Category Archives: The Nation

How could Huck Finn not top any list of Great American Novels?

Thomas Hart Benton's depiction of Huck and Jim

Thomas Hart Benton’s depiction of Huck and Jim

A piece in The Washington Post this morning on the new book about living next door to Harper Lee mentions the status of To Kill A Mockingbird as a, if not the, Great American Novel — and casually links to a list.

The list isn’t explained. I don’t know who compiled it, or what the criteria may have been.

But of course I’m drawn in. The list extends to 358 books (which requires straining the definition of “great”), but let’s just examine the top ten:

  1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  2. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  3. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
  4. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
  5. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
  6. East of Eden, by John Steinbeck
  7. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  8. Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
  9. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
  10. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

OK, first, it’s just not right for Steinbeck to get three out of the 10. Especially since — confession time — I’ve never read the first two. The Grapes of Wrath is one of those novels I’ve meant to read for most of my life, and I will (my wife finds it utterly incredible I still haven’t). East of Eden, not so much.

And, to confess further, despite having started it again to great fanfare, I’ve still never finished Moby Dick. It just seems to start to drag after they go to sea. (Yeah, I know that’s pretty early in the book.) Which is weird, because that’s when seafaring tales generally get good.

I think all the other works are deserving of the top ten, although I might move up some of my faves from the second ten (On the Road, The Sun Also Rises, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Fahrenheit 451).

But my main beef is this: How could any list of the Greatest American Novels not start with Huckleberry Finn? Hemingway famously said, ““All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.” And I agree, except that I would delete the word, “modern.” It’s superfluous. All American literature, period.

It’s THE American novel. It’s episodic, picaresque structure is quintessentially American. Huck Finn, the freest character in literature, untainted by the history or culture of the Old World, couldn’t be more American. Huck can be anyone he wants to be, and slides in and out of identities throughout. And the central conflict in the novel is about the deepest, most profound issue of our history — in the sense that it has a central theme. Remember the author’s warning:

PERSONS attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.

Which is a very American sort of warning — notice in no uncertain terms that pretension will not be tolerated.

Even the novel’s weaknesses are very American. Such as the uneven tone — starting out with farcical comedy that is an extension of Tom Sawyer, moving to tragedy with the Graingerfords and other incidents, the slapstick and menace of the Duke and the Dauphin, and ending with the broad comedy of Tom’s insistence on throwing flourishes from literature into Jim’s escape from the Phelps farm – itself a deadly serious matter, which nearly leads to Tom’s death, and does result in Jim’s recapture (as a result of his own selflessness).

Sorry, that was a confusing sentence. But you see what I mean. The novel was no more constrained by a particular tone than life itself. Very free, very American. And certainly great.

OK, off the top of my head, my own list:

  1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
  2. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  3. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  4. On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
  5. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
  6. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
  7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
  8. All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren
  9. The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane
  10. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller

Some runner-ups:

  • The Chosen, by Chaim Potok
  • Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes
  • City Boy, by Herman Wouk
  • The Natural, by Bernard Malamud
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, by Mark Twain
  • Goodbye, Columbus, by Philip Roth
  • The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper
  • The Godfather, by Mario Puzo
  • God’s Little Acre, by Erskine Caldwell
  • Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein

Better stop there, as my quality was slipping a bit at the end there (Heinlein is fun, but is it literature?).

I’ll come back and explain those choices a bit another day. Gotta run now…

Haley doesn’t want those children fed and sheltered in SC

Gov. Nikki Haley is walking a very fine line.

On the one hand, she decries the “humanitarian crisis” of those thousands of children, driven by desperation we can’t even imagine, who find themselves alone on this side of the border. We are told that “As a mother (emphasis mine), Republican Haley said finds it ‘disturbing’ that the migrant children would be left ‘to fend for themselves’ as they attempt to cross the border.”

Which, you know, suggests a modicum of compassion.

On the other hand, she wants to make sure that, as the government figures out what to do about this crisis, none of those children are sheltered here in South Carolina — not even on federal reservations such as military bases, which to my mind would be none of her business.

This sort of dims the halo of her compassion, to say the least.

Most effective anti-Haley ad I’ve seen

I missed this yesterday for traveling.

Months after those outrageous anti-Sheheen ads from the Republican Governors Association, its Democratic counterpart has put out the above ad. Here’s the release that goes with it:

NEW TV AD: Nikki Haley Put Her Career Ahead Of Children’s Lives

“Interview” Features Former State Social Services Worker Who Quit So She Didn’t Have To Cook The Books, Put Kids At Risk

 

WASHINGTON, DC—The Democratic Governors Association today launched a new television ad in South Carolina highlighting how Governor Nikki Haley has put her own political career ahead of children’s lives through her mismanagement of the Department of Social Services (DSS) and the subsequent coverups that left children in abusive and, at times, deadly situations. The ad, “Interview,” features Betsy Burton, a former staff attorney at DSS, who resigned rather than cook the books and put more kids at risk.

“Governor Haley has put her own political career ahead of the lives of South Carolina’s most vulnerable children,” said DGA Communications Director Danny Kanner. “Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time she has tried to cover up her gross incompetence – she withheld the fact that millions of South Carolinians had their personal financial information hacked on her watch and that children had been put at risk from a tuberculosis outbreak in public schools. But with the death of three children, enough is enough. It’s time for Governor Haley to start protecting kids instead of her own political career.”

Watch the ad herehttp://youtu.be/gRXO6f8BxV0

This is the first television ad that the DGA has aired in South Carolina, and is part of a significant six-figure buy. The ad comes far earlier in the cycle than when the DGA ran television ads in 2010. The Sheheen for South Carolina campaign ran a television ad earlier this year highlighting Governor Haley’s tragic handling of the situation at DSS.

