Category Archives: The Nation

I’m ashamed that I thought I was having a bad day

shooting

To begin with, I’m still not over this cruddy cold thing, and haven’t done my quota of steps all this week. That keeps me from feeling myself.

Then, I decided I had to drive the Volvo today because I’d be transporting grandchildren this afternoon and I can’t do that in the truck. And the Volvo was still like a rain forest inside because the rain took me by surprise the other day with the sun roof and windows open, and since the rain hasn’t ceased, I hadn’t been able to air it out. So I drove downtown with everything open to try to dry it out a little. And then a rear window wouldn’t go back up. With more rain on the way…

So over breakfast, I actually sent my wife a whiny text that began, “Not having a good day…”

Then I got to the office, and heard the news that reminded me what an actual bad day is like:

At least eight people were killed in a shooting Friday morning at a high school in Southeast Texas, police said, and a student was taken into custody amid the carnage.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said there were “between 8 and 10 people” killed, most of them students at Santa Fe High School in Galveston County, south of Houston. Some faculty members were also killed in the shooting, which occurred before 8 a.m., he said….

God help those folks out there. God help us all…

OK, let’s talk about Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’

Doug and Norm were talking about Childish Gambino’s “This is America” video. So I made my usual joke about “What’s a Childish Gambino?,” and then I went to look at it. (I had recorded SNL over the weekend, but hadn’t watched it yet.)

Apparently, this is the “I Am the Walrus” or “American Pie” of the moment, with everyone trying to interpret the references. So I went and watched it. And I didn’t find it to be all that mysterious, although I’m sure I missed a lot on that one run-through. I felt like I “got” what I saw, but I’d need to watch it a few more times to catch things I missed, and wonder about things I don’t get.

This was my stream-of-consciousness reaction, which I’m rethinking even as I post it here, but this was the way it played for me as I watched:

I watched it. I get it.

It’s about reparations.

And it’s also about a whole lot of other images and ideas from the black experience in America, spanning centuries. You have the references to “contraband” all the way through apparently random gun violence, and life going on around it.

The care of the guns just refers to the way we cherish them in America. We have another shooting, and elected leaders sort of close ranks in making sure nothing changes and the holy gun is protected.

He also runs through various caricatures of the Dangerous Black Male that white society has traditionally feared — the sexualized dancing, the violence, the drugs. His mugging facial expressions, some of his dance moves, the whites of his frightened eyes being the first thing you see in the darkness when he’s being chased at the end — all those things make cultural references to the black man as a ridiculous figure of entertainment for whites. So you have this jarring, sudden, back-and-forth going on between a minstrel show stereotype and the dangerous stereotype.

And the old cars remind me of the days of Hollywood’s blaxploitation fad, although they may be a little more recent than that.

The kids are in school uniforms, which seems a reference to the way people think one way of addressing social ills is to put kids in such uniforms. Yet the chaos goes on around them.

It’s interesting. I like that the music has a Caribbean feel to it (at least to my ears). After all, the black experience in America largely came first through the West Indies. South Carolina, the most pro-slavery state in the Union, was initially settled by people who had practiced a particularly brutal form of chattel slavery in Barbados.

And on and on.

Doug thinks I’m clueless. I’m not. The old guy who’s out of it is just a character I play on TV. Or on social media, anyway…

That’s first-blush, without looking to see what others thought of it.

Thinking back, I’m not sure I should have said “Caribbean.” It sounded exotic to my ears, and for whatever reason I thought “Caribbean.” Maybe it’s the way the guy’s dressed, as a combination between a slave working in cane fields (the American form of slavery got its start with sugar cane cultivation) and a Calypso dancer. Wait… I searched on that, and it seems calypso dancers aren’t as a rule shirtless. Don’t know why I thought they were.

Anyway, there’s a lot to unpack here…

Oh, and Childish Gambino? It’s Donald Glover. The guy I keep thinking is related to Danny Glover, but isn’t….

mugging

Weak parties, strong partisanship: a poisonous combination

1964_Democratic_National_Convention_2

Back when parties were parties…

Our own Karen Pearson said some very true things in this comment:

I’m all for keeping “parties ” out of it. We’re far too far along the way of voting for party instead of person. The candidates are forced to go farther and farther left or right in order to win a prime spot in their own party. This response encourages each party to go become even more “liberal” or “conservative.” Which means that in the next election the division becomes even greater, and ultimately excludes one side or the other from any possible voice in the ruling party. The ability of government to function disintegrates. Then we all stand around and decry our representatives because they can’t get anything done. This is madness.

She’s absolutely right, talking about the parties we have today. But her excellent points remind me of a phrase I’ve been hearing a good bit in recent years, most recently in a Dana Milbank column this morning in The Washington Post:

Political scientists have observed that American politics has deteriorated into an unstable combination of weak parties and strong partisanship — dry brush for the likes of Trump and Blankenship to ignite. The 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform restricted party fundraising, and the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling in 2010 essentially destroyed parties by giving everybody else freedom to spend unlimited sums to buy politicians. The moderating influence of parties was replaced by the radicalizing influence of dark money.

Related to this, partisanship in Washington escalated, aggravated by partisan redistricting that puts almost all House members in safe seats where the only threat comes from primaries. Primary voters tend to favor extreme candidates — who, once in Congress, turn politics into warfare.

