Category Archives: Marketplace of ideas

An iconoclastic ode to grubby politics

This is a fascinating piece, good because it dares to be iconoclastic. (We’re not supposed to say, or even think, such things in the post-Watergate world.) I want to quote the whole thing, and you should go read the whole thing, but here are key passages:

Having governed by intimidation, punishment, cronyism, patronage, and legal forms of corruption, Christie is now unmanned. He has renounced Satan and all his works, given up his ability to kneecap and to bribe.

And that’s a shame, because Chris Christieism is not the main problem with American politics these days, or even a problem at all. American politics is a broken horror, particularly at the national level, not because politicians are too dirty, but because they’re not nearly dirty enough. Children need to eat dirt to develop immunological resistance that protects them from allergies and disease as they grow up. Something similar is true in politics: Minor forms of corruption—votes bought with earmarks, traded favors—create a political flexibility that keeps the entire system from collapsing in moments of crisis.

But excessive hygiene is rampant in Washington….

A case in point is the House ban on earmarks, a proud achievement of the Boehner majority for the past four years. Grubby and inefficient, earmarks decorate the country with misplaced bridges and idiotic museums. But evidence suggests they also make political compromises possible. The less than 1 percent of federal spending that went to earmarks bought goodwill and dealmaking that lubricated Washington. Earmarks—a bribe, essentially—gave politicians cover to vote against their political interests, in support of someone else’s agenda. Think of President Obama buying support for his stimulus with a $10 billion pet project for Arlen Specter, or LBJ’s entire quid pro quo presidency. On the flip side: The earmark ban made it impossible for Democrats to buy enough votes to pass last year’s gun bill.

Democrats and Republicans rail about the corruption of Washington, about backroom deals and “Chicago-style” politics. But there are no backrooms anymore, just green rooms….

Petty corruption isn’t necessarily in the public interest. Not every act of political thuggery is in the service of passing the Civil Rights Act. Christie, in particular, seems to have doled out punishment for political reasons, rather than in pursuit of major policy goals.

But done right, corruption helps create a government that gets things done. Americans aspire to clean politics. But clean politics has given us a national government that doesn’t work. We need to get a little bit grubbier.

OK, so he uses language meant to put you off. But I think he’s getting at something that speaks to why I hate to see Christie go down over this lane-closing thing.

He seems like a guy who’d get things done in Washington because he’d be focused on getting it done, rather than playing the usual games. He would hug a Democrat (even that awful Obama person who gives Republicans the heebie-jeebies) or give the back of his hand to a Republican if it helps accomplish a governing goal (such as, say, getting the feds to hop to it with Sandy relief). And vice versa.

What’s awful about the lane-closing thing is not so much that his people sought to retaliate against a pol who didn’t cooperate, but that they punished the people of New Jersey. That was both deeply wrong, and deeply stupid.

As I say, this guy deliberately uses provocative language. I mean, I’m not about to endorse corruption. But he is sort of exploring the edges of something that has long concerned me.

All through my career writing about politics and editing other people who wrote about politics, I’ve often gotten impatient with our obsession with ethics, as ethics are dumbed-down in our political culture. We obsess over whether someone has filed the proper disclosure forms by the proper date, rather than whether that person is doing something that is really, truly good or bad. I always cared about whether pols had implemented the right policies, rather than whether they had crossed the right Ts or dotted the right Is.

You’re probably not following me. I’ll use an example that I’ve used before (bear with me). In fact, I’ll just save myself a lot of typing by quoting myself:

I remember a lot of folks getting really concerned about David Beasley accepting plane rides from folks associated with the Barnwell nuclear waste dump, from whom he had also received campaign contributions. People went on and on about these plane rides, like they mattered. (Folks who get worked up about ethics laws have a particular obsession with plane rides, as we’ve seen recently.)

Me, I was more concerned about the fact that Gov. Beasley had thrown careful interstate negotiations out the window in a reckless bid to overturn years and years of bipartisan effort to get some state other than South Carolina to be the region’s nuclear toilet for awhile. Mind you, he had already done this before all the hoo-hah about the plane rides. I kept trying to explain to anyone who would listen that the plane rides were only significant in that they might point to a cozy relationship with the dump people, which could portend that the governor might do something in the interest of the dump people rather than the interest of the people of South Carolina. But folks, he had already done the worst thing he could have done along those lines. This worrisome indicator (the disclosure of the plane rides) was superfluous and after the fact, and it interested me not in the slightest. It was a matter of straining at gnats.

It struck me as particularly dumb that Democrats were making a huge deal over the plane rides, and to my mind never made enough of the trashing of our nuclear waste policy (if Jim Hodges had run on that instead of the state lottery, he still would have won).

Actually, I could have just given you this short explanation: I care more about the substance than I do the appearance….

Too often, our discussions of “ethics” concerns plane rides, rather than opening our state to other people’s trash.

But I’m digressing. Basically, I just found that Christie piece more thought-provoking than a lot of stuff I’ve seen on the subject…

SC Christian Action Council’s prayer for Medicaid expansion

You may have read about the two rallies regarding health care, on opposite sides of the State House on the Legislature’s first day back.

I was just cleaning out email, and noted that, in inviting folks to the pro-Medicaid expansion rally, the SC Christian Action Council invited everyone, whether they could make it or not, to join in the following prayer:

Eternal God, may the voices of people in South Carolina concerned for our neighbors, our families, our friends, be heard in prayer. . .