Here’s background information on the tragic situation at Governor Haley’s DSS:

 

WLTX: “DSS Dropped The Ball In Hundreds Of Cases”. “When the South Carolina Department of Social Services accepts a case for investigation, state law requires it to begin that investigation within 24 hours. News19 learned about the law, and it’s importance to child safety, after an investigation earlier this year into the death of Robert Guinyard Jr., a Richland County boy who died despite multiple reports of abuse to DSS… Guinyard’s case was not initially referred to a DSS investigator. For cases that are, reports show DSS dropped the ball in hundreds of cases failing to comply with a state law DSS also includes in its policy manual.” [WLTX, 4/24/14]

Post And Courier Editorial: “Covering Up Systemic Problems”. “It is very troubling that Ms. Koller and her staff would obfuscate when circumstances warrant tough scrutiny and deliberate reforms. Children in DSS need the state to protect them, not to use them as twisted statistics. And covering up systemic problems certainly makes reform elusive. How do you repair DSS using misleading numbers?” [Post and Courier, 5/30/14]

 

Greenville News Headline, 2012: “Some Children Spending Less Time In Foster Care”. “The state Department of Social Services has stepped up the rate of moving long-term foster children back with their parents or to adoptive families by 50 percent in the past fiscal year, a trend that has drawn both praise and criticism. DSS increased the number of foster children moving into permanent homes from 789 in 2010-11 to 1,184 in the 12-month cycle that ended June 30… Faster movement through the foster care system is part of a national trend, but South Carolina had the second-highest percentage drop in the nation in the number of children in foster care between July 2011 and July 2012, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.” [Greenville News, 10/17/12]

  • Haley’s DSS Appointee Had Previously Used “Similar Tactics” – Raising Concerns Over “Stories Of Children Being Sent To Places They Shouldn’t Be Sent In Such A Short Timeframe.” “State DSS Director Lillian Koller, appointed by Gov. Nikki Haley in 2011, used similar tactics when she headed the social services agency in Hawaii and won national acclaim for her efforts. But not everyone is happy with the more rapid flow of neglected and abused kids through the system — particularly those who care for these children in group homes. ‘In theory, what we all want is for children to not be spending their lives in group care, or in foster care for that matter, unless it’s a permanent foster situation,’ said the Rev. John Holler, president of Epworth Children’s Home and member of the board of directors of the South Carolina Association of Children’s Homes and Family Services. ‘But the Department of Social Services is under such pressure to meet numbers because of federal mandates that any provider you talk to you hear the stories of children being sent to places they shouldn’t be sent in such a short timeframe.’” [Greenville News,10/17/12]

 

Koller Emphasized Speed And Statistics From The Beginning Of Her Time With The Agency. “The director of South Carolina’s social services agency wants to speed up the time it takes to find safe, permanent homes for the thousands of abused and neglected children put in the state’s care. It’s a goal the Department of Social Services has struggled to accomplish for years. But six months into office, director Lillian Koller is confident the agency can improve, and she insists it will do so dramatically. She has put her goals into concrete numbers. Koller has charged her agency with placing 50 percent more children now in foster care into a ‘safe, loving home for life,’ either through adoption or reunification with their biological parents. It’s a tall order. Over the last few years, adoptions of foster children have risen by 5 percent. Koller wants to hit the 50 percent goal by next June, and make progress toward it monthly.” [Associated Press, 7/31/11]

January 2014 Senator On DSS Oversight Panel Expressed Concern That Children Were Being Removed And Returned From Homes Too Quickly. “Several South Carolina state senators say they’ll try to make changes at the state Department of Social Services after looking into problems at the agency. ‘It is the whole system. I feel like our system is broken,’ Paige Greene told a special Senate DSS Oversight subcommittee Wednesday. She’s the executive director of Richland County CASA, the guardian ad litum program for abused and neglected children in Richland County… Oversight subcommittee member Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, said in some cases DSS is taking children out of homes too quickly while in other cases putting them back in their homes too quickly. ‘It leads me to question the whole way the management and the implementation and the process is working at all,’ he said.” [CBS – 7 WSPA,1/16/14]

 

Response to Child Death: “Social Services Had Received A Tip About The Child Being In Danger. But The Agency… Waited Seven Weeks To Follow Up.” “Social Services had received a tip about the child being in danger. But the agency said it could not find the child’s parents and waited seven weeks to follow up with the medical professional who issued the warning. Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott held a news conference after the child’s death, criticizing Social Services for not telling law enforcement when the agency could not locate Bryson’s parents. In response, Social Services put in place a new policy to call law enforcement within 72 hours if it cannot locate a family.” [The State, 5/13/14]

Post and Courier Editorial: “Troubling” That DSS Oversight Committee Were Told “Misleading Numbers.” The Post and Courier opined, “It is very troubling that Ms. Koller and her staff would obfuscate when circumstances warrant tough scrutiny and deliberate reforms…And covering up systemic problems certainly makes reform elusive. How do you repair DSS using misleading numbers? For example, the Senate’s DSS Oversight Committee was first told that the average worker handled six cases at any time… So pressed at a later hearing on the subject, Ms. Koller conceded that the average was more. Far more.” [Post and Courier, 5/30/14]

  • “DSS Leadership Is More Interested In Producing Impressive Numbers Than In Providing Good Services.” “Then there is the issue of secrecy. Several coroners reported to the Oversight Committee that DSS was refusing to cooperate and provide information necessary for them to investigate deaths. DSS clients, including children, are correctly afforded privacy as a rule. But when they die, the rules change. It’s important to diagnose why and how it happened, and to use that information to improve DSS policy and practices… But a number of DSS employees and former employees have complained that the current DSS leadership is more interested in producing impressive numbers than in providing good services.” [Post and Courier, 5/30/14]

 

Worker Assigned To Child Who Died Had Caseload Six Times Higher Than DSS “Average” Shortly After Death. “Workers are required to see all of their children in a month. That means that the case worker with 96 children, working five days a week, has to see an average of 5 kids during a 7.5-hour day in order to meet her goal… DSS officials say they obtained the average of six by dividing the number of cases among workers statewide…  Five-month-old Bryson Webb died in his car seat on April 22, after he stopped breathing. DSS has said the agency repeatedly tried tracking down the boy’s family, who were allegedly living in different locations. But the worker assigned to Bryson’s family had 37 cases on March 2, according to a DSS document. ByMarch 9, the worker had 49 cases.” [Post and Courier, 5/27/14]

I would say it’s the most effective Sheheen ad I’ve seen. But since it’s not actually from the Sheheen campaign, I’ll say it’s the most effective anti-Haley ad I’ve seen…

SC, do you REALLY want Joe Manchin for president?

Here’s my latest new follower on Twitter:

Joe Manchin

 

It appears to be nothing more than a feed for reTweeting another called “Draft Joe Manchin.”

