Category Archives: Marketplace of ideas

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

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

Here’s what he was referring to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why DO Americans freak out so over single-payer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woman: Right. The Canadian health care system…

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

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

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

Jack: Avery, can you walk yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Headlines about Eric Holder

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

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

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

 

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

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

First, from a David Brooks column:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The worst idea the new American Party has come up with

I really groaned when I saw this:

Party to undertake “Recall” initiative for elected officials

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your continued support.

Dr. Jim Rex and Dr. Oscar Lovelace

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

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

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

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

This is disappointing.

Regarding Scotland, I add my cheers to Friedman’s

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

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

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

Three Cheers for Pluralism Over Separatism

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

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

Graham, McCain blame Obama for not stopping ISIL earlier

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

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

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

Boiled down, the four are:

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

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

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

This had social media buzzing this morning:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it’s interesting…

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

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

Deerin 2

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

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

Boy, was he right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When it shouldn’t.

Lindsey Graham’s reaction to Obama’s ISIL speech

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

Here are some excerpts from Graham’s speech:

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

Graham speak

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

shooter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ISIS, the Black Hole of Evil

Flag_of_The_Islamic_State.svg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it too late for Hillary Clinton?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do y’all think?

Hillary Clinton and Rand Paul step out to appeal to very different groups of voters (guess which one I’m in)

Charles Krauthammer today noted how Hillary Clinton is reaching out to appeal to voters like me (and Krauthammer himself to an extent):

Leave it to Barack Obama’s own former secretary of state to acknowledge the fatal flaw of his foreign policy: a total absence of strategic thinking.

Yes, of course everything Hillary Clinton says is positioning. The last time she sought the nomination (2008), as she admitted before Defense Secretary Bob Gates, she opposed the Iraq surge for political reasons because she was facing antiwar Sen. Barack Obama in Iowa. Now, as she prepares for her next run (2016), she’s positioning herself to the right because, with no prospect of being denied the Democratic nomination, she has the luxury of running toward the center two years before Election Day.

All true, but sincere or not — with the Clintons how can you ever tell? — it doesn’t matter. She’s right…

Yes, she is right. And she deserves the respect she gets for it.

Meanwhile, Rand Paul has been getting a lot of respect over what he has said about Ferguson, Mo. The Fix says his op-ed on the subject in TIME makes him “the most interesting voice in the GOP right now.”

That’s because, when it comes to the behavior of the cops in Ferguson, there’s a consensus across the political spectrum, and that consensus in this case happens to be the libertarian position. That makes Paul look, momentarily, like a centrist.

This brings Rand Paul to the fore among voters who are more focused on domestic issues than on foreign policy. And among those people, Hillary Clinton has been criticized:

Hillary Clinton has had much to say of late about foreign policy, drawing a great deal of coverage for an interview in which she pointed out her differences with President Obama on how he has handled crises around the world.

Analysts suggest that she is signaling to a general election electorate where she disagrees with the currently unpopular Obama on issues important to them, should she decide to run for president in 2016.

Closer to home, however, Clinton has yet to say anything about the events in Ferguson, Mo., which has exploded into protests – both peaceful and violent – since the weekend shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African American…

Elizabeth Warren has something to say about Ferguson, but not Hillary Clinton:

Which is one big reason why I prefer the Clinton view — either Bill’s or Hillary’s — to the Warren view, pretty much every time.

I’m one of these folks who believes the president’s chief job is dealing with foreign policy. That is, after all, what we have a federal government for.

I’m not one of those people who gets antsy waiting for the president — or someone who wants to be president — to opine about something that is clearly not part of the job. What’s happening in Missouri is clearly a state and local matter. The local folks weren’t handling it right, so the state stepped in. In a matter such as this, the role of the rest of us — including the president — is essentially that of a spectator (unless things deteriorate to the point that federal troops are sent in, which has yet to happen and seems unlikely to happen). We may have strong opinions about what we’re seeing (assuming that we’re watching it, instead of watching the deteriorating situations in Iraq and Ukraine), but we are not the ones expected or empowered to take action in that sphere.

