Category Archives: The Nation

Jeb Bush on the Veterans Administration

This release from SC Democrats reminded me of the Jeb Bush event I attended Monday evening:

SC Dems: “Jeb Bush’s Plan to Privatize Veterans Health Care Services Would Be a Disaster
Columbia, SC—The South Carolina Democratic Party released a statement from Beaufort County Democratic Party Chair and retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Blaine Lotz regarding former Florida Governor and Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush campaigning in the Palmetto State today.
“Jeb Bush’s plan to privatize veterans’ health care services would be a disaster for South Carolina veterans. As Governor of Florida, Bush proposed a similar plan that was so disastrous, it was replaced shortly after he left office. Jeb Bush continues to support outdated policies that prove as President, he would look out for his wealthy donors and special interests over our veterans and military families.”

 

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What are they talking about?

Well, Bush had released several proposals with regard to veterans’ benefits on Monday, in advance of the Concerned Veterans for America event I attended over at Seawell’s. (I went basically to take my Dad there, who as a veteran was invited. We didn’t stay for all of it, which is one reason I didn’t write about it before now.) Here’s how Military Times described the proposals, in part:

Bush’s VA reform plan, to be unveiled later today in advance of an appearance with Concerned Veterans for America in South Carolina tonight, includes expanding “choice” options for care outside the department without cutting funding for VA hospitals and medical staff.

Instead, he promises that extra funds can be found through “cutting excess administrators (not caregivers)” and eliminating “billions of dollars in waste, fraud, and abuse.” That includes more competitive bidding for department contracts and firing poorly performing employees.

“Ample resources exist within the VA budget to improve the quality and scope of care,” Bush’s policy paper states. “In other government agencies, common-sense reforms have saved billions. The VA must get its house in order and send savings into improving veteran choice and veteran care.”

He’s also promising better online health care access systems for veterans, calling existing offerings too cumbersome and outdated….

The video clip above shows him talking about his proposals — not in any detail. I just share it to give you some flavor of the event…

Bush speaking to veterans. For those of you who notice such things, Sen. John Courson is in the red shirt on the left-hand side of the image; Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster is seen at the extreme right. McMaster is backing Lindsey Graham; I don't know where Courson stands.

Bush speaking to veterans. For those of you who notice such things, Sen. John Courson is in the Marine Corps red shirt on the left-hand side of the image; Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster is seen at the extreme right. McMaster is backing Lindsey Graham; I don’t know where Courson stands.

OK, let’s talk about guns in America

State Sen. Marlon Kimpson says he’ll introduce legislation to do the following in the wake of the Emanuel AME massacre and other recent mass shootings:

▪  Close a three-day loophole that allows some S.C. gun purchasers to buy and take home a gun before a background check has been completed. That rule, and errors in the federal background-checking system, allowed alleged Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof to buy a gun.

▪  Require background checks to be conducted through the State Law Enforcement Division and the federal system before a gun sale can be completed

▪  Ban assault weapons, defined as semi-automatic firearms designed and configured for rapid fire

▪ Require reporting of lost or stolen guns

▪ Require state registration and permitting of all guns…

In response to Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin’s statement that there is “no appetite” in the State House for gun control legislation — which you had probably guessed already — Sen. Kimpson “said the Charleston church shootings, which killed nine African-Americans including a state senator, ‘opened people’s minds to doing things in the State House that have never been done before.'”

Which is true enough. Whether that applies to this, however, remains to be seen.

On the same day that I read that, I received a graphic from someone with a blog called CrimeWire, urging me to share it.

Actually it doesn’t tell me a lot I didn’t know, but I share it for those of you who like infographics. It’s lighter on numbers than most such efforts. For instance, I doubt many minds will be changed by such an assertion as, “The Harvard Injury Control Research Center found that there’s substantial evidence that indicates more guns means more murders.” Oh, yeah, says Jim Bob, sittin’ with the boys around the cracker barrel. I bet they’s a heap o’ hunters up at the Harvard Injury Control Research Center.

For those who prefer text, the facts in the graphic seem to have come from a Washington Post story, headlined “11 essential facts about guns and mass shootings in the United States,” that ran the morning after the Charleston shootings.

As for my own views… As I’ve stated before, I think the problem in America is just that too many guns exist. Everybody talks about the rights of individual gun owners, but I don’t really look at who owns the guns. Ownership is something that can change easily, through burglary for instance. There are just too many of them in existence, and it’s inevitable that some of them will be in the hands of the wrong people at the wrong time.

It’s an economic problem: Too many violent people chasing too many guns.

But while I feel like I diagnose the problem correctly, I have no idea what to do about it. I just don’t see a solution. We are so far down this road, and nothing but the mass destruction of the overwhelming majority of guns that exist would back us up. And there are far too many Americans who adamantly oppose taking a single step back. I don’t see that changing.

So I’m not terribly hopeful that any legislation I’ve seen or heard of would have a chance of significantly reducing gun violence. Anything that passes constitutional muster just tinkers with the technicalities of how guns change hands and move around.

Oh, and before the more dedicated advocates for the 2nd Amendment start hollering, “Brad’s gonna round up all your guns and destroy them,” allow me to clarify: That is NOT gonna happen. Not in this country. No one can MAKE it happen. It’s a political impossibility. So stay cool. I only mention this to underline the fact that I see no workable solution to the problem of Too Many Guns.