Democrats suffer from the weak party/strong partisanship phenomenon too, as seen in the Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) campaign’s squabbles with the Democratic National Committee and the recent efforts by some Sanders followers to taint any candidate supported by the party. But the problem is most severe among Republicans…

Oh, excuse me. I meant this phrase: “an unstable combination of weak parties and strong partisanship.” Milbank cites “political scientists,” plural, but the phrase seems to have started on its current rounds with Julia Azari, a political science blogger and prof at Marquette University. As she put it a few days before the 2016 election, “The defining characteristic of our moment is that parties are weak while partisanship is strong.” And as she said, that’s a bad combination.

Y’all know I don’t think much of parties. But that’s largely because of what they’ve become. If they were more like what David Broder used to reminisce about, reliable institutions for winnowing candidates and putting forth the strongest ones — institutions that answered the question, “Who sent you?” — I wouldn’t hold them in such contempt.

We’re not just talking about the most dramatic case — the GOP’s utter helplessness to keep Donald Trump from waltzing in and taking their presidential nomination. A weak GOP is what gave us the Tea Party — which toppled party stalwarts left and right. It’s what weakened John McCain’s hand and made him think he had to pick Sarah Palin as his running mate instead of Joe Lieberman. More recently, it’s given us Roy Moore, and now this Blankenship yahoo in West Virginia. Line up enough know-nothing extremists behind you, and the party is helpless.

And Democrats, don’t think you’re immune. Some of the same forces weakening the GOP have been at work on your party for a long time. The Bernie bros whine about how the party leadership tried to cheat their guy out of the nomination. What stuff. In a time of strong parties, Hillary Clinton wouldn’t have had to spend a moment’s thought on Bernie Sanders. She’d have been a shoo-in, and she wouldn’t have done any of that pandering to extremes, such as turning against TPP.

Look back at my post about James and Micah. If the Democrats had a strong party, I would just go ahead and vote for Micah in the Republican primary, knowing that James had the Democratic nomination for governor locked up — everybody who is anybody in the party is lined up solidly behind him. But as polls have shown, Phil Noble — and to a lesser extent Marguerite Willis — have a shot (a long shot, but a shot) at denying it to him. Or at least forcing him into a runoff — which given the weakness of their candidacies should be impossible.

You don’t believe those polls? Well, I’m not convinced by them, either. But folks, this is the South Carolina Democratic primary electorate, the crowd that gave you Alvin Greene. A lot of people gave then-chair Carol Fowler hell for not preventing Greene from sneaking in and taking the U.S. Senate nomination. But what could she have done?

And folks, Alvin Greene wasn’t entirely a fluke. Such absurd things happen when parties are this weak.

Milbank is wrong to blame the problem on money, by the way. Sure, that can exacerbate the problem, but the fact is that Broder and others were writing about this in 1991, long before the campaign-finance developments that Milbank bemoans.

A lot of trends have gone into destroying parties. The rise of radical individualism and decline of institutions in general have done a great deal to undermine parties’ ability to produce the best candidates — as has the growth of excessive faith in direct democracy (such as primaries usurping the decision-making prerogatives of conventions), which has been a long-term problem throughout our history.

Lately, the decline in traditional news media (this morning on the radio, I heard the number of professional journalists plying their trade in this country was now half what it was 15 years ago; I’m shocked the number isn’t far lower than that), combined with the rise of new media that make every Tom, Dick and Harry his own publisher, have accelerated the problem. Not caused it, but further pushed a wheelchair that was already going downhill pretty fast. The cost for extremist flakes to go it alone is now lower than ever.

Combine all that with partisan redistricting, which forces the people who get elected under party banners to become more and more extreme, and the result is that our electorate is filled with people who have little loyalty to and no deference toward parties as institutions, but who are filled with passionate, increasingly extreme partisan sentiment, defining themselves as the only good people, and those who vote for candidates of that other party as the enemy.

And it just keeps spinning further out of control….

Graham’s extremely careful praise of Macron’s speech

Macron speech

To everyone else, Emmanuel Macron’s speech to Congress yesterday was a forceful refutation of everything Donald Trump stands for, made all the more dramatic by the hugs and kisses earlier:

The fact that the important thing about Macron’s speech was the way it refuted Trump and all he stands for presented our senior senator with a conundrum:

Practically everything the French president said had to be music to foreign policy wonk Graham’s ears. Yet… he’s trying so hard these days to play nice with Trump, even though he knows (and he knows we know he knows) the current U.S. president is wrong about very nearly everything.

So he applauded Macron without a word about how Trump’s policies had been slammed:

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today made this statement on President of France Emmanuel Macron’s address before a joint meeting of Congress.

“President Macron delivered an eloquent and inspiring address to Congress.  He described the unique relationship between France and the United States which is based on common values that have stood the test of time.

“President Macron has been a great partner to President Trump in confronting the challenges of terrorism and globalization.

“In President Macron’s speech about preserving the post-World War II world order and rejecting the false promises of isolationism, I heard the voice of John McCain – an ally and kindred spirit for the thoughts expressed by President Macron. 

“As to the Iran Nuclear Deal, it must be made better or we must withdraw. The Iran Nuclear Deal in its current form ensures a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. President Trump is right to withdraw if the deal is not made substantially better. I hope President Macron can convince the world community to bring about the much-needed changes.”

#####

Awkward…

Macron 2

Yes, this COULD be the winning formula for Democrats

Can the New Deal Coalition rise again?

Can the New Deal Coalition rise again?

David Leonhardt had a good piece in the NYT last night. He promoted it this way:

There’s a roiling debate about whether Democrats should move to the political center to win back Trump voters or focus on energizing the party’s progressive base. On some issues — like abortion, guns and immigration — Democrats really do face this difficult choice. The policies that excite progressives alienate many of the white working-class voters who swung the 2016 election to Donald Trump, and vice versa.

But there is also one huge area where no such tradeoff exists: economic policy….

