Open Thread for Thursday, February 9, 2017

Southern_Chivalry

Some quick hits:

  1. South Carolina’s $100M nuclear claim against feds dismissed — This is about MOX. And the one thing I know about MOX is that it always seemed like a good idea to me and I’ve always wanted to see it move ahead. I don’t know from all the legal ins and outs…
  2. Gorsuch Calls Trump Critique of Federal Court ‘Demoralizing’ — This is almost 24 hours old now, but most news outlets are still leading with it. My response now is the same it was last night: Let’s get this guy confirmed ASAP. (Of course, I had already thought that before.)
  3. Trump lashes out at senator who revealed Supreme Court nominee’s comments — Yeah, because that makes a lot of logical sense. But I’m not complaining. It’s better than withdrawing Gorsuch’s nomination or something.
  4. Snow Shuts Down Cities Across Northeast — But will we get any? NO…
  5. SC senators’ fistfight ends Warren debate a century later — People keep bringing up this, and the Preston Brooks incident, and ol’ Strom’s more active episodes, as though they’re trying to say something about us South Carolinians. What, I don’t know…

Well that’s a start, senators

"Time for a course correction, captain!" (Don't you love when Putin plays dress-up?)

“One ping only, Vasily!” (Don’t you love when Putin plays dress-up?)

Jennifer Rubin had a column today headlined, “When will Congress take on Trump?” Something I’ve wondered myself. As she puts it:

President Trump provides neither coherent nor conservative leadership on policy. He creates foreign policy fiascoes. He has not resolved his conflicts of interest and still arguably operates in violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause. When, irate Democrats and some Republicans plead, will Congress do something about him?

Well, I’m not saying this is enough by a long shot, but it’s a start. This is from Lindsey Graham:

Bipartisan Group of Senators Introduce Legislation establishing Congressional Oversight of Russia Sanctions Relief

WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of Senators today introduced legislation, The Russia Sanctions Review Act of 2017, which provides for congressional oversight of any decision to provide sanctions relief to the Government of the Russian Federation.

“Russia has done nothing to be rewarded with sanctions relief,” said Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina).  “To provide relief at this time would send the wrong signal to Russia and our allies who face Russian oppression. Sanctions relief must be earned, not given.”

“If the U.S. were to provide sanctions relief to Russia without verifiable progress on the Minsk Agreements, we would lose all credibility in the eyes of our allies in Europe and around the world,” said Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland).  “Since the illegal annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine by Russia in 2014, Congress has led efforts to impose sanctions on Russia.  We have a responsibility to exercise stringent oversight over any policy move that could ease Russia sanctions.”

“The United States should not ease sanctions on Russia until Putin abandons his illegal annexation of Crimea, verifiably and permanently ends Russian aggression in Ukraine, and fully implements the Minsk accords,” said Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida).

“The Ukrainian community in Ohio knows firsthand the dangers of unchecked Russian aggression,” said Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “Lifting sanctions now would only reward Russia’s attempts to undermine democracy – from Crimea and Eastern Ukraine to our own U.S. election. This commonsense, bipartisan legislation will give Congress – and more importantly, the constituents we answer to – a say in critical national security debates.”

“Easing sanctions on Russia would send the wrong message as Vladimir Putin continues to oppress his citizens, murder his political opponents, invade his neighbors, threaten America’s allies, and attempt to undermine our elections,” said Senator John McCain (R-Arizona). “Congress must have oversight of any decision that would impact our ability to hold Russia accountable for its flagrant violation of international law and attack our institutions.”

“Vladimir Putin is a thug bent on tearing down democracy—and Russia’s meddling in U.S. institutions is a threat to our national security,” said Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri).“Any decision to roll over on sanctions needs to meet a high bar in Congress.”

Before sanctions relief can be granted, The Russia Sanctions Review Act requires the Administration to submit to Congress:

  • A description of the proposed sanctions relief for individuals engaged in significant malicious cyber-enabled activities, those contributing to the situation in Ukraine, and those engaged in certain transactions with respect to Crimea.
  • Certification that the Government of the Russian Federation has ceased—

Ø  ordering, controlling, or otherwise directing, supporting, or financing, significant acts intended to undermine the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine, including through an agreement between the appropriate parties; and

Ø  cyberattacks against the United States Government and United States persons.

The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives will have 120 days to act — or decline to take action — on any proposed sanctions relief.  During this period, the President may not waive, suspend, reduce, provide relief from, or otherwise limit the application of sanctions with respect to the Russian Federation.  After 120 days, if both the Senate and House have not voted in support of a Joint Resolution of Disapproval, sanctions relief will be granted.

#####

Folks, let’s pay for our roads ourselves, OK?

SC House

Good for these House members:

A plan to raise S.C. gas taxes by roughly $60 a year was approved Tuesday by a panel of S.C. House members.

The bill will be considered by the full S.C. House budget-writing panel on Thursday.