I had to follow a couple of the links provided even to find out who Joe Manchin was. From Politico:

IF HILLARY PASSES, MANCHIN FOR PRESIDENT? – Sen. Joe Manchin says a 2016 presidential run is “low on the totem pole,” but he’s not exactly ruling it out.

The West Virginia Democrat, a frequent critic of President Obama and perhaps the most conservative Democrat in the upper chamber, has already endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016. But if the former secretary of State takes a pass, expect to hear more about the former Mountain State governor – especially with former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, another possible ‘16 hopeful from a red state, making some off-color remarks about gays and prostitutes.

Some Twitter accounts have popped up in the past week with the handles @NH4JoeManchin and @Iowa4JoeManchin – though he hasn’t made trips to those early primary states. @DraftJoeManchin recently tweeted: “We think that Joe Manchin is the most gifted leader and the most unifying leader we could elect as our next President.”…

Told that Manchin’s politics would probably be too conservative to win his party’s nomination, he replied: “My politics are about as middle of the road and American as you can get. I keep saying I’m fiscally responsible and socially compassionate, and I think most Americans are.”…

So, in case you, too, run across some of these Tweets, now you know what it’s about…

If POTUS is uninterested in photo ops, that’s a move in the right direction, whatever his reasons

tumblr_llj2lasLAV1qcnh2to1_500

I continue to make my way through “The West Wing” as I work out each night. The most recent episode was night before last (I got home too late to work out last night) — “Disaster Relief,” episode number 6 in the 5th season.

This was the one when a tornado ripped through Oklahoma, and the president flew to the scene to show his concern. Originally, he wasn’t going to do this, but Press Secretary C.J. Cregg insisted. Once he is there, he gets way too much into it, just exuding compassion all over the place, and extending his stay to the point that even C.J. expresses her disappointment in him that he hasn’t headed back to Washington, where things are falling apart, to do his actual job.

(A side note: This is the 6th episode in the first season not written by Aaron Sorkin, and there has indeed been a dropoff in quality, as I had feared. C.J.’s change of mind isn’t portrayed convincingly. There’s a rather ham-handed slide toward disillusionment on her part over the last few episodes, and I’m getting tired of it. Worse, the nature of my favorite character, the gruff-but-lovable Leo, has changed. The gruffness is there, but the “lovable” part has gone AWOL. Sure, the Leo I know would let Josh know he was displeased, that he had screwed up. But he wouldn’t cold-bloodedly undermine him the way this new Leo did in this episode.)

But that’s not what I wanted to tell you about. What I wanted to talk about was this:

 President Obama on Wednesday forcefully defended his decision not to visit the Texas border with Mexico to view a burgeoning humanitarian crisis, saying he’s “not interested in photo ops” and challenging Congress to give him new authority to respond to the situation.

“Nothing has taken place down there that I’m not intimately aware of,” Obama said during a hastily arranged news conference here, where he began a two-day visit to the state for Democratic fundraising and an economic event. “This is not theater.”…

To which I say, “Amen, Mr. President!” Sometime during the Clinton administration, I got completely fed up with this new role we’ve invented for POTUS, that of Emoter in Chief. I’ve had it up to here with staged demonstrations of concern, or with the nation waiting breathlessly for the president to strike the appropriate tone in a statement about something that has little or nothing to do with his job.

Yes, there is a such a thing as a leadership function, as military officers understand. You walk around checking on your people, making sure they’re fed and bedded down, on the night before the battle. Show that you care.

But folks, we have taken this to an extreme in this country. The president has enough enumerated duties, enough things he really needs to do, without constantly posing for the cameras. Unfortunately, too much of the presidency has become theater, and I like seeing POTUS push back on it a bit.

Yeah, it made him sound cold. And maybe little kids in desperate circumstances on the border isn’t the best place to draw the line. But I’m glad he felt motivated to draw it somewhere — if only out of defensive pique because the Republicans were landing some telling blows on him, which is what seems to have happened.

 

An act of God kept The State from winning that Pulitzer

TIM DOMINICK TDOMINICK@THESTATE

TIM DOMINICK TDOMINICK@THESTATE

That is to say, a second act of God, less than four weeks after the first.

You may have read in the paper that those of us who were on the newsroom staff that nearly won the Pulitzer for our coverage of Hurricane Hugo in 1989 are being honored with a reception at The State today.

We should have won it. We did a bang-up job in those days and weeks before and after the landfall on Sept. 21, not only covering every possible angle of the damage and its impact across the state, but providing lots of “news you can use,” telling people where and how to get help or give it, updated daily.

It was a heady time, characterized by strong teamwork. A couple of my fellow editors got to go down to the ravaged coast with the reporters and photographers, and I was envious of them. I was stuck at the office, helping supervise and coordinate coverage and get it into the paper.

But then, on Oct. 17, the second act of God — or the fickle finger of fate, if you prefer — struck. A 6.9-magnitude earthquake hit San Francisco during the World Series. The fact that it was the first earthquake captured live on television — because of the Series — riveted national attention on that disaster in an unprecedented manner. The San Jose Mercury News, our Knight Ridder sister paper, also did a bang-up job. Remember the quake beginning as my wife’s cousin Tim McCarver was narrating highlights from the previous game? Remember the images of the pancaked overpass? Yeah, everybody else did, too. They got the Pulitzer for General News Reporting, leaving us as one of the two finalists.

Since then, The State has only come close to a Pulitzer twice. Both times, the finalist was Robert Ariail, during the years that I was his editor. So I was close to the situation all three times that The State was close to a Pulitzer. But that one in 1989 was particularly bittersweet, because it would have been a win for all of us, Robert included. We wanted to win for The State as an institution, and for Tom McLean, as that was his last year as executive editor.

We didn’t make it, but we went down swinging. And we remember what we did together fondly. Not that we’re ghouls, fondly recalling a disaster. It’s the camaraderie, the Band of Brothers aspect that generates the positive feeling.