We pray
For the 200,000 South Carolinians currently without health care coverage who will have coverage when our Legislature enacts legislation expanding Medicaid in our state. Until the hearts and votes needed are changed, may their neighbors, the people of faith in their communities, their families, volunteer and free medical providers, their village walk with them as they suffer the neglect of society for their physical ailments. May we in gratitude for our lives and your generous provision for us, become even more generous and compassionate people until such time as our politicians have done what is right and Expanded Medicaid in SC.
That the loved ones who will grieve the hundreds in our state who will die unnecessarily (as a result of our failure to enact Medicaid Expansion for 2014) will be comforted. That we say “Never again!” and get legislation passed in this legislative session.
That the thousands and thousands of children in public schools who qualify for free lunch, be deemed worthy of high quality, results oriented education which can only be made available to each child when our state fully and equitably funds public education.
That South Carolina puts children first. That we decrease the cost of higher education in our state colleges and universities rather than shutting doors on dreams with excessively high tuitions and fees,
That the voice of each person eligible to vote be protected rather than silenced; be encouraged rather than discouraged, be amplified to a roar rather than softened to an unhearable whisper.
That the constitutionally held right to vote be unfettered by political shenanigans designed to silence those in opposition to the partisans pressing to make voting more difficult.
Creator God, remind we who are made in your image that you so fashion every human. Help us as as citizens of our state, work so that what is right and good for all be done.

Amen.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the capitol, Obamacare was being likened to communism. So, a difference of opinion.

If Nikki Haley’s playing politics, that’s good news, too

So if Thigpen's right, we're much less likely to see scenes such as this one this year.

So if Thigpen’s right, we’re much less likely to see scenes such as this one this year.

Having trouble finding anything substantive not to like in Nikki Haley’s education and other proposals, some critics are saying she’s just playing election-year politics.

Well, if that’s the case, that’s good news, too. In fact, unless you’re a Democrat trying to unseat her, it’s hard to see where the downside is for you here.

That occurred to me reading the following, written by Schuyler Kropf at The Post and Courier:

Democrats — and even some political talking heads — were quick to point out Haley’s attention to education and mental health could easily be seen as attempts to neutralize her Democratic opposition.

“They must feel it’s a more moderate electorate out there,” retired Francis Marion University political scientist Neal Thigpen said Monday in assessing her administration’s 2014 spending ideas.

Thigpen, who has followed Republican politics in the state for years, said the most obvious political target in her budget is announced Democratic challenger, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden.

Haley’s camp must see a need in “trying to block him out,” Thigpen added, “and being ahead of him in trying to blunt those issues that he may be able to use.”…

Look again at what Neal Thigpen just said…

“They must feel it’s a more moderate electorate out there…”

If Nikki Haley and her people are looking around them and seeing a more reasonable world than the one that elected them in the Year of The Tea Party, then that’s gotta be a good thing, right?

So, if that’s correct, her speeches this year will be less about throwing red meat to people who hate government, and more about good governance. Which Vincent Sheheen will be doing as well, because he always does that. Which means that no matter which of them is elected, that person will be committed to such basic things as better schools, and better care for the mentally ill.

Which as I say, is a good thing for all South Carolinians…

USC President Pastides rejects boycott of Israel

Stan Dubinsky over at USC brought my attention to this at the end of last week:

President Pastides’ statement on Israeli boycott

The essence of academic freedom is the free exchange of diverse ideas and opinions. I am in agreement with the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities that, “Freedom of inquiry and expression are the foundational principles of [this] vital work, and free exchange of ideas is its lifeblood.” For these reasons, I stand with colleagues throughout the country in strong opposition to a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

At the time, I asked Stan if he could provide me with some context for this statement. (I mean, I’m aware of the “boycott Israel” movement out there in Western academia, but I wanted to know whether there had been any proximate stimulus for this particular response.

Stan answered me right away, but I’ve just today dug all the way through my email from over the weekend. After responding as follows…

Useful idiots on the Left have passed boycott resolutions of Israeli universities (the American Studies Association being the most recent and prominent of these).  They are clearly paying the price for their foolishness.

… he provided this link for further info:

(JTA) — At least 90 American universities and colleges have rejected the American Studies Association membership vote in favor of an academic boycott of Israel, according to a Jewish umbrella group.

The number, as of Dec. 31,  was tracked by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The rejections have come in the form of statements by university presidents and chancellors rejecting the decision.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the Presidents Conference expressed its appreciation to the school chiefs who “stood up against this discriminatory and unjustified measure and rejected the ASA boycott of Israel.”…

NYT claims Snowden “has done his country a great service.” No, really; they actually said that…

If you hear me retching, it’s not because I overindulged on New Year’s Eve. It’s because of this editorial in The New York Times:

Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community…

I’m just not even going to get into it, beyond to assert yet again that this creep has not “revealed” or “exposed” anything of value. We knew such programs existed, and basically what they did. If there are instances in which the NSA has exceeded or strayed from Congress’ intent, address them. (The NYT makes much of “thousands” of violations among the billions of communications about which it collects data. But folks, that’s not what Snowden and his fans are about. They hate the existence of the legal programs; not specific failures to follow the policies they oppose.) All he has done is stirred the emotions of unthoughtful people to the point that useful intelligence-gathering programs are politically endangered.

For more, just enter “Snowden” in the blog search field at right (in fact, I’ll do it for you; here are the search results), to see what I’ve said about him in the past. I particularly call your attention to his “Christmas message,” which as I said then “reveals his immaturity, paranoia, irrationality and utter lack of perspective,” the qualities that underlie the actions that the NYT celebrates.

This editorial is the sort of nonsense I expect from an intern working as a press aide in Rand Paul’s office, not from a once-great newspaper.

Edward Snowden, displaying his utter lack of perspective, declares lack of privacy today is worse than Orwellian

Through an “alternative Christmas message” broadcast on British television (“alternative” as in, a message other than the Queen’s official one) and a Washington Post interview, Edward Snowden reveals his immaturity, paranoia, irrationality and utter lack of perspective.

I can’t find an embed code for the full video, but here’s a link to it.

Here’s a sample of his “reasoning,” as he explains why he thinks we’re worse off than Winston Smith in 1984:

“The types of collection in the book — microphones and video cameras, TVs that watch us — are nothing compared to what we have available today. We have sensors in our pockets that track us everywhere we go,” he said. “Think about what this means for the privacy of the average person.”

