Category Archives: The Nation

Video Rorschach: Your thoughts on this clip of an angry cop?

A reader shared with me this video clip, which I watched in a vacuum, having heard nothing about the case behind it. The text accompanying it on YouTube says:

Police Chief Edward Flynn speaks to reporters after a Fire and Police Commission meeting Thursday night concerning the shooting of Dontre Hamilton. During the meeting, Flynn learned that a 5-year-old girl was shot and killed. Video by Ashley Luthern

Here’s the latest on the Dontre Hamilton case. The chief in the video above has fired the cop involved.

The reader who brought this to my attention implied that what the chief is saying is something that should be heard more often. Of course, there are radically, profanely different views out there regarding the same clip.

What do y’all think?

 

Pelosi, Clyburn keep their House posts as Democrats opt for more of the same

Democrats in Congress evidently think they’ve been doing everything just right for the last few years, based on this:

House Democrats on Tuesday elected Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her top four lieutenants to remain atop the party in the 114th Congress.clyburn cropped

The move was hardly a surprise, as none of the current leaders — including Pelosi, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), Assistant Leader Jim Clyburn (S.C.), Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) and Vice Chairman Joe Crowley (N.Y.) — faced challengers in their bids to lead the party for the next two years.

But the leadership votes came amid some grumbling from rank-and-file members that the Democrats need a new direction after failing to take the House majority in three straight election cycles. In two of those cycles, 2010 and 2014, they were clobbered.

Pelosi and Hoyer have been in the top spots since 2003, fueling anxiety among a younger crop of Democrats who aren’t able to move up….

I can certainly understand the grumbling.

Meanwhile, down on the ground level, a couple of party operatives reminded us of what parties are all about. I liked this take on it, from Ed Rogers:

A leaked e-mail thread started by two Hillary Clinton operatives, Robby Mook and Marlon Marshal, has drawn some ire from Republicans who take offense at their message. Highlights include operatives calling themselves “Deacon” and “Reverend,” and threats to “smite Republicans mafia-style” and “punish those voters.”…

Can you imagine if these e-mails had been sent by a Republican –- say, Karl Rove? I can picture the New York Times and the other usual suspects swooning in faux shock, weeping and gnashing of teeth, their eyes rolling back in their head, struggling to maintain consciousness while pounding out another tired piece about how the Republican Party has destroyed politics and debased our political discourse with their cynical hate speech or whatever. Gasp!…

What does the Democratic Party stand for today if not just grabbing power, holding power, government for government’s sake and offering and maintaining dependence in exchange for votes? The Democratic brand and what it means to be a Democrat should get a hard look after the party’s six years in power. These recent incidents are not isolated -– they are indicative of a party that is moribund and needs a new reason to justify its existence.

And yet today, they just decided to continue on their merry way, doing what they’ve been doing…

Joe Wilson questioning SecDef Hagel about ISIL

Just a little slice-of-life from Washington today. I’m listening to it myself as I post this. Here’s a release Wilson sent out with the clip:

WILSON: PRESIDENT NEEDS TO DEVOTE MORE ATTENTION TO ISIL

(Washington, DC) – Chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following statement after questioning Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel about the Administration’s strategy and military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the Middle East.

“The complete and systematic defeat of ISIL is imperative for the United States’ national security and the safety of our allies around the world,” Chairman Wilson stated.  “Achieving this outcome is growing increasingly difficult due to ISIL’s changing tactics and the President’s reluctance to listen to the advice of his experienced military advisors.  After today’s hearing, I am further convinced that the President needs to devote more resources and attention to effectively destroy ISIL. Additionally, I believe that a comprehensive plan, which considers all options presented from our military leaders, is critical to complete our mission, protect our national interests, and bring peace to Iraq and Syria.”

I enjoy serendipitous juxtapositions

B2PrNvwIcAABOGx

I enjoyed this juxtaposition of headlines on the business page of The State today. The headlines go to this story, and this story.

For a split second, I thought maybe the stories actually were related. And in a global, trend-tracking sense, I suppose they are. Except, of course, that the larger posteriors some women seek are more of the muscular variety. Doughnuts alone won’t give you that…

DCCC tries to show Obama has been a success

Obama numbers

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out the above chart today.

And while I usually have nothing but snarky remarks for these blatant fund-raising emails, I have to say I actually thought the number look pretty good.