The proposal is an effort to address the the $1 billion a year the Transportation Department has said it needs to repair and maintain the state’s existing road network….

And good for Speaker Jay Lucas and the other leaders who’ve gotten behind a bill to do the obvious: raise the gas tax to improve our roads.

I haven’t written about this courageous and rational move because I hadn’t fully made up my mind what to say about it. It’s basically a laudable, long-overdue proposal that is nevertheless seriously flawed.

The reasons why it’s laudable and long-overdue are obvious to all but those rendered blind by ideology:

  • This tax is our state’s mechanism for paying for roads.
  • We need road repairs, and don’t have enough money.
  • Our gas tax is one of the lowest in the country.
  • It hasn’t been raised since 1987.

So, you know, duh — raise it. Especially since we no longer have a governor who absurdly (and we’re talking Alice in Wonderland absurdity) threatened to veto a gas tax increase that wasn’t accompanied by a much larger decrease in other taxes, thereby more than erasing any benefit from raising the gas tax.

But here’s the rub: It’s not paired with reform of the state Department of Transportation. And it needs to be. That agency needs to be more accountable before we give it more money.

Unfortunately, after last year’s non-reform of the agency, the most recent in a long line of non-reforms our General Assembly has handed us, there’s little appetite or energy for trying again this year, knowing the same obstacles exist. As Cindi wrote today, “the reality is that if our best advocate, House Speaker Jay Lucas, isn’t pushing reform, we’re not going to get reform.”

So that’s that. (Oh, and if you decry the power Hugh Leatherman regained upon his re-election as president pro tem of the Senate, this is an issue where you have a point — he’s a big obstacle to reform.)

Bottom line, we need to raise the tax, and we need reform. I haven’t yet fully decided what I would do were I a lawmaker. But I do admire the courage of those who finally broke the ridiculous taboo in that committee vote today — while I hope against hope for some reform to get attached to it later in the process.

But while I’m torn on that, I’m not on this: I’m not in favor of “solving” the problem by asking our new governor’s buddy Donald Trump to just give us $5 billion for infrastructure.

To begin with, it’s not a solution. Since $4 billion of that would go to roads, that kicks the problem down the road four years, no more. Which, conveniently, would be after the date that Henry McMaster hopes to be elected to stay as governor.

Given what we’ve seen from this Legislature over the last two decades and more, it is highly unlikely that it will be in the mood to raise the gas tax or any other tax four years from now. The fact that the House leadership is ready to do so now is something of a miracle — possibly resulting from giddiness over the departure of Nikki Haley — and unlikely to be duplicated.

Then there’s the fact that the federal government exists to fund and address national needs and priorities. There is no proposal currently on the table (that I know of) that would provide this level of funding nationally, so why should South Carolina — a state that with its super-low gas tax has refused even to try to pay for its own roads — be singled out for such largess? And no, “Because the president owes our governor big-time” is not an ethical answer. It probably makes sense in the deal-oriented private world Donald Trump has always inhabited, but to say the very least, it’s not good government.

My position on this is much the same as my reasoning against the state lottery way back when — public education is a basic function of the state, and if we want good schools, we should do what responsible grownups do: dig into our pockets and pay for them, not try to trick someone else into paying for them.

Similarly, if we want safe and reliable roads, we shouldn’t rely on some deus ex machina — or worse, cronyism — to deliver us from the responsibility of paying for them.

I see now that Henry is saying raising the gas tax should be the “last resort.” No, governor, trying to pay for our own needs ourselves should be our first resort. At least, it should come well before taking the begging cup to Washington. Besides, we’ve avoided doing this for 30 years now. How long do you go before it’s time for the “last resort?”

 

All hail Donaeld the Unready, King of Mercia!

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy, in building my family tree, finding ancestors with fun nicknames, such as “Strongbow,” and “Horse-Swapping Billy Smith” and “Shaggy-Breeches.”

The very best sobriquets are the medieval ones — just the best, terrific, believe me. They’re just so… direct. For instance, I am descended from the following: Charles the FatCharles the BaldCharles the HammerCharles the Beloved and Charles the Wise. And that’s just the Charleses. (All are direct ancestors except the Fat, who is just a cousin, but I couldn’t leave him out.)

Take that current obsession and combine it with my enjoyment of such TV shows as “Vikings” and “The Last Kingdom,” and you just know that I would love this Twitter parody, “Donaeld the Unready“:

Donaeld

As you can see, Donaeld is “The best early medieval King out there. I’m just great. I’m the bretwalda. The bestwalda. I’ve got great swords, everyone says so. Make Mercia Great Again.”

Some of his recent Tweets:

Enjoy.