So… according to him… a cellphone, a private possession that you are in no way required to own, certainly not by the government, a thing you can throw away the moment you want to drop off the grid, is somehow worse than being watched and listened to 24 hours a day by a malevolent government that does so for the express purpose of controlling your thoughts, a government that has reshaped language itself to prevent you even from being able to form thoughts that are not to its liking.

But wait — there’s more:

Recently, we learned that our governments, working in concert, have created a system of worldwide mass surveillance, watching everything we do.

No, we have learned nothing of the kind. I have seen nothing from his “revelations” (although I give him props for not congratulating himself, but using the relatively passive “we learned”) that indicates that either this government or any other or any other is doing anything at all that comes anywhere close to “watching everything” I do.

There’s apparently a record of phone calls I have made, and everyone else has made. Not the content, but who we called and when and for how long. A record that doesn’t even begin to be the tiniest, most hesitant intrusion on my privacy unless there is something about the pattern of my calls that draws attention to them. My own privacy is protected by the sheer volume of data of which my calls form an infinitesimal part.

I have no reason to believe that this or any other government has taken the slightest interest even in this tiny corner of my life — whom I have called and when — which is a drop in the ocean of “everything” I do.

This is rich. Let’s listen to some more:

A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They’ll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves, an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought.

Really? Golly, I’d certainly like to see a little bit of evidence to back up those wild assertions. I’m even going to be charitable and ignore the number disagreement between his “a child” and his use of “they” and “themselves.” First, it would help if he had any evidence whatsoever, any reason at all to think that this hypothetical child would never know a “private moment.” I see zero reason to believe that. As for “no conception” — well, that takes us far beyond lacking the experience of even a “moment” of privacy. In fact, only in an Orwellian universe — given its careful paring of unacceptable thoughts from the language — could a child lack such a conception.

As for “an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought” — what reason do we have to believe that this child’s very thoughts would be recorded and analyzed, much less all of them? The only thoughts being shared with government, to my knowledge, are those we choose to make public through social media or other means. Or over the telephone, in which case the only way the goverment hears these thoughts is if its traffic analysis has produced probable cause for a specific subpoena to listen to a specific individual’s calls, which will never happen to far, far more than 99 percent of the population. And I say this on the basis of what Snowden himself has revealed.

Let’s delve further into the thoughts — which he is voluntarily sharing — of Edward Snowden:

And that’s a problem because privacy matters. Privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be.

I’m not going to respond to that, because I don’t even follow what he’s saying. I thought “who we are and who we want to be” were things that were determined by a combination of unavoidable circumstances and choices we make. Perhaps privacy plays a key role in that, but he neglects to explain how. It’s just one of those pronouncements that probably sounds profound to people who are predisposed to agree with him, and puzzles anyone else who actually thinks about it.

His big finish is a call to action:

End mass surveillance, and remind the government that if it really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying.

His tone indicates he thinks this is a real zinger.

I find myself marveling. So… that’s what he thinks NSA collection and analysis of metadata is about — finding out how we feel? What has he or anyone else disclosed that even comes within the same galaxy of indicating that? Gee, I kinda thought it was oriented toward finding out whether certain communications are happening between certain individuals, with an eye to catching warning signs not of feelings, but of the likelihood of certain actions.

I mean, seriously — can anyone show me a link to a single report that would make any reasonable person think that any of these government programs are aimed at taking our emotional temperatures, or our opinions?

Wow. The more you learn about this guy, the more you see just how twisted his perception of reality is…

But thanks, Edward, for the Christmas wishes. Although I must say, I think the Queen’s made more sense. But then, she’s a grownup.

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Saintly standup

One of the many Twitter feeds I follow offered this thought today:

I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much. -Mother Teresa

Bada-BOOM, tchk.

Good one, even though I’ve heard it before. In the all-time greatest theologically-sound standup lines by Saints, that would come not far beyond Augustine’s classic “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.”

How delusional can some liberals be? There’s no limit…

Did you shake your head when you read this, which appeared under the Bizarro-World headline, “Clyburn too conservative?

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn is used to political foes calling him liberal. They’ve been doing it for years. Now, though, prominent liberals are coming after him for being too conservative.

The patron saint of delusional Democrats.

The patron saint of delusional Democrats.

Several left-wing groups are criticizing South Carolina’s Clyburn, the No. 3 Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, for his relationship with one of the party’s influential centrist policy organizations.

The founders of that think tank, Third Way, attacked U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., last week for pushing tax hikes for the rich and increases in Social Security benefits, and for taking other stances that they said represented risky fiscal approaches and bad political strategies.

Allies of Warren, a freshman lawmaker who is a rising star in Washington, struck back quickly.

Four liberal groups asked Clyburn of Columbia and 11 other Democratic members of Congress who are “honorary co-chairs” of Third Way to repudiate the condemnation of Warren and sever their ties with the organization…

Do you recall, back during the Democratic Convention last year, when I highly praised a speech by Bill “Third Way” Clinton? Aside from the fact that it may have been, as I said, the most skilled and powerful political speech yet in this century (and as I noted at the time, that was coming from “the editor who presided over an editorial board that was tied as first in the country to call on him to resign after he admitted lying to us”) – certainly the best I ever heard from Clinton — my positive impression of it was heightened by the fact that it followed an atrocious rant from Elizabeth Warren, which I characterized as follows: “She gave one of those speeches full of resentments and blame, the kind that makes me dislike political parties so much.”

Which is, you know, pretty much par for the course for her. These allies of hers, if anything, tend toward even sillier rhetoric:

“We’re calling on James Clyburn to do the right thing and immediately drop his affiliation with the Wall Street-backed Third Way…”

“Wall Street-backed” being a very powerful epithet among these people. Because, apparently, business is evil by its very nature in their belief system.

Embracing the Third Way.

Embracing the Third Way.

It’s interesting to me that, just as John Boehner is finally reining in the loonies in his party — and they’ve been on quite a rampage for several years now — the left wing of the Democratic Party is going on a delusional tear of its own.