Here’s the list of people being credited with that finalist showing:

Hugo Alumni include:
Jeff Amberg
Susan Ardis
Robert Ariail
Dottie Ashley
Perry Baker
Pat Berman
Warren Bolton
Lee Bouknight
Margaret Bouknight
Claudia Brinson
Rosie Brooks
Bobby Bryant
Clint Bryson
Pat Butler
Bob Cole
John Collins
Betty Lynn Compton
Jeffrey Day
Tim Dominick
Carol Farmington
Thom Fladung
Holly Gatling
Bob Gillespie
Doug Gilmore
Kay Gordon
Richard Greer
Frank Heflin
Bill HIggins
Dawn Hinshaw
Gordon Hirsch
Bobby Hitt
Deborah Lynn Hook
Bhakti Larry Hough
Bill Hughes
Page Ivey
Joe Jackson
Bill Kelly III
Lou Kinard
Michael Kozma
Dawn Kujawa
Clif LeBlanc
Michael Lewis
Mike Livingston
Diane Lore
Salley McInerney
Norma McLean
Tom McLean
Jim McLaurin
Jeff Miller
Michael Miller
Bill Mitchell
Dave Moniz
Will Moredock
Fred Monk
Loretta Neal
David Newton
Jennifer Nicholson
Margaret O’Shea
Paul Osmundson
Levona Page
Charles Paschal
Lezlie Patterson
Beverly Phillips
Ginger Pinson
Charles Pope
Bertram Rantin
Dargan Richards
Bunny Richardson
Maxie Roberts
Bill Robinson
Pat Robertson
Cindi Ross Scoppe
Michael Sponhour
Bob Stuart
Beverly Shelley
Steve Smith
Bob Spear
Bill Starr
Linda Stelter
Clark Surratt
Rick Temple
Rob Thompson
Ernie Trubiano
Jan Tuten
Helene Vickers
Nancy Wall
Brad Warthen
Neil White

I wonder how many of us will be there this afternoon…

pulitzer

Is SC the ‘most patriotic’ state?

patriotic-states

That’s the conclusion based on this survey:

 South Carolina is the most patriotic state in the nation, a real estate research firm has found.

The ranking is based on Movoto Real Estate’s measure of the number of people who Googled for American flags. The state also has the seventh highest veterans per capita, and 16th highest funding for veterans per capita….

Seems like a rather slim criterion to me. A state could top the list if, for instance, it was ordering flags in order to burn them or something.

Nevertheless, I don’t doubt that South Carolina is at least among the most patriotic states, whatever your criteria. We have definitely come a long way on that score since that time, so very long ago that it’s hardly worth mentioning, when we, you know, launched a war — the deadliest war in the nation’s history — against the United States.

 

Divided Supremes rule for Hobby Lobby

This is this morning’s big news:

The Supreme Court struck a key part of President Obama’s health-care law Monday, ruling that some companies may refuse to offer insurance coverage of specific birth control methods if they conflict with the owner’s religious beliefs.

In a 5 to 4 ruling that pitted religious freedom against equal benefits for female workers, the court’s conservatives decided that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) gave employers the right to withhold certain birth control methods from insurance coverage.

The contraceptive mandate “clearly imposes a substantial burden” on the owner’s beliefs, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the majority.

It was the first time that the court had decided that the federal law covers corporations, not just the “persons” referred to in its text….

Since Pew says I’m in the “Faith and Family Left,” I suppose this is a win for my “side.” So, yay us.

OK, that sounded facetious — but only because I find the notion of “sides” that always agree amongst themselves absurd. On the substance, I suppose I’m with the majority of the court. If I hadn’t been already, then one of the sillier Tweets I saw objecting to the decision would have pushed me in that direction:


Well, then, if that’s the case, then you don’t want your employer providing you with birth control. Since, you know, it’s not any of his or her business. (I probably should have just said “his” there, instead of “his or her,” since the sort of person who would post something like that Tweet probably pictures a male as the big, bad boss.) There are some self-described feminists who get into such a rhetorical rut (in this case, the “keep your laws off my body” rut) that they fail to recognize instances when their habitual rhetoric fails to serve their cause. In this case, the ACA mandates that employers take a paternalistic (sticking with the “employer as male” stereotype) interest in one’s “reproductive choices.”

If you’d like to read the whole decision by the court, here it is.

NYT rehashes Sanford farce, but adds a new (to me) insight

My first reaction was this:

And indeed, much of the 5,000-word magazine-profile-style piece (it took me three separate chunks of time today to read it) was a painful rehashing of a story we know far too well here in SC, and yet another case of the world affirming Sanford in his conviction that yes, indeed, it’s all about him.

(Sometimes it seems Sanford moves in a bubble that is like an incident in a Douglas Adams novel: Zaphod Beeblebrox steps into a Total Perspective Vortex, which should cause his mind to implode with the realization of how insignificant he is in the grand scheme of things. However, he does so within the safe confines of a custom-made universe. Since that artificial universe was, indeed, made for him, he is the most important thing in it. So he steps out of the machine feeling confirmed in his outsized self-esteem. All he got from the machine was this: “It just told me what I knew all the time. I’m a really terrific and great guy. Didn’t I tell you, baby, I’m Zaphod Beeblebrox!” Very Mark Sanford.)

But I did eventually get to some things I didn’t know about. For instance, I’ve seen little about what has happened since the voters of the 1st District decided to sent him back to Washington. And Lord knows I haven’t been up to Washington myself to check on him. So I read this with interest:

Sanford wound up as a lower-ranking member of the Transportation and Homeland Security committees. When he arrived, the congressional Tea Party rebellion was well underway. And, as an enthusiastic renegade nearly 20 years earlier, Sanford could have easily joined it. But he decided instead to prove useful where he could to Boehner and Boehner’s second in command and expected successor, Eric Cantor of Virginia. Cantor initially had misgivings about Sanford but came to appreciate the new, less confrontational version of him. And Sanford came to appreciate what Cantor might ultimately do for him. Now, despite Cantor’s loss in the primary earlier this month to the more strident conservative David Brat, Sanford says he’ll stick to his plan and work with the leadership when possible.

Huh. Mark Sanford, the guy for whom Newt Gingrich wasn’t radical enough, working with the leadership, within the Establishment? For that matter, Sanford working with anyone other than himself?