Open Thread for Monday, February 6, 2017

Well, um, actually a pretty newsy little Monday. After this, we’re going to go to Home Depot. Yeah, buy some wallpaper, maybe get some flooring, stuff like that. Maybe Bed, Bath, & Beyond, I don’t know, I don’t know if we’ll have enough time:

  1. Trump tries to salvage travel ban amid numerous legal briefs to block it — Our top story tonight. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a single big story without you-know-who smack in the middle of it. Think maybe he’s peaking a little soon, maybe getting overexposed? Could be. But hey, he’s the one who wanted to shake things up, right?
  2. Donald Trump should not be allowed to speak in UK parliament, says Speaker — Yo, Bercow — watch out! Trump’s likely to put you “on notice”… #youjustmadethelistbuddy
  3. Trump claims the media is covering up terrorist attacks — You know, I was going to make a joke about this, say something like, “You mean, like the Bowling Green Massacre?” Or say something pedantic such as “You mean media are, not media is.” But then I  just got totally creeped out reading that the actual President of the United States told U.S. Central Command that the “dishonest press doesn’t want to report” on terrorist attacks, claiming that “they have their reasons.” We’re talking serious Looney Tunes, folks.
  4. SC Gov. McMaster asks President Trump for $5 billion for state roads, port — Dang, Henry! Claus has been wanting some SC news, and you have to go pulling Trump into that, too! Don’t you think he’s done enough by sending Nikki to New York? Yeah, he owes you, but you don’t want to overwork that…
  5. Trump supporters slam Super Bowl ads that celebrate immigrants — Dang again! He’s even horning in on the Super Bowl! I’m trying, Claus; really I am. By the way, y’all, this counts as a sports post, so enjoy…

Do you have to be a word person to see what’s wrong with Trump?

A word cloud of Trump's Tweets from the past week.

A word cloud of Trump’s Tweets from the past week.

E.J. Dionne’s latest column (“The issues all Trump foes can agree on“) reminds me of a thought that’s run through my head a few times in recent weeks, but which I’ve neglected to write about. Here’s the pertinent part of the column (but I recommend you go read the whole thing):

And Trump’s critics don’t have to agree on a single policy to bemoan his crude and sloppy use of language and to see this as a genuine obstacle to honorable politics and a well-functioning government. He doesn’t just want to repeal the Johnson Amendment, which bars religious organizations from getting involved in elections. He wants to “destroy” it. He lightly threatens war with Mexico to go after “bad hombres” and undermines our relationship with Australia by recklessly accusing one of our very closest friends of wanting to export the “next Boston bombers.”

And just this weekend, Trump showed his disrespect for the rule of law by denouncing the “so-called judge” who blocked his administration’s travel ban. In an interview for broadcast Sunday, Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly described Vladimir Putin as a “killer,” and Trump astonishingly but off-handedly replied: “Well, you think our country is so innocent?”

As George Orwell taught us, how people talk offers a clue about how they think and what they value. Our language, he wrote, “becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” He added: “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”

Pretending that there is something “brilliant” or “populist” about how Trump communicates is one of the worst forms of elitism because it demeans ordinary citizens who have always appreciated eloquence, as our greatest leaders knew. And please don’t compare George W. Bush to Trump on this score. We poked fun at Bush’s ability to mangle sentences, but he respected the need to find words that could move and unite the nation….

Some of my friends still have trouble getting just what is so awful about Trump. And while the correlation is far from perfect, I’ve noticed that there’s something of a tendency for such folks to be more number people than word people.

Maybe that’s totally off-base, but it seems a handy way of explaining a phenomenon that has amazed me from the moment last year when Trump started winning primaries. All this time, I’ve thought:

How could anybody possibly consider a guy who talks like that for any sort of leadership position, much less president of the United States?

It’s not just what he says, although he says some pretty awful things. It’s the way he says them. The man’s a Wharton graduate, but he communicates like someone who never made it to high school — and probably didn’t do too well in English in the lower grades, either.

Being a skilled and subtle communicator is so obviously a prerequisite for the presidency that it’s tough for me to understand how anyone could even take the first step toward considering him, given the way he expresses himself. Just watch five minutes of him in those early debates, and you’d immediately put him in the “unqualified” bin, regardless of what he was talking about at the time.

But I’m a word guy. Not everyone is. And those who aren’t are likely not only to dismiss what I’m saying as rank snobbishness, but to toss it out as irrelevant.

And maybe my analysis is completely off. But there is some reason why there’s such a gulf — nay, an ocean — between me and people who could ever have contemplated voting for Trump.

And this seemed like one possible explanation. So I thought I’d share it…

I’m worried poor ol’ Trump’s going to wear himself out

This Tweet was moderately popular over the weekend, so I share it here:

We’ve seen some life in the judiciary, much to the new president’s consternation.

When will we see some life out of the legislative branch — you know, doing stuff rather than just saying stuff?

I know they’re out of practice. And I know that a lot of the stuff they would do would be stupid — like repealing Obamacare without replacing it with something that actually leads to at least as many people having good coverage. But hey, “stupid” is relatively, and they can’t possibly look as bad on that score as the executive branch — can they?