The only way this embrace of Sen. Warren as presidential timber for 2016 makes sense for Democrats is that it would provide Hillary Clinton with a way of looking sensible and mainstream by contrast (which she is, by contrast), putting her in a strong position for the general election.

But I don’t think these folks are thinking that way. I think they actually believe Sen. Warren represents a direction in which they can pull the country. Hence my use of the word, “delusional.”

Lindsey Graham to enroll in Obamacare — which is kinda weird for several reasons

When you think about it, it’s kind of an odd thing for him to do. For a number of reasons.

For instance, when you just look at the headline, it sounds like a vote of confidence (See? I believe in Obamacare enough to sign up for it even when I don’t have to!) — which isn’t going to endear him to that portion of the base he has so many problems with. That’s not what he’s doing, of course, but how many of those voters are going to dig deeper and appreciate that he’s doing it as a protest?

Anyway, here’s the release:

Graham Will Enroll in Obamacare South Carolina Exchange, Decline Taxpayer Subsidy for Members of Congress

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) will enroll in Obamacare’s South Carolina health care exchange and forego the special taxpayer subsidy available to Members of Congress.

 

“I don’t think Members of Congress should get a special deal,” said Graham.  “Obamacare is being pushed on the American people and we should live under it just like everyone else.”

 

Graham noted that under a special exemption issued by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), he could have enrolled in the DC Health Link exchange and the government would have continued subsidizing about 75 percent of his health care premium.  This exemption only applied to Members of Congress and congressional staff.

 

“As a 58-year old male living in Oconee County my insurance costs are going up about $400 a month, more than 200 percent, under Obamacare,” said Graham.  “In addition, my health care coverage will be a fraction of what it used to be.  Sadly, I’m not the only one who will feel the negative effects of Obamacare.  It’s happening all over South Carolina.

 

“The worst is yet to come, but I will continue my fight to repeal, replace, defund and allow Americans to opt-out of this horrible government program,” concluded Graham.

 

#####

Some questions and observations that occur to me as I read that:

  1. Will he try to do it via the website? If so, is this intended to be the first of a series documenting the difficulties that regular folks may or may not be experiencing with that interface?
  2. Is the angry part of the base really likely to see this as identifying with them and sharing their troubles? I mean, don’t the folks who hate Obamacare mostly folks who have insurance with their employers, and don’t they tend to generalize people who will actually be on Obamacare as the kinds of freeloaders they despise? I mean, isn’t that the shorthand for Tea Partiers? Doesn’t he, by signing up for it, become even more one of them, a manifestation of the Other?
  3. If he succeeds in his “fight to repeal, replace, defund,” will he then go back on the cushy congressional plan, or will he, like the people who actually depend on Obamacare, just go without medical coverage? Now that would be one for the books. If he does the first, it makes him look like a hypocrite. If he does the latter, it exposes the need, if not for Obamacare, then for something that achieves the same goals, which is not what the problematic portion of his base wants to have rubbed in their faces. It really sets up an interesting problem.
  4. Consider the part about “allow Americans to opt-out of this horrible government program.” Here’s the thing about that… No program that achieves or approaches the actual, legitimate goals of healthcare reform (that is to say, effective universal coverage) can allow people to “opt out.” If people can opt out, you’ve got a lousy system that accomplishes nothing and is too expensive to maintain. Everybody knows, or should know, this. Mitt Romney knew it, for instance. There is no reform without a mandate. One of the problems with Obamacare is that the mandate is too weak — you can “opt out” by paying a penalty that is less than the cost of participating, at least at first.

Perhaps other thoughts will occur to y’all. In any case, I thought this a weird way to dramatize his position.

SC GOP has nothing to fear from Obamacare

On a previous post, Burl brought our attention to an item on Daily Kos, under a picture of Nikki Haley:

Even in South Carolina, a state hostile to Obamacare expansion, hundreds of thousands of people are benefiting just from greater awareness of existing government programs for which they do qualify. And while most of those beneficiaries are children, those children have families who would appreciate access to similar services, if only Republicans would get out of the way.

But South Carolina is solidly Red, right? Romney won the state by 11 points, right? So it doesn’t matter! Except that in raw totals, Romney won by around 204,000 votes. And Republicans assume (perhaps rightly) that every Obamacare beneficiary will become much more favorable toward the government. And if you start thinking government can help you, Republicans don’t stand a chance….

That’s why Republicans continue to fight tooth and nail against Obamacare, from seeking its repeal to sabotaging its rollout. It’s an existential crisis. The more people benefit, the harder it will be for them to argue that government is irreparably broken and must be drowned in Grover Norquist’s bathtub.

Yeah, well…

I don’t think that’s right. That sounds like a liberal thinking wishfully.

Nationally, maybe Republicans worry about that. And it’s the kind of thing the Mark Sanfords of the world — the serious, more theoretical, pre-Tea Party libertarians who think in terms of a historical, apocalyptic dialectic in which democracy is doomed once people figure out they can vote themselves benefits — also fret over.

But as long as the following two conditions remain, the SC GOP as a whole has nothing to fear:

  • The GOP continues to attract most white voters in the state.
  • White voters outnumber black voters.

That’s because of a couple of characteristics commonly found among white South Carolinians: For centuries, the surest way to get their blood boiling has been to suggest that someone out there (i.e., the federal government) is messing in their business, trampling on their prerogatives. (How else do you think so many thousands who did not own slaves were persuaded to fight in the Confederate cause?) Add to that a deep resentment — that is certainly not confined to SC whites, but is a characteristic many of them share — at the idea that some undeserving someone is getting something, and they, the deserving salt-of-the-earth people, are paying for it.

Now someone’s going to get bent all out of shape and say I’m calling good, conservative Republican folk racists. But I’m not. Review my words. In fact, I’ll assert that even if more whites than blacks benefit from new health benefits, these attitudes remain the same.

What I’m describing are a couple of widely held political impulses, neither of which is inherently racist (even though those issues have gotten tangled up in race through our history). Both attitudes can be strongly defended, even though, with my communitarian leanings, I tend to portray them negatively.

