Category Archives: Marketplace of ideas

State Chamber takes on Act 388. I wish it luck and success

A chart the Chamber shared in context of the issue. Source: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence 2019

A chart the Chamber shared in context of the issue. Source: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence 2019

I’m kind of busy at the moment, so I’m not going to rehash all the reasons why Act 388 was an execrable piece of legislation that distorted our state’s system of taxation and made it both unfair and ineffective.

You can go back and read where I’ve done it before.

But while I’m thinking about it, I wanted to make sure you read Ted Pitts’ op-ed on the subject in The Post and Courier. Ted — my former House member — is the head of the state Chamber, so naturally he’s against something that shifted so much of our tax burden from owner-occupied homes to businesses.

I particularly appreciate that in this piece, he emphasizes the extreme regressivity of the Act, causing renters to pay as much as three times as much in property taxes as homeowners do.

Anyway, just go read the whole piece. His column refers in the lede to a recent column on the subject by Cindi. Read that, too.

Both of them, being astute and fair-minded observers, see Act 388 as one of the worst things our Legislature has done so far this century.

They’re right. That doesn’t mean anything’s going to happen. It should, and Ted is right to point to the current discussions about how we fund schools as a great opportunity. But it’s a tall order. Act 388 is the kind of dumb, irresponsible legislation that makes lawmakers popular with some of their loudest constituents. The voice of reason seldom shouts that loud.

So, where do you stand on carrying the bat to first base?

bregman

Here’s a little thought experiment…

Earlier, some of you expressed disapproval of the crowd booing Trump at the World Series Sunday night, while others defended it.

Contemplating another Series controversy from last night’s game (and not the disagreement that led to the Nationals’ manager being ejected — it was quite a game), it occurs to me that it might be a sort of related issue.

I’d like to see y’all’s positions on the booing thing alongside your positions on whether it was OK for Alex Bregman and Juan Soto to carry their bats to first base after hitting home runs.

I have this theory that people who were disturbed by the booing would also disapprove of the bat-carrying, both being violations of certain standards of behavior. Likewise, anyone likely to approve of the “Lock him up” chant would be more inclined to let those young ballplayers strut a bit.

Me, I disapprove of both. I see both within a context of society fraying, becoming less civilized.

You?

soto

Is Donald Trump our ‘most honest president?’

"Believe me..."

“Believe me…”

Frank Bruni reminds me of this point I’ve been thinking about making for two or three years now, but I’ve just never gotten around to it.

We know that no one who has ever held the office of president — in our lifetimes, at the least — utters more falsehoods that this guy. Certainly, no one can boast more “Four Pinocchio” scores (OK, I tried to back that up with a link, and Google failed me. Oh, I saw that the Post had to come up with a new “Bottomless Pinocchio” just for him, and that in 2018 they broke his falsehoods into two categories to keep him from dominating the standings, but I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for. I think what I’m running into is the ancient horror journalists have of saying someone or something is the most anything ever — because someone might always come up with a worse example.).

He seems the personification of the old gag, “How can I tell when he’s lying? His mouth’s moving.”

The thing is, though, what if he’s not lying, technically? What if he actually believes all of these laughably false things that he asserts with such vehemence? The guy’s not terribly bright, and he’s such a narcissist that it’s possible that he convinces himself that any assertion that is helpful, or that he perceives as helpful, to Donald Trump is automatically true.

There’s plenty we can point to that supports this position on the matter. How else do you explain, just to grab a recent example, his repeated assertion that his July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president was “perfect?” Or that the whistleblower (remember the whisteblower, that guy whose role in all this long ago became redundant in light of subsequent revelations, a fact that has not yet penetrated the Donald’s skull?) is peddling untruths. He continues to assert both of these things even though the rough transcript the White House itself released shows him to be obviously wrong on both counts. Not to mention all of the subsequent revelations that show that phone call to be just one piece of a large, consistent pattern.

Maybe you want to say he’s crazy rather than dumb. Either way, you can say his ability to discern the truth is severely limited.

So in that case, is he a liar? Don’t you have to mean to lie for it to count?

Anyway, I’m thinking about this again after reading the recent Frank Bruni column headlined “‘Human Scum,’ ‘Lynching’ and Trump’s Tortured English.” (Subhed: “The president needs a thesaurus and a therapist, though not necessarily in that order.”)

It’s another piece addressing a thing that probably explains as well as anything why people who work with words tend to see Trump as dumb, while it is less obvious to certain other people:

The other day he turned to the bounteous trove of the English language for a pejorative worthy of his critics’ awfulness, at least as he sees it. He decided on “human scum.”

He sought to capture the horror and injustice befalling him. What he came up with was “lynching.”

There’s being crude with language, there’s being loose with it, and then there’s being Trump, who uses words the way a toddler does marbles, grabbing the ones that are most bluntly colorful and tossing them into the air just because he can.

Trump is as inept at English as he is at governing. He’s oxymoronic: a nativist who can’t really speak his native tongue….

And so on. But the passage that prompts this post is this:

I’ve written before that Trump, “in terms of the transparency with which he shows us the most eccentric and ugliest parts of himself,” may inadvertently be “the most honest president in my lifetime.” His language is obviously central to that. It’s a glimpse into his fury and fears…

Which is slightly different from what I said above. Basically, Bruni is saying that no matter how untrue and badly chosen his words are, the emotion behind them reveals the true Trump.

My point is that maybe we can’t label Trump’s perpetual flow of falsehoods as lies, because he really doesn’t know any better.

Either way, Trump comes across as less dishonest than a mere examination of facts would suggest.

What do y’all think?

 

The greater wonder is that there are people who don’t see it, or don’t care, or both

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Just this morning I got around to reading Frank Bruni’s Sunday column, which begins:

The wonder of the Trump administration — the jaw-dropping, brain-exploding phantasmagoria of it — is that it doesn’t bury its rottenness under layers of counterfeit virtue or use a honeyed voice to mask the vinegar inside. The rottenness is out in the open. The sourness is right there on the surface for all to see.

It’s at the president’s rallies, where he plays a bigot for laughs, a bully for applause.

It’s in the ballrooms and beds at Mar-a-Loco, where he mingles official government business with free marketing for his gilded club.

It’s in the transcript of his phone call with the president of Ukraine, for whom the quid, the pro and the Biden-ravaging quo couldn’t have been clearer.

It’s at the microphone in the White House briefing room, where his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, showed up on Thursday, announced that President Trump would host the next G7 meeting at one of his own golf resorts, and conceded that, yes, aid to Ukraine had been tied to that country’s indulgence of the president’s political obsessions….

Yeah, it’s pretty amazing, all right — in that we’ve never in American history seen anything like this.

But you know what is a greater wonder? The fact that there are all these people out there — Republican officeholders, and the “base” that terrifies them — who don’t see it, or claim not to see it, no matter how many times Trump slaps them in the face with it, compelling him to look.

People still defend him, in spite of all.

That’s the wonder of it…

Doesn't it make you proud to have a South Carolinian acting as White House chief of staff? For the moment, I mean?...