Hamiltonians, Wilsonians, Jeffersonians and Jacksonians

If you’d like to soothe your jangled nerves with an interesting intellectual take on WTF just happened to America, you might want to read this piece in Foreign Affairs by Walter Russell Mead, Columbia native and “radical centrist.”

It’s headlined, “The Jacksonian Revolt.”

Mead

Mead

Here’s the short version: We Hamiltonians and Wilsonians (going by Mead’s descriptions, I’m kind of both, which is unsurprising) have pretty much defined America’s prevailing values and role in the world for the past 70 years. We thought this was the natural, proper order of things, and the way everything was trending as well. But while we were thinking globally and in terms of universal principles, there was… I suppose one would call it discontent… at home. The Jeffersonians (a category that includes Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, which clues you in that I’m not one of them) thought this was a wave they could ride to power, but they reckoned without the way the Jacksonians ran in and grabbed the nation by the throat with all the thoughtfulness and refinement of the backwoodsmen who trashed the White House after the original Jackson’s inauguration. (Some of the editorializing in that last sentence is me, not Mead. In case you wondered.)

Mead is not saying anything new, for him or anyone else — I called your attention to him when he made some of the same points more than a year ago. And I’ve spent much of the past year worrying that our country was repeating the horror of the Election of 1828, only more so.

But now that it’s happened, and now that this latter-day Jackson is trashing not just the White House, but practically every aspect of rational U.S. policy in the world, this seems like a good time for a deeper look into what has happened, and is happening.

An excerpt from Mead’s piece:

The distinctively American populism Trump espouses is rooted in the thought and culture of the country’s first populist president, Andrew Jackson. For Jacksonians—who formed the core of Trump’s passionately supportive base—the United States is not a political entity created and defined by a set of intellectual propositions rooted in the Enlightenment and oriented toward the fulfillment of a universal mission. Rather, it is the nation-state of the American people, and its chief business lies at home. Jacksonians see American exceptionalism not as a function of the universal appeal of American ideas, or even as a function of a unique American vocation to transform the world, but rather as rooted in the country’s singular commitment to the equality and dignity of individual American citizens. The role of the U.S. government, Jacksonians believe, is to fulfill the country’s destiny by looking after the physical security and economic well-being of the American people in their national home—and to do that while interfering as little as possible with the individual freedom that makes the country unique. 

Jacksonian populism is only intermittently concerned with foreign policy, and indeed it is only intermittently engaged with politics more generally. It took a particular combination of forces and trends to mobilize it this election cycle, and most of those were domestically focused. In seeking to explain the Jacksonian surge, commentators have looked to factors such as wage stagnation, the loss of good jobs for unskilled workers, the hollowing out of civic life, a rise in drug use—conditions many associate with life in blighted inner cities that have spread across much of the country. But this is a partial and incomplete view. Identity and culture have historically played a major role in American politics, and 2016 was no exception. Jacksonian America felt itself to be under siege, with its values under attack and its future under threat. Trump—flawed as many Jacksonians themselves believed him to be—seemed the only candidate willing to help fight for its survival….

As you can see, his tones are measured as he describes this resurgence of anti-intellectualism in our politics. That’s what I’m talking about when I say you may find reading the piece soothing. Then again, maybe you won’t…

Mead writes politely of the Jacksonians, but Foreign Affairs paired his piece with this image of them celebrating on Election Night.

Mead writes politely of the Jacksonians, but Foreign Affairs paired his piece with this image of them celebrating on Election Night. Even I’m nicer to them than that…

Graham & Whitehouse on probe into Russian interference

I was glad to see this today from Lindsay Graham:

 

JOINT STATEMENT FROM SENATORS GRAHAM AND WHITEHOUSE ON INVESTIGATION INTO RUSSIAN INFLUENCE ON DEMOCRATIC NATIONS’ ELECTIONS

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), the Chairman and Ranking Members of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, announced they will investigate Russian efforts to influence democratic elections, both in the United States and abroad.

They made the following statement:

“We look forward to investigating Russia’s efforts to influence democratic elections, both here at home and abroad. 

“Our goal is simple – to the fullest extent possible we want to shine a light on Russian activities to undermine democracy.  While some of our efforts will have to be held behind closed doors due to security concerns, we also hope to have an open discussion before the American people about Russia’s strategies to undermine democracy. 

“Our efforts will be guided by the belief that we have an obligation to follow the facts wherever they may lead.”

The subcommittee plans to fulfill the following goals:

  • Gain a full understanding of the American intelligence community’s assessment that Russia did take an active interest and play a role in the recent American elections.
  • Learn more about the methods Russia has used to target democratic nations and elections.
  • Explore possible avenues to help prevent and deter future foreign influences from impacting American elections and institutions.
  • Assure that Congress provides the FBI the tools it needs to keep its investigative work protected from political influence.

