write than a reply dragged from a schoolboy by the question, “Compare and contrast these two politicians…”):

Could the nascent 2016 campaign turn into one of those elections that shakes up the system?

The question arises most obviously because of the summer sensation of Donald Trump, billionaire populist with a long history of giving to Democrats who has somehow tapped into a deep vein of working-class anger to become a current (though temporary) leader in the Republican presidential field. There are enough mind-bending contradictions in that sentence alone to at least raise the question of whether something broader is going on. The thought is only enhanced by the fact that the single hottest political draw right now is Sen. Bernie Sanders, a 73-year-old socialist who favors a $15-an-hour minimum wage and the breakup of big banks….

In fact, those are just two forces at work suggesting the system is straining to break loose from some of its traditional moorings. The combination of a wide-open race, populist strains at the base of both parties and big demographic changes all open the doors to destabilizing forces.

Polls suggest Mr. Trump’s resonance is greatest with disillusioned lower-income voters, illustrating that Republicans are trying to come to terms with a party that has grown more blue-collar, working-class and antiestablishment as it has grown….

Seems to me like he’s straining with that “populist” label in an effort to come up with a word that describes the appeal of both Trump and Sanders. With Sanders, I can see it, but with Trump? Really? A populist billionaire who revels into  his own excess? How can a guy who’s best-known catchphrase is “You’re fired!” be any kind of a populist?

Seib describes the GOP as “a party that has grown more blue-collar, working-class and antiestablishment,” but is that really who is applauding Trump right now? There’s a word that seems to be missing, and it describes a long-standing tradition in American politics: anti-intellectual.

I wouldn’t apply that label to the GOP in general. But it’s definitely the impulse that Trump is tapping into.

From the election of flat-Earther Andrew Jackson over the supremely qualified John Quincy Adams to the present day, there has been a perverse streak in the electorate that causes significant numbers to go for whoever is dumbing down politics the most.

I’m not saying the voters themselves are stupid (that would be anathema in American politics, right?), I’m just saying that sometimes, some voters have a sort of fit that causes them to convulsively embrace whoever is making the biggest jackass of himself on the political stage.

And at the moment, that is unquestionably Trump.

And yeah, there is a disturbing simplicity to Bernie Sanders’ vision of how to build a more perfect union. But to the extent that the two share a trait, is “populist” really the word for it?

It WILL take more than goodwill, Will. But goodwill is a prerequisite

There are those who refuse to participate in celebrating the spirit of unity over bringing down the Confederate flag. One of those, unfortunately, is my former colleague Will Moredock:

It will take more than goodwill to heal this state

After the Flag


“To use Gov. Nikki Haley’s words, it truly is a great day in South Carolina” — that was the text message that awakened me at 7:15 Thursday morning from my cell phone by the bedside. It was followed immediately by other messages from friends near and far who wanted to check in and see what I had to say about the end of the Confederate flag debate and — let us hope — the end of an era.

In the days after the lowering of the Confederate flag in front of the Statehouse in Columbia, much will be written and said about the courage of Gov. Haley and the Republican General Assembly in taking that measure, to which I say, “Bullshit!”

Why did it take the killing of nine good people by a Confederate flag-waving bigot at Emanuel AME Church to open the eyes of these GOPers to what millions of South Carolinians and Americans have known for generations?…

Yes, it will take more than goodwill for our state to progress.

But the thing is, goodwill is a necessary ingredient.

And celebrating when people who have long disagreed with you decide to agree — rather than kicking them — is kind of an obvious first step.

Linking the flag and Atticus Finch

Samuel Tenenbaum — who goes to Publix each morning to by The New York Times because they refuse to deliver it in Lexington County, where he and I live — brought to my attention this piece from that paper, which notes the parallels between the Confederate flag we just got off our lawn and Atticus Finch:

FOR as long as many Americans have been alive, the Confederate flag stood watch at the South Carolina capitol, and Atticus Finch, moral guardian-father-redeemer, was arguably the most beloved hero in American literature.

The two symbols took their places in our culture within months of each other. The flag was hoisted above the capitol dome in April 1961, on the centennial of the Civil War during upheavals over civil rights. Atticus Finch debuted in July 1960 in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a novel that British librarians would later declare the one book, even before the Bible, that everyone should read. Given life by Gregory Peck in the 1962 Oscar-winning film, Atticus Finch would go on to be named the top movie hero of the 20th century.