So… are we a lot better off than we were when this POTUS took office? I have to say, I am not — but then, I’m no worse off than I was two months after he took office, when I got laid off.

And yeah, I would hope we’d look good when compared to the very low point of the recession. But still, I thought the numbers looked good…

Do the number lie? Are they the right number to be looking at? Thoughts?

Obama reaches out to Graham, wants to work together

Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks to reporters in his Columbia office.

Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks to reporters in his Columbia office.

Last night, President Barack Obama called Sen. Lindsey Graham. They spoke for about 20 minutes, which suggests that the president didn’t make very many such calls.

Graham told reporters in Columbia today that the president wanted to find a way to work with him and other Republicans so that the next two years aren’t just a continuation of gridlock of the last two.

Obama wasn’t looking for miracles. He wanted “a medium or small-sized deal” or two that could build confidence, persuade everyone that it’s possible for the two sides to work together for the good of the country and then who knows? Maybe a big deal would be possible.

“The President wanted to find ways to create momentum for problem-solving because he believed rightly that it would help the American people, restore their belief that the government is not hopelessly lost, and would increase our standing overseas,” said Graham. “And I think he’s right about that.”

What sorts of things might constitute such a modest deal? The first thing Graham mentioned was the fact that the highway trust fund is depleted — as on the state level, the gasoline tax no longer brings in enough to meet the nation’s infrastructure needs. He said he and Barbara Boxer are already working on a deal that would put a 10 percent tax on money earned by American corporations overseas, to replenish the fund.

He said he and the president also spoke about port modernization, the Keystone pipeline, tax reform — and immigration.

The senator suggested that Republicans would be wise to accept the president’s offer:

“President Obama’s biggest problem is that he campaigned as a centrist, but he’s governed from the left ditch,” Graham said. “Here’s gonna be our problem: If we take the car from the left ditch to the right ditch, we’re gonna be in trouble, too. People want the car in the middle of the road — they want it in the right-center lane of the road — and not in the right ditch.”

Could the two sides ever reach that big deal on the major challenges facing the country? Graham doesn’t know, but “Without the small and medium-sized compromise, there will never be a big deal.”

“So, Mr. President: Here I am. I’m ready to go to work…”

He said as soon as he got done with the presser, he was going to return a call to Harry Reid…

The results are in: More of the same

Two weeks ago, I wrote of being dispirited by the prospects of the upcoming election. I was sufficiently down that Bryan Caskey did a Ferris Bueller to my Cameron Frye and took me skeet-shooting, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

But now, the election results are in, and they did not disappoint. They contain nothing likely to instill enthusiasm.

The bottom line is, things will stay the same in South Carolina — and in the nation, too. Anyone who thinks it matters which party controls the Congress is seriously deluded. It’s the same bunch of people, playing the same game (the “Which Party is Up Today?” game) the same way. I see that Harry Reid is out of power, and I go, “Yay!” and I see Mitch McConnell rise to power and I go, “Oh, dang.”

The way I feel (and yes, I’m talking about feelings rather than thoughts, which shows I’m just not myself today), overall, about this election is captured well in this datum, which The Washington Post describes as “The single most depressing number in the national exit poll“:

One of the fundamental truisms of American life is this: Your kids will have a better life — more opportunities, more creature comforts, more whatever — than you did/do.  Except that people don’t believe that any more, according to preliminary exit polls.

Almost half of all Americans — 48 percent — said they expected life for “future generations” to be “worse than life today,” while 22 percent said it would be better. Another 27 percent said life would be about the same. Do the math and you see that more than twice as many people are pessimistic about the future that they will leave their kids as those who are optimistic.  (Not surprisingly, among the 48 percent who believe future generations will be worse off, two thirds of them voted for Republicans in today’s election.)

Those are stunning — and depressing — numbers. And they are far from the only evidence that the American Dream is, if not dead, certainly dying in the eyes of many Americans….

How do you like them apples? Well, I don’t either, but there it is. And I think it reflects the national mood, as expressed in this election. Americans are fed up with politics, and have lost faith in its transformative power. They’re unhappy about the way things are going, but they don’t see a way to make them go better. So they express their dissatisfaction in the standard way — they punish the president’s party in the “midterm” election. They don’t have high hopes for change or anything, but they’ve expressed their pique.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. Good things happened. I’m happy that Lindsey Graham won. I’m glad to have him as my senator, and I get tired of everybody ragging on him. I’m not disappointed, exactly, that Vincent Sheheen lost because I expected him to. We’d be a lot better off if he’d won, and I probably wouldn’t be such a Toby Zeigler today, but that was never in the cards.