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Open Thread for Thursday, February 2, 2017

For whatever reason, this image kept coming to mind as I was putting this post together.

For whatever reason, this image kept coming to mind as I was putting this post together. Apologies to Hank Ketcham.

Every day it’s like this, and it’s going to keep on being like this, until Donald Trump no longer occupies the Oval Office:

  1. Europe Suddenly Worries Its Biggest Threat Is the U.S. — Yep. From leader of the Free World and chief guarantor of security, we have sunk to this.
  2. ‘This was the worst call by far’: Trump badgered, bragged and abruptly ended phone call with Australian leader — By the way, all of y’all who asked “How bad could it be?” if Trump were elected — I point you to this, his effort to wreck our relationship with Australia, of all countries. Obviously, this guy should not hold the lowliest post in government, much less be heading it.
  3. Defense Chief Seeks to Reassure Jittery Allies on Asia Trip — Thank God there’s this one grownup in this administration. Actually, should we even call it an “administration” when, instead of administering, it does little but wreak havoc?
  4. Trump defends chaotic foreign policy: ‘We’re going to straighten it out, OK?’ — Which I suppose is a promise to put out the fires that he himself sets.
  5. Trump’s unorthodox speech at the National Prayer Breakfast — He said those assembled should “pray for Arnold” because he doesn’t have awesome ratings like Trump’s on that stupid “reality TV” show. Really. The President of the United States said this. At a prayer breakfast.

ICYMITWID: McMaster’s encouraging kickoff video

Don’t know that acronym? It means In Case You Missed It The Way I Did.

I just got caught up on some of my email going well back into last week, and ran across this video from our new governor.

I like it. Henry is presenting himself as a governor more defined by wanting to make a difference in South Carolina, rather than by what he’s against.

… Which is nice. And I mean that as a Carl Spackler-style understatement.

giphy (1)

Let’s Get Started, indeed. I’m looking forward to good things with Henry taking over…

People, can you just chill a bit over court nominations, please?

10569-003-C-P

So Trump nominated someone last night for the Supreme Court, and it looks like he had good advice and listened to it for a change: I’ve seen no indications at all that this Gorsuch guy is anything other than a qualified jurist. Which means that, in a rational world — barring currently unknown problems coming to light — his confirmation should be routine. Which would be welcome; we have enough turmoil in our public life at the moment.

But then, I read this main story (there were many sidebars) about the nomination in The Washington Post:

President Trump nominated Colorado federal appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court on Tuesday, opting in the most important decision of his young presidency for a highly credentialed favorite of the conservative legal establishment to fill the opening created last year by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia….

WHAT?The most important decision?” In what way, in what sense, in what universe completely lacking in any sense of proportion?

To keep it simple, let’s just consider three things this “young presidency” has done that are much more far-reaching in likely effect:

  1. Pulling out of TPP. This has disengaged America from the Pacific Rim, and invited the accelerated rise of China, in a way that is likely to have staggering consequences in this century both for us and for the billions of others affected — economically, strategically, culturally and almost any other “-ly” you care to name.
  2. Sticking a finger in the eye of every Muslim on the planet. Never mind the momentary unjust treatment of 90,000 or so individuals from Muslim countries, or the unconscionably inhumane “no” to refugees. This has indelibly engraved in a billion or so people’s minds that America regards them and their faith as the enemy, the one impression that our last two presidents have gone out of their way to avoid giving, even as they prosecuted the War on Terror.
  3. Naming Gen. Mattis as defense secretary. Just as Gorsuch’s appears to be, this was one of Trump’s rare good calls. Deciding upon such a qualified leader for our military at a time when the world is so unsettled and there are so many places where things can go really wrong really quickly was of the utmost importance. But it was also an historic precedent, since we had avoided naming recent generals to that post for my entire life. (By contrast, presidents have named LOTS of Supreme Court justices who have come and gone in my life, and none of them held immediate sway over the immense power of the U.S. military.)

Speaking of Mattis — despite the semi-Constitutional issue his nomination raised, an issue worthy of respectful consideration, but not one that should have been an obstacle in light of his qualifications, and of the nation’s desperate need of some qualified people at this point in our history — all but one senator had the good sense to confirm him.

And if our nation had good sense, something similar would happen with Gorsuch. Will it?

No, of course not. As another piece in the Post, by the venerable Dan Balz, noted:

The coming fight over his Supreme Court nominee will be fiercer than before.

Yes, it will. Else we would all be shocked. (I, for one, would be pleasantly surprised.) And what is likely to happen will be an utter waste of energy in a time when political capital needs to be saved for so many other more important battles.

My attitude toward Gorsuch is exactly the same as it was toward President Obama’s pick for this seat, Merrick Garland. They were both qualified for the job. They had already been vetted; they had already proved themselves. They had the requisite knowledge and experience, and reputations for probity and good judgment. There were detectable differences in judicial philosophy — differences that in a calm, proportional world would matter only to legal scholars. But both were qualified for the job — far more qualified than most people elected to Congress, for instance.