I usually don’t say “I give up” on an issue. I usually try to suggest a solution. But I just don’t know where to go on this.

GunsAndAmerica_IG

Video illustrates why Clinton team is nervous

End of last week, The Washington Post had a story headlined, “Clinton’s team went from nonchalant to nervous over e-mail controversy.”

An anti-Clinton video from the America Rising PAC helps illustrate, in a visceral way, why that might be. Imagine you’re a Clinton campaign staffer, and feel your guts tighten up as you watch.

The video was brought to my attention by Jennifer Rubin, who described it this way:

Hillary screengrab

Thoughts on the GOP debate(s) last night?

debate_closingstatement_080615

Y’all are likely better situated to comment than I am.

First, I missed the early, junior-varsity debate. I was still at work, on a deadline. Then, at 9, I tried to tune in, and found Fox didn’t want to let me do that, even streaming on my laptop. I fumed about that for half an hour or so before Tweeting this:

I mean, seriously: I don’t DO cable these days. Who needs it, with Netflix, Amazon and HBO NOW? And in the 21st century, what major content organization doesn’t want the whole world buzzing about it when it has an exclusive such as this? Dumb. Fox should be looking for viable ways to move away from old-school cable, the way HBO has.

But the nice thing about griping on Twitter is that people go out of their way to offer you solutions. Soon, I was watching it on the SkyNews app on Apple TV. (And apparently Fox even tried to shut that down, but missed the Apple TV avenue.)

So I saw more than an hour of it, and you know what? I was pretty impressed. It could have been SO much worse with that many people on the stage, especially when one of them is Donald Trump. But even The Donald, while bombastic and so red-faced I thought he was about to bust a blood vessel, actually seemed to be trying to be a serious candidate, after his fashion.

The Fox people were really putting their best foot forward, and the moderators — Mike Wallace’s boy, the hot blonde with the late-’60s eyelashes, and the earnest, round-headed kid — were taking their jobs seriously. Fox REALLY should have been paying people to watch this, rather than trying to limit the audience, because it would have made a good impression on people who haven’t seen them lately.

The three were asking serious, tough questions, and following up very professionally, as former Greenville News editorialist Paul Hyde noted on Facebook:

Much to their credit, the Fox News journalists are acting like journalists, challenging the individual candidates on economic policy, abortion, and their own divisive, sexist and strident statements.

You know they were doing a decent job, because a lot of the so-called “conservatives” watching were really ticked off at them. They were all like, “Et tu, Fox?” Only not in Latin, of course.

As for the candidates, I actually felt like I was getting some useful impressions of them, despite the fact that there were far too many of them. Not that I changed my mind or anything — I had previously had the most positive impressions of (in no particular order) Bush, Rubio, Christie and Huckabee, and I came away feeling about the same.

My biggest regret, aside from missing most of the first hour, was that I would have liked Lindsey Graham to be there. I think he would have held his own pretty well. I didn’t really care to see him with the second-tier, although I would have watched if not for the work conflict. That said, I think the criteria for choosing who made the varsity game was fair.

It was interesting. There was plenty of foolishness to put me off, but there was food for thought. And I didn’t expect that from such a crowd scene…

moderators

The moderators — Mike Wallace’s boy, the hot blonde with the late-’60s eyelashes, and the earnest, round-headed kid — did a good job.

Thanks to the Voting Rights Act, we’re a better, fairer country — no matter what the Democrats say

LBJ and MLK at the signing of the Voting Rights Act.

LBJ and MLK at the signing of the Voting Rights Act.

Within the past two or three hours, I’ve received three releases marking the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act — from Jim Clyburn, the Hillary Clinton campaign and the S.C. Democratic Party.

Unfortunately, none of these communications are as celebratory as they should be. They’re all, “the Voting Rights Act is great, but our rights are in terrible danger.”

Which is a shame, because the Act deserves an unqualified hurrah.

Clyburn’s release is typical:

CLYBURN STATEMENT ON 50TH ANNIVERSARY
OF THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT OF 1965

WASHINGTON – U.S. House Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn (SC) released the following statement on the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965:

“On this day fifty years ago, surrounded by leaders of both political parties, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. It was a moment worthy of both celebration and reflection. Today, we stand at a similar crossroads.

“The right to vote is the cornerstone of democracy and the foundation upon which all other rights are built. Nearly a century after the ratification of the 15th Amendment, which protected the franchise in theory but not in fact, the world watched as peaceful protesters were brutally attacked and beaten by police while marching for voting rights on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Just five months later, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law, and millions of African Americans were finally able to exercise their right to vote.

“Sadly, in 2015, this fundamental right is under threat yet again. Two years ago, the Supreme Court gutted a key component of the Voting Rights Act and made it easier for states to discriminate against minority, elderly and disabled Americans by deliberately making it harder for them to exercise their right to vote. Republican leaders in Congress have thus far refused to take up bipartisan legislation to restore the Voting Rights Act, as states continue to erect new barriers to the ballot box.

“Today, as we celebrate the proud legacy of the Voting Rights Act and reflect on symbolic victories like the furling of the Confederate battle flag in my home state of South Carolina, we must also take substantive action to restore the Voting Rights Act. I call on my Republican colleagues in Congress to do more than issue statements celebrating the past—I urge them to look to the future and work with us to protect the voting rights of all Americans for the next fifty years and beyond.”