This bears watching…

On the ‘dumbing down of America,’ starting with SC

It is perhaps appropriate that on the day we learn a reality-TV star (which is actually one of the more flattering things one can say about T-Rav) is vying to become a U.S. senator from South Carolina, Burl Burlingame brings my attention to this piece, headlined “America dumbs down,” which begins with an anecdote from the Palmetto State:

South Carolina’s state beverage is milk. Its insect is the praying mantis. There’s a designated dance—the shag—as well a sanctioned tartan, game bird, dog, flower, gem and snack food (boiled peanuts). But what Olivia McConnell noticed was missing from among her home’s 50 official symbols was a fossil. So last year, the eight-year-old science enthusiast wrote to the governor and her representatives to nominate the Columbian mammoth. Teeth from the woolly proboscidean, dug up by slaves on a local plantation in 1725, were among the first remains of an ancient species ever discovered in North America. Forty-three other states had already laid claim to various dinosaurs, trilobites, primitive whales and even petrified wood. It seemed like a no-brainer. “Fossils tell us about our past,” the Grade 2 student wrote.

And, as it turns out, the present, too. The bill that Olivia inspired has become the subject of considerable angst at the legislature in the state capital of Columbia. First, an objecting state senator attached three verses from Genesis to the act, outlining God’s creation of all living creatures. Then, after other lawmakers spiked the amendment as out of order for its introduction of the divinity, he took another crack, specifying that the Columbian mammoth “was created on the sixth day with the other beasts of the field.” That version passed in the senate in early April. But now the bill is back in committee as the lower house squabbles over the new language, and it’s seemingly destined for the same fate as its honouree—extinction.

What has doomed Olivia’s dream is a raging battle in South Carolina over the teaching of evolution in schools. Last week, the state’s education oversight committee approved a new set of science standards that, if adopted, would see students learn both the case for, and against, natural selection….

If you’re getting the impression that the author of this piece holds that people who hold conservative positions are stupid, you’re getting the right impression. Which, I admit, I find off-putting. I mean, I have trouble understanding why some fundamentalist Christians find it necessary to deny evolution (as a Catholic, I see no conflict between faith and science on this point) — trouble that grows out of my failure to understand why anyone would think such obvious allegories as the Creation story are factual, accurate history — I don’t believe in mocking or sneering at people who believe such things.

Predictably, the piece goes on to describe conservative positions on gun control, global warming and health care reform as evidence of idiocy.

Perhaps the most offensive (intellectually offensive, that is) assertions in the piece is this:

… many Americans seem less concerned with the massive violations of their privacy in the name of the War on Terror, than imposing Taliban-like standards on the lives of others. Last month, the school board in Meridian, Idaho voted to remove The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie from its Grade 10 supplemental reading list following parental complaints about its uncouth language and depictions of sex and drug use. When 17-year-old student Brady Kissel teamed up with staff from a local store to give away copies at a park as a protest, a concerned citizen called police. It was the evening of April 23, which was also World Book Night, an event dedicated to “spreading the love of reading.”

Apparently, this author who thinks other people are so stupid is incapable of seeing the difference between parents being concerned about their children’s exposure to depictions of sexuality and drug use and… the Taliban. Let’s see… on the one hand, you have parents who doubt that a particular book is appropriate for their kids (not whether the book should be burned or anything, but whether it’s appropriate for their kids). On the other hand, you have people who shoot girls in the face for the crime of going to school. Yeahhhh, that’s just exactly the same. Riiiight

All of that said… the overall phenomenon under discussion here is a real one. American history is rife with anti-intellectualism, and there is a downward trend over time, as our politics becomes more democratic, in a bad way. We do, indeed, live in a time and place in which you can win elections by appealing to foolishness over wisdom.

I was referring to an example of this earlier today, cited by Michael Kinsley back in the mid-90s — the polling that indicated that solid majorities of Americans believe we spend too much on foreign aid, that they think, on average, that we spend about 18 percent of our budget, and that they think a better amount would be 3 percent (actually, that that should be the minimum) — when actually, we spend about 1 percent.

It’s OK for the people to be confused on something like that — unless that confusion becomes the basis of actual policy going forward. Which, unfortunately, does happen sometimes.

Anyway, it’s a deeply flawed piece that nevertheless touches upon a real problem…

The passing of Howard Baker

baker

This came in a little while ago from The Washington Post:

Former senator Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee, who framed the central question of the Watergate scandal when he asked “what did the president know and when did he know it?” and framed portraits of history with his ever-present camera while Senate majority leader and White House chief of staff, died June 26 at his home in Huntsville, Tenn. He was 88.

The cause was complications from a stroke, said longtime aide Tom Griscom….

That’s me with Baker in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1980. I had just arrived to cover him as he campaigned for the presidential nomination. It’s a shame that he didn’t do better than he did.

And it’s a greater shame that there are so few pragmatic centrists like Baker left — a fair-minded conservative who did not hesitate to grill the Nixon administration to discover the truth.

We still have Lamar Alexander, who comes out of that same commonsense Tennessee Republican tradition — people who gained high office before the Reagan revolution, and before the hardening of ideological positions on both ends of the spectrum. Our own Lindsey Graham is made from a similar mold — although, being of a later generation, he is more marked by the partisan wars than Baker ever was.

But the Howard Bakers, the Sam Nunns, the Scoop Jacksons… they’re all gone. And we’re worse off for it…

‘We Shall Overcome (But We Shall Be Miserable Doing It)’

I’ve seen this a couple of times today. Chris Cillizza of The Fix claims it’s the “Best. Vine. Ever.”

Well, I dunno. But boy, is it painful to watch.

Somebody apparently thought it would just be inspiring as all get out for Democratic and Republican leaders to link arms and invoke Freedom Summer by singing “We Shall Overcome” together.

At least the Democrats knew the words, but none of them look like they’re on the happy side of miserable.

Frankly, though, the Vine version doesn’t do the incident justice. To see enough of it to understand just how awkward it was, complete with sound, you have to watch this clip from C-SPAN (the awkwardness starts at 21:00, and continues for a little over two minutes):

Unusual split between McCain, Graham on Iran, Iraq

This WashPost headline (“Wait, John McCain and Lindsey Graham are at odds? Yes — on Iran and Iraq“) grabbed my attention this morning:

Pick your favorite foreign policy debate and odds are hawkish Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) will be on the same side. Not so when it comes to the escalating situation in Iraq.

McCain on Monday warned sharply against the idea of collaborating with Iran to help the Iraqi government push back against radical Islamist fighters…

“It would be the height of folly to believe that the Iranian regime can be our partner in managing the deteriorating security situation in Iraq,” said McCain in a statement….

Appearing on the Sunday news shows, Graham cautiously endorsed the idea, provided certain conditions are met.

“Well, we’re going to probably need their help to hold Baghdad,” he said on CBS News’s “Face The Nation.”