The urge to self-determination is a natural impulse of the human soul. “State’s rights” may have gotten a bad rap historically because of its association with segregation, but the idea itself — that as many governmental decisions as possible should be made on the most local levels — is a sound one, closely related to subsidiarity, which I extol.

And there’s nothing wrong with not wanting one’s tax money wasted. If benefits are indeed going to “undeserving” recipients, then it’s only human to resent it.

The way race comes into my calculation arises simply from the fact that generally speaking, those two attitudes are more often found to motivate white voters than black voters.

Am I wrong about that? I don’t think so. Near as I can tell, whether these factors are openly acknowledged or not, both parties tend to operate on the assumption that these things are true…

Yeah, but do we really need to talk more about sports and reality TV?

David Brooks makes an argument for having a sensible perspective on politics:

… Then there are those who look to politics for identity. They treat their partisan affiliation as a form of ethnicity. These people drive a lot of talk radio and television. Not long ago, most intelligent television talk was not about politics. Shows would put interesting people together, like Woody Allen with Billy Graham (check it out on YouTube), and they’d discuss anything under the sun.

Now most TV and radio talk is minute political analysis, while talk of culture has shriveled. This change is driven by people who, absent other attachments, have fallen upon partisanship to give them a sense of righteousness and belonging….

I figure that unless you are in the business of politics, covering it or columnizing about it, politics should take up maybe a tenth corner of a good citizen’s mind. The rest should be philosophy, friendship, romance, family, culture and fun. I wish our talk-show culture reflected that balance, and that the emotional register around politics were more in keeping with its low but steady nature.

That sounds good. Do watch that Woody Allen/Billy Graham clip. It would be great to see more stuff like that.

And Lord knows I’ve had enough of the tribal types who define themselves in terms of their partisan affiliations.

But… as I look around me today, when people aren’t talking about politics, it seems they’re talking about reality TV, sports or what some celebrity wore to some self-congratulatory entertainement awards ceremony. Mostly sports. (There were two stories on the front page of The State today. Two. Most of the rest of the space was taken up by sports promos and a picture of a Christmas tree.)

If we pull back on the politics, we can’t really expect the vacuum to be filled by Dick Cavett-type conversation.

Not from what I’ve seen.

Haley’s backing of strong-mayor shows laudable consistency

Still catching up with news from over the long weekend. I was fighting a cold, and did not leave the house from Wednesday afternoon until this morning. Nor did I blog (did ya notice?) or even read news, which might have tempted me to blog, which I did not feel up to (or, as the pedants would have it, up to which I did not feel).

So I’m only now reacting to this:

Gov. Nikki Haley has come out in support of Columbia’s strong mayor referendum, which will be decided on Tuesday, after discussing the issue with Mayor Steve Benjamin.

A mailer explaining her position was sent to residents late this week.

“After talking to Mayor Benjamin, Governor Haley was happy to lend her support,” said Rob Godfrey, a spokesman for Haley, in a statement. “The governor has long believed in restructuring government to produce accountability and efficiency for the people it serves — not just in state government, but at every level of government.”…

Good for her. As you may know, government restructuring is one of those subjects on which our present governor and I agree, since I have advocated the commonsense notion of actually putting the elected chief executive in charge of the executive branch since she was in school.

And I’ve favored a strong-mayor system for Columbia just about as long. The idea arises from the same principle: putting the day-to-day government in the hands of someone chosen by the voters, rather than in the hands of a hired manager who answers neither to the people nor to any single, accountable individual.

So I’m glad Mayor Benjamin reached out to Gov. Haley, and I’m glad she responded so positively and sensibly.

TV ad probably not best medium for strong-mayor pitch

Not that there’s anything in particular wrong with it. It’s just that the medium forces oversimplification.

It does hit the accountability issue, which is key. But helping people understand how a strong mayor is more accountable takes explanation.

Absurdly, opponents of reform have tried to claim that a city manager is more accountable. Their argument is that the manager can be fired any time, rather than having to wait until re-election time.

That is rendered absurd by experience. No one who has seven equal bosses can be said to have a boss at all. Anyone recall how long it took city council even to do an evaluation of Charles Austin? I’m sort of asking, because I don’t recall the exact length of time myself. But it was outrageously long, reflecting how difficult it is for a body of seven people to agree on what direction and feedback a manager should receive.

And anyone who thinks an elected mayor is accountable only at election time hasn’t paid attention to the way elected officials actually behave, which is to look over their shoulders constantly to make sure the voters are happy with the job they’re doing.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, I pass on the advert.

The Economist tells America to buck up, stiffen upper lip

I’m not finding a link to the actual report itself, but I thought I’d share this release from The Economist:

November 26th 2013

 

THE ECONOMIST PUBLISHES SPECIAL REPORT ON AMERICA’S FOREIGN POLICY

 

After a dreadful decade abroad, Americans are unduly pessimistic about their place in the world

 

This week’s issue of The Economist publishes a special report on America’s foreign policy, “Time to cheer up”, which argues that the world America faces today may seem cussed and intractable, but America’s strengths are as impressive as ever.

 

In this report, Edward Carr, Foreign editor for The Economist looks at the advantages America has in the primacy game and shares a to-do list for the world’s superpower.  After five years immersed in a world-class financial crisis on top of a dozen more in unhappy wars, the mood in America was bound to be dark. And yet the great engines of American power are turning. The armed forces are peerless and will remain so, even when they are financed less lavishly. The economy is clawing its way back to health. Despite Iraq, the ideals of liberal democracy and open markets are potent still.

 

In geopolitics America has no direct challenger, but without maintenance primacy frays. One threat is Washington politics, eroding American authority in the world. The other is the shifting international system– which no longer needs America as a guard against Soviet aggression and must find a way to reflect the aspirations of emerging powers, chiefly China.

