Category Archives: Words

Good news, bad news, good news, good news, bad news, bad news, good news, bad news about Obamacare

headlines

Peruse the above image of the lockscreen of my iPad at 3:48 p.m. today. Here’s what I thought I understood from those headlines, which all came in within an eight-minute period, while I was in a meeting and couldn’t stop to read further:

  • More than 100,000 used healthcare.gov to pick a plan in October — way more than previously reported!
  • No, only about 26,000 signed up.
  •  No, it was 106,000!
  • … but that was way fewer than hoped.
  • No, wait; it’s just 26,000. That’s according to Sebelius.
  • No, according to Sebelius, it’s 106,000!

When you go beyond the headlines, you see that the 106,000 includes people who signed up through state exchanges (which SC does not have), and only 26k through the federal exchange. And the 106,000 number is way, way fewer than the Obama administration had hoped for and projected.

But, according to Sebelius, about a million people have gone far enough through the process to determine that they are eligible to enroll in a plan.

And off we go again…

Oh, and you’ll notice at the top of that stack of headlines that one had just come in on a story with far easier-to-understand, but more horrific, numbers

Do you really think it’s not a war if Americans aren’t there?

As the kōan goes, “If a tree falls in the woods and no one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

Here’s a tougher one to contemplate on this Veteran’s Day: If there’s a war and no Americans are participating in it, is there still a war?

Many Americans, based on rhetoric I’ve heard in recent years regarding Iraq and Afghanistan, would apparently answer, “no.”

Sorry. “Rhetoric” isn’t quite the word. It suggests overtly political speech. I’m talking about plain ol’ everyday newswriting at the moment.

From an AP story today about the president’s remarks on Veteran’s Day:

Obama used his remarks to remind the nation that thousands of service members are still at war in Afghanistan. The war is expected to formally conclude at the end of next year, though the U.S. may keep a small footprint in the country.

Soon, “the longest war in America’s history will end,” Obama declared.

The boldfaced emphasis is mine.

I think sometimes that my years on the editorial pages made me more sensitive, not less so, to creeping editorializing in news copy. I know it, and I recognize it when I see it. And I saw it there — the representation of a worldview rather than straight reporting.

In the president’s partial defense, he didn’t exactly say the first of those boldfaced statements, although he did say the second one, the one that was a direct quote (I mean, one would certainly hope so, AP):

Our work is more urgent than ever, because this chapter of war is coming to an end.  Soon, one of the first Marines to arrive in Afghanistan 12 years ago — Brigadier General Daniel Yoo — will lead his Camp Pendleton Marines as they become one of the last major groups of Marines to deploy in this war.  And over the coming months, more of our troops will come home.  This winter, our troop levels in Afghanistan will be down to 34,000.  And by this time next year, the transition to Afghan-led security will be nearly complete.  The longest war in American history will end.

He was right when he said “this chapter… is coming to an end.” That doesn’t overstate the case the way the AP version did.

And on the second statement, I suppose you can defend the president on a technicality, saying that it would then end as “our war” — but only in that sense. And such a statement still represents a rather startling indifference toward what happens after we’re gone. It suggests that after we’re no longer in a position to hear them, we don’t care how many trees fall.

It’s a hoot the way Pinterest thinks it knows me

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Remember that picture I posted the other day of the protester from 1963?

Well, I posted it on Pinterest, too, and today I got a message from that social media service headlined, “Pins you’ll love!”

One of them was the picture above, with the caption, “Fashionable men.”

Pinterest thinks it knows me. It’s decided that what I want to see is natty young black men in skinny retro ties.

People worry about increasingly intuitive algorithms knowing too much about them. I look at the way those programs actually work, and have to smile. They have a tendency, shall we say, to leap to thinly supported conclusions.

You especially get wild results when the principal medium of expression is photographs, which are so subject to misinterpretation. I’m a word guy; I was interested in the words on the protester’s sign. All Pinterest saw was the picture….

Have you heard the one about the Redskins changing their name?

They’re dropping “Washington,” because it’s embarrassing…

Full disclosure — I didn’t come up with that one. I got it from my son’s father-in-law (and my fellow grandfather) Hunter Herring. He posted the graphic below on Facebook a couple of days back.