On the same program, Graham said, “We need to all make sure Baghdad doesn’t fall

It’s not really a huge split, except that McCain’s language (“height of folly”)  is so emphatic. But worth making note.

Frankly, I’m intrigued by the implications of working with Iran for other issues. No, I don’t expect us to become big buddies and see them immediately drop their nuclear program for their new pals, but crises breed opportunity, and there could be one here — aside from the immediate tactical situation, which sees Iran in a better position to act than the U.S.

It’s going to be tough to work with the mullahs while simultaneously pressing Maliki to be less of a Shi’ite chauvinist (thereby making his regime one more worth saving), but it’s worth exploring.

So I think Graham’s being the more pragmatic and flexible here…

Editor’s note: The above video clip — one of my most popular ever — is NOT from this week. It’s from May 15, 2007.

The most significant, positive thing you can do as a voter today is make sure Lindsey Graham wins outright

A still from a campaign video.

A still from a campaign video.

Where I live, I normally take a Republican primary ballot, because that’s the only way I get any choices, especially on local races.

But four years ago, I broke with that pattern because of one race: I wanted to vote for Vincent Sheheen. I was so disappointed by the whole Republican field for governor (even Henry McMaster, whom I had expected to like for the job, but hated the campaign he ran), and I wanted to have the positive experience of voting for somebody for governor, rather than trying to pick the least of evils on the GOP side. I did this even though it meant I was disenfranchised, unable to state a choice as a voter in several races in which the GOP primary was the election (and again, it is SO wrong that a voter has to make a choice like that — we should get a say on everyone who represents us).

Today, I went back to the GOP, so I didn’t have that problem. But still, as in 2010, my mind was on one race and one race only. Even if there had been compelling contests on the Democratic side that I wanted to weigh in on (there weren’t), I would have taken a GOP ballot simply to vote for Lindsey Graham. On this day, that was the best and highest use of my right and responsibility as a voter.

Totally apart from the fact that he deserves re-election and is a far better candidate than his challengers, the contest for his seat has much broader implications for our state.

The worst thing that can happen to South Carolina in today’s primaries would be for Graham to lose, and the second worst would be for him to get into a runoff.

If he loses (and a runoff makes it more likely that he might actually lose, if all the Graham haters unite behind one candidate), don’t ever expect to see a South Carolina Republican take a political risk in order to do the right thing for a long, long time. He would be the cautionary example of what happens if you think for yourself and stick your neck out.

Conversely, if he wins decisively today, it affirms the kind of thoughtful, principled representation of which we all know he, unlike his opponents, is capable.

The crowd of people running against him all smell blood in the water. Some are just dangerous extremists (Lee Bright) and others are opportunists willing to benefit from his vulnerability — and willing to cater to that same extremism in order to conquer. That must not be rewarded.

All sensible, moderate South Carolinians, regardless of party, should be asking for a GOP primary ballot today, and voting for Graham. And yet I know so many will find excuses not to.

One of my best friends, who for several years constituted the “liberal” wing of The State‘s editorial board (as he would tell you, though, more of a New Republic liberal than a Mother Jones liberal), wrote for a lot of Democrats and independents yesterday when he said:

“If those things happen, don’t EVER expect to see a South Carolina Republican take a political risk in order to do the right thing for a long, LONG time.”

When was the last time that actually happened? Has Lindsey Graham done anything in public during his current term that I actually am thankful for? I’d like to be wrong about this, but I can’t think of one thing in the last six years that I actually approve of. Anything?

It only took me a moment to come up with three good answers to that question:

1. He was the only Republican from SC to vote to reopen the government last fall — even as he was bracing himself for the current onslaught from the right.

2. Voting to confirm Kagan.

3. Voting to confirm Sotomayor.

The list of things that please me would be longer, but I was looking at it from Mike’s perspective. (The second and third points are particularly important, because they illustrate Graham living up to the principle he so often states — that elections have consequences, and unless a president’s nominees are simply unqualified, they should be confirmed. This is an incredibly important principle to the healthy functioning of our system of republican government, and all too rare today — it’s something that the ideologues of the left and right can’t even wrap their heads around. It’s the kind of thing that separates a statesman from a hack.)

It is SO easy for moderates (and the very few liberals in SC) to be turned off by Graham’s recent emphasis on messages that appeal to the hard right — opposition to Obamacare, going on and on about Benghazi, etc.

And of course, some of our friends — Bud and Doug come to mind — find that two-faced and deceptive. They’re wrong. And moderates (or liberals) who see only the things they don’t like, forgetting the things that they do like, are wrong as well.

There is absolutely nothing wrong, or deceptive, or duplicitous about stressing positions that you honestly hold that appeal to people who might vote for your opponents. An honest politician has not only a right, but an obligation to let voters who might be heavily critical of him know that he actually agrees with them on issues that are important to them. Graham has been a vocal opponent of Obamacare from the start; he and John McCain have been the main critics of the administration on Benghazi. And he is, just as he claims, a social conservative.

And moderates and those few liberals who may be turned off by this kind of campaign need to stop and think — this is the only way a guy like Lindsey Graham gets re-elected in this state. Your alternative is not Elizabeth Warren (God help us), or whoever you like out there. Your alternative is Lee Bright, or someone who in office would act like Lee Bright.

The kind of courage and thoughtfulness and sense of responsibility that Graham exhibits, at great political risk, on issues such as judicial confirmation, foreign aid, fiscal issues, immigration and energy are rare qualities. And no one else running for this office exhibits them.

For someone as high-profile as Graham to be brought low by the extreme Lilliputians of the Tea Party would be a tragedy for South Carolina, because nothing could be more guaranteed to make sure we don’t see his kind of courage in the future.

We can’t afford to lose this one guy who puts his country before party doctrine. We can’t afford to lose Lindsey Graham.

Another still from the same campaign video.

Another still from the same campaign video.

The Bergdahl scandal — and ‘scandal’ is what it’s becoming — seems about to burst into full flower

At this hour, The Washington Post is touting an “exclusive” in which Afghan villagers give their eyewitness accounts of the day Bowe Bergdahl walked away from his post. They say he appeared, inexplicably, to be deliberately seeking out the Taliban:

To them, it’s clear something was wrong with the American. And he seemed to be deliberately heading for Taliban strongholds, they say.