Whether one or the other was confirmed is not the Ultimate Issue. It’s not Armageddon.

Here’s the way I see it: The vast, vast majority of times the Court decides cases with wisdom and with ultimate respect for the law and for our civilization. Most decisions are unanimous — which seems remarkable to this layman, since the court deals mainly in matters lower courts were unable to settle conclusively. This has been the case over the decades, no matter whether the majority of the court is labeled “liberal” or “conservative.” Controversy exists only in a minority of cases, and most of those are at least decided intelligently, even if not the way you or I would prefer.

This has been true my entire lifetime.

To me, this testifies to presidents and senators having done a phenomenal job of picking good, qualified justices. The political branches have a much better record in this than in any other area I can think of.

Am I unhappy with some of the decisions? You bet. My opposition to Roe v. Wade is well documented here. I object not only to its legalization of abortion, but to the devastating effect that decision has had on our national politics — specifically, to exacerbating the very problem that I’m on about in this post.

(Considered logically, I am if anything even more opposed to the absurd precedent upon which Roe is based — the Griswold decision, which magically “discovered” an absolute right to privacy hiding in the shadows of the Constitution, a right that had somehow gone unnoticed in the nation’s previous 189 years.)

Today, in part because of Roe, we have vast numbers of people — thousands, if not millions of Americans will vote for a president based largely if not entirely on the basis of what sort of justices he or she is likely to name — “liberal” or “conservative.” Which is insane, given the far more immediate and far-ranging powers of the presidency. A president has the power, at every morning of every day, to make decisions that could lead to the destruction of all human life on this planet — and yet people will actually let their vote be decided on a narrow range of factors involved in a decision the president might make once, or maybe twice, in a four- or eight-year period.

It’s ridiculous. It’s far out of rational proportion.

Of course, since I’ve described the devastating effect of that one decision on our nation’s politics, you might say judicial nominations should be treated as seriously as they are. But no. That decision was an aberration. The number of bad decisions made by presidents in the same period of time since, say, Plessy v. Ferguson or Dred Scott is far, far vaster. Which argues that we ought to devote more of our attention and political energy on the 99.999 percent of what a president does, and less on this one.

Maybe Dan Balz and other experienced observers are wrong — just as they were wrong about Trump’s electoral chances.

Maybe the enormity of what Trump is doing in virtually every other area within his authority will shock our political players into having a sense of proportion. Maybe they’ll save their powder for the big battles that must be fought, some of which (who knows?) might even be won by the forces of reason. Maybe this confirmation will be as routine as it should be, as most of them should be.

But I doubt it. There is a vast infrastructure of political advocacy out there that exists purely for fights such as this one. And both political parties are closely wedded to those interest groups, and fearful of not doing their bidding with utmost zeal.

We’ll see…

WSJ’s Stephens on Trump: ‘capricious, counterproductive, cruel and dumb’

Kudos to The Wall Street Journal‘s Bret Stephens, who is continuing to keep the heat on Donald J. Trump, even as some others on the paper’s editorial page — who also know better — seem to have lost the will to do so.Bret Stephens

His piece today, headlined “The Wrong Kind of Crazy,” plays off of the Nixonian global strategy — the “madman theory” — of keeping adversaries in the dark about what you might do in a crisis, which theoretically causes them to tread lightly. In the hands of grounded figures such as Nixon and Kissinger, the approach made some sense. But that was in the case of rational actors — the “madman” part was that you wanted your adversaries to want to act in ways that would keep you rational.

It doesn’t work so well when your president is an ignoramus who basically doesn’t do rational, or at least doesn’t do it any more often than a stopped clock states the right time.

Which brings us to the present day, of course, since this is the first time in our history that we’ve been in such a situation.

Stephens says Trump has done one thing so far that — against a background of Nixonian stability and pragmatism — could have fit in the “good crazy” category: throwing China off-balance with that phone call with the Taiwanese president. As he wrote, If Beijing wants to use ambiguous means to dominate the South China Sea, why shouldn’t Washington hit back with ambiguous devices of its own?”

Unfortunately, practically all of Trump’s brand of nuttiness is “the wrong kind of crazy: capricious, counterproductive, cruel and dumb:”

So much was evident with the president’s refugee ban on Saturday. And with Steve Bannon’s elevation to the National Security Council, and the Chairman of the Joint Chief’s demotion from it. And with the announcement Wednesday that Mexico would pay for the wall. And with the withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal on Monday and the aggressively protectionist themes of his inaugural. And with his performance at CIA headquarters. And with his incontinent fixations on crowd size and alleged voter fraud….

That’s quite a list, isn’t it, describing the insane things done by an administration that’s only 11 days old? (And that’s a nice phrase: “incontinent fixations.”)