And good for Alan Wilson and Beth Bernstein and a number of others. I’m glad the Lexington 2 bond referendum passed.

But unless you are one of the winning candidates, or related to one of the winning candidates, I doubt that you are elated by the mushy gray events of yesterday.

Yeah, I think it’s nice that a black man was elected to the U.S. Senate, and a black Republican at that — anything that bumps us out of the usual ruts of partisan voting patterns is good. But I’d feel better if I thought he had inspired people somehow with ideas for how to better our nation. I can’t really put my finger on anything that I know he wants to do in office. We just, as a state, found him unobjectionable. He had the office, and we saw no reason to remove him from it. Tim Scott’s election is something that will look more exciting in the footnotes of history than it actually was.

OK, one other good thing happened that represents progress for South Carolina. I’ll write about it in a separate post. Don’t get your hopes up. It’s not exciting…

Just how uncompetitive the U.S. House elections are

house map

Click on the map above to go to a page where you can interact with it, and explore just how few House districts across the nation are competitive. It’s accompanied by various other charts that show graphically just how stacked the deck is across the country.

The dark red and dark blue districts are settled, foregone conclusions, thanks to the awful miracle of modern redistricting algorithms, which enable Legislatures to draw districts so that they are guaranteed to go for one party or the other — so that the only real contests are in primaries, which have the effect of pulling both parties farther and farther from the political center. The only thing most members of Congress fear is primary opponents who are more extreme than they are.

Of course, we know that there is no chance for the minority party in any of South Carolina’s seven congressional districts. That’s because ever since the redrawing that occurred after the 1990 census, the 6th District has been drawn as a super-extreme “majority-minority” district. I remember Jim Clyburn saying, way back in the 90s, that he didn’t really need his district to be gerrymandered to the extent that it was in order to win. Well, since then, if anything, our GOP Legislature has been even more generous with the state’s one Democratic congressman.

Why? because every black voter they can shove into Clyburn’s district makes the other six districts that much safer for Republicans.

This is, after all, how they came to power in the Legislature to start with. Black Democrats were unsatisfied with the number of majority-minority districts Speaker Bob Sheheen and the other white Democrats were willing to draw after the 1990 census. So they joined forces with the Republicans to pass a plan that created more of them — and consequently made the surrounding districts whiter, and more Republican.

And abracadabra — we had a Republican House, and Sheheen wasn’t speaker anymore. And a few years later, the Senate followed suit. And the Black Caucus got a few more members, but they were now all in the minority party, which meant the caucus had traded away much of its ability to get anything done once elected.

But I digress….

The larger issue nationally is that voters no longer have a viable choice in general elections for Congress. Which is a terrible thing to have happened to our representative democracy.

What’s wrong with our politics? It’s the parties, stupid!

In The State today, there’s a column by Clive Crook of Bloomberg News that takes issue with Francis Fukuyama’s assertion that we are plagued by “too much democracy,” arguing that it’s more accurate to say, “The problem isn’t too much democracy; it’s too much politics.”

He elaborates:

You don’t measure the quality of democracy just by asking whether the politically engaged have voice, or by counting their opportunities to influence outcomes (for good or ill), important as those metrics may be. Democracy is also supposed to work for the disengaged. In that respect, this democracy is plainly failing.

America’s political class — candidates, interest groups, activists and their respective groupies in the media — can’t be faulted for lack of engagement. Boy, are they engaged. That’s fine, of course. (It would be even better if they were as interested in public policy as they are in the political contest as blood sport, but that’s another matter.) Outside that bubble, however, views of politics run the range from boredom to despair. And a main cause, I’d submit, is popular disgust with that very political class. More politics doesn’t necessarily get you more democracy, much less better democracy….

But when people say there’s “too much politics” in our, well, politics, they are confused. There’s nothing wrong with politics, per se. Properly understood, it is the set of mechanisms whereby human beings manage to live with each other, and when it’s working properly, it enables them to work together to get things of mutual benefit done.