Doesn’t it make you proud to have a South Carolinian acting as White House chief of staff? For the moment, I mean?…

Top Five History-Based Holiday Ideas

big shoe

The controversy over Columbus Day got me to thinking of history-based holidays we could have, if only we thought a little harder. They’re not in order of preference, but in calendar order:

  1. Rubicon Day — OK, so this didn’t happen in America. But Julius Caesar’s decision to cross that creek with his troops had a huge effect on something that matters to Americans. It ended the last republic we would see for 1,000 years. But I’m also thinking we could have some fun with it. We could have toga parties each Jan. 10, and go around saying “iacta alea est” to each other. Maybe not your idea of a good time, but maybe we could make a drinking game out of it.
  2. British Invasion Day — No, it’s not about 1814. It’s about 1964, and this holiday would be pure fun. We’d celebrate it on February 9, the day the Beatles first appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” We’d all play music by the Beatles, the Stones, Herman’s Hermits, the Animals, Freddie and the Dreamers, Peter and Gordon, and so forth. We’d have theme parties in which we’d all dress like the invaders, and go around saying “gear” and “fab.” And if you said bad things about the holiday, we’d all say you were “dead grotty.”
  3. Lincoln’s Birthday, Feb. 12 — Yes, bring it back, and repeal this “President’s Day” nonsense, in order to drive home the fact that he was our greatest president, and is largely responsible for America being America, having thrown off its original sin via that war that we fight on until the slave states’ unconditional surrender — and making sure it didn’t end until the 13th Amendment was passed, so that all that bloodshed served a purpose. Sorry about the run-on sentence…
  4. Smallpox Day — This is sort of related to the idea of “Indigenous People’s Day,” but I actually have three reasons to mark the day. First, it seems to me that the most horrific public health disaster in human history (way bigger than the Black Death) was back in the 16th century when 95 percent of the native population was wiped out by European diseases for which they had no resistance — usually before the victims had even encountered the Europeans. Something so awful should be remembered. My second reason is celebratory — celebrating the fact that we’ve been so successful at wiping out the disease that a rite of passage of my childhood, the “vaccination” (that’s what we called it; we didn’t know what it was for), is unknown to today’s children. Third, as a warning — that it could come back some day, and we need to fully prepared to wipe it out again if it does. This would be on May 17, the birthday of Edward Jenner.
  5. Independence Day, July 2 — So that we’d be celebrating the actual day that Congress voted to declare independence, not the day that the document’s final edits were approved. This is personal, because John Adams is my fave Founder, and this was day that HE thought should be celebrated, after his weeks of hard work arguing the Congress into taking this momentous step — debate during which Thomas Jefferson, who gets the glory, sat there like a bump on a log. Harrumph…
One idea for celebrating Rubicon Day.

One idea for celebrating Rubicon Day.

Temple Ligon still pushing The Bridge

It’s really something when someone has a idea he really believes in, and never, ever gives up.

Remember Temple Ligon’s plan to build a convention center on a bridge across the Congaree? He’ll be talking about The Bridge again tonight, more than 30 years after he first proposed it:

Tomorrow night, Friday, beginning at 6:00 pm at the Columbia Empowerment Center on Lady Street, we’ll have a lecture on The Bridge. What began as a response to the city’s request for proposals in the spring of 1987 is now part of a major real estate development proposal that includes a five-star hotel, a Jasper Johns museum, a performing arts compound inspired by Washington’s Kennedy Center, a suggested home for the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame, and other features. Property taxes taken from the private development, mostly condominiums, out of what is now thin air over the Congaree River, can be collected as part of a tax increment bond financing development district to help build the cultural amenities. Low culture, you might say, can be exercised to support high culture. The Koger Center, an awful ballet theater and a terrible opera house – I was on the board of the Palmetto Opera for six years – stays where it is as a perfectly adequate symphony hall with a band shell that works. Still, renovation of the Koger Center is in the budget.Temple Ligon

Back in 1987, while the city was wondering what to do with a homeboy proposal of world’s first triumphal bridge in the modern era, the major hotel developer, Belz Hotels of Memphis, saw Columbia as an opportunity to build a Peabody and parade it’s ducks in the same class as the Peabody in Memphis and the Peabody in Orlando, both high-end properties. Belz committed in writing to Columbia City Council, Richland County Council, Lexington County Council, and West Columbia City Council. Copies of the Belz commitment will be available. Also available will be the blue ribbon committee report from the managing partner of South Carolina’s largest law firm, Nelson Mullins, which essentially said, “Build the Bridge.

In other words, The Bridge was wildly popular and eminently practical and thoroughly doable. It just didn’t have the initial support of the Honorable T. Patton Adams and later the support of the Honorable Robert D. Coble.

Even the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce was firmly on board. The membership was invited to vote their preference, which was reported as 65% for The Bridge, although the chamber director confided in me it was actually 75%.

So we almost had a done deal. As it turned out, we got a satisfactory convention center with good attendance and plans for expansion.

Fine. But who cares?

Now let’s get on with making a city. But who cares?

Everybody cares.

Brooks lists reasons why impeachment means trouble

David Brooks has a column today headlined “Yes, Trump Is Guilty, but Impeachment Is a Mistake,” with the subhed “This political brawl will leave Trump victorious.”

Yep. That’s quite likely. That’s why this is a bad place to be, if you want to get rid of Donald Trump.

Here’s the list of reasons Brooks offers:

  • “This will probably achieve nothing.” If you mean, he won’t be removed from office, you’re almost certain right. Two presidents in our history have been impeached, and neither was removed from office. There is no reason to think this time will be different — especially if you listen to the alternative-reality nonsense coming from the mouths of Senate Republicans.

    Brooks_New-articleInline_400x400

    David Brooks

  • “This is completely elitist.” Brooks means inherently, in that you put Trump’s fate in the hands of 100 senators instead of the voters. But elitism comes into this another way: Some of the people out there saying Trump hasn’t done anything wrong actually think that. They are low-information people who subscribe to the “They all do it” school. You sort of have to have above-average understanding of the norms of diplomacy, politics, and presidential behavior to understand how stunningly unprecedented this is, and understand that if this isn’t impeachable, it becomes hard to imagine what would be.
  • “This is not what the country wants to talk about.” Well, no, it’s not what I want to talk about, either. I want to talk about why Joe Biden must be the Democratic nominee, and must be elected. Of course, if you mean the country wants to talk about football and reality TV, you lose me. I don’t feel obliged to respect apathy.
  • “Democrats are playing Trump’s game.” Oh, yeah. Indeed. The more divided the country is, the more this parasite thrives.
  • “This process will increase public cynicism.” Yeah, maybe, among the uninformed. And that’s a lot of people.
  • “This could embed Trumpism within the G.O.P.” This is an interesting argument, and it makes some sense. It goes this way: Electoral defeat will discredit Trumpism among Republicans (if it doesn’t just crush the GOP permanently). This will harden Trump’s position as being at the heart of the party, with all the loyalists gathered ’round him.
  • “This could distort the Democratic primary process.” Yep, and in unpredictable ways.

Of course, in the end, if I were a House member — of either party, or (my preference) no party — I don’t think I would feel like I had an alternative. Sure, you know he’s not going to be removed from office, and given that we’ve seen over and over that his supporters are impervious to reason, it will greatly increase his chances of being re-elected.

But the Constitution charges the House with a responsibility. And it’s hard for me to see how the House walks away from that responsibility, in light of what Trump has done. You can’t just act like, yeah, it’s OK to do that and still be president. You have to say, “No!”

This is a terrible moment to be a House member. And a worse moment for the country….

If you don’t like ‘The West Wing,’ who cares what you think?

If you don't like 'The West Wing,' you don't like America.

If you don’t like ‘The West Wing,’ you don’t like America.

Saw this in the Post this morning. The headline grabbed me: “A modest defense of ‘The West Wing’.”