In the column itself, he asserted  that economic stagnation and inequality added up to “the defining problem of our age, the one that aggravates every other problem. It has made people anxious and angry. It has served as kindling for bigotry. It is undermining America’s vaunted optimism.”

And people across the political spectrum have lost patient with timid, incremental approaches to the problem. Which helps to explain both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Leonhardt writes:

Some observers remain confused about all of this. They imagine American politics as a simple two-dimensional spectrum on which Democrats must move to the center. But every issue isn’t the same. Yes, there are cultural issues, like abortion and guns, on which the country is classically divided. On these, moving to the center, or at least respectfully acknowledging our differences, can help Democrats. Representative Conor Lamb recently showed how to do it in Pennsylvania.

Economic policy is different. Most voters don’t share the centrist preferences of Washington’s comfortable pundit class. Most voters want to raise taxes on the rich and corporations. They favor generous Medicare and Social Security, expanded Medicaid, more financial aid for college, a higher minimum wage and a bigger government role in job creation. Remember, Trump won the Republican nomination as a populist. A clear majority of Americans wants the government to respond aggressively to our economic problems….

So, the smart thing would be to drop the topics that divide us — the culture war stuff, the Identity Politics, the “pussy hats” and such — and set out a vision for a rising tide for all.

But are national Democrats willing to do that? The occasional Conor Lamb aside, it remains to be seen.

In South Carolina, it’s not such a leap. SC Democrats — those who have actually served in office and understand political realities — have long understood that they have to reach across superficial barriers and appeal to as many voters as possible. You wonder why I like James Smith for governor? One reason is that he manifests that smart, inclusive approach. He’s identified with issues that could benefit all of us, such as trying to liberate renewable energy from artificial caps.

This is underlined when you look at his opposition: Phil Noble hits Smith for not being orthodox enough, for instance for being (allegedly) insufficiently hostile to gun-rights advocates. Noble is one of those Democrats who wants to divide the electorate into sheep and goats. Marguerite Willis seems to be pinning her hopes on getting women to vote for her simply because she’s a woman — despite Smith’s strong support within that largest of demographics.

So, the question is whether Democrats — on the state as well as the national level — are willing to take Leonhardt’s sensible advice, and identify themselves with issues that unite rather than divide. Mind you, he’s not talking about moving to a hypothetical center, but embracing issues with broad support among everyone but the most libertarian folks on the right.

I think they will in South Carolina, but polls tell us that’s far from certain. And nationally? I just don’t know…

Nikki Haley is now the grownup in the room

An image from Nikki Haley's Twitter feed...

An image from Nikki Haley’s Twitter feed…

I got a call this morning from E.J. Dionne in Washington, wanting to talk about Nikki Haley. I don’t know whether I said anything intelligible or not. I remember rambling about how she has held a series of jobs (including the current one) for which she was woefully unqualified, but has grown in office.

Which of course is nothing new, and I’m far from the only person to have said it. Once, late in her first term as governor, a senior member of her administration said, “She’s really grown in office.” Then he said, “And if you tell anybody I said that, I’ll f___ing come to your house and kill you.” So, you know, I’m not using his name.

But back to the present day… Nikki still has a tendency to get a tad defensive, as with her comment yesterday that “I don’t get confused.”

But that’s a defensiveness I can endorse. She fights her corner, stating her case in matter-of-fact terms. Also, she’s increasingly likely to be the one who’s right on the policy. Which is why her side of this is playing well.

It’s certainly far more mature than some of her petulant Facebook posts in her first term as governor.

So yeah, she’s grown.

And I don’t think I’m saying that just because the White House tends to look so childish by comparison…

Nikki Haley needs to remember that she works for Donald Trump, who won’t back her up — especially on Russia

nikki talk

This is just classic. From The Washington Post:

Nikki Haley finds herself under the bus as Trump shifts course on Russia

The Washington Post reported late Sunday that President Trump “has battled his top aides on Russia and lost.”

Less than 20 hours later, Trump has now reversed U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s announcement that the United States would be ramping up sanctions on Russia.

Hmm.

The sudden reversal of Haley’s Sunday-morning announcement is hardly the only example of the right hand in the White House not always knowing what the left hand is up to. Trump often seems to be negotiating not just those around him but also with himself and has been unafraid of contradicting top aides and even Cabinet-level officials like Haley.

But on Russia and on an issue of such import, the quick reversal is stunning — and relatively rare. There is no clear indication whether Haley or someone else is at fault, but as The Post’s team notes, she has a tendency to clear her remarks with Trump personally before she makes them. It seems entirely possible that she got Trump to sign off on saying more Russia sanctions were coming on Sunday morning, and then the White House got cold feet (possibly because Trump suddenly felt the need to exert himself over the process)….

Remember, Nikki, you’re working for a 2-year-old — and one who thinks Vladimir Putin is one of the cool kids…

U.S., Britain and France strike targets in Syria

trump announce

Trump just did his announcement, so I thought I’d put this up so you can have a place to discuss it.

Here’s the news:

President Trump ordered a military attack against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Friday, joining allies Britain and France in launching missile strikes in retaliation for what Western nations said was the deliberate gassing of Syrian civilians.

The coordinated strike marked the second time in a year that Trump has used force against Assad, who U.S. officials believe has continued to test the West’s willingness to accept gruesome chemical attacks.

Trump announced the strikes in an address to the nation Friday evening. He said, “The purpose of our action tonight is to establish a strong deterrent” against the production and use of chemical weapons, describing the issue as vital to national security. Trump added that the U.S. is prepared “to sustain this response” until its aims are met.