Nearly at once, both icons have fallen from grace in ways that were unimaginable just months ago…

I just pass it on in case you’re interested. I’m not crazy about the way it ends up — suggesting that we should embrace this “new” Atticus as a way of coming more truly to grips with who we are and have been. I’m of the “Atticus is still a hero” school. But I pass it on nonetheless…

The majority isn’t always wrong, but it isn’t always right, either

With Scott Walker in town today, I took a moment to read a letter that some New Hampshire Democrats wrote to him upon his visit to that state. An excerpt:

We wanted to welcome you to the First in the Nation Primary. You are a little late to the game, so we decided to help you out with some information about New Hampshire.

Last night, you said that raising the minimum wage was a “lame idea.” Lame idea? Really? Well, it’s an idea that 76% of Granite Staters support

Which got me to thinking about Henrik Ibsen.

That letter — a good example of the kind of letters that partisans send, not meant to communicate with the purported recipient privately, but to taunt him publicly (or in this case, to tell the 76 percent what an awful person Scott Walker is) — got me to thinking of some of my favorite Ibsen quotes back when I was 17, from “An Enemy of the People:”

“The majority is never right. Never, I tell you! That’s one of these lies in society that no free and intelligent man can help rebelling against. Who are the people that make up the biggest proportion of the population — the intelligent ones or the fools?”…

“Oh, yes — you can shout me down, I know! But you cannot answer me. The majority has
might on its side–unfortunately; but right it has not.”…

“What sort of truths are they that the majority usually supports? They are truths that are of such advanced age that they are beginning to break up. And if a truth is as old as that, it is also in a fair way to become a lie, gentlemen.”…

I fear that I’m giving you a rather ugly picture of myself when I was 17. Well, I had my share of youthful arrogance and alienation, a bit of a Raskolnikov complex, which is common enough. Some of us outgrow it. Others among us end up like Edward Snowden, convinced that we know better than everyone else, especially established institutions.

I outgrew it, thank God. Which is to say that I’ve come to disagree with almost everything Ibsen seemed to be on about.

All that remains of it, with me, is a belief that the majority is not always right. It can be right, and I think it probably is considerably more often than the proverbial stopped clock. I think there’s really something to the notion of “the wisdom of crowds.” Or as Stephen Maturin said in The Mauritius Command, “whoever heard of the long-matured judgment of a village being wrong?”

Yes, and no. It is very often right, but it can be wrong, I fear.

In any case, it seems unreliable as an indicator of whether an increase in the minimum wage is a good idea, or a “lame” one.

I’ve heard the arguments for and against, and I just don’t know. If anything, I may lean toward the against — the assertions that a mandatory increase in wages could lead to fewer jobs, particularly for the poor, seems to make some sense.

But I don’t know, regardless of what 76 percent of Granite Staters may say…

The Dalai Lama on the Charleston massacre

I read a short item about this in The State this morning, so I was interested when I saw that publicists had sent me the embed codes for clips from Larry King’s interview with the Dalai Lama.

So I share it with you. From the release:

Larry leans in to ask the heartfelt question “When you see terrible events. When you see a man shoot up a church in South Carolina don’t you question your faith?”

“We need to make more effort to bring awareness regarding the value of compassion. Compassion means, it’s the sense of concern for others well being and the respect of others’ lives. When you have that sort of conviction it’s impossible to bully others, to cheat another, to kill another,” His Holiness answered.

The message isn’t failing. The Dalai Lama explains that obsession with worldly possessions & a lack of teaching children about inner values contributes to tragedies such as the shooting inside the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina “The message is not properly channelized. The message of love is just inside the church and not daily life.” He continues, “The existing modern education is very much oriented about material value.  Not much is talked about regarding inner value.”…

I’m sure he is right that we all, including Dylann Roof, could use better “values.” The answer seems a bit oblique, though — somewhat lacking in specifics, possibly because His Holiness comes from such a different cultural perspective that the killer’s particular brand of deadly animosity is far more bewildering to him than it is to us. Or perhaps I’m just failing to completely understand the role of materialism in this case. (I mean, I can draw such a line: A high school dropout feels so oppressed by his low economic expectations that he constructs a worldview in which “others” are to blame for his plight. I’m just not sure that is central to what happened.)