– 30 –

No Democrat, it seems, can mention the Act without also bemoaning either of the following, or both: The first is the Supreme Court opinion that lifted the onerous burden from some jurisdictions (and not others, which is key) to get advance approval from the Justice Department before proceeding with any change to its local laws bearing on voting. The second is the ongoing efforts by Republicans to require picture IDs to vote.

What the Supreme Court did was rule on the constitutionality of two provisions in the Act:

Section 5, which requires certain states and local governments to obtain federal preclearance before implementing any changes to their voting laws or practices; and Section 4(b), which contains the coverage formula that determines which jurisdictions are subjected to preclearance based on their histories of discrimination in voting.[3][4]

On June 25, 2013, the Court ruled by a 5-to-4 vote that Section 4(b) is unconstitutional because the coverage formula is based on data over 40 years old, making it no longer responsive to current needs and therefore an impermissible burden on the constitutional principles of federalism and equal sovereignty of the states.[3][4] The Court did not strike down Section 5, but without Section 4(b), no jurisdiction will be subject to Section 5 preclearance unless Congress enacts a new coverage formula.[5]

… which makes sense to me. What did NOT make sense, what was unfair, was the presumption of guilt of anyone residing within particular geographical areas, based on what other people did or did not do 40 years previously.

Why should these jurisdictions not be governed by the law in the same way that all the other jurisdictions in the country were: by getting in trouble if they actually violated the law, rather than having to get advance permission to act based on a presumption of guilt?

As for the Voter ID laws: As I’ve expressed many times before, I find the positions of both the Republicans and Democrats unpersuasive. The Republicans fail to convince me that there’s this huge fraud problem that we need such laws to address, and the Democrats fail to persuade me that the ID requirement is an onerous burden.

I’ll say this for the Democrats: Between the two positions, theirs (that barriers to voting should be low) sounds way nobler than the Republicans’ (that certain people — a category Republicans would describe, unconvincingly, as people trying to vote fraudulently — should be prevented from voting).

But the bottom line, of course, is that one strongly suspects that on a certain level Republicans want these laws because they think they will increase their chances of winning elections, and Democrats oppose them because they think the Republicans are right about that.

In any case, couldn’t we have just one day in which we celebrate a good thing without adulterating the celebration with another reminder of how awful we think those OTHER people are?

So let’s hear it for the Voting Rights Act: Hip-hip…

Why on Earth did Jeb Bush say ‘women’s health’ when that’s not what he meant?

What’s amazing about Jeb Bush getting into trouble over what he said about Planned Parenthood — which led to his having to issue a clarification — is that he essentially handed the cudgel to his critics and begged them to beat him with it.

Here’s what he said:

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, who has been criticized recently by some conservatives for serving on the board of a charity that gave money to Planned Parenthood, called for the organization’s defunding during an interview Tuesday with a Southern Baptist leader.

“If you took dollar for dollar, though, I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues,” said Bush, to the cheers and applause from the audience of 13,000 Southern Baptists during his interview with Russell Moore at the denomination’s missions conference….

Obviously, what he meant to say was, I don’t think we need to send half a billion in tax dollars to the nation’s largest provider of abortions. Because, you know, that’s what we do. And that was the context of the statement.

But instead, he adopted the language of the people who use “women’s health” as a euphemism for abortion. This is something we all know and understand, whatever our positions on the issue. If we didn’t know that, we would have a terrible time following political debates. Anyone who thinks “women’s health,” in a political context, refers to fighting breast cancer or putting free clinics to promote overall health in poor neighborhoods is a person who’s going to be very confused about what is being discussed.

So why would Bush use the preferred euphemism of his opposition on this issue, thereby enabling them (with towering cynicism) to paint him as actually being opposed to, you know, women’s health? (Which is something that no one is against, which is why they say that instead of “abortion.”)

It’s inexplicable. Will he continue this trend? Will he start stating his position on abortion to be “anti-choice?” Will he express his objection to Planned Parenthood as being that it “prevents us from controlling women’s bodies?” Will he start wearing an actual sign on his back saying, “Kick Me, Hard?”

We all know that Donald Trump has said some stupid stuff lately. But on this, Jeb Bush voluntarily stuffed both feet in his mouth, completely unnecessarily.

It depends on what the meaning of ‘Christian’ is…

I'm using this photo from Scott Walker's website not because it particularly goes with this post, but to be helpful: If I were to write a post headlined, "Top Five GOP Presidential Candidates I'd Have Trouble Picking Out of a Police Lineup," he'd make the list.

I’m using this photo from Scott Walker’s website not because it particularly goes with this post, but to help y’all get used to seeing him: If I were to write a post headlined, “Top Five GOP Presidential Candidates I’d Have Trouble Picking Out of a Police Lineup,” he’d make the list. And it occurs to me that maybe some of y’all would have the same problem. Or maybe not. Other people watch more TV than I do…

Scott Walker is in hot water again — with Democrats, anyway, which probably isn’t keeping him up nights — for expressing something short of 100 percent certainty on whether POTUS is a Christian:

“You’re not going to get a different answer than I said before,” the Wisconsin governor said. “I don’t know. I presume he is. … But I’ve never asked him about that. As someone who is a believer myself, I don’t presume to know someone’s beliefs about whether they follow Christ or not unless I’ve actually talked with them.”…

Walker wrapped up his answer by saying, “He’s said he is, and I take him at his word.”…

OK, yeah, I get it. Obama is a special case. Expressing anything short of total acceptance of his avowed Christianity hints at birtherism. Dog whistles and all that.