Most of the time, when people say “politics” with a disgusted tone, they refer to contentiousness for its own sake. They refer to political actors working not to achieve something of benefit to the society, but trying to gain advantage for themselves and their own narrow ideological group.

The problem is that “politics” has come to refer to public affairs engaged in as a sport, in which there are only two sides, they are sharply separated, and one must win while the other must lose.

The system is rigged against those of us who would like to see change. Not by some class of insiders or by money contributed by a “one percent.” It’s rigged by the parties and their affiliated interest groups, who have set things up so that sensible ideas with broad, consensus appeal don’t have a chance.

Their most obvious mechanism for accomplishing this is the one mentioned in my last post: reapportionment. Every ten years, the algorithms have gotten more sophisticated, and so it’s child’s play for the party in power to draw, for instance, one super-safe Democratic congressional districts, and six others in which a Democrat will never have a prayer.

And so we have elections that are not elections, because our courts have held that incumbent protection (which really amounts to party protection) is an acceptable aim of reapportionment. So the only elections are the primaries, and they are geared to produce the most extreme, the most “pure,” expressions of the brain-dead ideologies that each party professes to embrace.

So is there any wonder that the rest of us are fed up, disillusioned?

What we need isn’t less politics; it’s more politics — the kind in which anyone has a chance to make his or her case in a fair election. We don’t have that now.

Heroes who don’t want to make a fuss about it

hero

E.J. Dionne begins today’s column thusly:

Seth Moulton, an Iraq veteran and Democratic congressional candidate on Massachusetts’s North Shore, has done something with little precedent in political campaigning: He was caught underplaying his war record.

You read that right: An investigation by the Boston Globe found that, unlike politicians who go to great lengths to puff up their military backgrounds, Moulton, as the paper’s Walter Robinson wrote, “chose not to publicly disclose that he was twice decorated for heroism until pressed by the Globe.”

It took Robinson’s reporting to discover that Moulton had won the Bronze Star and the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for valor during the battles for control of Najaf and Nasiriyah.

In a telephone interview, Moulton said his reluctance reflected a “healthy disrespect” among his comrades-in-arms for boasting about citations…

And that reminds me of this other hero who prefers to remain unsung, which Dave Crockett called to our attention on an earlier post — the one who rescued a sick old man from a burning house, then melted away and did his best to remain anonymous:

Tom Artiaga groaned as the reporters starting banging on his door.

“I didn’t want the glory,” he says sheepishly, wearing the same blue Dodgers cap he had on as he walked calmly towards Wells’ burning home. “I don’t want it.”

Artiaga can barely look at me as I prod him, so uncomfortable is he talking about himself.

Artiaga says he was driving by when he saw the fire and heard the screaming about the trapped man inside. He parked his white truck and walked slowly towards the fire. The 49-year-old devoted husband, father of three and grandfather of five didn’t think about what he had to lose. A man who spends his free time helping out elderly people in his neighborhood with their gardens naturally thought about what he could do to help….

Artiaga saw his picture in the paper and the video on the local news. He couldn’t escape the video that was flying across Facebook and Twitter. He hoped his wife wouldn’t find out because he didn’t tell her. He hoped the story would fade and he could go back to his job as a delivery man for a liquor company, without anyone connecting the video to him.

“Why,” I ask. “Most of us liked to be thanked.”

Artiaga’s eyes begin to fill with emotion. “We have to help each other out. We kill each other. We fight. We gotta help each other out. I don’t feel like a hero. If it was someone else, I’d help them, too.”

A small reminder of why I like Lamar Alexander

As if I needed further evidence of the fact that Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee is the kind of guy we need a LOT more of in Washington, there’s this from a story today about how President Obama doesn’t delegate much to his Cabinet:

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said in an interview Tuesday that Obama has not followed the lesson Alexander learned as an aide to President Richard M. Nixon in 1969: Presidents do best when they delegate most issues to their Cabinet members and empower their subordinates. By taking on so much itself, Alexander said, the White House has not invested enough in making sure agencies run smoothly and provide critical input for policy decisions.