First, it grabbed me because I’ll read anything about “The West Wing.” Ask Google; it knows this, based on the items it keeps showing me. Second, it grabbed me because someone thought it necessary to defend “The West Wing.” Finally, my mind was boggled by the idea that someone who thought it needed defending would would do so only modestly.

As I said on Twitter:

So anyway, I read the piece, and was not mollified. You can tell why from the subhed: “The show was not perfect, but it’s way better than 2019 Democrats remember it.”

Not perfect? Say, whaaaat?

First, my scorn was engaged because the people who criticize the show are apparently the kids who think AOC is cool, and conventional postwar liberalism sucks. They’re the ones who have no tolerance of anyone who disagrees with them about anything. They look forward to getting 50 percent plus 1 so they can cram their policy proposals down the world’s throat, and they blame their elders for having thus far failed to do that. They’re the ones who, laughably, think they discovered social justice and are qualified to lecture people who were alive in the ’60s about it.

They’re the ones who…

… minor digression here…

I’ve been watching the new Ken Burns series about country music, and thinking about writing about it, pondering what I like and don’t like about it (for instance, it concerns me that it only seems interested in Country as an economic phenomenon, starting with the first practitioners to have success with radio and recording, largely ignoring the centuries of folkways that went before). But before writing about it, I was curious what others were thinking. So when I saw there was a review on Slate, I eagerly read it.

The reviewer also has a problem with it. The problem is that it’s made by Ken Burns, “and his compulsion to transform conflict and difficulty into visions of reconciliation and unity is vintage white baby boomer liberalism.”

Oh, give it a rest, kids. That constitutes an argument?

Anyway, it’s people like that with whom the writer in the Post is remonstrating, oh, so gently.

And again, it needs no defense. The only question is, is “West Wing” the greatest TV show ever, or does something else edge it out?

I come down on the side of “greatest ever.” Or at least, greatest drama. Or at least, greatest drama ever in the last 20 years, this Golden Age.

As I said before, the Top Five are:

  1. “The West Wing”
  2. “Band of Brothers”
  3. “The Sopranos”
  4. “The Wire”
  5. “Breaking Bad”

At least, those were the Top Five, back in June. Since then, Bryan got me to start watching “Friday Night Lights,” and I’m really enjoying it (in spite of the, you know, football theme) during my morning workouts on the elliptical. In fact, I’m now in the middle of the 5th season, and sorry that it will be ending soon.

When it does, I’ll report back on whether it makes the Top Five. But I’ll tell you, “Breaking Bad” may be in trouble…

But will it make the Top Five?

It’s great, and I’m really digging it, but will it make the Top Five?

Further proof, in case you needed it, that Trump supporters are anything but ‘conservative’

Donald_Trump_rally_in_Cedar_Rapids_(June_2017)_09

Warning: This piece contains the word, “nihilism.” That’s for Doug, who hates it when I use that word in this context. But it’s the right word.

That’s why it was included in the subhed to this Thomas Edsall story, as follows: “Political nihilism is one of the president’s strongest weapons.”

Bottom line is, while you might call Trump voters many things, no one with a respect for the English language would call them “conservative.”

The Edsall piece is about a paper presented last week at the American Political Science Association. Guessing that y’all probably did not attend (while this sort of thing is Tom Edsall’s bag, baby), I thought I’d bring the paper to y’all’s attention. The title was “A ‘Need for Chaos’ and the Sharing of Hostile Political Rumors in Advanced Democracies.”

We’ve all read elsewhere the assertion that people voted for Trump out of a deep-seated urge to blow up the system, but these two Danish political scientists, Michael Bang Petersen and Mathias Osmundsen, dug into the phenomenon more deeply that most. In short, they argue “that a segment of the American electorate that was once peripheral is drawn to ‘chaos incitement’ and that this segment has gained decisive influence through the rise of social media.”

Here’s the core of the piece:

How do Petersen, Osmundsen and Arceneaux measure this “need for chaos”? They conducted six surveys, four in the United States, in which they interviewed 5157 participants, and two in Denmark, with 1336. They identified those who are “drawn to chaos” through their affirmative responses to the following statements:

  • I fantasize about a natural disaster wiping out most of humanity such that a small group of people can start all over.

  • I think society should be burned to the ground.

  • When I think about our political and social institutions, I cannot help thinking “just let them all burn.”

  • We cannot fix the problems in our social institutions, we need to tear them down and start over.

  • Sometimes I just feel like destroying beautiful things.

Disturbing stuff. Like, “Helter-Skelter” disturbing. The piece continues:

In an email, Petersen wrote that preliminary examination of the data shows “that the ‘need for chaos’ correlates positively with sympathy for Trump but also — although less strongly — with sympathy for Sanders. It correlates negatively with sympathy for Hillary Clinton.”

In their paper, Petersen, Osmundsen and Arceneaux contend that “the extreme discontent expressed in the ‘Need for Chaos’ scale is a minority view but it is a minority view with incredible amounts of support.”

The responses to three of the statements in particular were “staggering,” the paper says: 24 percent agreed that society should be burned to the ground; 40 percent concurred with the thought that “When it comes to our political and social institutions, I cannot help thinking ‘just let them all burn’ ”; and 40 percent also agreed that “we cannot fix the problems in our social institutions, we need to tear them down and start over.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we’re on about when we use the word “nihilism.”

Note the bit about Bernie. Most of us sensed that his 2016 campaign was driven by some of the same destructive energy that drove Trump’s, but this provides some further evidence on that point.

Anyway, it’s an interesting piece, and you might want to read the whole thing

Yep, young people think differently. And they’re wrong.

Reading Nicholas Kristof’s latest column this morning, “Stop the Knee-Jerk Liberalism That Hurts Its Own Cause,” I was reminded of several things. Such as, for instance, Bret Stephens’ column after the Democratic debates last week, “A Wretched Start for Democrats:”

In this week’s Democratic debates, it wasn’t just individual candidates who presented themselves to the public. It was also the party itself. What conclusions should ordinary people draw about what Democrats stand for, other than a thunderous repudiation of Donald Trump, and how they see America, other than as a land of unscrupulous profiteers and hapless victims?

Here’s what: a party that makes too many Americans feel like strangers in their own country….

For liberals out there who want to dismiss whatever Stephens says because he’s a conservative, allow me to tell you why you’re wrong (I’m in that kind of mood): You should listen to Bret Stephens because he is the kind of person who will decide whether Donald Trump is re-elected. Stephens voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 to try to stop Trump. (Several months later, he left The Wall Street Journal, where he was deputy editorial page editor, for The New York Times.)

Stephens has been begging Democrats to nominate someone he — and other conservatives, and independents — can vote for next year. Which is why his column before the one referenced above defended Joe Biden from the criticism he was getting over having worked with segregationists. Joe is a candidate, if not the candidate, non-Democrats can embrace. (The other candidates fell over each other trying to demonstrate that in the debates last week.) Which is an essential prerequisite to turning Donald Trump out of office.

But the association with the Stephens piece was based just on Kristof’s headline. As I got into the piece, I realize it had far more in common with a column written by David Brooks — another of the NYT’s in-house conservatives — two months ago. It was headlined “Understanding Student Mobbists.” I wanted to write about that one at the time, but it was hard to explain without quoting practically the whole thing, and I don’t want the NYT’s lawyers coming down on me for copyright infringement.

So before you read what I have to say about it, I urge you to go read the whole thing.

Then, I urge to go read all of Kristof’s latest piece.