But… suppose for a moment that Walker said that about any one of the other 7 billion and something people on the planet. In those cases, I would say his caution was entirely defensible.

This interests me for reasons totally unrelated to Barack Obama and the paranoid fantasies about him to which some fringe folk subscribe. It has to do with the proper use of the word “Christian.”

I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable myself answering the question, “Are you a Christian?” Not because of the denotative meaning of the word — one who professes belief in Jesus Christ and his teachings — but because of the connotations that attach to it.

Once, it was used among English speakers to mean something like “normal,” or civilized. For instance, the historical novelist Patrick O’Brian would put it in the mouths of his Regency Period characters when they were talking about the normal, proper way of doing a thing. The physician Stephen Maturin, despite years at sea, remains such a landsman that he can’t climb the rigging the way seamen do and must ascend to the top through the “lubber’s hole.” So his friend Jack Aubrey might speak of his inability to get up there “like a Christian.” Aubrey, who is just as incompetent on land as his friend is at sea, is a terrible gardener, so his rose bushes do not resemble “anything planted by a Christian for his pleasure.”

That sense has gone out of favor. Most people would find it confusing today, and like as not take offense at it.

Nevertheless, many English speakers today seem to use the word as a sort of honorific, as something describing a person who has arrived spiritually. This is most common among those who are in the habit of describing Christians as people who are “saved,” as opposed to people who are merely striving to follow the teachings of the carpenter/rabbi from Nazareth.

If I was sure everyone understood it in that striving sense — as describing someone who believes, and wants to live up to the standards set by the teachings of Jesus, and tries to do so — then I’d be perfectly comfortable telling one and all that I am a Christian. Or at least, attempting to be. (After all, I must ask myself always, am I even a Christian in the sense of striving? Am I really trying hard enough to qualify?)

But I fear they may take it the other way, as some sort of self-congratulation on my part — which to me would be contradictory to the whole belief system. In other words, if I said “yes” without mixed feelings, would I be disqualifying myself?

Anyway, if Scott Walker or anyone else says he can’t know whether I am truly a Christian, I’ll congratulate him on his humility in admitting he doesn’t know something he lacks the power to truly know, since it’s a point upon which I can even confuse myself.

But then, I’m not Barack Obama.

SCDP interviews Hillary Clinton in rocking chair

Clinton rocking chair

Here’s an interesting series that the South Carolina Democratic Party is offering — half-hour interviews with presidential candidates, sitting in rocking chairs.

Why, Hillary looks so natural there, I could swear she was sittin’ out on the porch of the family home in Bennettsville, shelling butter beans with my grandmother.

Or not. In any case, I couldn’t help making that connection since Jaime Harrison’s first question to the candidate is about how she feels about being a grandmother. The interview is about eight minutes in before it moves past the subject of relearning how to change diapers.

So yeah, it’s kinda softball. But hey, take a look and toss whatever you learn from it into the hopper with the rest of what you know about the candidate.

And then check out the “chair chats” with Bernie Sanders, Lincoln Chaffee and others.

The embed is below:

Dylann Roof to face federal hate crime charges

This just in a little while ago:

A federal grand jury on Wednesday indicted Dylann Roof for hate crimes in the June killings of nine African-Americans at a Charleston church, according to sources familiar with a federal-state investigation.

The 33-count indictment charges Roof, 21, a white man from the Columbia area, with 12 counts of committing a federal hate crime (nine counts of murder and three attempted murders), 12 counts of obstructing the exercise of religion and nine counts of the use of a firearm to commit murder.

Hate crimes under federal law are crimes committed against someone because of their race, color, religion, religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation or disability. South Carolina does not have a hate crimes law, but some 45 states do.

Under federal law, prosecutors may seek the death penalty where violent death has resulted The U.S. Justice Department is exploring whether to seek the death penalty against Roof….

Personally, I’m happy to see “the book” and all the charges it contains thrown at this guy.

But… I should note that I don’t believe “hate crimes” should be in the book to start with. Punish the deed, not the political attitude behind the deed. This is one of those few areas where I agree with libertarians: Allowing the government to punish attitudes is giving government too much power, and an offense against the freedom of conscience enshrined in the 1st Amendment. One is allowed, in this country, to harbor horrible ideas, as long as one does not act upon them.

Which leads me to the possibility of the feds pursuing the death penalty.

Three points on that:

  1. I don’t believe in the death penalty.
  2. If I did believe in the death penalty, the killer of the Emanuel Nine would definitely be a candidate for it.
  3. If I did believe in the death penalty, I certainly wouldn’t want it administered for “hate crimes,” for the aforementioned reason. If you’re going to hang a man, do it for murder, not for his motivation.

What kind of a world is it, when a creep like Trump feels free to fling such trash at honorable men?

Jack Van Loan in 2006.

Jack Van Loan in 2006.

After posting that Open Thread with the item about what Trump said about John McCain, I went to the movies with my son to see “Ant Man.” Pretty good flick.

But while there, I missed a call from my friend Jack Van Loan. When I saw he’d called, I had a pretty good idea why.

And it made me feel sick to know that when Trump attempted to besmirch the honor of McCain, he was also throwing his trash at Jack. Which is beyond disgusting.