This has been an important week, within the context of the 2016 presidential campaign. In each party, a leading contender (or in the case of Hillary Clinton, the contender) has stepped out to define a position that cements that contender status.

They did so in ways that don’t invite comparison — except in terms of noting how very separate their spheres of interest and focus are.

The missing word in Cindi Scoppe’s column today

I refer you to the ending of Cindi Scoppe’s column today, which explains that while we do need to spend more to upgrade our roads, their condition is not the greatest contributor to traffic fatalities in our state. She lists some of the other factors:

… The biggest problem: The Legislature refuses to treat drunk driving the way it treats other highway safety laws and the way all the other states treat it. Rather than making it illegal per se to drive with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent, it practically begs jurors to conclude that a driver with a BAC of 0.08 percent, or higher, didn’t really look that drunk.

To understand how absurd our law is, imagine being clocked at 90 mph in a 55 zone but being found not guilty because you convinced a jury that you were in complete control of the vehicle the entire time. Our laws don’t even give you a chance to try that sort of defense — unless you’re charged with drunk driving.

Of course, drunk driving isn’t our only problem.

Distracted driving is a huge problem, but we don’t restrict cell-phone use — even among drivers who are so inexperienced that we don’t let them drive at night or with friends in the car.

Our death rates are high for motorcyclists, but we don’t require adults to wear helmets.

Elderly drivers are more dangerous than all but the youngest drivers, but we don’t require road tests or more frequent license renewals for older drivers. (We do require a vision test every five years, rather than the normal 10 years, but the 10-year standard is just asking for trouble for everyone.)

We prohibit the use of traffic and red-light cameras.

We don’t have particularly tough penalties for speeding in work zones.

And the list goes on.

It’s all an outgrowth of our resistance to anyone telling us what to do. And it all contributes, a lot more than the condition of our roads, to our deadly highways.

She left a word out of that penultimate sentence. She should have said, “It’s all an outgrowth of our childish resistance to anyone telling us what to do.”

Maybe she thought it would be redundant. Or maybe she didn’t want to unfairly malign children by using that modifier to explain the hard-headed, self-destructive, don’t-care-what-harm-I-do-to-others attitude that infects our politics, and keeps us from having sane, sensible laws that would help us be healthier, wealthier and wiser.

Why do I say “childish?” Because of my extensive experience with 2-year-olds, and then later with teenagers, whose insistence upon doing what they want to do, and doing it their way, without adult interference, is such a danger to them and others.

My grandson is 2, and up until know he has been a compliant child, receptive to adults’ caring influence. Now, he’s a sweet as ever, but his favorite word is “Me!” As in, he wants to fasten the straps on his car seat himself, which is worrisome. Fortunately, it hasn’t yet occurred to him to go without such a restraint — which makes him more mature than the sort of adult voter who keeps us from having reasonable laws in South Carolina.

Our governor’s mature, calm, professional op-ed piece

During my vacation last week, I saw Nikki Haley’s op-ed piece taking issue with an editorial that took issue with her, shall we say, lack of precision with facts and figures. An excerpt from the Haley piece:

The State newspaper’s editorial board recently reminded its readers that they should verify the things I say (“There she goes again,” July 22). I couldn’t agree more. It’s a good reminder, and I encourage the editorial board to verify the statements of all public officials. The people of our state deserve an honest, open and accountable government that serves them, not the other way around. It’s something I’ve fought for every day of my administration….

If The State editorial board believes that I meant to imply that all 3,000 regulations the task force reviewed were recommended for extinction, then either I misspoke or the members of the board misinterpreted what I said. Either one could be the case — I am not always perfect in the words I choose, and I’d guess that The State editorial writers are not perfect either….

Here’s what struck me about the piece: It was lucid, mature, and to the point.

While it verged on sarcasm in one or two spots, it was considerably less defensive than I expected it to be, based on the topic and the author and her usual tone when complaining about being mistreated by the press.