I don’t know where he got it. But I thought the #ObamaShutdown tag at the bottom was kind of weird, seeing that the joke seems to be more at the expense of Republicans, since they’re the ones being blamed by most people.

But either way seems overparsing it. It’s really a joke on Washington. We’re pretty much embarrassed by everyone within the Beltway.

Actually, I think the way I tell it works better than the graphic — the “Have you heard…” version. I’ve been trying it on people all day. The great thing is, they get all serious in response to the question, and start saying something like, “Yeah, as I understand it, it’s about…,” and they’re all wondering how I expect them to react… and then I say the punchline, and it relieves the tension. That’s why it works…

washington

Small example of how the parties distort our politics

There’s nothing particularly remarkable about this come-on I received from the DCCC:

838,936 of you signed our petition standing with President Obama to end Boehner’s shutdown. That’s great!

BUT — Brad…your name is missing.

Stand with us against the Republican government shutdown, and call out Ted Cruz and John Boehner for their radical obstructionism.

Click here to automatically add your name >>

Thanks,

DCCC Rapid Response

But I thought I’d use it to illustrate how routinely, casually and systematically the major parties distort reality in their bids to keep the money flowing in.

“Boehner’s shutdown”? No, it’s the House radicals’ shutdown. Boehner is pretty much helpless in all this.

“call out Ted Cruz and John Boehner for their radical obstructionism?” Seriously? You expect me to see Cruz, who is actually, majorly culpable in all this, with that poor Tea Party piñata Boehner?

Yes, they do expect that. Because in their worldview, all Democrats are equally good, and all Republicans are equally bad, and equally to blame for all the world’s evils. And the Republicans’ worldview is this one’s mirror-image.

It is staggering to me that even one person would be sucker enough to buy into this claptrap. And yet, they claim, 838,936 people have done so. (By the way, my name is going to continue to be “missing.” But you knew that, right? I hope so…)

There is no way we are going to be able to engage real-world challenges effectively in this country as long as political discourse, and the perception of reality itself, are warped by these parties.

Vote UnParty.

If speaking ability carries the day, then Haley beats Sheheen

Gov. Nikki Haley, speaking to the Columbia Rotary Club last week.

Gov. Nikki Haley, speaking to the Columbia Rotary Club last week.

Reports this morning noted that Nikki Haley has amassed three times as much in campaign funds as has her once-and-future opponent, Vincent Sheheen.

But she enjoys another advantage that I suspect could be even more important: She’s a much better public speaker.

She’s energetic, articulate, engaging and sincere. And those things count with an audience. Especially a live one, as I was reminded when I heard her speak to the Columbia Rotary Club last week.

Meanwhile, Vincent is… Vincent. He’s articulate; I’ll give him that. But his comparatively lollygagging presentation keeps him from connecting the way she does. As I’ve said before, he comes across as a good, smart guy whose attitude is, “Sure, I’ll step forward and be governor, if no one better does.”

By contrast, there is zero doubt in the mind of any listener that Nikki Haley wants it. And that counts. Oh, Americans may give lip service to wanting to elect regular folks who aren’t “career politicians,” who can take public office or leave it alone. But they don’t give their votes to candidates who don’t care enough to court them with every ounce of energy they can muster.

And Nikki Haley does this. She certainly connected well with the Rotary crowd last week. I was reminded yet again of how charmed I was by Ms. Haley in her first couple of runs at public office. She makes a very good first, second, and several more impressions. It’s only after awhile that it starts to bother you that she persists in saying things that… aren’t… quite… true.

Henry McMaster, who has established himself as the best sport in South Carolina with his unstinting support of Nikki since she took from him the nomination that likely would have been his without her meteoric rise, gave her a strong introduction at Rotary. He spoke in glowing terms of how much better off he saw South Carolina as being than it was a few years ago.

And there wasn’t much to fault in what he said, beyond the implication that Nikki Haley deserved the credit. For instance… He lauded the fact that the state’s three major research universities work together these days rather than engaging in wasteful competition. And that is a good thing. But it started years before anyone ever conceived of Nikki Haley being governor. It started when Andrew Sorensen was president at USC (and has continued through Harris Pastides’ tenure). Sorensen formed a partnership with Clemson President James Barker and MUSC President Ray Greenberg. They started going to the Legislature together to talk budgets, rather than clawing at each other for funding. Here’s a column I wrote in February 2006 about the then-startling spectacle of seeing Sorensen and Barker meeting with House Speaker Bobby Harrell at the same time.