 

Only a country that had glimpsed supremacy would count those two threats as decline. Predictably, the unipolar moment after the Soviet collapse was transient– if only because it tempted America into relying too much on force. The return to the frustrations and reverses of everyday diplomacy is uncomfortable, no doubt; and if America withdraws or lapses into peevishness, dangerous as well. Yet the country has one tremendous advantage. What will most determine its destiny is none other than America itself.  

 

- ENDS -

 

Police association endorses strong mayor

I’m not entirely sure what I make of this release from Adam Fogle:

Police Officers endorse Strong Mayor

COLUMBIA, SC – Police officers from the local Columbia Chapter of the Southern States Police Benevolence Association (PBA) on Monday joined Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin to announce their support for the Strong Mayor form of government and encourage residents to “Vote YES” in the upcoming December 3 referendum.

“We fully support this change not only for police officers but for the safety of the people we have sworn to protect, the people of Columbia,” said PBA President Joseph Czeladko. “This change would hold Mayor Benjamin accountable and not having that accountability has led to stagnation at the very foundation of this city – public safety.”

This morning’s announcement was held in front of The Library Bar which has become a symbol of recent violence in the popular Five Points entertainment district as well as gang activity in Columbia as a whole after Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott identified it as a central hangout for gang members in the area and conducted a gang and narcotics operation in the area earlier this month.

Sheriff Lott said he did not coordinate the operation with Columbia Police because Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago did not have authority to participate without first getting permission from his multiple bosses.

“When the Sheriff has to come down to Five Points to close down a known gang hangout, the system is broken,” said Mayor Benjamin. “When the Chief of Police can’t do his job without going through multiple levels of approval, the system is broken. When the Chief can’t even hire his own command staff unless the Assistant City Manager and City Manager sign off, the system is broken”

“The system is broken here in Five Points. It’s broken in North Columbia and the Colony, It’s broken all across this city and it’s about time we did something about it.”

Voters will have that opportunity by voting “YES” for a stronger, safer city on December 3.

Here are some of the questions I have about this endorsement:

  • When your argument is that law enforcement is messed up, are the cops somebody you want endorsing your argument?
  • Is the mayor taking a position against present management in the police department (the questions he raises seem to cut both ways), and is this organization endorsing that position?
  • OK, so a significant chunk of city employees — whom you might be expected to lean toward status quo — endorse the change. But… do we want city employees, especially cops, taking such a political position?

Hey, that’s what I think about the left and the right

For some reason — I forget why now — I was about to use the phrase “begging the question,” and I thought I’d better make sure I remembered what it meant.

So I looked it up. I did not find the Wikipedia explanation helpful. I thought I understood it from the definition, but the actual examples confused me, rather than clarifying, as examples are supposed to do. I must admit that after reading that, I doubt I could tell an instance of begging the question from “circular reasoning.”

But I was intrigued to read about another related fallacy, the “complex question.” To wit:

Begging the question is similar to the complex question (also known as trick question or fallacy of many questions): a question that, in order to be valid, requires the truth of another question that has not been established. For example, “Which color dress is Mary wearing—blue or red?” may be fallacious because it restricts the possible responses to a blue or red dress. Unless it has previously been established that the dress is one of those two colors, the question is fallacious because it could be neither of them…

Aha! Now I have a new name for the thing that I hate most about the way most of us engage politics.

Practically every political proposition set forth in our era is couched as red or blue — left or right, Democratic or Republican, liberal or conservative. Whereas to me, the correct answer is almost never blue or red.

But most people today will not allow you to answer any way other than “red” or “blue.” I mean, you can answer “green” or “brown” or “gray” or “khaki” or whatever you like — they just refuse to hear it.

This is the bane of anyone who tries to think about issues, rather than buying a prefab set of “red” or “blue” answers right off the shelf, and present honest conclusions based upon that thought. If you’re disagreeing with someone of the red persuasion, everyone assumes you are blue, and tells you so — and vice versa. The idea that you are neither red nor blue simply isn’t admitted. Because our public debate is not couched in terms that make it possible.

“Complex question” is misleading terminology. Yeah, I get that the question is complex, in the sense of having a complicating additional element, but the effect is to force the world into a binary choice — which is oversimplification.

But hey; I didn’t come up with the term…

Sheheen camp taking wrong approach on ethics, Haley

I have a limited patience with discussions of public ethics. It would take more words than I feel like writing today to explain all the reasons why, but here’s the simple explanation: I find that too often, in the political sphere, when we speak of “ethics,” we are not talking about right and wrong; we’re merely talking about appearances.

Cindi Scoppe has always had more patience with ethics discussions than I. That’s fortunate, because her patience and diligence has made her highly knowledgeable about the ways that the topic intersects with SC public life.

But even Cindi has lost patience with the way Vincent Sheheen’s campaign is talking about ethics this week. This excerpt from her column today begins with a quote from a Sheheen release:

“Today, Nikki Haley held a press conference to talk about ethics reform in South Carolina,” a news release from his gubernatorial campaign began. “From covering up the Social Security number hacking scandal to flying with campaign staffers in a state owned plane, Nikki is the last person who should be talking about ethics reform.”

Wow.

I suppose that sort of non sequitur makes some sense from a campaign perspective, as it reminds people of our governor’s ethical imperfections. But from a governing perspective — and one of the things that I’ve always admired about Vincent Sheheen is that he cares about governing, much more than the governor has tended to — it is completely wrong.

It suggests that reform should be pursued only by the pure of heart. In fact, our government, as a creation of human beings, must rely on imperfect vessels….

Cindi’s completely right. And she’s right that, while the ethics bill the governor is pushing has serious flaws, it’s better than no bill at all.

All week, the Sheheen campaign and state Democratic Party (mostly the party, now that I go back and look) have been bombarding my inbox with attacks on Nikki Haley’s suitability as an advocate for ethics reform.

Yep, it’s ironic that she wants to prevent abuses she has committed herself, but hey — at least she knows what she’s talking about.