“You get the impression that everything is run out of the White House, and that’s an understandable urge, to trust only the people 10 to 15 feet away from you. But if you want to be successful, you have to delegate,” Alexander said. “He’s often the smartest guy in the room,” he added, referring to Obama, “but the wisest guy in the room will only reserve the biggest problems for himself, and push out the other problems to members of the Cabinet.”…

It’s a small thing, but a telling one. Just try to imagine, if you can, another Republican uttering the words, “He’s often the smartest guy in the room” about the president, even in the process of criticizing him.

Alexander harks back to a day in which politicians disagreed and criticized their opposition while being able to appreciate each others’ good qualities.

I’m very glad he handily survived his primary challenge from one of those hordes of people in politics now who believe it’s all about demonization.

Hutto hits Graham, again, for not being ‘downhome’ enough

There’s not much new about it. It’s his usual thing about how he thinks the job of a U.S. senator should be about worrying about everyday conditions on the ground here in South Carolina rather than in the rest of the nation and the world.

Which isn’t my concept of a senator’s role at all. When I hear Hutto say these things, I sometimes wonder whether he ought to quit the South Carolina Senate and run for county council. He seems to be all about the local level.

But don’t go by me. He’s running a populist campaign, and I don’t have a populist bone in my body.

Here’s the release that goes with the ad:

Hutto Begins Statewide TV Blitz

 

Orangeburg, SC – Democratic nominee for US Senate Brad Hutto began running TV advertisements across South Carolina today.

The ad can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PhQTgegprZk&feature=youtu.be

The ad contrasts Lindsey Graham’s role as a Washington DC insider, self-promoter and potential Presidential candidate to Brad Hutto’s pledge to be a Senator who will work for South Carolina. In the ad Hutto advocates for a hike in the minimum wage, securing equal pay for women, and protecting financial security for seniors.

At the ad’s conclusion, Hutto says “We need a Senator who cares more about making a difference than making headlines.”

Hutto campaign manager Lachlan McIntosh describes the buy as major. “People will see it and they’ll be talking about it.”

 

###

As you see when you watch the ad, the one new wrinkle in this one is making fun of Graham talking about the presidency, which is certainly fair game. The incumbent was sort of asking for it with that…

Sen. Tim Scott: Ban travel from Ebola-stricken countries

And now, we have this proposal from U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-SC:

Charleston, SC – U.S. Senator Tim Scott released the following statement regarding travel restrictions from Ebola-stricken nations in West Africa. Senator Scott is a member of both the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees.Scott,Tim

“First and foremost, my heart goes out to those infected with Ebola and their families both in the United States and in West Africa. This is a terrible virus, and one the world must come together to stop.

As infections continue to spread here in the United States, the trust of the American people has been shaken by the administration’s response thus far. It is clear that a temporary travel ban for foreign nationals traveling from Ebola-stricken nations in West Africa should be put in place. The President has the authority to do so, and we have seen that airport screenings and self-reporting simply are not enough.

While both the Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health state that patients without a fever are not contagious, recent studies from West Africa show that almost 13 percent of confirmed cases did not present with a fever. Screenings have also only been initiated at five airports, and even at airports travelers’ symptoms can be masked by over-the-counter medications.

This is about the safety of the American people, and nothing more. As the fight against Ebola continues, a temporary travel ban for foreign nationals traveling from the epicenter of the outbreak is a necessity.”

###

I find myself wondering: Did he decide independently to join the voices advocating this, or did Republicans get together and decide that his was the most sympathetic face they had for advancing such a proposal?

I say that in part because, although a number of Republicans have said it, it has tended to be those in tight races, such as Scott Brown and Thom Tillis. Sen. Scott, of course, is in the opposite of a “tight race.”

Ebola bridesmaids: First the ugly dresses, now THIS…

As if bridesmaids didn’t have it bad enough already:

Health officials say five bridesmaids of a Texas nurse with Ebola are among at least nine people voluntarily quarantined in northeast Ohio.

The Akron Beacon Journal (http://bit.ly/1oecJic ) reports Summit County Health Commissioner Gene Nixon identified the others as a bridesmaid’s husband and three children of bridesmaids who didn’t have direct contact with 29-year-old Amber Vinson.

Nixon said the bridesmaids and Vinson were at an Akron bridal shop last Saturday….

Fortunately, none are showing symptoms…

The funny thing is, this time things actually ARE that desperate for the Democrats

Among the “end of the world as we know it” emails I’ve received today from the Democratic Party is this plaintive lament:

We’re out of people to email you.