Anyway, the state of affairs Henry described was accurate, and worth applauding.

But then, when Nikki Haley got up to speak — and as I say, impressed the audience throughout — she twice spoke of her proposal to go to a system of “accountability funding” for higher education. But she suggested that we need this so as to end the current situation, in which each university is funded according to which of them has the best lobbyist.

No. That describes the situation we had a decade ago. The governor’s funding formula might be well and good — I don’t know enough to critique it at this point — but the problem she’s prescribing it for does not exist. The problem in state funding for higher education is that it has been reduced so much that it’s in the single digits, as a percentage of universities’ operating costs.

That inaccuracy seemed to go right by the audience, as did other things she said that sounded good — she always sounds good, to me as well as to everyone else — but weren’t quite as grounded in reality as a serious observer would like them to be.

And if you’re not a “professional politician,” or a dedicated student of what happens at the State House, or someone who works in the complex field of higher ed funding in this particular case, this stuff just blows right past you. She comes across as smart, informed, dedicated and caring.

And until Vincent Sheheen is able to project those same qualities with much greater gusto, he’s going to be left behind.

I tried shooting some video of her speech last week, but the sound was terrible. You can get a taste of her delivery, however, if you turn it way up. If you’d like to hear her whole speech, it’s here at the Rotary site. The governor’s speech starts at 22 minutes in.

Why do political flacks risk the hazards of Twitter? Because they HAVE to

pfeiffer

Talk about your nightmares.

White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer made an observation Tuesday on Twitter about how the changing media world was adding to political polarization in the country. Then he tried to add, to @jmartNYT, “also a much bigger factor on the right.”

Only his finger slipped, and he typed an N rather than a B on “bigger.” (Look at your keyboard; they’re right next to each other.) This was on an official White House Twitter account, mind you.

The Tweet was deleted, and he apologized. And the world moved on.

But then, some “veteran politicos” on the Hill started wondering why a senior adviser to the President was fooling around with anything as dangerous as Twitter anyway?

POLITICO explained, as would we, that he has little choice:

For years now, Twitter has served as the public square for political journalists, the place where the conventional wisdom is shaped before it turns into “the narrative.” Communications aides have always monitored that conversation closely, and some have long had an active Twitter presence. But many — top White House spokespeople, especially — often felt safer limiting their own remarks to carefully edited statements shared via press release. As a public forum, Twitter was too informal, too risky, too off-the-cuff.

Increasingly, however, flacks have come to see Twitter as a necessary tool in their communications arsenal. Instead of waiting to respond to reporters’ inquiries, Twitter enables them to influence reporters’ thinking and nip negative coverage in the bud.

“Twitter, like cable news, is another medium where the conversation in Washington gets shaped,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, told POLITICO. “Given the current media environment, we engage in real time so that as many folks as possible understand our perspective. Twitter is simply another resource to get our message out, and we generally like to avail ourselves of every opportunity to do just that.”

Brendan Buck, the press secretary for House Speaker John Boehner, said Twitter was “what the Speaker’s Lobby used to be. You want to find and talk to assembled reporters, open your Tweetdeck.”

Absolutely.

I am reminded of Trav Robertson who dealt with media for the Vincent Sheheen gubernatorial campaign in 2010. I ran into him (at Starbucks, of course) some months after Sheheen narrowly lost that contest, and he confided that there was one thing that he had been unprepared for: the fact that the old “news cycle” was gone, and that he had to pump out information, and counter stuff that was out there, 24/7.

I was surprised that he was surprised, and wondered if that played any role in Sheheen’s defeat. Probably not, but it was a close race, for a Democrat in South Carolina…

Does Assad speak English at home? How is he so fluent?

Yeah, I know he studied ophthalmology in England, and his wife was born and grew up there.

But I was struck by Assad’s fluency in his interview with Charlie Rose. I had called it up expecting it to be conducted through an interpreter. Even if a foreign leader speaks English well, an interpreter offers advantages — first, your own people see you speaking your native tongue; it’s a nationalistic statement. Then, it gives you extra time to think of a good answer.