She made effective use of her opportunity to get her own message out, rather than wasting a lot of her words and energy whining about the newspaper being mean to her.

I considered it to be a very grown-up, professional response. And it made me wonder who is behind this shift in style of communication.

And yeah, I know that sounds really, really condescending. But I don’t mean it to be. This governor has shown a tendency to be thin-skinned, and has lavished little love on the MSM, but based on my experience with op-eds from thin-skinned politicos in the past — not just her — this was a departure.

I’ve been in this situation enough to know when someone departs from the pattern, which goes like this: A politician or other public figure who doesn’t have the greatest relationship with the paper asks for space to rebut something said about him or her or something he or she is involved in. You indicate openness to running such a piece. It comes in, and it’s nothing but an extended whine about how mean the paper is, and the writer’s defense gets lost amid the moaning.

At that point, I would delicately suggest that the writer was doing himself or herself an injustice, and wasting an opportunity. I would suggest bumping up the parts that actually rebut what we had published, and leaving out all the unsupported complaining that was beside the point and bound to make the writer look petty and turn off a disinterested observer.

The writer’s hackles would rise, and I’d be accused of suppressing legitimate opinion and just wanting to leave out the stuff that made the paper look bad. When what I was honestly trying to do was help the writer avoid looking bad, and help him or her make the most of the space. To help the reader focus on the actual difference of opinion, rather than the acrimony.

Anyway, I started reading this piece expecting one of those experiences. But it wasn’t like that at all. The governor did a good job of fighting her corner, and looking cool and above the fray — and managed to spend some paragraphs getting her own message out beyond the immediate point of contention.

It was a very smart, professional job, and I was impressed.

Obamacare ruling: WOW, talk about a lack of perspective!

There’s some big news out of a federal appeals court in D.C., and I am just stunned by the lack of perspective in the way The Washington Post is reporting it:

federal appeals court panel in the District struck down a major part of the 2010 health-care law Tuesday, ruling that the tax subsidies that are central to the program may not be provided in at least half of the states.

The ruling, if upheld, could potentially be more damaging to the law than last month’s Supreme Court decision on contraceptives. [emphasis mine]

The three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with plaintiffs who argued that the language of the law barred the government from giving subsidies to people in states that chose not to set up their own insurance marketplaces. Twenty-seven states, most with Republican leaders who oppose the law, decided against setting up marketplaces, and another nine states partially opted out…..

Wow. Do ya think?

This ruling, “if upheld,” would mean Obamacare would cease to exist for those of us in South Carolina and in 26 other states. There would be nothing left of it. We don’t have the Medicaid expansion, and we don’t have a state exchange, so this would be it — no one — South Carolina would be getting health insurance through the ACA.

Which, of course, is precisely what Nikki Haley and all those other SC Republicans who hate Barack Obama and all he stands for far, FAR more than they care about the people of SC want. Their dream, our nightmare, would be achieved — South Carolina would have “opted out” of health care reform.

Compare that to a ruling that closely-held corporations with religious objections would not have to cover some contraceptives — while covering EVERYTHING ELSE that a person would go to a doctor for.

So, uh, yeah, it could “potentially” (that hedge word is just the cherry on top of this monument to lack of perspective) be more damaging to the law.

Wow. Wow…

I’ll get mad at Nikki Haley and her fellow ideologues who put South Carolina in a position to be denied any benefit (any benefit at all, people, not just your preferred contraceptives, or your favorite antihistamines, or your chosen brand of bandages) from the ACA later. Right now, my mind is too boggled by that observation from the WashPost

I don’t know anything about this Sandhya Somashekhar person who wrote the piece, but does she not have an editor?!?!?

Barton Swaim on Sanford and the public apology meme

Two recent posts — this one about Mark Sanford and this one about a public apology — remind me that a couple of weeks back, I meant to mention this book review in the WSJ, written by Columbia’s own Barton Swaim.