In the last week, you should have received an email from:

— President Obama
— Nancy Pelosi
— And every other Democrat on the planet

But it just wasn’t enough. The Koch Brothers’ last-minute ad blitz just made it too tough to catch up before last night’s deadline.

We’re not making this stuff up. Control of Congress is at stake. We’re dangerously behind. And we just fell short on the final public fundraising deadline of the election.

So here’s our last ditch effort: we’re extending the triple-match TODAY ONLY. We need 9OOO more donations in the next 12 hours if we want any shot at giving President Obama a Democratic victory in this election.

We’re begging, Brad. Can you chip in right now?…

As you know if you’ve ever found yourself on one of these email lists, all of them sound like that. The world’s about to end, you’ve been reached out to by people pretending to be various famous party members, and there’s a demon on the other side. With Democrats, the demon is usually the Koch Brothers or Karl Rove or their imaginary War on Women.

Basically, they’re always freaking out.

But as I read this particular cry for help, something struck me: This time, the Democrats really are in dire straits. Not that that matters, of course — I wouldn’t give two cents for either party to come out on top. But for once, all their moaning and wailing and gnashing of teeth actually has a foundation.

Every indicator out there shows that Republicans are going to win pretty much across the board. They’re going to keep the House, and win the Senate. All the energy and enthusiasm is on the GOP side, all the depression on the Democratic side.

Things are looking so bad for the Dems, such tectonic forces are at work, that it really doesn’t matter whether you give them money or not. (And of course, I would urge you not to.)

The Democrats are in the same situation Mr. Posner was in when Billy Jack told him he was going to take THIS foot and kick him on THAT side of his head:

There’s not a damn’ thing they’re going to be able to do about it.

Ebola in the U.S. has now reached the critical ‘WTF?’ stage

800px-Ebola_virus_virion

So, let’s review the chart here, shall we?

  • Patient presents at Dallas hospital with symptoms consistent with Ebola. He tells ER staff that he’s been in a country affected by the outbreak. They send him home.
  • He comes back to the hospital days later, is finally diagnosed and treated, but dies — which of course is going to happen in far too many cases with this horrific disease.
  • It takes DAYS for anyone to take it upon themselves to put on hazmat suits and go clean out the apartment where this guy was sick before going into the hospital. Human beings are living in that apartment during that time.
  • We learn that a nurse at the hospital that treated the deceased has contracted the disease. This shatters our hubris about how, here in the U.S. we know how to treat infectious diseases safely.
  • Today, we learn that a second nurse who treated this patient is sick with Ebola. Which makes us wonder what in the world kinds of procedures were in place at that hospital. And whether Ebola transmits a LOT more easily than we had been told.
  • Between being infected and showing symptoms, the second nurse flew to Cleveland and back, the return trip on the day before coming down with the disease. Authorities are now trying to reach the 132 people who were on board  Frontier Airlines flight 1143 from Cleveland to Dallas with her on Monday. She was supposedly being monitored for signs of Ebola during the period in which she took this trip.

OK, so maybe the proper, professional reaction to these developments isn’t “WTF?,” but a more dignified, “Really?”

But a great deal of incredulity is a natural reaction, along with more than a little alarm.

As we speak, all over the country, hospitals and government health officials are (one hopes) reviewing plans and procedures. Which is good, because Ebola is horrible enough, and enough people are going to suffer and die, without committing boneheaded errors that help it along…

Before the last few weeks, everything I knew about Ebola came from Tom Clancy novels — specifically, Executive Orders (in which a fictional Iranian regime launches a deliberate germ-warfare attack on the United States using the virus, infecting thousands) and Rainbow Six (in which a super-radical environmental group, backed by a billionaire businessman, attempts to wipe out the rest of the human race using the disease).

Ever read a Tom Clancy novel? He was a great respecter of expertise, of whatever type — military, medical, what have you, his tales were filled with calm, super-competent professionals who always knew exactly what to do in a dangerous situation, and usually did it flawlessly. He was a great admirer not only of technology, but of procedure. When a patient came in with a high fever, nausea and petechiae, the staff swept into action sealing off the area and instituting ironclad safety procedures, making sure none of the medical professionals contracts the disease, and even if they do, that they don’t take it out into the world with them.