But Assad didn’t choose that path. In a situation in which his regime and by extension his life are on the line, dealing with a highly respected interviewer asking probing questions, he managed to maneuver his way through the interview without stumbling. He had thoroughly internalized his talking points, his version of the story, and he stuck to it, stayed smooth.

He not only stayed on message, he showed a deft understanding of and ability to manipulate U.S. politics at this critical moment, as The Washington Post observed.

He did all that in a second language.

On one level, this is further testimony to just how ubiquitous our own language has become globally. On the personal, though, I find myself wondering how he keeps up his proficiency to this level. Surely it isn’t spoken much in his daily interaction with his officials and generals as he fights this war.

Do he and his wife speak it daily at home?

I’m intrigued…

Do the Assads routinely speak English at home?

Do the Assads routinely speak English at home?

Putin, Obama, and American exceptionalism

There are a number of things worth discussing in Vladimir Putin’s op-ed in The New York Times today. One of my favorites is the part where this ex-KGB man invokes God in lecturing us about our exceptionalism:

And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

I guess someone at the Kremlin persuaded him that that’s how you speak to those simple, theistic folk in America.

Whatever. In any case, I am not deeply shocked that Putin does not believe in, or at least not approve of, American exceptionalism.

I’ll just say that there’s something deeply ironic about the guy whose tank treads so recently rolled over Georgia to be saying such things as, “It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States.”

And don’t get me started on this absurdity:

No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists…

“Every reason to believe” the rebels launched the chemical attacks? Uh, no, there isn’t. In fact, I don’t know of any reasons to believe it, unless you’re an Assad cheerleader and therefore really want to believe it. Yep, some of those rebels would do it if they could. But I’ve seen no credible arguments that any of them have the capability to do it. It’s not like we helped them. We’re just now finally getting around to supplying some of those small arms we promised months ago.

So “every reason?” No, not even close.

Let’s look at the rest of that statement. Which side has “powerful foreign patrons” who are actually actively engaged in supporting its war aims? The only side that describes is the Assad regime, which has been receiving substantial material support from both Russia and Iran. I’m not aware of the rebels having “powerful foreign patrons.” But if that’s a reference to us, then he tells yet another whopper with that bit about “who would be siding with the fundamentalists.” No, as everyone knows, the main reason we have NOT come down unequivocally on the side of the rebels, the way Putin has for Assad, is that we don’t want to risk siding with said fundamentalists.

Oh, but I said “don’t get me started.” Sorry; I seem to have started myself. I’ll stop now.

I mean, I’ll stop that, and turn to the reference to exceptionalism in the president’s speech the other night.

He really defined it oddly:

America is not the world’s policeman. [Wrong, but I've addressed that elsewhere.] Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. [Nor is any policeman able to right every wrong on his beat, making this a deeply flawed analogy, but again, I've discussed that elsewhere.] But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.

No, Mr. President, our exceptionalism is not a matter of simply making “our own children safer over the long run.” Pretty much all nations will take military action if the lives of their own children are threatened. In that respect, as you once inappropriately said, American exceptionalism is no different from “Greek exceptionalism.” You’re right in that collective security affects us all, and a crime against foreign children is ultimately a crime against our own. But America is exceptional in that it has the power to act against tyranny when it’s harming other people, and when our own interests are not directly or obviously involved.

You would have been right if you’d simply said, “when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death… I believe we should act.” That is exceptional. The qualifying phrase about our own children makes us unexceptional. See what I mean?

We are exceptional because, in the ongoing effort to uphold certain basic civilizing principles across the globe, America is what former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called “the indispensable nation.” We have the power to act for good in ways that other nations cannot, and because we have that power, we have responsibilities that we cannot abdicate. Or, at least, should not abdicate.

It doesn’t have to be rationalized in such terms as, Hey, those could be our kids.

Of course, there are many other ways, Mr. Putin and Mr. Obama, in which this nation is exceptional: This is the country where a foreign leader whose interests are clearly opposed to those of this nation can get an oped published, in the leading national journal, trashing that same nation’s cherished ideas of itself, without any consequences to anyone. It’s always been like that here, and it has set us apart starkly from such nation’s as, just to throw one out, the Soviet Union. It’s also the country that believes the whole world should enjoy such a free flow of ideas, and is wiling — occasionally, at least — to stand up for that. Just FYI…

The president’s speech was good — but we ARE the world’s policeman

The headline pretty much says it.