Jack left this message, obviously choosing his words carefully:

Brad, this is Jack Van Loan, calling you at 6:25 on Sunday. I’m terribly disappointed in my friend, uh… (long pause) that shot his mouth off about John McCain. John served awfully, awfully well, did a hell of a good job under terrific pressure – torture, etc., etc. — and I’m very disappointed that anybody would pick on him.

I’ve tried to get hold of your editor, and evidently I don’t have the right number. But if you would call me…, I would appreciate you telling him what I really think, OK.

Give me a call; thank you.

I tried to call him back, but missed him. Since he wanted to talk to someone at the paper, I called Executive Editor Mark Lett and left both of the numbers I had for Jack. I hope they have better luck reaching him than I did.

I didn’t reach Jack, but I’ll share with you a column I wrote when someone else attacked his friend John’s record, in January 2008 — the month of the South Carolina primary:

By BRAD WARTHEN
Editorial Page Editor
ON MAY 20, 1967, Air Force pilot Jack Van Loan was shot down over North Vietnam. His parachute carried him to Earth well enough, but he landed all wrong.
“I hit the ground, and I slid, and I hit a tree,” he said. This provided an opportunity for his captors at the prison known as the “Hanoi Hilton.”
“My knee was kind of screwed up and they … any time they found you with some problems, then they would, they would bear down on the problems,” he said. “I mean, they worked on my knee pretty good … and, you know, just torturing me.”
In October of Jack’s first year in Hanoi, a new prisoner came in, a naval aviator named John McCain. He was in really bad shape. He had ejected over Hanoi, and had landed in a lake right in the middle of the city. He suffered two broken arms and a broken leg ejecting. He nearly drowned in the lake before a mob pulled him out, and then set upon him. They spat on him, kicked him and stripped his clothes off. Then they crushed his shoulder with a rifle butt, and bayoneted him in his left foot and his groin.
That gave the enemy something to “bear down on.” Lt. Cmdr. McCain would be strung up tight by his unhealed arms, hog-tied and left that way for the night.
“John was no different than anyone else, except that he was so badly hurt,” said Jack. “He was really badly, badly hurt.”
Jack and I got to talking about all this when he called me Wednesday morning, outraged over a story that had appeared in that morning’s paper, headlined “McCain’s war record attacked.” A flier put out by an anti-McCain group was claiming the candidate had given up military information in return for medical treatment as a POW in Vietnam.
This was the kind of thing the McCain campaign had been watching out for. The Arizona senator came into South Carolina off a New Hampshire win back in 2000, but lost to George W. Bush after voters received anonymous phone calls telling particularly nasty lies about his private life. So the campaign has been on hair-trigger alert in these last days before the 2008 primary on Saturday.
Jack, a retired colonel whom I’ve had the privilege of knowing for more than a decade, believes his old comrade would make the best president “because of all the stressful situations that he’s been under, and the way he’s responded.” But he had called me about something more important than that. It was a matter of honor.
Jack was incredulous: “To say that John would ask for medical treatment in return for military information is just preposterous. He turned down an opportunity to go home early, and that was right in front of all of us.”
“I mean, he was yelling it. I couldn’t repeat the language he used, and I wouldn’t repeat the language he used, but boy, it was really something. I turned to my cellmate … who heard it all also loud and clear; I said, ‘My God, they’re gonna kill him for that.’”
The North Vietnamese by this time had stopped the torture — even taken McCain to the hospital, which almost certainly saved his life — and now they wanted just one thing: They wanted him to agree to go home, ahead of other prisoners. They saw in him an opportunity for a propaganda coup, because of something they’d figured out about him.
“They found out rather quick that John’s father was (Admiral) John Sidney McCain II,” who was soon to be named commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific, Jack said. “And they came in and said, ‘Your father big man, and blah-blah-blah,’ and John gave ’em name, rank and serial number and date of birth.”
But McCain refused to accept early release, and Jack says he never acknowledged that his Dad was CINCPAC.
Jack tries hard to help people who weren’t there understand what it was like. He gave a speech right after he finally was freed and went home. His father, a community college president in Oregon and “a consummate public speaker,” told him “That was the best talk I’ve ever heard you give.”
But, his father added: “‘They didn’t believe you.’
“It just stopped me cold. ‘What do you mean, they didn’t believe me?’ He said, ‘They didn’t understand what you were talking about; you’ve got to learn to relate to them.’”
“And I’ve worked hard on that,” he told me. “But it’s hard as hell…. You might be talking to an audience of two or three hundred people; there might be one or two guys that spent a night in a drunk tank. Trying to tell ‘em what solitary confinement is all about, most people … they don’t even relate to it.”
Jack went home in the second large group of POWs to be freed in connection with the Paris Peace Talks, on March 4, 1973. “I was in for 70 months. Seven-zero — seventy months.” Doctors told him that if he lived long enough, he’d have trouble with that knee. He eventually got orthoscopic surgery right here in Columbia, where he is an active community leader — the current president of the Columbia Rotary.
John McCain, who to this day is unable to raise his hands above his head — an aide has to comb his hair for him before campaign appearances — was released in the third group. He could have gone home long, long before that, but he wasn’t going to let his country or his comrades down.
The reason Jack called me Wednesday was to make sure I knew that.

Campaigning with McCain in 2007.

Campaigning with McCain in 2007.