“It was very confusing to us. Why would he leave the base?” said Jamal, an elder in the village of Yusef Khel, about a half-mile from the American military installation. (Like many Afghans, he goes by only one name). “The people thought it was a covert agenda – maybe he was sent to the village by the U.S.”

Locals remember Bergdahl walking through the village in a haze. They later told Afghan investigators that they had warned the American that he was heading into a dangerous area.

“They tried to tell him not to go there, that it is dangerous. But he kept going over the mountain. The villagers tried to give him water and bread, but he didn’t take it,” said Ibrahim Manikhel, the district’s intelligence chief.

“We think he probably was high after smoking hashish,” Manikhel said. “Why would an American want to find the Taliban?”…

This comes out as the Taliban releases video footage of the handover of Bergdahl to U.S. special forces. In the video, the sergeant looks highly stressed, even terrified. Of course, there could be many interpretations of that. Even if everything about his “capture” were kosher and he was thrilled to be handed over, he could have been afraid they’d shoot him at the last minute.

But that is secondary to the Post story. The newspaper’s political blog, The Fix, declares that “Bergdahl is the new Benghazi.” Indeed. Only this is one that people other than dog whistle-attuned Republicans can understand.

No wonder, as The Guardian reports, “US military promises ‘complete review’ into Bowe Bergdahl capture.” The whole happy-welcome-home scenario seems increasingly untenable.

Graham decries Palestinian political merger

This came in this afternoon from Lindsey Graham:

Graham Statement on Palestinian Authority-Hamas Unity Government


WASHINGTON
 – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today made this statement on the Palestinian Authority-Hamas unity government.
“I’m extremely disappointed to hear that President Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, has decided to form a unity government with Hamas, a violent terrorist organization. This decision undercuts any hope of a viable peace process.
“I do not believe it is in our national security interest to begin a dialogue with a government that includes a terrorist organization committed to the destruction of the state of Israel.
“Secretary Kerry’s statement that the Obama Administration will continue to work with this new government is very disturbing and inappropriate. I will be joining Democrats and Republicans in efforts to suspend all aid to the Palestinian Authority as long as they continue this unity government or until Hamas recognizes the state of Israel and rejects terrorism.
“For our country to be supporting this new unity government sends the worst possible signal to terrorist organizations and is incredibly insensitive to the people of Israel.”
####

I share the senator’s concern, although I don’t know whether I think it’s “inappropriate” for the U.S. to deal with this disturbing new entity. I sort of want to know what the alternatives are.

The Palestinian Authority was our one and only Palestinian entity to talk peace with, while Hamas was the terrorists. What are we supposed to do now?

Sheheen releases plan for veterans, with footnotes

This just in today from Vincent Sheheen:

Sheheen Releases Plan of Action for SC Veterans

Gubernatorial candidate lays out plan to address delays and obstacles for veterans in-state given severe problems with national VA

Camden, SC. – Today, Sen. Vincent Sheheen released his plan of action for veterans in South Carolina to address the crisis at the Department of Veterans Affairs at the state level while Washington works out its problems. The plan lays out a course of action to be taken at the state level to get veterans the care and benefits that they need and have earned.

Sen. Sheheen’s plan for veterans includes immediate steps that he will begin work on in the legislature, and actions he would take as Governor of South Carolina.

This week, he will work with veteran and State Rep. James Smith to introduce budget provisos in the House to open DHEC clinics to veterans after-hours and on the weekend, provide no-interest loans to wounded warriors who are delayed their pensions due to DC’s backlog, and make specific requests of state agencies to take action at the state level and do right by South Carolina’s veterans.

View Sen. Sheheen’s plan of action for veterans as well as his other ideas for how to improve leadership and accountability in South Carolina at www.vincentsheheen.com. His book, “The Right Way: Getting the Palmetto State Back on Track” is free and also available online, here.

 

Honest Leadership for South Carolina’s Veterans

 

Our nation’s veterans put their lives on the line to protect and serve our country. The very least that the government should do is provide the care and the service those veterans were promised and have more than earned.

The major problems and delays that have been ongoing with the VA for decades, problems that are now amplified with the increase in veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, have brought us to a crisis point. The extreme dysfunction in the Department of Veterans Affairs that’s putting veterans at a terrible risk is unacceptable and requires urgent and appropriate action.

Washington has created this crisis, yet the leaders in Washington seem more interested in pointing fingers than taking the urgent action needed to properly address the crisis.  Therefore, South Carolina leaders have no choice but to take immediate and aggressive steps to protect the health and lives of our veterans here in the Palmetto State.

To that end, Senator Vincent Sheheen has proposed an urgent plan of action for South Carolina’s 420,968 veterans, and is working with veteran and State Rep James Smith to get it done.

PROVIDE IN-STATE ALTERANTIVES FOR VETERANS TO ACCESS CARE

There have been six veterans’ deaths at Columbia’s Dorn VA Hospital that may have been caused by on-going delays in appointments.[1]Reports show 10,500 veterans have waited longer than 125 days for an appointment at Dorn.[2] And memos show that the VA knew of the delays here in South Carolina as far back as December 2011.[3] Clearly the problem is systematic, and we must take action to provide veterans with alternate ways to access care at the state level.

Open SC Public Health Facilities to Serve our Veterans

  • Direct all DHEC Public Health Clinics to open after hours during the week and on Saturdays to provide appointments for veterans waiting for care through the VA.
  • Create a Veterans Care Triage System within DHEC, in coordination with Dept. Mental Health, SCHHS and the SC National Guard, to work with VA-qualified veterans in need of healthcare.
  • Expand outreach and resources to SC Department of Mental Health for veterans suffering from PTSD.
  • Appoint a point-person to work with all state agencies, to:

o   Help veterans wade through Federal red-tape and identify possible state solutions or alternatives for care;

o   Hear from veterans being negatively affected by the VA’s national backlog to ensure no more veterans die while on a wait-list;

o   Connect veterans with non-profit and other in-state organizations to ensure they get the medical care they need.

  • Coordinate with rural hospitals, federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) in rural areas and free medical clinics – as well as any other501 c#3 funded by Medicaid – to find alternate ways of providing access to care for veterans

 

Accept Our Federal Tax Dollars to Expand Medicaid for Veterans in SC

  • Expand Medicaid to provide health care to more than 13,000 veterans in the Palmetto State that earn at or below 138% of the poverty level, according to The Pew Institute.[4]
  • Direct the Inspector General to conduct an audit of existing state programs and identify additional Federal or state-based funding sources currently not being used, that could help provide local veterans with access to care.