Just take one item: Replacing the head of the Joint Chiefs with Breitbart’s Bannon on the National Security Council would by itself be enough for me, were I a member to Congress, to start looking into impeachment procedures. That’s just beyond gross.

Anyway, I appreciate that Stephens isn’t going all wobbly…

The theory is, there's good crazy and bad crazy.

The theory is, there’s good crazy and there’s bad crazy.

 

Nazanin Zinouri: The plight of one among thousands

Nazanin and her pooch, Dexter, in a photo from her Facebook page.

Nazanin and her pooch, Dexter, in a photo from her Facebook page.

You may have read of the situation that Clemson grad Nazanin Zinouri finds herself in: She went home for a brief visit to Iran leaving a sick dog and a car at the Atlanta airport. Now, thanks to Donald J. Trump, she can’t get back.

Here’s what she posted on Facebook over the weekend from the Dubai airport where he is stuck (and thanks to Mark Stewart for pointing this out):

I normally don’t write long posts or any kind of political or religious comments.
I apologize in advance and I don’t expect my friends to read this long long past!!
But today I just couldn’t hold it any longer. Friday 1/20/17 started like any other normal day. I was excited about my trip to Tehran. After all I only get to visit them once a year. I was excited and anxious at the same time. I was worried about my little puppy but I couldn’t wait to see my mom…
It was an uneventful trip. I made him home on Monday 1/22/17, after around 28 hours, exhausted but so so happy. We were all happy. I was going to eat lots of delicious Persian food and make tons of great memories and go back to my life in the US. But the happiness didn’t last that long. On Wednesday, we started hearing rumors about new executive orders that will change immigration rules for some countries including Iran. Soon we started reading drafts like everyone else. I might be banned from going back?!?! No that can’t be true. I’m not gonna let that ruin my trip. But then it got serious so fast. Before I knew it, it was actually happening. Even though I didn’t want to leave my family, I quickly booked a ticket to get on the next flight back. Only a few hours after the order was signed, I got to the airport, got on a plane and made it to Dubai. After waiting in the line to get my documents checked and after 40 minutes of waiting, I was ready to board the plane to Washington, only to have officers ask me to live the boarding area. “For security reasons your boarding is denied.”!!! Yes after almost 7 years of living the the United States, I got deported!!!
No one warned me when I was leaving, no one cared what will happen to my dog or my job or my life there. No one told me what I should do with my car that is still parked at the airport parking. Or what to do with my house and all my belongings.
They didn’t say it with words but with their actions, that my life doesn’t matter. Everything I worked for all these years doesn’t matter.
I just had to say it…

Oh, by the way, the dog is fine for now, according to the friend keeping it.

But y’all know me — I care a lot more about people than critters…

If we’re not going to be America any more, what should we call ourselves?

827lowerslobbbovia

The Washington Post had a nice piece over the weekend about the recent history of U.S. immigration policy (“Open doors, slamming gates: The tumultuous politics of U.S. immigration policy“). It began with this anecdote:

In his farewell address to the nation in 1989, President Ronald Reagan told the story of a Navy sailor patrolling the South China Sea who came upon a “leaky little boat” crammed with refugees from Indochina trying to find a way to America.

“Hello, American sailor,” a man in the boat shouted up to the Navy vessel. “Hello, freedom man.” Reagan couldn’t get that moment out of his mind because of what it said about what the United States meant — to those who live here and to the rest of the world….

Well, as of the election of Donald Trump, that’s not what America means — to the world, or to Americans. “America” is what we used to be. At least at the moment, we’re not that any more.

Which raises the question: If we’re no longer America, what should we call ourselves?

Here are some possibilities, if we can get around any copyright considerations. I’m going with names that already have certain connotations in the public imagination, in order to speed up the branding process:

  1. Lower Slobbovia — This one has a certain feel to it that seems to capture where Trump is determined to take the country. It was coined by Al Kapp of “Li’l Abner” fame, and as Wikipedia notes has come to invoke “a place which is underdeveloped, socially backward, remote, impoverished or unenlightened,” or “any foreign country of no particular distinction.” You know, a place that is in no way exceptional. Which seems perfect, if we can get the rights to it.

    Rufus T. Firefly dreaming up fresh mayhem for Freedonia.

    Rufus T. Firefly dreaming up fresh mayhem for Freedonia.

  2. Freedonia — In “Duck Soup,” this was the insignificant country governed by a crude, ill-mannered clown named Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx). I’ll leave it to you to draw the parallel. Also, this should appeal to the Tea Party crowd, since early on, some Americans actually considered calling this country by a variant of that name.
  3. Elbonia — The fictional country from “Dilbert” is “ruled by presidential dictatorship,” and its main export is mud.
  4. Bizarro America — Inspired by Superman comics. The Bizarro World is a place where everything is the reverse of what it is on this planet. Up is down, wrong is right, etc. Again quoting Wikipedia, “‘Bizarro World’ has come to mean a situation or setting which is weirdly inverted or opposite to expectations.” The name would announce to the world that America is now the opposite of what it was.
  5. Tomainia — That’s the country in Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator.” But since this was a satire about Hitler’s Germany, we’ll probably have to avoid it so that people don’t start yelling “Godwin’s Law!” at us, the way they always do.