Done? OK, then you probably see what I mean about them having a lot in common.

They’re both about how very, very differently “woke” young people in 2019 think about practically everything, but especially social justice issues. And when I say “think differently,” I don’t just mean holding different opinions, arriving at different conclusions. I’m saying the way they think is different — their brains operate in an entirely different fashion. The little cogs and gears turn in different directions, or whatever metaphor you prefer.

Both Brooks and Kristof bent over backwards to give the kids’ thought processes great deference (something the kinds of people they’re writing about would almost certainly not do with regard to the way these elders think), but neither quite succeeds in hiding how appalled he is.

That’s because the youthful phenomenon they’re discussing is a rejection, by the most fashionable current “progressives,” of fundamental principles of liberalism, principles upon which all the progress that Western civilization has yet achieved depend.

Some key excerpts from the Brooks piece:

I would begin my stab at understanding by acknowledging that I grew up in one era and they grew up in another. I came of age in the 1980s. In that time, there was an assumption that though the roots of human society were deep in tribalism, over the past 3,000 years we have developed a system of liberal democracy that gloriously transcended it, that put reason, compassion and compromise atop violence and brute force….

But certain things happened to cause the young to reject that worldview. The first was a reshaping of the way we talk about race. Then:

The second thing that happened was that reason, apparently, ceased to matter. Today’s young people were raised within an educational ideology that taught them that individual reason and emotion were less important than perspectivism — what perspective you bring as a white man, a black woman, a transgender Mexican, or whatever.david-brooks-thumbLarge-v2

These students were raised with the idea that individual reason is downstream from group identity….

If you were born after 1990, it’s not totally shocking that you would see public life as an inevitable war of tribe versus tribe…

A war being fought not within the moderating institutions of a liberal democracy, but in a Hobbesian state of nature, one assumes.

Anyway, let’s turn to the Kristof piece…

No, wait. First, I want to refer you to a podcast I heard not long after the Brooks piece ran, which provides a nice bridge. It was an episode of “Invisibilia” called, “The End Of Empathy.”

The role of Brooks and Kristof is played in this podcast by co-host Hannah Rosin. Again, if you have time (like, 52 minutes of time), you might want to listen to the whole thing. But to try to encapsulate it for you… A young contributor researched and presented a story for the podcast about a member of the “incel” movement who presents himself as having outgrown that, and is trying to move forward as something other than a woman-hater. But in the end, she — the contributor — can’t bring herself to see things his way and accept his version of himself.

“And why?” she asks. “Like, why should we see ourselves in him?”

Rosen’s partial response (the podcast goes on and on):

Why? Where did I get this idea that my job is to get you to empathize with a guy like Jack Peterson? When I was growing up, empathy was a kind of unquestioned thing. Like, of course, it was good. It was like puppies or sunshine….

I never thought of empathy as an ideology or creed, but I’ve since learned it was. Empathy was this obscure, psychobabble-y term up until the ’60s and ’70s. Social scientists and psychologists started to push it into the culture, basically, out of fear. Their idea was we were either headed for World War III or empathy. We were all going to kill each other or we were going to learn to see the world through each other’s eyes….

That’s what I learned about how you make the world better. Encounter a person you’re unfamiliar with or afraid of or even repulsed by. Don’t duck. Move closer. Figure out what they’re all about….

Starting 10 or 15 years ago, students just stopped buying the automatic logic of empathy. Like, why should they put themselves in the shoes of someone who is not them, much less someone they thought was harmful?

There’ve been surveys given to cross sections of high school and college students starting in the late ’60s….

And starting around 2000, the line starts to dip for all dimensions of empathy – either just understanding someone’s position, which is called perspective taking, and empathic concern, the one about tender feelings. More students start saying it’s not their problem to help people in trouble, not their job to see the world from someone else’s perspective….

Because if you do lose your conviction, you might not have the energy to march in the streets or get better laws to protect women from dangerous exes.

So the new rule is reserve it – not for your, quote, unquote, “enemies” but for the people you believe are hurt or you have decided need it the most – for the victims, for your own damn team. That’s how you make things better….

“Your own damn’ team.” That puts it pretty starkly. Lot of that going around… Now to the Kristof column. He writes of an argument that he had with his daughter while they were tossing around a football (I include that detail for those of you who thing we don’t have enough sports on this blog):

We were discussing a Harvard law professor, Ronald Sullivan. He had been pushed out of his secondary job as head of Harvard College’s Winthrop House after he helped give Harvey Weinstein, accused of sexual assault, the legal representation every defendant is entitled to.nicholas-kristof-thumbLarge-v2

To me, as a progressive baby boomer, this was a violation of hard-won liberal values, a troubling example of a university monoculture nurturing liberal intolerance. Of course no professor should be penalized for accepting an unpopular client.

To my daughter, of course a house dean should not defend a notorious alleged rapist. As she saw it, any professor is welcome to represent any felon, but not while caring for undergraduates: How can a house leader support students traumatized by sexual assault when he is also defending someone accused of rape?…

Progressives of my era often revere the adage misattributed to Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” For young progressives, the priority is more about standing up to perceived racism, misogyny, Islamophobia and bigotry….

Kristof concludes:

As we head toward elections with monumental consequences, polarization will increase and mutual fear will surge. The challenge will be to stand up for our values — without betraying them.

I’ll do like Brooks and Kristof (who at least tried not to judge the young folks) to the extent of saying, of course you defend sexual assault victims, with all your might. But in doing so, you don’t throw out such liberal values as the right of the accused to counsel, or making the effort to see another person’s perspective, or trying to find common ground that you can build on.

If you reject those liberal values, and call yourself “progressive,” your brain isn’t working right. Which is why, in the end, I have to conclude that you’re wrong

OK, I have now heard the word ‘progressive’ used too many times. You can stop saying it now. Please…

argument

For many years, the word was “conservative.” It was said so often — generally by a politician seeking to ingratiate himself with people who don’t think much about words but for some reason love clinging to that one — that it was like fingernails on a blackboard for me.

It still is. It’s still hugely popular here in S.C., waved as a proud banner by people who have no business associating with the word — people who identify with Donald Trump or the Tea Party or the Freedom Caucus or some other phenomenon that bears no relationship to the sobriety of actual conservatism.

It gets used as a password. It is brandished to say, “I am an acceptable person, like you.” It performs a function like that of the word “Christian” in the early 19th century — referring not to a set of religious beliefs, but to a state of being a normal, acceptable person of reasonable breeding and education, someone who knows the ropes of life in Western civilization. Patrick O’Brian used it to mild comic effect in his Aubrey/Maturin novels. The sailors in that world would lament the fact that the perpetual landlubber Stephen Maturin never could learn to board a ship “like a Christian,” which was to say, like a normal person of basic good sense. He was always contriving to fall into the water instead.

Anyway, “conservative” gets used kind of like that, only it’s more obnoxious.

I’ve tried dealing with it with humor, but sometimes it’s just not funny. Sometimes it’s downright nasty, used to try to separate the world into people who are acceptable and those who are not. In any case, it continues to occupy a lofty position on my list of peeves.

And now, another word is laboring mightily to catch up to it: “progressive.”

Again, it’s a slippery word. It’s meant many things, sometimes apparently contradictory things. It’s been attached to muckraking authors in the early 1900s, and Teddy Roosevelt. I also associate it with a sort of early- to mid-20th century form of pro-business boosterism, connecting capitalism with human “progress.” Then, 30 years or so ago (did it predate Reagan, or follow him?), it became something liberals called themselves because the rise of “conservative” came with a denigration of the otherwise innocent word “liberal.”