I thought the president gave a good, reasoned, tempered, well-balanced speech at a very tricky time. He scheduled this talk tonight to sell us on the idea of taking military action in Syria, and in the last two days we’ve seen developments that may preclude that.

But he handled it well. He made the case for action, should it still prove necessary, but gave diplomacy a chance to work, given the present extraordinary circumstances.

There’s only one false note he sounded — the repeated emphasis on the United States not being the world’s policeman.

Yes, we are. Everything else the president said indicated that he knows that we are.

This is not me saying that the United States should be the world’s policeman, or that’s what I think we should aspire to. That’s what we are. We have power to act effectively, and if we don’t, it’s an abdication of a moral responsibility. As the president said.

It’s silly to say something like that, just to satisfy the factions who hate the reality that that’s what we are.

Note the faulty logic in this passage:

America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong.

Guess what? A policeman can’t prevent every crime that happens on his beat. He’s not perfect; his power is not absolute. But he does his best.

Other than that, good speech. Just what was needed at this awkward moment.

Is this the original Shakespearean pronunciation?

When SC Shakespeare Company did “Pride and Prejudice” last year, we had a couple of diction coaches helping us with Received Pronunciation. Which was probably reasonably faithful to the way Austen’s characters would have spoken.

But when this company or any other wants to be true to the original productions of Shakespeare, how on Earth are they supposed to know how it should sound?

These guys say they know. And the folks who run The Globe apparently believe them. Whether they’re right or not, it’s an interesting piece.

Turns out that English accents sounded vaguely Scottish — or some other Gaelic variant. In any case, it doesn’t sound English to this modern ear.

I shot this while touring the new Globe in December 2010.

I shot this while touring the new Globe in December 2010.

The ‘unbelievably small’ threat to Assad

I thank Slate for bringing this to my attention:

Secretary of State John Kerry’s case for a U.S. strike in Syria seems to rest on two assumptions. One, that it is a crucial test for U.S. national security and the values of the civilized world comparable to the rise of Nazi Germany. Two, that it’s not really a big deal….

Today, Kerry—now in Britain—issued an ultimatum to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, giving him one week to turn over his complete stockpile of chemical weapons, or else. Or else what?

Kerry said the Americans were planning an “unbelievably small” attack on Syria. “We will be able to hold Bashar al-Assad accountable without engaging in troops on the ground or any other prolonged kind of effort in a very limited, very targeted, short-term effort that degrades his capacity to deliver chemical weapons without assuming responsibility for Syria’s civil war. That is exactly what we are talking about doing – unbelievably small, limited kind of effort.”

I may not have much experience with brinksmanship, but it seems to me that threatening to hit someone becomes a lot less effective when at the same time you’re telling your friends,Don’t worry, I’m not going to hit him that hard. And convincing the public that this situation is analogous to the buildup to the largest war in human history is difficult when you’re also saying that an “unbelievably small” effort will be sufficient to deal with it. Given the blows the Assad regime has already absorbed over the last two years, it’s hard to imagine statements like these changing his thinking.

One wonders whether Bashar Assad is now laughing unbelievably hard…

Obama powerfully makes case for action in Syria — then passes the buck

POTUS delivered an impressive speech in the Rose Garden today, strongly and ably making the case for why we need to act in Syria, then noting that he is fully empowered to act without anyone’s permission… and then saying he won’t decide, but will leave it to Congress.

You know, the body that can’t pass a budget. The gang that can’t raise the debt limit to keep the government functioning without a major, credit-rating-damaging meltdown. That’s who he’s asking to decide.

First, let’s quote some of the stronger passages in which the president makes the case for action:

This attack is an assault on human dignity. It also presents a serious danger to our national security. It risks making a mockery of the global prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. It endangers our friends and our partners along Syria’s borders, including Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq. It could lead to escalating use of chemical weapons, or their proliferation to terrorist groups who would do our people harm.

In a world with many dangers, this menace must be confronted.

Now, after careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets…

I’m prepared to give that order…

I’m confident in the case our government has made without waiting for U.N. inspectors. I’m comfortable going forward without the approval of a United Nations Security Council that, so far, has been completely paralyzed and unwilling to hold Assad accountable….