Trump asked both Russia and Iran, both Assad backers, “what kind of nation wants to be associated” with mass murder and suggested that some day the U.S. might be able to g”et along” with both if they change their policies….

I was curious to see what the leaders of Britain and France had to say about this. But when I go to British and French newspaper sites, it’s all about what Trump said (“Donald Trump annonce des frappes contre la Syrie, en coordination avec Paris et Londres“), not Theresa May or Emmanuel Macron. It’s like their involvement doesn’t matter, and they don’t feel obliged to explain it to their people — leave it to Trump. Is that the normal pattern?

Senator, how about giving the #FakeNews thing a rest?

Certainly Lindsey Graham didn’t start this, but this Tweet of his was a sort of straw, with my patience being the camel:

I had to respond to him thusly:

Senator, it would be great if you wouldn’t add to overuse of that term, which seems to mean whatever Trumpistas want it to mean. It is not “fake news” that the Russian military made that absurd claim. They did. And the AP is truthfully and accurately reporting that they did….

Yeah, I know what he meant: That the Russians were saying something untrue. Which of course should be obvious even to a child.

A responsible news source...

A responsible news source…

But things that should be obvious to children are not always obvious to Trump supporters, and when you attach that #FakeNews label to a link to an actual story from a responsible news outlet, you are adding to their delusion that actual news, from trustworthy sources, is what is “fake.”

And I think the senator was willing for them to take it that way, because he was in his “try to look like a friend of Trump” mode when he sent that out.

And that is unhelpful.

More than ever, responsible people should be helping their neighbors, and themselves, distinguish fact from fiction. And Lindsey Graham knows better…

Zuckerberg: Looking like a Stranger in a Strange Land

This was the picture that inspired the Tweet, although almost any picture of him would do...

This was the picture that inspired the Tweet, although almost any picture of him would do…

Sorry I haven’t had much time to post.

Here’s a Tweet I sent couple of days ago that I meant to share. Heinlein fans among you might appreciate it:

Do you see what I mean?

Does becoming a billionaire before you’re an adult make you look like that? Maybe it keeps you from developing the usual lines and furrows that show human character.

Again, it’s not his youth. It’s… something else. He’s an unusual-looking guy, and I can’t quite figure out what it is. But it reminds me of descriptions of the Man from Mars in Stranger in a Strange Land, such as when Jill Boardman is trying to figure out her own impressions of Michael’s countenance:

Jill

The one moderating force left on the Trump national security team is a guy nicknamed ‘Mad Dog’

Call him 'Mad Dog,' as often as possible....

Call him ‘Mad Dog,’ as often as possible….

I say that not to disparage Gen. Mattis. I think very highly of him. And we’re all dependent now on him, and him alone, to use his considerable skills to help our nation navigate a sane course.

I just thought the irony was worth noting. Of course, it’s not just an ironic coincidence. I’ve suspected from the start that the nickname “Mad Dog” is the main thing Trump likes about the general, so we should all use it a lot, so that they use it on Fox News, and Trump keeps him on.

In fact, maybe we should all prevail upon the SecDef to change his name to “Mad Dog” legally, because there’s little doubt that crazy is what this president likes.

Bolton mugWhen I heard John Bolton would replace H.R. McMaster, I cringed a bit. Then I tried to look on the bright side: I thought, people have always said bad things about Bolton, but the people who said those things were mostly the people who always said bad things about us neocons, so maybe he’s not really that bad.

So I did a little reading, refreshing my memory regarding Mr. Bolton, and… yeah, he’s really that bad. Ask Jennifer Rubin. Ask Max Boot. Oh, and as Ms. Rubin points out, Bolton is not a neocon: “Bolton is not strictly speaking a ‘neo-conservative,’ as his concern for human rights is muted.” She’s using “muted” liberally in this case.

Of course, those of you who watch cable TV news probably didn’t have to reach as far back in your memory as I did to remind yourselves how terrible he is at playing well with others. But I did.

So now, I’m back to where I started: suitably alarmed. And hoping Jim Mattis stays healthy and in you-know-who’s good graces…

Who are your All-Time, Top Five Presidents?

Rushmore

I started to do this yesterday and then forgot. The piece in The New York Times in which political scholars rank all the presidents — brought to my attention by both Bud and Norm — has reminded me.

In that survey, of course, Donald Trump comes in dead last. There’s no other place to put him. He has rescued Buchanan from holding that spot permanently. Even among Republicans, he’s in the bottom five. That’s the thing about being a scholar — whatever your inclinations, you know certain things.

But other than that, there’s plenty of room for debate — although everybody has the same top three that I have.

Here’s my list:

  1. Lincoln — There’s just no contest. We wouldn’t have or country today if not for Abe. He was such a perfect match for what the nation had to have at that moment that it’s the strongest suggestion in our history that God has a special place in His heart for America. Whether from divine cause or not, his appearance at that time was miraculous. His unmatched wisdom, his stunning eloquence, his almost superhuman political skills — even his sense of humor — all combined not only to keep the country together, but to address head-on the central political problem of our history. For four score and nine years (I’m counting to the 13th Amendment), the best minds in the country had been unable to deal with slavery. Lincoln got it done, decisively.
  2. Roosevelt — For some of the same reasons Lincoln is No. 1 — he came along at just the right time, with just the right skills. His brilliance, his courage, his confidence, his ebullience, his ability as a patrician to connect with and inspire the poor and downcast, got us through not only the Depression but the worst, most destructive war in human history. A few months ago, I visited Warm Springs, and to think the way the man kept the nation’s spirits up while every day was such a physical struggle for him fills me with awe.
  3. Washington — His time as president isn’t necessarily what impresses us most — his own particular talents may have been more clearly on display as a general. In the political sphere, Madison and Hamilton were proving moving and shaking things more. But given what we have today, the dignity he brought to the office, the bearing, is truly something to be appreciated. And he quit rather than run again after his second term, he relinquished power rather than become the monarch he might have been. We owe a lot to the American Cincinnatus.
  4. Johnson — Here’s where I break with the experts. Even the Democrats among the scholars place him no higher than 8th. But considering how little the federal government has done since then, I remain amazed at the things he pushed through in 1964-65, the sweeping civil rights legislation, the significant steps in the direction of single-payer health care (alas, the last big steps we took.) Yep, everybody blames him for how he handled Vietnam — but he didn’t set out to do that; he just badly mishandled what he had inherited. He wanted to concentrate on his domestic programs. And we’d probably all be better off today if he had manage to do that.
  5. Truman — OK, this was kind of a tossup among several people. I wanted to name my favorite Founder, John Adams — but he wasn’t all that distinguished as president, and there was the matter of the Alien and Sedition Acts. Teddy Roosevelt looms large, and he did a lot — in his own ways, he was as energetic a leader as his kinsman Franklin and LBJ. But I don’t want to get into a big argument defending the imperialism (and here we’re talking real imperialism, instead of the imaginary kind people have fantasized about in modern times). So let’s go with the unassuming guy whom everyone underestimated, but who got us through the end of the war that FDR had almost won, then won the peace, shaping America’s leadership role in building the postwar world order. And don’t forget the way he integrated the military, one of the first big steps toward desegregation. We could really use a man like him again.

So… whom would y’all pick?

A guy who knew where the buck stopped.

A guy who knew where the buck stopped.

Is the U.S. a failed state? In a number of ways, it seems so

E.J. Dionne says we are, at least with regard to one issue: “On gun violence, the United States has become a corrupt failed state.”Dionne

But the problem is broader than that.

Sure, we have demonstrated that we are completely incompetent to keep children from being murdered en masse in our schools, which is about as basic a failure as you can find. If our political structures are completely incapable of accomplishing that job, what good are they? The New Yorker was right to proclaim last week that “America’s Failure to Protect Its Children from School Shootings Is a National Disgrace.”

But our failures to protect the things that must be protected in order to have a civilization go beyond that. Look at a few other examples of where we’re failing at the basics:

  • Despite Alexander Hamilton’s promises, the Constitution utterly failed to prevent a malevolent, staggeringly unqualified, amazingly self-involved, unbalanced ignoramus from becoming president. We’ve never had such a political failure before in our entire history. We’ve never even come close. And before Nov. 8, 2016, most of us couldn’t imagine it.
  • Thanks to the election of said ignoramus, our security apparatus is crippled in its ability to stop the Russians from continuing to undermine our democracy with tactics that, in the pre-internet, Nixonian era, was called “ratf___ing.” That’s because acknowledging the problem would hurt the tender feelings of the ignoramus.
  • Oh, I’m not blaming Trump. I’m blaming the people who voted for him, and the extreme polarization that led them to do such an immensely destructive thing. Last year, one idea was uppermost in the minds of those who voted for Trump, Bernie Sanders and Green Party nominee Jill Stein, all three of whom were pushing the idea that our national institutions could not be trusted (which is why the Russian trolls tried to help all three, not just Trump).
  • Which brings us to the one thing most responsible for that polarization (or at least, it’s tied with the fact that in the internet era everybody seems to believe they’re entitled to their own facts, Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s dictum notwithstanding): Partisan gerrymandering. Decades too late, our courts are starting to look at this problem, but how many of us believe that our incumbent representatives won’t find ways around whatever the courts may do?
  • Talk about failing at the basics: How many years did we go without Congress passing a normal annual budget? Oh, but wait! What about the historic recent bipartisan spending agreement? Well, it was accomplished by all involved getting what they wanted, as though unprecedented deficits didn’t matter. No hard decisions were made, because our system no longer supports doing that.
  • I won’t even get into the way his country is shrinking in the estimation of both friends and foes abroad. I could blame Trump and/or Sanders for that, but remember: Even Hillary Clinton, who knew better, was trashing TPP by the end. Why? Because our politics had become that dysfunctional.

A few days before the school shooting, to Doug’s annoyance, I applauded when Ross Douthat wrote a column essentially saying that the inundation of our youth in pornography is not an unavoidable physical law of nature, but a man-made problem that we could address if we simply had the resolve.Douthat

My point wasn’t to call for a war on porn. I think we have bigger problems. My point was that he was standing up to one of those things that cause us to shrug and say, There’s nothing we can do! Like school shootings, or hyperpartisanship, or the politics of hopelessness.

And he was saying, if we really make up our minds to do something, we can.

I liked that idea, or the attitude behind the idea. The attitude that we don’t have to accept being a failed state. But unfortunately, at the moment, in some important ways, that’s what we are.

Another special moment in the decline of America

blow-drying

Yeah, so this was on TV this morning.

There I was, minding my own business having breakfast, when I glanced up at one of the TVs on the wall there in the club’s lounge, and saw what you see above.

I got up, walked across the room and took a picture of it, not minding if people stared at me. I’m not proud. How could I be, living in a country in which this is deemed a subject worthy of conversation at all, much less on daytime national television? While I’m eating breakfast.

Going by the logo in the corner of the screen, apparently that was an episode of this show, where you can see gross stuff like this, and dumb stuff like this.