At that point, it seemed to be trying to suggest a particularly mild, moderate, nonthreatening form of liberalism, as in, “Don’t be scared! We’re not liberals; we’re just progressive!”

Now, it’s gone in another direction. Now, it’s used to refer to people for whom liberalism — certainly the beleaguered postwar liberal consensus — is not enough. It attaches to socialists, and socialist wannabes. It suggests a fierce, uncompromising leftward march. (And ominously, it suggests the element in the Democratic Party that seems determined to blow the nation’s chance of turning Donald Trump out of office in 2020.)

And it’s reached its saturation point with me.

This happened suddenly, while I was listening to a podcast while on a walk yesterday.

I was listening to an episode of “The Argument,” the NYT podcast featuring opinion writers David Leonhardt, Ross Douthat and Michelle Goldberg. It was one that I’d missed a couple of weeks ago, featuring an extensive conversation with Pete Buttigieg.Buttigieg

I recommend you go listen to it. I learned some things about Buttigieg and formed a fuller opinion of him. In short, here’s what I’ve decided thus far: I like the guy, but when he talks specifics about policy, I disagree with him on one thing after another. (Which is bad from his point of view, since he likes to project himself as a substance-over-style guy.) And not just the wacky stuff, like expanding the Supreme Court, or (the horror!) the size of the U.S. House of Representatives. (Did I hear that last one right? I’m finding proposals to do that on Google, but not associated with Mayor Pete…)

Also — and I’d heard this before about him — while he talks a good game on getting past the Culture War, time and again it sounds like he believes the way to end the conflict is for everyone to accept that his side has won the arguments. He does this on a number of issues, but one that sticks in my mind is his bland assertion that the nation, and even folks in Alabama, are closer to his doctrinaire pro-choice position on abortion than they are to the recent anti-abortion measure passed there.

That one sticks in my mind because just that morning before hearing this, I had conincidentally read something by one of the hosts of The Argument, David Leonhardt. It was about the fact that polls show we are as divided as ever on abortion, that “Public opinion isn’t where either side wants it to be.” Look at the numbers. Clearly, no one — neither Buttigieg nor someone with a diametrically opposed position on the issue — should be congratulating himself or herself on having won that national argument.

But let’s get back to my point. Time and again, whenever the mayor wanted to speak of ideas or proposals or attitudes or people that were agreeable to him, he used that word: “progressive.” It seemed to sum up rightness and goodness for him, very neatly.

And at some point — I don’t know know exactly how many times he’d said it when this happened — I reached my saturation point. I’d heard the word too many times.

So, everyone do me a favor: If you want to propose an idea, argue the idea on its merits. Tell me why it’s a good idea. Telling me it’s “progressive” or “conservative” gets you nowhere with me, and in fact will dig you down into a hole you’ll have to work to climb out of.

Words should encourage people to think. But these two are used too often now as a substitute for thought, as a signal to members of a tribe that they shouldn’t bother straining their brains, because this idea has the official seal of approval.

I just thought I’d let y’all know where I am on this now…

The Post’s Fact Checker on pre-Roe abortion death rates

four pinocchios

I’m raising this because I found it fascinating when I saw it yesterday, for several reasons. I’m hoping to be able to raise it independently of our respective views on abortion, because this is interesting wherever you are on the spectrum.

That may be overly optimistic on my part, but here goes…

Basically The Washington Post‘s Fact Checker team took a look at the frequent claim from Planned Parenthood and other groups that if abortion bans being enacted in various states succeed in overturning Roe v. Wade, then we’ll be “going to go back in time to a time before Roe when thousands of women died every year.”

Fact Checker ended up giving the claim Four Pinocchios, which is its harshest rating of a falsehood. Having cited that, though, I urge you to read the whole thing, because the numbers are complicated and often murky, so judge the data for yourself.

For my part, I’ll make several observations:

  • As y’all know, I’m a words guy. I try to appreciate the point of view of my numbers-oriented friends out there, even though I think their insistence on reducing everything to digits can lead arguments astray on many issues. In this case, I’ve always looked askance at the numbers, whether someone is claiming the number is high or the number is low — not because I don’t think numbers are important in this instance, but because I think they are unknowable with any precision. You’re trying to count something that happened in the shadows, a dubious exercise at best. So while I see the Post‘s finding as interesting, I don’t necessarily see it as Gospel.
  • Any deaths are too many. Of course as you know (and here’s the only place I’ll refer to my views on abortion) to me every abortion is a death, and a tragedy. If the mother dies as well, then the tragedy is that much more horrific — and yes, more than twice as tragic. It should be society’s adamant goal to prevent that from happening ever. No one’s ideology should get in the way of that.
  • To that point, perhaps the most interesting data points in the piece are these: “In 1972, the number of deaths in the United States from legal abortions was 24 and from illegal abortions 39, according to the CDC.” So aside from the overall number being far, far less than “thousands” (which is the main point of the piece), it turns out that where abortion was legal, there were still more than 60 percent as many deaths as there were where it was illegal. Make of that what you will.
  • That year, 1972, is particularly relevant to the debate, because as the piece points out, a post-Roe America would most likely be most comparable to the time immediately before Roe, rather than to the decades before that (when the estimates of deaths were much higher). The main commonality is this: At that time, abortion was legal in some states and illegal in others. If Roe suddenly disappeared, I expect we’d return to a situation like that one — although my guess is that it would likely be legal in more places than it was then.

Finally, here’s the point that drew me as a journalist, and I hope it is not entirely lost among the media’s detractors: I realize that few critics of the Trumpista variety are likely to ever read this, but it they did they would see as effective a demonstration of this newspaper’s fairness regardless of whose sacred cows get gored. It’s hard to imagine a Fact Checker verdict more likely to cause distress to the political left, which the press supposedly shills for.

So I hope somebody on the right notices it, and has his or her prejudice lessened at least a bit.

Anyway, as I said, it’s interesting on a number of levels, so I thought I’d share it.

David Brooks is exactly right today about Joe

his Joeness

In today’s column, David Brooks gets Joe Biden exactly right.

The headline is “Your Average American Joe.

The subhed is, “Biden is not an individualist.”

Absolutely. And amen to that.

An excerpt from the end:

… The character issue will play out in all sorts of subterranean and powerful ways this election. We have lost our love for ourselves as a people, a faith in our basic goodness, and this loss of faith has been a shock. A lot of voters want to raise their children in an atmosphere marked by decency and compassion, not narcissistic savagery. Values are central to this race.

Here is what is subtly different about Biden. He’s not an individualist. He is a member. He belongs to his family; his hometown, Scranton; his Democratic Party; his Senate; his nation, and is inexplicable without those roots. He used the word “we” 16 times in his short video announcing his candidacy.

Some candidates will run promising transformational change. Biden offers a restoration of the values that bind us as a collective.

Yes! I could have done without the word “collective;” as it brings to mind the AOCs and Bernies of the world, and that’s definitely not who Joe is. I’d have gone with “a community,” or “a people.”

But otherwise, very nicely done.

We communitarian types may not have a party, but we have a candidate…

Cindi Scoppe at Rotary today

cindi speak

Two different members of my old Rotary Club invited me to come back as their guests today, because Cindi Scoppe was the speaker.

So I went. And she did great.

She addressed the questions people like us hear the most from laypeople. I forget how she stated them (What? You think I should take notes?), but they’re the questions like, What’s happening to my newspaper? Will it be here in the future? What does this mean for democracy? And so forth.