Bernstein files bill to try to stop the next Dylann Roof

This just in from the House Democrats:

Rep. Beth Bernstein to Introduce Background Check Completion Act in SC House
 
Legislation will mirror Congressman Jim Clyburn’s bill in US House
 
Columbia, SC – Richland County State Representative Beth Bernstein announced Thursday that she will prefile the “Background Check Completion Act” in December. The same bill was filed earlier this week in the U.S. House of Representatives by South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn.
The bill will require licensed gun dealers in South Carolina to wait until a background check is completed before selling a firearm. Under current law, if the FBI does not approve or deny the background check within three days, the licensed dealer has the discretion to proceed with the sale of the firearm. The alleged shooter in the Charleston massacre used this loophole to purchase the weapon that was used to kill nine people last month. Bernstein’s bill will close that loophole and make sure all background checks are completed before a transaction can be made.
“This is one of the most dangerous loopholes we currently have in our gun laws,” said Representative Beth Bernstein, a mother of two young daughters. “Most law-abiding citizens who purchase firearms have their background checks approved within minutes. But when someone has a criminal record, or pending charge, it may take longer for the FBI to gather all the information to determine if that person is legally authorized to buy a gun. We shouldn’t put an arbitrary three day deadline on something that could result in a deranged individual or criminal purchasing a gun. If we’re going to require a background check, we should require the background check be completed.”
Representative Bernstein stressed that this bill is not a form of gun control.
“As a CWP holder, I’m a strong supporter of gun rights and the second amendment. And I can assure you this bill is not gun control. It simply makes sure that the background checks that are already taking place are completed. If this bill would have been in place earlier this year, the Charleston shooter would not have legally been sold a gun from a licensed dealer. If closing this loophole saves just one life, it is worth it.”

Rep. Bernstein commended Congressman Clyburn for proposing this legislation on a federal level and maintained that she will pre-file the same bill in the South Carolina House of Representatives in December.”

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

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

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

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

Which got me to thinking about Henrik Ibsen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does ANYONE have informed thoughts on the deal with Iran?

The issue is, do you trust the judgment of these people? "President Barack Obama talks with national security staff in the Oval Office after being notified of the nuclear agreement with Iran. From left, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough; Jeffrey Prescott, NSC Senior Director for Iran, Iraq, Syria, and the Gulf States; National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice; Avril Haines, Deputy National Security Advisor for Counterterrorism and Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, July 13, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)"

The issue is, do you trust the judgment of these people? “President Barack Obama talks with national security staff in the Oval Office after being notified of the nuclear agreement with Iran. From left, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough; Jeffrey Prescott, NSC Senior Director for Iran, Iraq, Syria, and the Gulf States; National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice; Avril Haines, Deputy National Security Advisor for Counterterrorism and Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, July 13, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)”

This is rightly the dominant news story of the day, but it’s one that I hesitate to comment on:

A historic agreement Tuesday to limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief will ensure Iran has no possibility to achieve rapid nuclear weapons “breakout” capabilities for at least the next decade, U.S. leaders said.

“We have stopped the spread of nuclear weapons in this region,” said President Obama as he listed some of the pillars of the deal including international inspections, reductions in Iran’s centrifuges used to make nuclear fuel and a sharp cut in Iran’s stockpile of nuclear material.

“We put sanctions in place to get a diplomatic solution, and that is what we have done. . . . This deal offers an opportunity to move in a new direction. We should seize it,” said Obama, noting a potentially tough review ahead in Congress.

I hesitate because I don’t know enough to be able to judge the agreement.

Will it really limit, hinder or at least delay a nuclear Iran? How can I tell? Even if I had carefully studied the agreement, which I haven’t, I would not have the expertise to know whether the agreement will succeed on those critical points.

And neither does anyone else. The outcries from various Republicans criticizing the agreement are based on a simple variable — their lack of trust of the Obama administration.

If I’m going to listen to any objections, it would be the ones coming from Israel and Saudi Arabia — they at least have a life-and-death motivation to know what they are talking about.

It gets down to whom do you trust? And while I see the administration’s motives as pure, I worry that Iran always had an advantage in the negotiations, arising from the fact that POTUS really, really wanted an agreement.

As I say, that worries me. But do I know enough to judge this agreement? No, I do not. And that’s unsettling, because the question of whether Iran is more or less likely to develop and deploy nuclear weapons is one of the most important issues on this planet.

It’s disturbing, and embarrassing, that I have better-informed opinions on the fifth season of “Game of Thrones” than I do about this.

Take it easy, y’all — Atticus is still Atticus

Atticus

Over the weekend, there was a national (and international) cry of pain as folks heard that, in the long-lost Harper Lee novel Go Set A Watchman, Atticus Finch turned out to be a cranky old segregationist.

Don’t worry. Atticus is still Atticus.

I’m an editor, and as an editor — although not a book editor, I’ll allow — I understand why a book, or a column, or a news story, doesn’t get published: Because it wasn’t good enough.

Here’s what happened: A wannabe novelist submitted a manuscript, and an editor took a look at it, and said, essentially, This is not the novel you want to publish. The novel you want to publish is in these flashback passages. Dig into those, make those into your novel, and then you’ll have something.

He saw the truth in those passages, when Scout was just a girl. So, the editor did what I did when a piece just needed way more change than I had time to give it in the editing process — he kicked it back, gave her the chance to redeem herself as a writer, to write the great book that the editor saw in her.