What is it Bryan’s always saying? Oh, yeah: What a stupid time to be alive…

Liberal friends, here’s an example of left-leaning irrationality

Some of my liberal friends here are constantly on my case for what they call my “false equivalence.” They believe they are not contributing to the careening, irrational polarization of our era — it’s the extremists on the other side who are entirely to blame.

Ross Douthat

Ross Douthat

Which, of course, isn’t true. Yep, the Republicans (or a lot of them) have been getting weirder and weirder in recent years, but  there are plenty of people on the left who are happy to keep pushing them away.

Conservative columnist Ross Douthat of The New York Times wrote a provocative column a day or two back. Basically the thrust of it was this: As objectionable as Stephen Miller is, maybe he needs to be at the table if a viable immigration compromise is to be reached. For years, we’ve tried fashioning a comprehensive solution without the nativists at the table, and nothing has passed. Maybe it’s time to try something else.

He concludes, “But a bargain that actually reflects the shape of public opinion, not just the elite consensus, can only happen with someone like Stephen Miller at the table.”

This sent a lot of people ’round the bend, causing Douthat to spend much of the next few hours answering critics on Twitter. Some engaged what he actually wrote. But here’s what Salon said:

In case that Tweet embed doesn’t show you what I’m seeing (a frequent problem I’ve noticed), the headline of the Salon piece is “To Ross Douthat, white immigration is the only good immigration,” and the subhed is “A New York Times columnist praises the whites-only rhetoric of Stephen Miller.”

I responded to that Tweet by saying, “That’s not what he wrote and it’s not what he meant. He was WRONG, but he didn’t commit the evil of which you accuse him…”

The closest Douthat comes to “praising” Miller is when, after nothing that about a third of Americans, like Miller “want immigration reduced,” he writes this:

And there are various reasonable grounds on which one might favor a reduction. The foreign-born share of the U.S. population is near a record high, and increased diversity and the distrust it sows have clearly put stresses on our politics. There are questions about how fast the recent wave of low-skilled immigrants is assimilating, evidence that constant new immigration makes it harder for earlier arrivals to advance, and reasons to think that a native working class gripped by social crisis might benefit from a little less wage competition for a while. California, the model for a high-immigration future, is prosperous and dynamic — but also increasingly stratified by race, with the same inequality-measuring Gini coefficient as Honduras….

But that is immediately followed by this:

With that said, illegal immigration has slowed over the last decade, and immigration’s potential economic and humanitarian benefits are still considerable. And it’s also clear that many immigration restrictionists are influenced by simple bigotry — with the president’s recent excrement-related remarks a noteworthy illustration.

This bigotry, from the point of view of many immigration advocates, justifies excluding real restrictionists from the negotiating table…

… which leads to Douthat’s point that doing so hasn’t worked; maybe actually negotiating with these people could.

I read that as damning Miller with something harsher than faint “praise.”

Overall, I consider Miller and what he wants to do beyond the pale, because of the ugly nativism that animates the anti-immigrant position (and yes, in this case we’re talking anti-immigrant, not just anti-illegal immigrant). What he wants to achieve shouldn’t be dignified with serious consideration.

But it doesn’t make you a racist or a fan of racism to suggest that he should be let into the conversation.

And saying, in no uncertain terms, that it does is itself an example of the kind of extremism that’s driven our country apart.

Now you’re acting more like yourself, Sen. Graham

I don’t know what LIndsey Graham thought he was doing the last few months, building his new reputation as the “Trump Whisperer.” Did he think he could manage the grossly unfit POTUS, guiding him gently toward wise policy on immigration and making him think it was his idea?

Whatever his plan was, it didn’t work, and the moment that became fully apparent seems to have been the infamous “s___hole” meeting a week ago.

Now, he seems to have decided to concentrate his attention on actual grownups, people with whom he can have intelligent conversations and not feel the need to delouse afterward. He sent out this release yesterday:

Momentum Growing for Immigration Reform Proposal

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today welcomed the support of Republican Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Mike Rounds (R-South Dakota) for a path forward on DACA and immigration reform.Graham-080106-18270- 0005

They will join Republicans Graham, Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) and Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) in backing this measure and working to protect Dreamers.

“It’s imperative that Congress act quickly so that young people who were brought to the United States as children, through no decision of their own, can stop living in fear of deportation.  I have talked with Dreamers living in Maine who have grown up in our State and have known no other country as their home,” said Senator Collins.  “This issue transcends political divisions, with members of both parties expressing sympathy for the Dreamers and support for a legislative solution.  I am proud to join this growing bipartisan group of leaders in advancing this important effort that will fairly address the needs of the DACA population, strengthen border security, and help improve our immigration system.”

“President Trump and the bipartisan members of Congress who met at the White House ought to be able to agree on a proposal that both secures our borders and provides a solution for DACA recipients,” said Senator Alexander. “I intend to support such an agreement which is why I’m cosponsoring the Graham proposal as a starting point for reaching consensus and will support other responsible proposals.”

“I am proud to be a part of this bipartisan solution for the Dreamers,” said Senator Murkowski. “We should not punish children for the actions of their parents. Those who were brought to this country by their parents, were raised here, educated here, lived here, and dreamed here, should be welcomed to stay here. They should have the right to work and a path to citizenship. Fulfilling that dream renews our American Dream. I have consistently cosponsored legislation to provide just that, and I am heartened to see so many diverse voices supporting a legislative solution for the Dreamers.”