 

ENSURE DISABLED VETERANS GET THE PENSIONS THEY ARE DUE

There is currently a backlog of more than 340,000 veterans waiting for the VA to process their disability claims, and South Carolina should provide some level of financial security for these wounded warriors.[5]

Provide No-Interest Loans to Bridge the Gap

  • Immediately provide no interest loans, through the S.C. Office of Veterans’ Affairs, for up to 80% of the claim filed, to disabled veterans waiting for their claims to be processed.
  • Allow South Carolina’s veterans to repay those no-interest loans when the Federal government finally approves their claims.
  • If a claim was denied, allow that veteran repay the loan with no penalty, so long as there was no finding of fraud.

Improve Public-Private Partnerships to Assist SC Veterans

  • Increase funding for existing non-profits and faith-based organizations within South Carolina already helping veterans get access to the care they need.

 

 

[1] WIS-TV: Thousands of veterans wait months for appointments at Dorn VA, 5/28/14

[2] Center for Investigative Reporting: Where is the veterans’ backlog the worst?, 8/29/12

[3] WIS-TV: Thousands of veterans wait months for appointments at Dorn VA, 5/28/14

[4] Pew Charitable Trusts State & Consumer Initiatives: A Quarter-Million Vets will miss out on Medicaid Expansion, 5/27/13

[5] VA Press Release: Disability Claims Backlog reduced by 44 Percent Since Peaking One Year Ago, 4/1/14

Interesting choice of an issue for a gubernatorial candidate…

Brad Hutto’s new TV ad

Here’s the TV ad Democratic SC Sen. Brad Hutto just released. Two quick thoughts:

  1. From start to finish, it’s nothing but empty populist sentiments of the “Them ol’ politicians don’t know nothin’, and should stay out of Washington and spend their time settin’ ’round the kitchen table listenin’ to regular folks” variety. The thrust is to complain that we have a smart, energetic senator whose opinions are sought out and respected in Washington. What a terrible state of affairs, eh?
  2. I’d like to hear the thoughts of people contributing to this campaign, in terms of what they think they’re buying, and what they hope to accomplish. Is this nothing more than a throw of the dice based on the belief that Thomas Ravenel, running as an independent, could create a situation in which the math works for a Democrat?

 

The resignation of Gen. Shinseki

In better days: Gen. Shinseki congratulates Strom Thurmond on his 100th birthday.

In better days: Gen. Shinseki congratulates Strom Thurmond on his 100th birthday.

Well, we certainly knew this was coming this morning, didn’t we?

It was reported that Eric Shinseki had issued an apology for the mess in the V.A., after which he was headed for a meeting at the White House. You just sort of knew he’d be coming out of there without a job.

Which is what happened.

It’s a shame for Gen. Shinseki’s distinguished career to end this way. Or rather, his second career. He had risen to the top of his profession by being good at his job. He was the guy who was right about Iraq when Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush were wrong. He, like Leroy Inabinet, is a man of honor who deserves to be remembered that way.

But today, he felt compelled to do something men of honor have done since ancient times: He dutifully fell on his sword.

For his part, the president implied that he didn’t think the V.A. scandal was Gen. Shinseki’s fault:

Obama paid tribute to Shinseki, telling reporters that he arrived at his decision to accept the VA chief’s resignation because of Shinseki’s “belief that he would be a distraction from the task at hand.”

“He is a very good man,” Obama said. “He’s a good person who’s done exemplary work on our behalf.” He said Shinseki concluded that “he could not carry out the next stages of reform without being a distraction himself.”

“I think he’s deeply disappointed in the fact that bad news did not get to him,” Obama said. “His priority now is to make sure that happens, and he felt like the new leadership would serve our veterans better, and I agreed with him.”…

It’s interesting to contrast this with the way things played out with Kathleen Sebelius. She presided over a major systemic failure, probably the greatest embarrassment this administration has faced, considering how large health reform loomed in its legend. Yet she was allowed to stay until it was obvious that things had gotten better, and then quit.

The WashPost yesterday demonstrated the difference between the two cases in a graph, showing a statistical difference in terms of calls for each secretary’s resignation. The dam burst on Wednesday. And there was a qualitative as well as a quantitative difference. This time, Democrats were saying he had to go.

Graham, McCain, et al., on Afghanistan drawdown

I missed this release yesterday, but it still seems to me worth sharing:

Graham, Ayotte, McCain on Afghanistan Troop Withdrawal Announcement

 

WASHINGTON ­– U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire) and John McCain (R-Arizona) released the following statement on President Obama’s announcement on Afghanistan today, which includes withdrawing all U.S. troops from the country by the end of 2016:

 

“The President’s decision to set an arbitrary date for the full withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is a monumental mistake and a triumph of politics over strategy. This is a short-sighted decision that will make it harder to end the war in Afghanistan responsibly.

 

“The President came into office wanting to end the wars he inherited. But wars do not end just because politicians say so. The President appears to have learned nothing from the damage done by his previous withdrawal announcements in Afghanistan and his disastrous decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq. Today’s announcement will embolden our enemies and discourage our partners in Afghanistan and the region. And regardless of anything the President says tomorrow at West Point, his decision on Afghanistan will fuel the growing perception worldwide that America is unreliable, distracted, and unwilling to lead.

 

“The alternative was not war without end. It was a limited assistance mission to help the Afghan Security Forces preserve momentum on the battlefield and create conditions for a negotiated end to the conflict. The achievement of this goal, and the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, should be determined by conditions on the ground, not by the President’s concern for his legacy.

 

“All wars end. The question is how they end. The war in Iraq has ended in tragedy. And it is difficult to see how we can succeed in Afghanistan when the President tells our enemies that our troops will leave by a date certain whether they have achieved our goals or not.”

 

###

On a side note… I’ve pretty much gotten Kelly Ayotte playing Shemp to Joe Lieberman’s Curly, but I still miss the old Three Amigos. By the way, I went looking at her website to remind myself what Sen. Ayotte looks like, and as my old softball teammate Dave Moniz would have said, key lid

Ayotte

And yeah, that’s David “Big Papi” Ortiz with her.