What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price? What’s the purpose of the international system that we’ve built if a prohibition on the use of chemical weapons that has been agreed to by the governments of 98 percent of the world’s people and approved overwhelmingly by the Congress of the United States is not enforced?

Make no mistake — this has implications beyond chemical warfare. If we won’t enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act, what does it say about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental international rules? To governments who would choose to build nuclear arms? To terrorist who would spread biological weapons? To armies who carry out genocide?

We cannot raise our children in a world where we will not follow through on the things we say, the accords we sign, the values that define us….

I will also deliver this message to the world. While the U.N. investigation has some time to report on its findings, we will insist that an atrocity committed with chemical weapons is not simply investigated, it must be confronted….

I don’t expect every nation to agree with the decision we have made. Privately we’ve heard many expressions of support from our friends. But I will ask those who care about the writ of the international community to stand publicly behind our action….

But we are the United States of America, and we cannot and must not turn a blind eye to what happened in Damascus. Out of the ashes of world war, we built an international order and enforced the rules that gave it meaning. And we did so because we believe that the rights of individuals to live in peace and dignity depends on the responsibilities of nations. We aren’t perfect, but this nation more than any other has been willing to meet those responsibilities…

Ultimately, this is not about who occupies this office at any given time; it’s about who we are as a country…. and now is the time to show the world that America keeps our commitments. We do what we say. And we lead with the belief that right makes might — not the other way around.

We all know there are no easy options. But I wasn’t elected to avoid hard decisions….

I’m ready to act in the face of this outrage….

That’s the speech, without all the “buts” and “howevers” removed. Wow. Pretty powerful, huh? What a call to arms. Note the repeated use of the word, “must:” this menace must be confronted… it must be confronted…

Except, in the end, it isn’t. The president said, “I wasn’t elected to avoid hard decisions,” even as he was avoiding this hard decision. Actually, it’s weirder than that. He’s made up his mind, and one of the things he’s made up his mind about is that we really don’t have a choice. We must act. And yet, he won’t.

If the world were a debating society, this wouldn’t matter. Act today, next month, next year, it would all be the same. The important thing would be to let everyone fully have their say, and make sure everybody feels great about the ultimate decision (which ain’t gonna happen, but that seems to be the idea here).

But in the real world, it may already be too late to act with any effectiveness, in terms of degrading Assad’s air assets, or ability to launch future chemical attacks on his people — or having any other effect that would actually be helpful.

As the president says, “The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has informed me that we are prepared to strike whenever we choose.” So, if we’re going to do so, the time to do it is now. Or rather, yesterday. Or several months ago, when the president’s red line had already been crossed, and those 1,429 people were still alive, when those 400 children still had futures.

In short, I am most disappointed in the president’s abdication of responsibility — especially after he so ably made the case for immediate action.

rose garden

How much WMD is ‘a whole bunch?’

Those who wondered why the Obama administration had been slow, at least before the last few days, to acknowledge that Syria had crossed its red line — or to act (you know, by actually giving rebels those promised arms) when it did own up to it — must not have paid close attention to the specific words that the president used when he drew the line:

We have been very clear to the Assad regime … that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus…

How much WMD is “a whole bunch?” I don’t know. But I think maybe we’ve finally gotten to that point…

GOP accuses Democrats of waging ‘war on women’

OK, I sort of got a kick out of this:

In 2012, Democrats’ constant refrain that the Republican party was in the midst of a “war on women” left the GOP — all the way up to presidential nominee Mitt Romney — exasperated at what they called a gross mischaracterization. Now Republicans are embracing the term as a way of reminding voters of Democratic men who have cheated, sexted, and harassed.

In e-mails, press releases and tweets, the Republican National Committee, National Republican Senatorial Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee are highlighting a “war on women” waged by San Diego Mayor Bob Filner (harassment), New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner (sexting), and former New York governor Eliot Spitzer (prostitutes).

Mentioned less often but still on the list: New York State Assemblyman Vito Lopez (harassment) and Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen (mistakenly thinking he had a daughter, calling a reporter “very attractive”) among others.