“I thank Senator Graham and others for their commitment to strengthening border security and fixing our broken immigration system,” said Senator Rounds. “The current proposal is an important first step in more immigration reform that secures our borders and transitions to a merit-based system. Legal immigration is a proud part of our nation’s history, and today it plays an important role in our economy – including South Dakota’s own workforce which depends on temporary, H2B visa workers to fill jobs during the busy tourism and construction seasons. While this bill is not perfect, I will continue to work on a product that includes appropriate e-verify provisions, a stronger border security system and lays the framework for more reform, including work visas. These are the provisions required for me to support the bill in final form so we can get to the next phase, in which permanently increasing the cap of H2B visas will be a top priority for me.”

“I’m very pleased that our bipartisan proposal continues to gain support among my Republican colleagues,” said Senator Graham. “Our hope is to bring forward a proposal that leads to a solution the President can embrace. The goal is to begin fixing a broken immigration system by fairly dealing with the DACA population, securing our border, and moving toward a merit-based immigration system. This proposal would receive wide support and is a good solution for Phase I as we move to Phase II, comprehensive immigration reform.  As we debate how to fix a broken immigration system and who to allow to become an American, we must not change what it means to be an American.  As I’ve always said, America is an idea defined by its ideals – not by its people.  The idea of self-determination and freedom to speak one’s mind, to worship God as you see fit, and to be served by the government – not the other way around.  I believe there is bipartisan support for that concept.”

 Highlights of the bipartisan proposal include:

  • At Least Ten Years Before a Dreamer Can Become an American Citizen:  It would be at least ten years before a Dreamer can become an American citizen.  The legislation calls for a 12-year waiting period, but select Dreamers who registered for DACA could earn up to two years credit for time. Dreamers – who do not receive any federal assistance or welfare today – will likely continue to be ineligible for welfare and federal assistance for the first five years they have legal status.
  • The current Diversity Visa Lottery will be abolished, and a new merit-based immigration system instituted in its place. Half of the Diversity Lottery visas would be allocated to a new system for ‘priority countries’ who are currently underrepresented in visa allocation.  A new merit-based system would ensure those visas are awarded to those most ready to succeed in the United States.  The other half of the visas would be allocated to recipients of Temporary Protected Status (TPS).  After the TPS backlog is cleared, all of the former Diversity Lottery visas will be allocated to nationals of priority countries under the new, merit-based system.
  • Additional Border Security Measures: The proposal contains $2.7 billion in border security improvements, including the planning, design, and construction of a border wall and additional surveillance and technology along the border. There will also be several provisions from border security pieces of legislation related to border infrastructure and Customs and Border Protection operations and oversight.
  • Down Payment on Chain Migration: Parents of Dreamers would be eligible for 3-year renewable work permits.  There are no new pathways for them to obtain American citizenship.  If they brought a child who becomes a beneficiary of the Dream Act into the country, they would be ineligible to be sponsored for lawful permanent residence or citizenship by any of their children. Additionally, lawful permanent residents would only be able to sponsor their nuclear family members, their spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21.

They may not succeed, but at least he’s now working with people highly unlikely to disrupt a bipartisan meeting with an obscene racist rant…

Graham should be more specific about what he heard

You were there, Senator. So what did the president say, and how did he say it?

You were there, Senator. So what did the president say, and how did he say it?

Since some Republicans, after a day or two of thinking about it, started claiming Trump didn’t really say “s___hole” (hilariously, one of the lines of defense has been to claim he really said “s___house“) it’s refreshing that Lindsey Graham has stuck to his original version of the story, as Andy Shain reports:

Trouble is, his original story remains vague and indirect. He seems to want to have his cake and eat it, too — to call the president out for his racist assertions without quite, you know, calling him out.

We know from colleague Tim Scott that Graham told him the media reports of what Trump said were “basically correct.”

And Graham has made sure that we know that he gave Trump a piece of his mind in response to, you know, whatever he said:

When Trump made the incendiary remark, Graham spoke up, telling the president that “America is an idea, not a race.”

“I tried to make it very clear to the president that when you say ‘I’m an American,’ what does that mean?” Graham said. “It doesn’t mean that they’re black or white, rich or poor. It means that you buy into an ideal of self-representation, compassion, tolerance, the ability to practice one’s religion without interference and the acceptance of those who are different.

“So at the end of the day, an American is a person who believes in ideals that have stood the test of time,” Graham added. “It’s not where you come from that matters, it’s what you’re willing to do once you get here.”…

Agreed, senator. But since people are standing up and saying Trump didn’t say what he said, it would be helpful if you’d be the truthteller and give us a precise account of what you heard.

As the late Howard Baker might have said, What did the president say, and how did he say it?

Remembering a better time, just 10 years ago

That's me interviewing Obama on MLK Day 2008 -- taking notes with my right hand, shooting video with my left. With my Initech mug: "Is This Good for the COMPANY?"

That’s me interviewing Obama on MLK Day 2008 — taking notes with my right hand, shooting video with my left. With my Initech mug: “Is This Good for the COMPANY?”

I retweeted this today…

I passed it on not because it was particularly profound or unique or even one of our former president’s better Tweets, but because it reminded me of a better time for our country.

As it happens, I met Barack Obama 10 years ago, on MLK Day.

That was such a better time for our country.

McCain in the same seat, not long before.

McCain in the same seat, not long before.

A week before, we had endorsed John McCain in the SC Republican Primary, and he had won. We knew, when Barack Obama came in, that we liked him for the Democratic Primary in a few days. But this interview, at 8 a.m. on that holiday, cinched it. We were all very impressed. And since Hillary Clinton declined even to come in for an endorsement interview (I would learn why sometime later) and Joe Biden had dropped out much earlier, that was pretty much it.

We endorsed Obama, and he won the primary a few days later.