And yes, the attacks on Sheheen for being a small-town lawyer representing clients before magistrates whom he had recommended for appointment are rather absurd and over-the-top. As the Sheheen campaign notes, he is the sponsor of a bill to place the power for appointing magistrates in the hands of the Supreme Court. There is nothing “scandalous,” to cite one word used by the governor’s staff, about him representing clients openly in magistrate’s court, under the laws currently in place.

I am more disturbed that so much rhetoric out of the Sheheen campaign and its allies is about tearing down the governor.

In other words, Doug, I’m moving to your way of thinking. I have defended Sheheen to Doug, saying that when you’re running against an incumbent, you have an obligation to explain to voters why the incumbent should no longer hold the office. This necessity is less obvious to Doug because his more or less default position is to be anti-incumbent, while I expect a challenger to justify the challenge.

One justifies a challenge in two ways: By explaining what’s wrong with the incumbent, and by telling voters why you, the challenger, would do a better job.

Lately, though, it seems the Sheheen campaign is all about the former, and very light on the latter.

To get back to Cindi’s column:

The email went on: “Our state deserves real ethics reform. And we deserve a governor who doesn’t constantly blur the lines to serve political agendas.”

Those are both very good points. But they address two completely different issues.

The first is about what sort of law the Legislature passes — or doesn’t pass — in the coming session. The second is about whom we elect as governor a year from now.

Personally, I’d like to have both. At this point, I think Mr. Sheheen would make a better choice on the “governor who doesn’t constantly blur the lines” thing. And the ethics plan that Ms. Haley is pushing might be our best shot at real ethics reform. In fact, while Mr. Sheheen wants to focus more on correcting other shortcomings in our ethics law, the main provisions that Ms. Haley is pushing are changes he supports.

One of the things I detest about our two dominant political parties is the way they encourage people to attack good ideas just because they come from the other side. The Sheheen campaign seems to be falling into that habit, and should heed what Cindi said at the end:

Yes, we deserve a lot better than the Senate Judiciary Committee’s reform package. But the way to get better is to join with other reformers to strengthen the bill — not to attack the efforts of the person who’s best able to focus public attention on the need for reform.

Don’t make perfection the enemy of the good (this is cracking Cindi up, because she had to say that so often to me, as I was seldom satisfied with half a loaf). Take a mediocre bill, and work to make it better.

And cut it out with the drip, drip, drip of negativity.

Graham, McCain, et al.: Say ‘no’ to any Iran deal that eases sanctions, lets nuke program continue

This just in from Lindsey Graham:

GRAHAM, SCHUMER, MENENDEZ, MCCAIN, CASEY, COLLINS URGE ADMINISTRATION NOT TO ACCEPT IRAN DEAL THAT CUTS BACK SANCTIONS BUT ALLOWS IRANIAN NUCLEAR PROGRAM TO CONTINUE

 

With Geneva Negotiations Set to Resume, Senators Express Concern with Reported Deal Administration Currently Weighing – Plan Would Provide Relief from Sanctions without Significantly Rolling Back Iranian Progress towards Nuclear Weapon

 

Group of Senators Praise Administration’s Use of Sanctions Thus Far, Urges Negotiators to ensure that Concessions and Gains are Proportionate

 

Senators: Focus Should Be on Achieving a Balanced Deal That Rolls Back Iran’s Progress towards a Nuclear Weapon

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham, Charles E. Schumer, Robert Menendez, John McCain, Bob Casey and Susan Collins wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry, expressing their support for negotiations but cautioning the Administration against accepting a deal with Iran that would roll back economic sanctions without also rolling back progress towards nuclear weapons capability. According to media reports, Administration negotiators have considered accepting an agreement that would provide relief for the Iranian regime from the debilitating economic sanctions while only requiring the Iranians to halt their work towards a nuclear weapon, rather than undoing the progress they have already made.

 

The senators wrote, “We feel strongly that any easing of sanctions along the lines that the P5+1 is reportedly considering should require Iran to roll back its nuclear program more significantly than now envisioned.

 

“It is our belief that any interim agreement with the Iranians should bring us closer to our ultimate goal which is Iran without a nuclear weapons capability.  We must ensure that the steps we take in the coming weeks and months move us towards a resolution that ultimately brings Iran in compliance with all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions, seeks to prevent Tehran from possessing any enrichment or reprocessing capability, and resolves any and all fears that Iran will develop a nuclear weapons capability.”

 

Under the reported agreement, the P5+1 is prepared to permit Iran to continue enriching uranium at 3.5% for civilian use, to cap but not reduce the number of centrifuges, and to continue work near the Arak heavy water nuclear reactor. The senators argue that these steps may suggest Iran is willing to temporarily slow its pursuit of a nuclear weapon, but they would allow Iran to continue making some progress towards obtaining a nuclear weapon under the cover of further negotiations.

 

In return, Iran would receive relief from economic sanctions, including access to previously-frozen assets. The senators said the reported agreement, “does not give us confidence that Iran is prepared to abandon unambiguously its nuclear weapons pursuit altogether, as it must.”

 

The full text of the letter appears below:

 

Dear Secretary Kerry:

We appreciate your continued efforts, in concert with our friends and allies, to negotiate with the Iranian regime. We also commend the efforts of your negotiating team to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability.  Our negotiators have benefited from the effects of tough economic sanctions in bringing Iran to the table.  Without the Administration, Congress, and our allies working together, we would not have arrived at this crucial point.

Indeed, we support the concept of an interim agreement with Iran that would roll back its nuclear program as a first step to seeking a final settlement that prevents Iran from ever developing a nuclear weapons capability. At the same time, we are concerned that the interim agreement would require us to make significant concessions before we see Iran demonstrably commit to moving away from developing a nuclear weapons capability.