“The best tools we have as Republicans to recruit women candidates this cycle are three Democrats named Bob Filner, Eliot Spitzer, and Anthony Weiner,” said NRCC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek…

Yes, it’s ridiculous to accuse an entire party of a “war on women” because of the personal misdeeds of a few. But it’s no more ridiculous than the Democrats using the hyperbolic term the way they did in last year’s election.

Here’s one argument for a liberal-arts education

A recent essay in The Wall Street Journal scoffed at those who bemoan the decline in the number of students majoring in the humanities.

Perhaps that writer was right. But you know, I think it would really help if some of those left-brain STEM types would take a couple of English classes.

Remember that story from yesterday’s VFP about experiments into whether warp-speed travel is possible?

Did you see this quote?

“Space has been expanding since the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago,” said Dr. White, 43, who runs the research project. “And we know that when you look at some of the cosmology models, there were early periods of the universe where there was explosive inflation, where two points would’ve went receding away from each other at very rapid speeds.”…

Ow! He might be a heck of a rocket scientist, or whatever, but his abuse of the language is rather distressing.

Snowden spills his guts, again

My old roommate John peers out from our room in Snowden just before the Honeycombs were torn down.

My old roommate John peers out from our room in Snowden in 2006, just before the Honeycombs were torn down.

“Snowden” is one of those names that sticks with you. Or with me, anyway. It was technically the name of the particular one of the Honeycombs I lived in that one semester I went to USC in 1971 — although I seem to recall that a lot of people called it by a letter designation. Was it “J”? I don’t know. Maybe. “Snowden” sticks better.

That’s probably because I was so hugely into Catch-22 at the time. I had first read it the summer before my senior year of high school. Then, at the start of the senior year, our English teacher, Mrs. Burchard, let us pick several of the books we would read. I pushed, successfully, for Catch-22. (not just because I’d already read it — I looked forward to discussing it) We also read Cat’s Cradle and Stranger in a Strange Land, at the urging of some of my classmates. Mrs. Burchard did make us read several of Ibsen’s plays, which I enjoyed — especially “An Enemy of the People” (“A majority is always wrong” seemed so true to me at that early age.)

Snowden, of course, was the pivotal character in Heller’s novel. He only appeared in one scene, but that scene was repeated — or rather, portions of it were repeated — over and over in the novel. All he ever had to say was “I’m cold.” But that was enough.

The novel is structured around that incident, until the very end. The plotline keeps looping around back through time, flashback after flashback, and Yossarian’s memory keeps returning to the incident with Snowden. Each time, that memory is unfolded a little more completely, toward the final, full, horrible revelation that changes Yossarian permanently.

“I’m cold,” said Snowden.

“There, there,” said Yossarian, tending the wounded gunner back toward the rear of the plane. Even after Snowden had spilled his terrible secret, that’s all Yossarian could say.

Anyway, that’s what goes through my mind as I read the name of the guy who took it upon himself to reveal the NSA’s programs. He’s a guy who looks like he could be Yossarian’s Snowden. He certainly looks young enough, unformed enough. Yet he’s a guy who’s taken on a self-righteousness akin to Ibsen’s Thomas Stockman, someone who’s decided he knows better than everyone else, and is prepared to take the burden of revelation upon himself.

Snowden 2

No, Obama isn’t Nixon, much less worse. It’s not even close

It’s getting to where I find Peggy Noonan more and more tiresome, but keep reading, hoping for flashes of the grace and thoughtfulness I used to admire.

Her column over the weekend was a typical sad example. An excerpt:

The Benghazi scandal was and is shocking, and the Justice Department assault on the free press, in which dogged reporters are tailed like enemy spies, is shocking. Benghazi is still under investigation and someday someone will write a great book about it. As for the press, Attorney General Eric Holder is on the run, and rightly so. They called it the First Amendment for a reason. But nothing can damage us more as a nation than what is happening at the Internal Revenue Service. Elite opinion in the press and in Washington doesn’t fully understand this. Part of the reason is that it’s not their ox being gored, it’s those messy people out in America with their little patriotic groups.

Those who aren’t deeply distressed about the IRS suffer from a reluctance or inability to make distinctions, and a lack of civic imagination.