Originally when she agreed to speak on this date, she was unemployed after being laid off by The State. But before today rolled ’round, she had started with the Charleston paper. So one thing she did today was explain why Charleston is in hiring mode — not only that, but expanding its staff — when The State has now thrown its entire editorial department overboard.

It’s a simple answer, which she stated simply: The Post and Courier belongs to a family-owned company that is highly diversified and isn’t dependent on newspaper income to keep going. And The State belongs to a publicly-traded corporation that has to produce for shareholders.

Oh, and there’s one other critical element: The owners of the Charleston paper have resolved to use their advantageous position to produce good journalism as a public service to South Carolina. She said one of the last things she did in the interview process for the job was meet with Pierre Manigault, the member of the family who currently runs the business. And she thought then that whether she got the job or not, she felt blessed to have met someone with that intention, and the means of carrying it out. Because there aren’t many people possessing those two characteristics these days.

By the way, a digression… I noted above that The State “has now thrown its entire editorial department overboard.” That brings me to a form of the question I’ve heard uncounted times over the past decade…

People have asked me over and over, after saying how much they miss me from the paper, and how the paper is shrinking away to nothing, the following version of question Cindi was answering: “Do you think The State will still exist in five years?”

Until recently, I’ve answered that this way: Do you think the paper you knew five years ago still exists today? Which is a pedantic way of saying hey, things have already changed radically, so decide for yourself at which point you think the thing you think of as “the newspaper” ceases to be what it has meant to you.

But we’ve crossed a threshold now. As of the day Cindi was let go, The State ceased to be the paper it had been, with ups and downs, ever since the Gonzales brothers started it, intending it to be a paper with statewide impact that stood for something. (At the time, that meant standing against Tillmanism — a cause for which N.G. Gonzales gave his life.)

Newspapers have always mattered to me, and to the country — whether the country appreciates them or not. But when I say “newspaper,” I don’t necessarily mean a thing that is printed on sheets made of dead trees. In fact, as early as about 1980 — at the time when we made the transition from typewriters to mainframe — I fantasized about a day when I could just hit a button and have the copy go instantly to the reader in electronic form, as easily as I sent it over to the copy desk. No more tedious 19th-century manufacturing and delivery process taking hours between me and the reader.

And now that’s not only possible, it happens many times every day. But in far too many communities, the newspaper — meant the way I mean it, as an identifiable entity that plays a significant role in a community (no matter how its delivered) — is a thing of the past.

A newspaper, as I mean it, is a thing with a mind, a soul, a voice, an identity, a consciousness. It has things to say, and says them. It provides a forum for discussing public issues in a civil and productive manner.

And once a newspaper ceases to have an editorial voice, it’s not a newspaper, as I think of the concept.

You may have noticed that since Cindi has been gone, some days The State publishes an “opinion page” and some days it doesn’t. But frankly, does it matter? Because when it does, there are no editorials — just syndicated copy you can read elsewhere, and some letters. There’s nothing where the paper says, “Here’s what we think,” and invites you to say what you think back.

I say this not to run down the hard work that the good folks who still work at The State do, from the young reporters who now cover state politics (with whom I interacted a lot during the campaign) to the few remaining veterans like John Monk (who introduced Cindi today), Sammy Fretwell and Jeff Wilkinson. They’re working harder than ever, and producing information of value, and may they long continue to do so.

And I’m perfectly aware that the world is full of people — including a lot of journalists — who saw no value in the editorial page, who interacted with it no more deeply than to say, “Did you see what those idiots said today?” If that.

But at least the idiots said something. They didn’t just regurgitate what happened. They thought about it to the best of their feeble ability to think, and shared what they thought, and stood behind it. And that means a lot to me. I decided long ago, even before I left the news division to work on the editorial page back in 1994, that I preferred learning things from sources that had something to say about the subject at hand. It didn’t matter so much what they said about it — I might think their editorial point was totally off the mark — but they engaged the news on a different level, a deeper level, and they invited my lazy brain to do the same. That was more valuable to me than “straight” reporting, which by its nature engages the news on a more superficial level.

Also, you should know, in The State’s defense, that when it abandoned its editorial role last fall, it just joined the trend. When The Post and Courier contacted me to arrange James Smith’s endorsement interview with their editorial board, I thought I might as well start reaching out to other papers and arranging such meetings with them, too. Work, work, work. But as I did so, I had a creeping feeling there wouldn’t be any more such meetings. And I was right. I called The Greenville News. They told me they not only didn’t do endorsements any more, they didn’t do other editorials, either. Ditto with the Spartanburg Herald-Journal. I didn’t contact any smaller papers, figuring if they were exceptions to the rule, they’d reach out to me. I had plenty of other work to do, and it was — to someone like me, being who I am and valuing what I value — a singularly depressing exercise.

End of digression.

Anyway, Cindi did a great job, and represented the profession — the much diminished profession — in a way that did credit to us all. Even if very few of us are still around and employed, I’m glad she’s one of the few. But y’all probably already knew that…

Cindi and me

Anna Karenina and Goldilocks

Something I was working on this morning for ADCO — it had to do with family court law — got me to thinking about Tolstoy.

Congratulate me, because I managed, through great exertion, to restrain myself from quoting the first line of Anna Karenina in the copy I was writing for the client:

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

I knew that line, although I didn’t know it was in Anna Karenina. We were supposed to read that novel in one of my high school English classes, but I never did (although I can tell you what it’s about — I may have escaped reading it, but I couldn’t escape the class discussion). But I knew the line; it’s just one of those things you pick up over the years.

And I’ve always thought Tolstoy had it backwards. And Tolstoy’s own next paragraph (which I looked up just now) supports my position better than his:

Tolstoy

Tolstoy

Everything was in confusion in the Oblonskys’ house. The wife had discovered that the husband was carrying on an intrigue with a French girl, who had been a governess in their family, and she had announced to her husband that she could not go on living in the same house with him. This position of affairs had now lasted three days, and not only the husband and wife themselves, but all the members of their family and household, were painfully conscious of it. Every person in the house felt that there was so sense in their living together, and that the stray people brought together by chance in any inn had more in common with one another than they, the members of the family and household of the Oblonskys. The wife did not leave her own room, the husband had not been at home for three days. The children ran wild all over the house; the English governess quarreled with the housekeeper, and wrote to a friend asking her to look out for a new situation for her; the man-cook had walked off the day before just at dinner time; the kitchen-maid, and the coachman had given warning.

Nicely written, but what a trite situation! This family is not “unhappy in its own way.” If you tried to come up with a cliche for how a family becomes unhappy, this would be it. It’s the very first thing anyone would think of. Infidelity. How original.

Whereas I think happy families have to find their own way to being happy. No family is perfect, so each person in it has to negotiate around all the things that are “wrong” in order to achieve harmony. Each person makes adjustments in his or her expectations; they make peace with the complexities of interpersonal relationships. And all those complex factors make for unique paths to happiness.

Of course, I suppose all that could be summarized simply with a word such as “forbearance” just as one could sum up the Oblonsky’s unhappiness with “infidelity.” But still, my point is that there’s no greater sameness among happy families than among unhappy ones. Among each set, there are both common and uncommon factors.

Now if he’d said, “Unhappy families are more interesting than happy families, if you’re a novelist,” I’d have gotten his point. Plot calls for conflict. But that’s not what he said. Or at least, that’s not the way it’s been translated.