Those are my suggestions. Any others out there?

Dt160322

Why don’t these ‘antiabortion’ kids today like ‘pro-life’?

Pro-life demonstration at SC State House -- from SC Citizens for Life site.

Pro-life demonstration at SC State House — from SC Citizens for Life site.

I started to read with interest the WashPost story headlined:

Why these activists don’t like calling themselves ‘pro-life’ anymore

It was about how younger opponents of abortion, unlike their elders, often prefer to call themselves “antiabortion.”

The trouble is, the piece never really delivered on the first word in the hed: It didn’t really explain “why.”

It tried to, but it didn’t add up at all. For instance:

Many Americans are confused by what “pro-life” even means, and assume they must subscribe to a conservative agenda on many social issues, not just abortion, to join a “pro-life” group. “Maybe they’re pro-gay marriage or they’re pro-marijuana legalization. So they feel like, ‘I can’t be pro-life.’”

She thinks using the word “antiabortion” might help recruit those people.

The angst surrounding “pro-life” goes beyond the association with conservative politics, and beyond the confusion that makes people do a double-take as they try to remember: Which side is “pro-life” and which side is “pro-choice” again?…

What? If people are that confused, maybe they should avoid engaging the subject at all — it might sprain their brains.

And “the association with conservative politics?” What the what?

You’d think “anti-abortion” has more of an association with “conservative politics,” assuming one accepts the facile labels of our day. It suggests a very selective approach — and distances the activist from more liberal ideas. “Pro-life” suggests Bernardin’s Consistent Ethic of Life, which includes such things as opposition to capital punishment or to unjust wars.

I have no problem with being called “antiabortion” myself. As far as the one issue goes, it’s certainly descriptive. That’s why I’m cool with most news organizations’ style on the matter:

The Associated Press, The Washington Post, New York Times and most other large mainstream news organizations have long made it a matter of policy to refer to “antiabortion” vs. “abortion rights” activists, instead of the terms “pro-life” vs. “pro-choice.”

But why would any abortion opponent oppose “pro-life?” There’s just no understanding these wacky kids today…

If we had nothing else, this one small thing would show how unhinged Trump is

Forget dumping TPP, “alternative facts,” threats to bring back torture, the Wall, the admiration for Putin, “grab her by the p___y,” Alicia Machado and all the rest.

Try to imagine that up to now, Donald Trump has acted like a perfectly normal, grounded, mature human being.

This one interview would be enough to make you say, “This guy’s lost it!”

The way President Trump tells it, the meandering, falsehood-filled, self-involved speech that he gave at the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters was one of the greatest addresses ever given.

“That speech was a home run,” Trump told ABC News just a few minutes into his first major television interview since moving into the White House. “See what Fox said. They said it was one of the great speeches. They showed the people applauding and screaming. … I got a standing ovation. In fact, they said it was the biggest standing ovation since Peyton Manning had won the Super Bowl, and they said it was equal. I got a standing ovation. It lasted for a long period of time.”

The most powerful man in the world continued: “You probably ran it live. I know when I do good speeches. I know when I do bad speeches. That speech was a total home run. They loved it. … People loved it. They loved it. They gave me a standing ovation for a long period of time. They never even sat down, most of them, during the speech. There was love in the room. You and other networks covered it very inaccurately. … That speech was a good speech. And you and a couple of other networks tried to downplay that speech. And it was very, very unfortunate that you did.”…

It’s like he was trying to outdo Alexandra Petri’s satirical column (“The true, correct story of what happened at Donald Trump’s inauguration“) spoofing how awesome Trump thinks his inauguration was.

Soon, it will become impossible to lampoon him, as nothing satirists will be able to dream up will exceed the things he actually says.

Seriously, who talks like this? If you’d never heard of the guy, and heard him talking this way about himself, you’d start to steadily back away, trying to make no sudden moves…

trump interview

They’re actually still going on about this

relentless

I followed a link provided by Bryan to a site that Wikipedia describes as “conservative,” but — just going by the headlines — seems quite a bit farther to the right than that.

Anyway, in the middle of the piece Bryan had linked to, I saw the above ad. Here’s what it linked to.

And I thought, “Really? Still?

I had thought all that demonize-the-Clintons stuff was about keeping her from becoming president. Apparently, for some folks, it’s a career.

Which, of course, is what’s wrong with American politics across the spectrum from left to right: All those folks out there, in the parties and the many more-or-less affiliated interest groups, whose jobs depend on keeping people outraged…