As a result, I’ve never felt better about a presidential election than I did about that one — my last in newspaper journalism, although I didn’t know it at the time.

From the time McCain and Obama won their respective nominations, I referred to it as the win-win election. Whichever one won, I felt good about our countries future.

We endorsed McCain in the fall — I’d wanted him to be president since long before I’d heard of Barack Obama, and I was concerned about the Democrat’s lack of experience. But it was OK by me when the latter won. It was the win-win election.

Fast-forward eight years, and we find the Democrat we rejected then running against the worst candidate ever to capture a major-party nomination in our nation’s history — and as if that weren’t bad enough, the worst man won. And we are reminded of that daily, as he goes from outrage to outrage.

So it’s good, if only for a day, to look back and remember a time, not so long ago, when all our prospects seemed good.

Burl’s 1st-hand account of the Great Missile Alert of 2018

Your truly with our correspondent Burl in Hawaii on a less-panicky Saturday in 2015. Note the rainbow.

Your truly with our correspondent Burl in Hawaii on a less-panicky Saturday in 2015. Note the rainbow.

You’ve no doubt heard about the false alarm in Hawaii today:

For 38 harrowing minutes, residents and tourists in Hawaii were left to believe that missiles were streaming across the sky toward the Pacific island chain after an erroneous alert Saturday morning by the state’s emergency management agency.

“Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii,” warned an 8:07 a.m. message transmitted across the state’s cellphone networks. “Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.”

Only after an inexplicable delay by the state agency — during which residents scrambled to seek shelter and contact relatives — was a subsequent message sent describing the missile warning as a “false alarm.”

Not satisfied with mainland newspaper accounts, I turned to our intrepid correspondent on the scene, veteran newspaperman-turned-historian Burl Burlingame, to tell us what it was like.

Initially he responded with a text that said:

We’re OK but the neighbors have resorted to cannibalism.

Journalists are conditioned to react to incipient annihilation with gallows humor, and protocol required that I respond in kind, so I said, “Perfectly understandable, under the circumstances.” Then, with patience born of decades as an editor waiting for reporters to get off their a__es and file the actual story, I waited.

Eventually, he filed his report via Facebook Messenger. It follows:

In Hawaii, at 11:45 a.m. on the first working day of every month, sirens go off all over the state. You can hear them almost everywhere. Civil defense has them to warn of incoming missiles, but mainly because we’re a seacoast state with a low land mass that can easily be hit with a tidal wave or earthquake from almost any direction. Such natural disasters aren’t iffy; it’s just a matter of when …

So we take such alerts seriously.

The alarm clock on my phone was set for 8:10 a.m. this morning, so when it made noise I dimly perceived it as my wake-up call. Was it ever! It took a few moments to focus on incoming alerts and the top one said that missiles were incoming and it was not a drill.

Huh?

For a while, we’ve been getting practice alerts that are worded similarly — thanks, Trump! — although this one was most clear. But there were no sirens, no ancillary information being broadcast. Being an ex-journalist, I was pretty suspicious of a single phone alert with no backup.

I woke up the wife and told her to prepare to fight in Thunderdome after the imminent nuclear annihilation. She said OK and went back to sleep. Since she’s the night editor at the paper, I suspect she’s pretty busy this evening dealing with “I was there” stories.

There was some commotion in my neighborhood as folks were packing their cars. To go where?

I had an appointment at 10 a.m. to deliver a lecture and people were expecting me there, so I went. The electronic highway signs were already flashing MISSILE ATTACK WARNING IS AN ERROR / THERE IS NO THREAT and I mentally filed away the revelation that they are tied in with Civil Defense.

Many people were caught away from home and family. People dashed home or to churches. Tourists were rounded up off the beaches and sequestered in hotel lobbies. I expect there might be casualties from the panic.

No info yet on how this happened. It’s possible it was an online troll attack. People here are blaming Trump, but we’re expecting him to blame Hillary.

Good report. Short and to the point. And he didn’t speculate about anything he wasn’t sure about.

Gov. David Ige has now attributed the mess to a state employee’s errant push of a button. Yeah… I think the good folk of Hawaii are going to want a more complete answer than that…

The USS Arizona memorial stands as grim reminder that attacks from the air DO happen, even in paradise.

The USS Arizona memorial stands as grim reminder that sudden attacks from the air DO happen, even in paradise.

Would you vote for Oprah?

Liz Lemon hallucinating about Oprah.

Liz Lemon hallucinating about Oprah.

Sources say Oprah Winfrey is “actively thinking” about running for president. Of the United States.

Not long after that broke, former Nikki Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey tweeted this question:

Remind me to ask Rob sometime how you set up a tweet like that. Now, back to the topic…

I answered “wut idk,” because I really don’t know. It would depend on the office she was running for (since Rob said “any”), who was running against her, and on me learning a lot more about her.

Having never watched her show (beyond that clip of Tom Cruise going nuts, which I think all America has seen) or read her magazine, and having certainly never heard her political views, I just don’t know. The longest exposure I’ve ever had to her was that episode of “30 Rock” when Liz Lemon took a tranquilizer before flying and hallucinated that Oprah was in the seat next to her.

I do assume (unless I learn some really bad stuff about her) that I would vote for her over Donald Trump for pretty much anything. That’s because while I don’t know of any great positive qualifications she has for the presidency, I’m also ignorant of any negatives. Whereas I’ve never seen a person in high office with more negatives than Trump.

Last time I looked, one person had answered Rob in the affirmative, three of us had answered idk, and the rest were negative. I wonder what makes those five people so sure they would never vote for this woman, for any office? Maybe they know of huge negatives I don’t know about, but I sort of doubt that…