The line is a good opener, like “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife,” or “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

I’ve just always thought it was wrong.

Others are more impressed by it. In fact, I learned today, it is the basis of something called “the Anna Karenina principle.” (Maybe I’d have learned it back in 1970 if I’d read the book. Or maybe not.) According to Wikipedia, it goes like this:

In other words: in order to be happy, a family must be successful with respect to every one of a range of criteria, including sexual attraction, money issues, parenting, religion, and relations with in-laws. Failure on only one of these counts leads to unhappiness. Thus, there are more ways for a family to be unhappy than happy.

In statistics, the term Anna Karenina principle is used to describe significance tests: there are any number of ways in which a dataset may violate the null hypothesisand only one in which all the assumptions are satisfied.

This principle is in fact used to explain all sorts of things. But I noticed something odd… there was no mention of “Goldilocks planets,” or the lack of such hospitable places. It seems that the rarity of planets that could sustain human life would be the perfect illustration of the Karenina principle: Everything has to be “just right” — gravity, temperature, atmosphere, chemical composition, distance from its star — to produce a “happy” planet where we could live. All planets that support human life would be remarkably alike. But fail in any one of a list of key criteria and, unhappily, you can’t live there.

Right?

Anyway, I failed to find on Google where anyone had pointed out the relationship between the two concepts. So I thought I would.

That’s all. I’ll go away now…

Dear Democrats: Stop talking about ways to rig the system; give me reasons to vote for you

stupid questions

Joe Biden has the right idea, staying out of it so far. At least he hasn’t had to answer the Stupid Question of the Day. Not that he doesn’t get answered questions, and not that they aren’t awkward. But at least he doesn’t yet have to pick a position on no-win litmus-test questions.

At least, he didn’t in this story.

I was thinking that when I saw the above array of candidates, and noticed that Joe wasn’t pictured, despite being, you know, the front-runner in the polls. And then I looked at what the story was about and realized he lucked out there. The headline and a link: Kill the electoral college? Stack the Supreme Court? Frustrated Democrats push ideas for rewiring U.S. politics.

I have one overall answer to the questions being posed by and to Democrats: Stop trying to change the rules. If you can’t come up with a candidate who can beat Trump — under the present rules — then maybe you deserve to lose. Or maybe the country is so far gone that it can’t be saved anyway.

But just to show I don’t dodge the tough (but stupid) questions, here are my answers:

  1. Do you support eliminating the electoral college in favor of the popular vote? No. But if you want to talk seriously about returning the college to the way Hamilton et al. envisioned it — you might get me on board.
  2. Should Democrats eliminate the Senate filibuster the next time they control of Congress? Eliminate it how? I need details. I think it’s ridiculous to have to get 60 votes to pass anything, but I’m sentimental enough about “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” to hesitate at eliminating a minority’s way of being heard.
  3. Would you support adding justices to ‘pack’ the Supreme Court? No. And please, whether you’re on the left or the right, stop maneuvering to impose your political will on a body that is supposed to be immune to such — that’s its role.
  4. Would you support term limits for Supreme Court justices? Absolutely not. The court must remain independent, and lifetime appointment is the best mechanism I can think of for protecting it from the predations of the political branches.
  5. Should citizens be automatically registered to vote when they turn 18? No. But if you’d like to make the age 28 — or maybe 38 — I might be tempted to make a deal with you.
  6. Should Election Day be a national holiday? I don’t care. Although it seems to me that federal workers get enough days off already. Populists will label me a blue meanie for this, but I’m not convinced that people who really want to vote can’t do so currently. Maybe you can present enough evidence to the contrary to change my mind.
  7. Should Washington, D.C., be granted statehood? No. Let me explain the concept behind the District of Columbia, as I understand it: The United States is a union of, you know, states. It’s a good idea for the capital of the country to be on neutral ground. That neutral ground is the District of Columbia. To have another state that consists entirely of the nation’s capital would be weird, and I suspect unwise, on a number of levels. It would be awkward. The other states would likely make fun of it.
  8. Should Puerto Rico be granted statehood? I’m ambivalent. Needs study.
  9. Should the voting age be lowered from 18 to 16? You’re joking, right? See my answer to No. 5. Seems to me the electorate hasn’t been exhibiting a great deal of maturity lately, and this would be the opposite of a good way to fix the problem.
  10. Should all formerly incarcerated people be granted the right to vote? Another one on which I need more info. Certainly in the abstract I agree with the idea that once someone has paid his debt to society, etc… And I’m certainly concerned about how black men, for instance, have historically been over-represented in our prisons. But I need to know more about which felons are currently denied a pathway to the franchise, and why. Maybe some of y’all can enlighten me. If it’s just a matter of certain people not wanting those people to vote (which would seem to be the reason why we’re hearing about this), then I’m with you on making the change.

OK, so not all the questions are stupid. But most of them are. And even the ones that aren’t stupid tend to play stupid in our politics today, with answers being based on the passions of one crowd or another and not on reason.

Perhaps unfairly, I’m lumping in these questions with questions like “Do you want to abolish ICE?,” which I got asked during the campaign even though it had NOTHING to do with being governor, and everything to do with trying to back a candidate into a corner.

Maybe it’s an unfair association. But then again, since that pretended to be about an actual issue, maybe these questions are worse.

Anyway, tell me what sort of president you would be. Talk to me about some real issue — health care, or the real biggie, international relations. Or cite what it is in your background that qualifies you and make me trust you. Don’t bore me with talk about re-rigging elections themselves to try to give this or that group a greater advantage. Just play the game straight, please…

How can ANYONE think Trump has been vindicated?

I didn’t play very close attention to the Mueller investigation, because I didn’t hold out hope that it would save the nation from Trumpism. I had my doubts that it would turn up anything that result in impeachment — and even if it did, and he was removed from office, his followers would never, ever believe he was removed legitimately. And the disaffection and division in the country — the factors that gave us Trump — would be more bitter than ever.

So while I saw Mueller as an honest and honorable man who would do his best, I wasn’t particularly invested in the outcome. And I worried that a lot of people were placing too much emphasis on it.

But now that it’s over, and the attorney general says Mueller concluded it cannot be proved that Trump criminally conspired with Russia — but took a pass on obstruction of justice — it is rather amazing to see the way Trump touts this as compete exoneration. And his fan base is gullible enough to cheer him at a rally at which he gloats about it.

And despite all the foolishness that has gone before, lowering our expectations, this is still rather amazing.

Let’s just take stock for a moment. In a comment on a previous thread, Mr. Smith provides a link to a column by Michael Gerson, a conservative Republican columnist. You should read the whole thing. It starts like this:

A thought experiment: Suppose that on March 24 — the day Attorney General William P. Barr publicly summarized the Mueller report — all of the results of the special counsel’s probe that have dribbled out over the past two years had been revealed at once.

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson

Americans would have discovered that a hostile foreign power had engaged in major intelligence operations designed to elect Donald Trump — something consistently denied by the president himself.

In this hypothetical, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III would have simultaneously announced the indictment of 34 Russians and Americans — a network of espionage and corruption including hackers, Russian military officers and high-level operatives of the 2016 Trump campaign.

Suppose the report had revealed that 14 Trump associates had been in contact with Russian nationals, including the president’s son, who had met with Russian operatives in an attempt to gain information harmful to Hillary Clinton’s campaign….