No one has said this, but I strongly suspect that the editor had had his fill of novels by young folks who had come to New York, donned a mantle of self-conscious sophistication, gone home to visit their small-town homes, and then thought they were being terribly original by coming back to Manhattan and writing about how small, provincial, narrow and stultifying their home towns were. When really, they were being painfully trite.

He wanted Nelle to dig into the true story that she had in her, the one before all that, when she and Scout were unspoiled by the world, and yes, her Daddy was a hero.

And of course, being the editor, he was right. What he directed her to write was perhaps the best-loved American novel, one that was true, that spoke to people, that hit them where they lived, that said something about the American experience and its central conflict that needed to be said, and needed to be said in precisely that voice. (Interesting, isn’t it, that the two great, profound American novels that examine the narrative of race in this country — this and Huck Finn — are both told from the perspective of a child…)

I plan to read Go Set A Watchman, and I expect I’ll enjoy parts of it, here and there — it will be nice to hear that voice again. But I’m not going to get upset thinking something happened to Atticus. I know the real Atticus. This isn’t some sequel revealing some new, shocking side to him; this is just an imperfect, throwaway, first draft of him. And I know how little first drafts may be worth, before an editor gets ahold of them.

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We have ONE flag to deal with, and in SC, we know which one it is

flags cropped Sowell

This morning, The Washington Post ran a story headlined, “Did Republicans jump the gun on the Confederate flag?

It was prompted by a national poll that showed the public evenly split on whether the flag is a racist symbol. The premise of the story was that golly, did Nikki Haley and the rest get ahead of public opinion by moving to take down the flag?

This engendered a couple of strong reactions in me. The first was, a NATIONAL poll? Really? In what way is that relevant? I appreciate that, in this era of all local stories being nationalized, the rest of the country feels like it’s a part of our problem, but no matter what sort of vicarious interest they may have in this drama, it is ours to deal with. Our obligation, our duty, our task.

The second was, please don’t anybody do a South Carolina poll, not for another week or so, please. And my reason for saying that leads to my third reaction, which I put in a Tweet:


I realize that to folks in Washington, a town full of political consultants, the idea of getting out ahead of public opinion is… well… unprofessional.

Of course, it’s an awfully rare thing here in South Carolina. In fact, the last time I saw leadership on the flag by a public official in our state was Joe Riley’s march from Charleston to Columbia in 2000.

But that’s what we’re seeing right now. That’s the miracle, or one of them. Our governor and two-thirds majorities in both chambers are ready to act, and they’re not waiting around for polls or political advice from anyone. And I, who have castigated pretty much all of them on one occasion or another (and with a lot of them, a lot more than that), am as proud of them as I can be.

Anyway, my Tweet ended up on Facebook as all of them do, and someone commented (and seems to have thought better of it and taken it down now) something to the effect that she was fine with taking this one flag and putting it in a museum, but she felt like people across the country going on about other Confederate symbols and such were going overboard.

My response to that:

None of that concerns me, or I should think any of us in South Carolina. We have this one flag to deal with. We’ve known that for ages. So we need to get it done.

There’s this one flag, that is qualitatively different, in terms of what it means, from any other flag, symbol, statue, institution name, monument or what have you anywhere in the world.

It, in one form or another and in one place or another, has flown at the State House since 1962, and we all know why. It is a way white South Carolinians have had of saying that, despite Appomattox and the civil rights movement, We can do this. We can fly this flag no matter how it affects you or how you feel about it. We don’t care about you or how you think or feel about it; you can go to hell if you don’t like it. In your face.

This message is delivered, of course, primarily to black South Carolinians, and secondarily to anyone else who wanted the flag down, including — putting in a word for people like me — quite a few of us white South Carolinians.

It’s a message that could only be delivered by a flag flown at our seat of government, this message about a highly exclusive, restricted definition of whose state this is. You can’t send that message anywhere else with any symbol. By flying rather than being a cold monument, it says this definition of South Carolina is alive; it’s now; it’s not just history.

That’s why this one flag has to come down.

I’m tired of folks, some of them quite nice folks, talking slippery slopes: Oh, but what about all those other flags, symbols, etc.? I dismiss such questions with increasing impatience. We are dealing with this specific flag for specific reasons that are particular to it — in fact, unique. Those reasons don’t exist for any other object you can name.

Let the rest of the country talk about what it wants to. Since they don’t have this flag to deal with, let them obsess over whatever lesser symbols they have in their desire to be a part of what we’re dealing with. That desire may be laudable, but right now it’s a distraction, if we let it be.

We know what we have to do here in South Carolina. And finally, we’re about to do it.

The way Lindsey Graham dealt with a racist blowhard

I liked reading this at Buzzfeed:

TAMA, Iowa — Lindsey Graham was in the full swing of his pitch to a group of potential voters gathered at a VFW hall in this small town an hour outside Des Moines on Saturday when, while he was talking about his relatively liberal stance on immigration, there came an unwelcome interruption.

“Towel heads,” grumbled a man sitting at the bar, sporting a denim shirt with the arms cut off. “Sand n*****s.”

Graham did what every candidate must in the age of smartphones and opposition trackers following a candidate anywhere he or she goes.

“I totally dissociate myself from this guy,” Graham said. “What I would say is that what he said is not who I am. I’m not running to be president to please this guy.” He then moved on and continued on taking questions from the other attendees.