Nevertheless, when he calls for more compassion, I am sure he is in the right of it.

On the Supreme Court and ideology

Or, if you prefer, the good and the bad. Because as one who loves the American system of government and respects the court, while at the same time decrying what ideological partisans are doing to the political branches (and trying their best to do to the judiciary as well), I’m all like “Yay, Supreme Court” and “Boo, ideology.”

But you knew that. Or at least you knew about me and ideology.

The burning question is, to what extent have the ideologues succeeded in their quest to make the Supreme Court as messed up and ineffective as, say, the Congress?

Others just take it for granted that the Court now consists of partisan hacks on both ends of the spectrum, with one or two swing votes. I see the things they’re seeing, but in the end I don’t reach that conclusion.

Anyway, Doug Ross started a conversation over on Facebook about the court, and with his permission I’m dragging it over here in keeping with my firm belief that all interesting conversations should take place on the blog.

Doug started the ball rolling this way:

We assume judges are going to be impartial when deciding on cases before them yet our highest court consists of at least seven of nine judges who can pretty much be guaranteed to vote a certain way on a case. If a Republican had been in office when Sotomeyer or Kagan were appointed, is there any doubt that recent cases would have had different outcomes?

I responded that there’s SOME doubt — look, for instance, at the critical moments when Roberts has helped out Obama, who voted against his confirmation — and in that doubt lies the hope for our country…

I just don’t assume anything with these people. For instance, I had been thinking that I very often agree with Roberts — and then he voted the other way on the Arizona reapportionment case that I wrote about earlier. That said, when I saw what Roberts and the other dissenters said in that case, I respected their reasoning. It doesn’t matter that I liked the outcome from the majority’s ruling — it’s not about outcomes. As I’ve said before, it should not BE about outcomes, if we respect the rule of law…

Doug said,

I put Roberts and Kennedy into the wild card group. The other seven march in lockstep with their partisan base. There’s an affirmative action case coming up. You want to lay bets on it being 5-4 or 6-3? It would seem like with “the law” that we should see more 9-0, 8-1 decisions if they only dealt with facts and precedents. We just shouldn’t pretend that the judges are impartial. They are biased.

And I responded that I don’t write justices off as “liberals” or “conservatives,” because I respect them. Yes, a certain justice may more often render judgments that the world regards as “liberal” or “conservative,” but it’s not like they’re stacking the deck. Their reasoning just happens to lead them that way, and I respect that. They don’t just come in and say, “I’m going to issue a liberal opinion on this, no matter what the facts or the law.” They work it out honestly, and that just tends to be where they end up. I don’t see any of them as hacks. I leave those insults to the partisans and ideologues, who tend to insult and dismiss justices who tend not to support their prejudices…

Back to Doug:

Pick a case, any case, that is contentious and show me where Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor disagreed or Scalia and Thomas disagreed. Take the gay marriage case… was there ANY doubt how those five would vote? Not for a second. They “work it out” according to a pre-disposed bias.

And Doug, being Doug, resorts to numbers and charts:

This chart basically shows exactly what I stated…there was a time when the views of the court were balanced across the liberal/conservative spectrum but now we basically have three groups of justices, each on the same track

Here’s the chart.

Well, I can’t refute that because I don’t have a year or two to go back and study every case this court has decided and then assign quantifiable values to each judge’s position (an act from which my conscience would recoil) and come up with a chart of my own.

Because for me, it’s not about these three decisions versus those five decisions or anything like that. Here’s how I arrive at my more optimistic view of the court: I see that the court has taken this or that position on an issue before it. I think, “How on Earth could they have come to a boneheaded conclusion like that?” And then I read the arguments. And while I still might disagree, I respect the reasoning. I respect the effort to arrive at an intellectually honest conclusion. (I did this with the dissent in the Arizona case. And in fact, I sort of think the dissent may have the stronger argument, even though I liked the outcome.)

Not every time. But often enough that I still respect the justices, and the job they do. There could come a day, and I hope it doesn’t, when I write off the Court as too far gone. I’m happy to say I’m not there yet.