An inability to make distinctions: “It’s always been like this.” “Presidents are always siccing the IRS on their enemies.” There’s truth in that. We’ve all heard the stories of the president who picked up the phone and said, “Look into this guy,” Richard Nixon most showily. He got clobbered for it. It was one of the articles of impeachment.

But this scandal is different and distinctive. The abuse was systemic—from the sheer number of targets and the extent of each targeting we know many workers had to be involved, many higher-ups, multiple offices. It was ideological and partisan—only those presumed to be of one political view were targeted. It has a single unifying pattern: The most vivid abuses took place in the years leading up to the president’s 2012 re-election effort. And in the end several were trying to cover it all up, including the head of the IRS, who lied to Congress about it, and the head of the tax-exempt unit, Lois Lerner, who managed to lie even in her public acknowledgment of impropriety.

It wasn’t a one-off. It wasn’t a president losing his temper with some steel executives. There was no enemies list, unless you consider half the country to be your enemies.

Let’s just list a few of the things wrong with those few paragraphs:

  • “The Benghazi scandal was and is shocking…” I’m not yet persuaded that “Benghazi” actually is a scandal, despite the efforts of people I respect, such as Lindsey Graham and John McCain, to portray it as such. Much less that it is widely accepted among others, outside of certain Republican circles. Much, much less that it is not only a scandal, but a shocking one. Yet she begins her column throwing it out there as something that doesn’t even need discussion, as an established fact on the way to what she really wants to talk about. It’s like she’s gotten into the habit of writing only for people on the right. She assumes all her readers think Benghazi is a shocking scandal, and she goes ahead and acknowledges that out of hand. It’s like there are no other kinds of readers out there looking at her column. And if she keeps writing like this, she’ll be right in that assumption.
  • Part of the reason is that it’s not their ox being gored, it’s those messy people out in America with their little patriotic groups.” Really? Tell me again which ox was gored. “Gore” means to deliver a serious, perhaps fatal, wound. Did any of these “patriotic little groups,” a characterization we could debate all day, lose their ability to do what they do? Were they indeed “gored”?
  • Richard Nixon is mentioned, followed by “But this scandal is different and distinctive.” As in, she implies, worse.

What Richard Nixon did with regard to the IRS was indeed an article of impeachment. Because of the abuses of power that he, Richard Nixon, carried out.

Excuse me, but I have yet to see the evidence that indicates, even remotely, that Barack Obama was involved in this mess over at the IRS. (Please give me a link if I’ve missed it.)

And this particular scandal has been proceeding how long? A month or so? (Actually, the first press reports were in March 2012.) I seem to recall that the Watergate scandal connected directly to the White House on Day One. Reporter Bob Woodward, then a nobody, was assigned to go cover the arraignment of some guys caught breaking into Democratic headquarters, and that day found that one of them worked in the White House.

Yeah, pretty different, all right.

Oh, and by the way, I should probably say for the benefit of Steven Davis and others who labor under the delusion that I’m a Democrat or something: I don’t say “Barack Obama isn’t Nixon” because I think Obama is so awesome and Nixon was pure evil.

If I’d been old enough to vote in 1968, I’d have voted for Nixon, without hesitation. For that matter, I was solidly for him in 1960, although you may discount that because I was only 7 years old. I would have voted for him in 1972, the first time I ever voted, if not for Watergate. I pulled the lever for McGovern after standing and debating with myself in the booth for about 10 minutes. I firmly believed that Nixon was the better president — in fact, I was convinced that McGovern would be a disaster. But I was also convinced that the Democrat had zero chance, so this seemed like a safe way to register my concerns about Watergate.

(I did the same thing, only with the parties reversed, in 1996. I respected Bob Dole more as a man than I did Bill Clinton. But Dole had run such a horrendous campaign that I doubted his ability to be a good president. I actually thought Clinton better suited to the job. But I had a lot of problems with Clinton by this time and, knowing that Dole had no chance of winning, I pulled the lever for him as a protest.)

Nixon was in a number of important ways a pretty good president, on the big things. Probably better than Obama in a number of ways (although I haven’t thought deeply about that, and it’s difficult to compare, since the challenges facing them are so different). But his abuse of power on stupid, petty things did him in. And I’ve seen no evidence so far Barack Obama has done anything of that kind.

So no — Obama’s not as bad as Nixon in this regard, much less worse. It’s not even close.