At this early stage, running for president can be a weird thing — especially in these tiny, intimate gatherings where people are able to to speak their minds. In an earlier era, maybe before a woman once notoriously insisted to John McCain that Barack Obama was an Arab, Graham could probably have gotten away with ignoring the man; today, he had to act.

But Graham is also a long-shot candidate without much to lose, and his response ended up being different from the kind of tight-lipped, efficient shutdown one could imagine coming from someone for whom the stakes are higher. A few minutes after the exchange, Graham concluded his spiel to the 15 or so people assembled in the dark, low-ceilinged room by drawing a comparison between his own hardscrabble upbringing in a bar in small town South Carolina and people like the man who had issued the slurs.

“I’m tired of telling people things they want to hear that I don’t believe. I changed a long time ago as a politician. I was scared to death of going into a room to be disagreed with. I don’t feel that way anymore. I feel free. I feel able to tell you exactly what I believe and why I believe it,” Graham said….

I hope Buzzfeed doesn’t mind that long quote. I wanted you to have full context. But I urge you to go on and read the whole thing. It has a nice ending.

The event had been billed as “Politics and Pool,” and before leaving, Lindsey wanted to shoot pool with somebody. The only person willing to play was the blowhard. So our senior senator played him, and beat him.

Quoth Graham: “I wanted to beat him. I was going to beat him if it’s the last thing I did in Iowa.”

Mrs. Christie having an AWESOME time at announcement

I don’t have time to watch all of this right now, but maybe you will.

I’ve watched the beginning, and didn’t hear much because I was having fun watching his wife. She, and at least one of her daughters, kept doing that thing that some ladies do — I mean that thing where they apparently see a friend in the crowd, and they throw their mouths WAY open and their eyes pop really big, with the brows way up, displaying the very essence of almost maniacally delighted surprise, sending the pantomime message that it’s SO awesome to see you, but I can’t talk right now

She must have had a lot of friends in the crowd…

As for my observation that “some ladies” do this — I guess some guys, particularly politicians, do something like that, but the smile isn’t as big. They’re more like, well, the son in the picture below, sort of smiling at someone out there but not about to act like he’s thrilled by any of this.

Anyway, I enjoyed her.

Here you have wife and daughter doing that thing simultaneously, in opposite directions, while Chris soldiers on with his speech, saying something I'm missing...

Here you have wife and daughter doing that thing simultaneously, in opposite directions, while Chris soldiers on with his speech, saying something I’m missing…

On the Supreme Court and ideology

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

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

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

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

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

Doug started the ball rolling this way:

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

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

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

Doug said,

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

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

Back to Doug:

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

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

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

Here’s the chart.

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

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

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

The end of gerrymandering? Depends how bad you want it…

You may have thought the Supreme Court did some big stuff last week.

Pshaw.

The ACA ruling? It maintained the status quo. Nothing changed, nothing to see. Move along.

The same-sex marriage ruling? Aw, who was really surprised by that?

Today, in the midst of several other rulings — the Court seemed to be tossing them out like Mardi Gras revelers throwing beads to the kids — the justices did something significant, something that could potentially solve most of the things that are wrong with politics in America:

A divided Supreme Court on Monday said voters concerned that partisan gerrymandering is creating unfair elections are entitled to take reapportionment away from state legislatures.

The court ruled 5 to 4 that the Constitution does not give legislatures exclusive control over congressional redistricting and said voters may vest the power in independent commissions by ballot initiative, where this option exists.

“The animating principle of our Constitution [is] that the people themselves are the originating source of all the powers of government,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the majority….

If you don’t know what this means, I’ll tell you: No more districts drawn to serve political parties rather than the nation. No more parties getting more and more extreme because all incumbents have to fear is a primary opponent who is more extreme than they are, since general elections don’t matter. Maybe, maybe even no more creating one majority-minority district by drawing all the ones around it super-white (there are other barriers to changing that, though — I think).

Competitive elections between sensible centrists! How wonderful!

But wait! How does one take this power away from partisan legislatures? Oh… with a ballot initiative.

Dang.

So… you’re saying we have to kill representative democracy to improve it? Because that’s what government by ballot initiative amounts to. No, thanks. Dang.

Hey! Maybe, with enough pressure, lawmakers could be persuaded to give up the power themselves. Impossible, you say? Yes, well, I would normally say the same. But I just saw the political leadership of South Carolina decide to take down the Confederate flag, so pretty much anything is looking possible to me right now.

At least let me dream…

Justices find right to marry, extend it to same-sex couples

Here’s the main news:

The Supreme Court on Friday delivered a historic victory for gay rights, ruling 5 to 4 that the Constitution requires that same-sex couples be allowed to marry no matter where they live and that states may no longer reserve the right only for heterosexual couples.

The court’s action marks the culmination of an unprecedented upheaval in public opinion and the nation’s jurisprudence. Advocates called it the most pressing civil rights issue of modern times, while critics said the courts had sent the country into uncharted territory by changing the traditional definition of marriage.

“Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. He was joined in the ruling by the court’s liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

All four of the court’s most conservative members — Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. — dissented and each wrote a separate opinion, saying the court had usurped a power that belongs to the people….

In his first-ever dissent, Justice Roberts asked, “Who do we think we are?” He argued that same-sex marriage was rapidly gaining acceptance across the country legally, and that the court, “in a government of laws and not of men,” had no business pre-empting that democratic process.

Here’s the text of the opinion.