I would go on, but I’m probably pushing the envelope on Fair Use. And you get the picture. The headline of the piece is “Trump may not be a Russian agent. He’s just a Russian stooge.” Which pretty much states the case, although it lets Trump off the hook in that it doesn’t mention everything else we’ve learned about him and the collection of rogues and clowns with which he surrounds himself. Such are the limitations of a headline.

There are other columns out there like this one; this is just the most recent I have read. And I’m thinking it would be interesting to get someone who was cheering Trump at that rally yesterday to read it, and then tell us: Which of the facts Mr. Gerson cites is a “hoax” or “fake news?”

The exercise would accomplish nothing, of course. The Trump base is immune to reason.

My beef with the newest NYT app

The old app: This is the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, I like it...

The old app: This is the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, I like it…

Being invited by email to complete a survey for The New York Times, I said this when they asked me why I liked reading the paper best on my iPad app:

It works well for me. But I prefer the old app to the new one, for the simple fact that I can see the name of the author of an opinion piece before clicking on it. That’s important to me, because there are certain columnists I don’t want to miss. I have no idea why that feature is missing in the new app.

See what I did there? I told them what I didn’t like about it, even though they didn’t ask that. I’d been looking for a chance to get that gripe in, and I figured this was my chance. I’m putting it on my blog now on the slim chance that it might get to the attention of someone who can do something about it this way.

It’s a small thing, but it makes a big difference in my enjoyment of the paper, as well as in its usefulness to me.

The NYT keeps trying to get me to read the new app. Although I have it on my iPad, I don't. And won't, as long as the old one works.

The NYT keeps trying to get me to use the new app. Although I have it on my iPad, I don’t. And won’t, as long as the old one works.

Over the years, I have come to spend most of my time interacting with newspapers reading the opinion pages. I prefer that to “straight” news. I like getting my information within the context of an argument. Don’t just tell me who, what, where… tell me what you think of it, and I’ll decide what I think of what you think of it.

This is a deeper way of engaging with news than reading the front page. I’ve written about this a number of times over the years. I find that there are certain questions I want answered about an event or an issue, and too often those questions don’t even occur to “straight” news reporters. Why? Because they’re not trying to figure out what they think about the event or the issue, so they approach it on a more superficial level.

When you’re going to make an argument about something, and thousands of people are going to read that argument and judge it, you think harder about it. And yes, this process works best with people who do it for a living. The same principle seldom applies in the case of the loudmouth on the barstool proclaiming his own gut impressions to everyone around him. Not necessarily because the professional is smarter; he’s just doing it within a more demanding context. And doing it day in, day out. And when you’re doing it for a living, and even more so when you’re syndicated, or appearing in a publication with famously high standards — such as the NYT — you’ve got to prove yourself every day.

And while I will sometimes click on a piece purely because of the headline, I’m just much more likely to do so when I see it’s by someone whose thoughtfulness I’ve come to respect.

And no, it’s not about just reading people I agree with (although I’m sure it would work that way with a lot of people, such as the blowhard on the barstool, assuming he reads). It’s about reading people who, whatever they think, have demonstrated to me over and over that they will make a good case well. I like people who make me think, “He’s wrong, but he almost convinces me…”

By the way, this preference of mine came into play when I became editorial page editor of The State in 1997. I immediately started requiring my writers to write at least one column a week, in addition to editorials (which by definition are not signed, because they speak for the institution rather than an individual, and represented a consensus of the board). I did this so that readers would see the editorial board less as a monolith, and know the people who crafted our positions. But I also did it because it made the page more the kind of page I liked to read myself.

These days, some of my favorites in the NYT are David Brooks, Bret Stephens and Ross Douthat. And yes, those three have some views in common with me — they are all never-Trumpers, and none of them are Democrats.

What that means is that, in explaining the problems with the current occupant of the White House, they have to think harder about their views and how they want to express them — unlike someone like Paul Krugman, who is painfully predictable. I’ve never been able to stand Krugman, as I’ve said many times before — although if the headline intrigues me, I may read even him.

I keep thinking at some point the NYT will upgrade the new app so that it shows the bylines. But they haven’t yet…

The new app: This is NOT the way I like it.

The new app: This is NOT the way I like it.

 

 

How ‘soaking the rich’ could work (A Modest Proposal)

Command Chief Master Sgt. Greg Nelson sits in the dunking booth at the 916th Air Refueling Wing Family Day held on Oct. 3. U.S. Air Force photo by TSgt. Gillian Albro, 916ARW/PA.

Doug keeps asking Bud how a “soak the rich” plan would work. (Yeah, they’re having that argument again.)

I thought I’d step in and help. I’ve got it all worked out:

Carnivals would be set up in each county across the country. Each one would feature a dunking booth. The richest people in each county would be placed, one at a time, on the seat in the booth. In large metropolitan areas, only billionaires would be used for this purpose. In the nation’s biggest markets, such as New York and Los Angeles, these would be famous billionaires. Mind you, we’re not just talking Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates, but some REALLY irresistible targets like, say, Kylie Jenner and Justin Bieber.

In Washington, it would be Trump in the booth.

Members of the middle class would be charged $100 a throw, folks below the poverty line only $20 (Doug will object to this approach, but he should reflect that if they can’t afford the $100, we don’t get anything). Some of them would be so eager, they would take out loans in order to throw until their arms wore out.

With the proceeds, we could have single payer.

We could have these carnivals periodically — say, once a month — and my next way to spend it would be on a 600-ship Navy.

Then, I’d start socking it away to save Social Security.

Oh, and we’d finally have those bases on the Moon and Mars I’ve been wanting.

The sky’s the limit. We’d be rolling in dough….

You don’t have to thank me. Just give me 1 percent of the proceeds. I’ll make do with that, and be content…

If we're ever REALLY desperate for funds, we can take this approach.

If we’re ever REALLY desperate for funds, we can take this approach.

Tom Davis attacked by high-larious (but offensive) mailers

mailer 1

This was tweeted yesterday by my own favorite legislative libertarian, the inimitable Sen. Tom Davis:

Needless to say, it’s getting a lot of response.

First, I thought it was a hoot. Next, I had other thoughts:

  • Does the shirt indicate that Tom is holding Maui Wowie in his hands? Where did he get it? How much did it cost?
  • At first, I thought the headline was ungrammatical. Shouldn’t it be “Will Folks agrees…,” since there is only one Will Folks who is known to Tom and would agree with him on this. Then I realized it’s not a reference to Folks, but just to “folks.” In general. The fact it was in all caps prevented me seeing that right away. But that’s an indication that this was likely produced outside SC. Because people inside SC know Will…
  • Party boy Tom Davis? Party boy Tom Davis?!?!?
  • Is the dope Tom is holding in a plastic grocery bag? If so, do the producers of this thing know that Tom supports local bans on such bags? Are they saying this is inconsistent of him as a libertarian? Nah. I’m thinking about it too hard…
  • What is that girl doing down to the left of Tom? Never mind, don’t tell me. This really is a party, isn’t it? You know, there are all sorts of ways they could have put a bong in the picture without it looking like that…
  • The whole “call Tom Davis” shtick is offensive enough — public figure or not, no one should be subjected to such harassment, especially when based on a lie — but then it gets really dirty: “Tell him to stop trying to turn South Carolina into California.” Fightin’ words…
  • And finally, I get serious: These kinds of dishonest hidden-hand mailers are a scourge upon our politics, as I have said again and again. Which sets up a video I’d like y’all to watch in which our own Mandy Powers Norrell touts her dark-money bill…

And finally… here’s another such mailer (or, I suppose, the other side of this one):

mailer 2