Yeah, I know — you click on the link and can’t read the review. I have the same problem, ever since my subscription ran out and the WSJ has refused to offer me terms anywhere near as reasonable as those they offered me in the past. (By contrast, I recently took advantage of an awesome, one-day deal offered by The Washington Post — $29 for a year of total access across all platforms, including the most important, my iPad. I’ve been enjoying it. The WSJ, unfortunately, wants almost that much per month.)

Anyway, it’s a review of Sorry About That by Edwin L. Battistella. It’s about public apologies, and I started reading the review with Mark Sanford in mind. Because I’ve heard more such apologies from him than from anyone. (While I’ve seen nothing that looks like actual contrition, no indication that there is anything that he did that he is truly sorry for.)

So I was startled when I got to this paragraph:

Apologizers’ attempts to avoid naming their offense, says Mr. Battistella, often make their apologies sound inauthentic and self-exculpatory. Instead of repeating or even paraphrasing the unwise remarks that prompted the apology, they will refer to “a careless, off-handed remark” or “insensitive words”; embezzling funds becomes a “mistake,” adultery a “poor decision I deeply regret.” I have a vivid memory of my former boss, Mark Sanford, in the days after his adulterous affair was revealed to the public. (Mr. Battistella devotes a brief section of his book to the governor of South Carolina, as he then was.) He would often refer to the affair in a grammatically bizarre way: “that which has caused the stir that it has.”…

Voldemort was He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Sanford’s long-lasting lapse was “The-Sin-That-Must-Not-Be-Named.”

You know what? Bemused, jaded-wounding observations like Barton’s cause me to have the following thought: I’m not sure that anyone who worked for Mark Sanford as governor forgives him to the extent that he, Mark Sanford, believes he should be forgiven.

Toal was wrong about Wilson and the press release

Cindi Scoppe had another strong column today relating to the Harrell-Wilson case. Basically, it was about how creepily accurate the rumor mill has been about how judges would rule on the case thus far, starting with predictions that Casey Manning would come up with the bizarre notion that the attorney general lacked the authority to prosecute the speaker.

It ends with the current rumor, which is that the court will overturn Judge Manning’s ruling, but “direct the judge to decide whether Mr. Wilson should be replaced with another prosecutor and strongly suggest that he should be.”

Let’s hope the rumor mill is wrong on this one, because it would be bad for South Carolina to have the attorney general undermined in his effort to treat the speaker like any other citizen. It would mean victory for the speaker, whose goal all along has been to kick Wilson off the case.

Some of the speculation may arise from Chief Justice Jean Toal’s concern about the “unprecedented” press release that Wilson put out announcing that he was asking a grand jury to consider the Harrell case.

The thing is, the chief justice is wrong about the release being unprecedented, or even unusual:

We have heard for weeks that the chief justice was fixated on the news release that Mr. Wilson sent out in January announcing that he was referring the case to the Grand Jury. And on Tuesday Ms. Toal brought that up and returned to it multiple times, going so far as to call it “unprecedented” and say she had “never heard of having a news release to announce you’re going to submit something to the Grand Jury, ever.” So that rumor appears to have been correct as well.

That point merits a little more explanation, particularly because it plays into the final piece of speculation, which has not yet played out. Justice Toal might never have noticed such a thing, but it is by no means unprecedented. I still have the news release Mr. Wilson sent out in 2011 announcing he was asking the Grand Jury to investigate then-Lt. Gov. Ken Ard. When I asked the attorney general’s office on Wednesday about similar news releases, I was provided with three others, involving S.C. State University and two high-profile securities fraud investigations. I also was sent six news articles in which the attorney general’s office confirmed that other high-profile cases had been referred to the Grand Jury.

I’m told from previous administrations that the main goal of these news releases is to get reporters to stop hounding the office for information, by making it clear that no more comment can be made….

If any of the momentum toward removing Wilson arises from concern over the press release, I hope the justices will read, and consider, that section of Cindi’s column before ruling.