Apparently, it doesn’t always work that way in the real world. To say the least…

I do well on the serious tests, badly on the silly ones

Pew quiz2

The trend continues.

There was a story in The Washington Post this morning about the fact that “One third of Americans think the government spends more on foreign aid than on social security.”

Stupid one third. Of course, this is a continuation of the stubborn belief that we spend some huge proportion of our budget on foreign aid, when we spend about 2 percent on it. People continue to get this wrong, against all reason, even though their foolishness has been written about over and over and over and over and over. This is related to the increasing irrational hostility toward government in general — most people don’t like the idea of foreign aid, so they overestimate how much is spent on it.

It’s the sort of thing that makes you want to give up on democracy. On your bad days, anyway. At the least, it underlines the superiority of representative democracy over the direct kind.

Anyway, the story said the findings came from one of those Pew quizzes I like so much, so I immediately went and took this one. I got 11 out of 12 right, putting me ahead of 96 percent of those tested.

But… and here’s the really, really embarrassing thing… I missed the same question as the stupid one-third did. No, I didn’t say “foreign aid.” I gave a different wrong answer. I knew the right answer, and if I had just done it in a hurry, I’d have gotten a 100. But I thought, “I haven’t compared these things in awhile. Maybe this other thing has overtaken the one I think it is. Maybe this is a fargin’ trick question.” So I chose the other thing. But it was, of course, the first thing.

The irony is that if I had done what I have to do taking the weekly Slate News Quiz, I’d have gotten it right. That test is timed, and I hate that about that test. I also hate that it is deliberately about details in the news, rather than about whether you know overall what’s going on, and the relationships between different facts (which is what Pew tests).

Anyway, this being Friday, I went and took that one. And bombed. See the results below.

I would do better on that if it weren’t timed. I can usually see through the red herrings and at least intuit the right answer if I take a little time. But you’re penalized for taking time. So I do badly. Note that I completed the test in one minute, 47 seconds. Which for me is barely enough time to properly consider one question, much less 12.

And yet, I took too much time on the other test. Go figure.

slate quiz

In the Line of Ire: Secret Service chief quits

A guy climbing the fence and running wild in the White House and some aggressive reporting by The Washington Post have led to the following:

Julia Pierson, the director of the Secret Service, resigned Wednesdayfollowing a series of security lapses by her agency, including a recent incident in which a man with a gun was allowed on an elevator with President Obama.secret service

Obama “concluded new leadership of the agency was needed based on recent and accumulating accounts” of performance problems within her agency, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a news briefing.

Pierson’s departure from her post came just 24 hours after a congressional oversight hearing about a growing number of security breaches. She appeared evasive, gave conflicting accounts of a recent incident involving a man who jumped over the White House and got deep inside the building, and said she learned some things about her agency by reading accounts in the Washington Post.

That growing list of security failures, many first reported in the Washington Post, had put the president and his daughters in potential danger. Some of the details of the lapses, including the service’s fumbled response to a 2011 shooting at the White House, were unknown to Congress and the president before they were reported ….

It usually takes a little longer than this for someone in Washington to fall this hard. But fall she did.

And yeah, I partly posted this just to use the headline…

I’d also like to say that while I don’t subscribe to the school that holds that the ultimate measure of a journalist is the number of public officials’ scalps on his or her belt, the Post has done some fine work ferreting these stories out, and making a compelling case for quick action.

That said, a resignation solves nothing. The work of addressing these problems needs to begin now.

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…

They have an odd sense of ‘longtime’ in Kansas

roberts

Or at least, at The Washington Post.

I was struck by the above headline on the Post’s iPad app this morning. I immediately thought, “Longtime? Well, Pat Roberts wasn’t a U.S. senator when I was in Kansas, working as the news editor of the Wichita paper. The senators then were Bob Dole and Nancy Kassebaum. Or am I remembering it wrong.”

No, I was right. And while I admit my stint in Kansas was a  “long time” ago, he wasn’t elected to the office until many years after I left there, in 1996.

Which means he has served three terms. LIndsey Graham is running for a third term, and by South Carolina standards, he just got there. He replaced a man who served in the office from 1954 to 2003 (with a brief respite in 1956 when he resigned and was immediately re-elected to the office). Fritz Hollings was still our “junior senator” when he had been in office for 37 years!

Kansas just seems terribly fickle by comparison. People come and go so quickly there