It is our understanding that the interim agreement now under consideration would not require Iran to even meet the terms of prior United Nations Security Council resolutions which require Iran to suspend its reprocessing, heavy water-related and enrichment-related activities and halt ongoing construction of any uranium-enrichment, reprocessing, or heavy water-related facilities. For example, we understand that the P5+1 is prepared to permit Iran to continue enriching uranium at 3.5 percent albeit for civilian use, to cap but not reduce its number of centrifuges, and to continue work around or near the Arak heavy water nuclear reactor. While the interim agreement may suggest that Iran could be willing temporarily to slow its pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability, it could also allow Iran to continue making some progress toward that end under the cover of negotiations. This does not give us confidence that Iran is prepared to abandon unambiguously its nuclear weapons pursuit altogether, as it must.

Furthermore, it is our understanding that in return for certain Iranian actions, the P5+1 would allow Iran to gain access to considerable amounts of capital that have been frozen by our international sanctions. Some have estimated the value of this capital for Iran as much as $10 billion. We regard this as a major concession on our part that would not be justified by the concessions the Iranian regime would be required to make in return. If we are reducing sanctions, Iran should be reducing its nuclear capabilities.

As you know, it is not just the sanctions themselves but the threat that they would continue to tighten that has brought the Iranians to the negotiating table. Easing sanctions now without real, tangible actions by Iran to roll back its nuclear program would not only diminish this threat of future pressure, it could make it more difficult to maintain the current sanctions regime at a time when many international actors are already eager to lessen their implementation of sanctions. We feel strongly that any easing of sanctions along the lines that the P5+1 is reportedly considering should require Iran to roll back its nuclear program more significantly than now envisioned.

It is our belief that any interim agreement with the Iranians should bring us closer to our ultimate goal which is Iran without a nuclear weapons capability.  We must ensure that the steps we take in the coming weeks and months move us towards a resolution that ultimately brings Iran in compliance with all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions, seeks to prevent Tehran from possessing any enrichment or reprocessing capability, and resolves any and all fears that Iran will develop a nuclear weapons capability.

The upcoming round of negotiations could hardly be more important and we must be ever mindful of with whom we are negotiating. Iran has been the largest state sponsor of terrorism for over thirty years; its leaders routinely call for the destruction of Israel; and it arms and finances terrorist groups around the globe. We urge you and your negotiating team to fight for an interim agreement that demands as much or more of Iran as it does of the United States and our allies. We hope in the next few weeks we and our partners will redouble our efforts to gain greater proportionality and to finalize an agreement that demonstrates that Iran is moving away from the nuclear weapons path.

###

How to cure gerrymandering: Draw all districts to look like South Carolina

800px-South_Carolina_in_United_States

Easily the most beautifully shaped of all the states.

End of last week, Bryan Caskey shared with me this link to an MSNBC host (apparently, his name is Touré — no last name) seeming to suggest that some red-state U.S. senators were voting more conservatively because they live and govern “in a gerrymandered world.”

Which seemed to suggest that this guy thought that, you know, states were gerrymandered.

This caused Bryan to riff, “Yup. I’m OK with redrawing some state lines, though. Who knows, it might be fun.”

To which I responded, “Not SC, though. It has the most aesthetically pleasing shape of all the states.”

Which it does. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve grooved on SC’s beautiful, kinda-but-not-exactly-regular triangle shape. (There were several irregularly-shaped paving tiles outside my grandparents’ back door, and one of them looked just like SC, which to me had some sort of cosmic significance.) If it were a perfect, equilateral triangle, it would be less beautiful. It’s more of a naturalistic triangle. I like the cockeyed top, which makes it seem to be wearing a hat rakishly tilted to the side.

And then it occurred to me — if all districts (as opposed to states) had to be drawn to look more or less like South Carolina, gerrymandering would be dead. A district that looked like SC in shape terms would also look like real communities in a demographic sense, rather than having these super-white and super-black districts side-by-side.

And there would be relatively few “safe” Democratic and Republican districts. Which means elected representatives on the federal, state and local levels would have to reach out to voters across the political spectrum. Gridlock would end, and sensible, pragmatic legislation would be a commonplace.

And we’d all live in a better country.

I like this idea more and more…

Just your friendly neighborhood superpower, ma’am

Every once in awhile, Slate decides to surprise me with an editorial point that I agree with.

While this piece doesn’t go terribly deeply into things (something I am not surprised to see on Slate, which often entices me with headlines for pieces that don’t deliver), at least it states some obvious points that apparently are not obvious to all my friends out there.

Excerpts from the piece headlined, “Why America’s Critics Will Miss the U.S. Superpower: For all of its faults, no one comes to the world’s aid like the United States:”

American foreign policy isn’t popular at the moment either, especially among our allies. The Germans are angry because we pointlessly tapped Angela Merkel’s telephoneThe Saudis are angry because we won’t join the war in Syria. President Obama’s failure to become the world savior that the Norwegian Nobel Committee so fervently expected him to be has caused widespread disappointment.

And yet, when a disaster unfolds and resources have to be rapidly mobilized, it’s as if nothing has changed. One of the largest typhoons on record hit the Philippines last week. The extent of the damage isn’t yet known. But the American response is already larger—by a factor of hundreds—than that of the largest economy in East Asia. The United States is sending an aircraft carrier to the worst-hit regions and has promised $20 million in emergency aid. Millions more will be raised by U.S. charities. The British are sending a warship and $16 million. Even the Vatican has promised $4 million. And the government of China, the new land of opportunity? $100,000….

The Chinese do give development aid, but differently: not in response to tragedies, not to counter disaster, but to facilitate the export of raw materials to China. There is merit to some of China’s efforts, especially in Africa. But the Chinese state is not, for the most part, interested in generosity for its own sake. Nor do many Chinese billionaires believe that new wealth brings new obligations. Several of them refused even to meet Bill Gates a few years ago, apparently because they were afraid he might ask them to give away some of their money.

All of which is not an elaborate excuse for messy America foreign policy, or the still-weak American economy, or the indecisive American president. It’s just a little reminder: U.S. strength may be waning, U.S. status may be fading, and U.S. attraction for talented foreigners may soon taper off. But there will be reasons to be sorry if America isn’t a superpower anymore, perhaps more than America’s critics think.

So, you know, it kinda does matter who the hegemonic superpower is.