Open Thread for Monday, March 21, 2016

Official White House photo of the president greeting Cubans.

Official White House photo of the president greeting Cubans while some guy in the background picks his nose.

So spring officially begins and it turns chilly again, eh? Go figure. Here’s some other stuff to talk about:

  1. Obama does Havana — In case you haven’t heard. Overall, a nice visit. Of course, Raúl had to be a bad host and spoil the buzz by demanding we leave Guantánamo. He could have been cool about it and let the nice vibes rule the day, but nooooo…. “Es Un Nuevo Dia” was the right tone to strike today. Brutal dictators are so bad at PR…
  2. Former Lt. Gov. McGill running for governor as a Republican — You’ll know him as longtime Senator Yancey McGill (he was Gov Lite for a comparative hiccup). And as a Democrat. Hey, it worked for David Beasley. It remains to be seen whether it still works more than two decades later.
  3. Apple Unveils New Smaller iPhone as Cook Addresses Security — Tim, I love the smaller iPhone — the move toward bigger and bigger was ridiculous (I mean, I have an iPad for that sort of thing) — but I hate your antiAmerican position on security. Just FYI.
  4. Kasich working in SC to get friendly delegates — I found this encouraging — Kasich is working on getting friendly SC delegates, for the critical votes after Trump fails (the nation must hope) on the first ballot. And he seems to be be out ahead of Cruz and Trump in working on this. Meanwhile, Reince Priebus is starting to get his mind right (although he still needs to work on the name) about a contested convention.
Official White House photo.

Official White House photo.

I liked the above picture of the Obamas arriving in Havana because it reminded me of this scene from “Bananas:”

49 thoughts on “Open Thread for Monday, March 21, 2016

    1. Howard

      Just saw pictures today, mother-in-law made the trip. Our tax dollars at work, I wonder what SS flunkie gets to do protection detail for her.

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Note POTUS doing the Jimmy-Carter-carrying-his-own-bags thing with the umbrella. Disarming, perhaps. But in the entire U.S. government, can we not find one PFC to handle that function and free up the hands of the president?

      1. Mark Stewart

        Maybe Obama was making the point that if there weren’t so many glamour Marines standing around Washington doing nothing there could be more available for more substantial duties elsewhere?

        If phone books were still a thing, the DC version would list the Marines under “escort service”.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          At the same time, a commander in chief is entitled to a certain number of sideboys and Marines.

          But in the end, Marines are doing what we have Marines for when they are going to Iraq rather than holding umbrellas…

          1. Barry

            I actually think the President carrying his own umbrella was exactly the right message to send to Cuban leaders- and their people.

            President’s are actually supposed to serve the public- not the other way around.

  2. Doug Ross

    Another very interesting story from The Nerve about USC’s HR software implementation failure.

    MILLIONS of dollars down the drain. Cozy relationships between vendors and USC management. USC managers pressuring employees to join multi-level-marketing companies they worked for in their “spare time”.

    Why isn’t The State pursuing this? Here’s the top news stories on The State’s web page now:

    South Carolina fishing team wins college national championship
    Teen charged with attempted murder after turning self into Richland County Sheriff
    Thief makes getaway with Mercedes and $5,000 of jewelry from USC band and dance building
    Missouri soldier’s conviction for Obama comments is upheld
    Prescribed burns to take place in Lexington, Newberry counties

    Two stories about USC – the fishing team and a theft of a car and jewelry… meanwhile millions are going out the backdoor.

    1. Howard

      Doug there’s another article coming out on Wednesday regarding what is being reported as UTS’s no-bid multi-million dollar contract with IBM which took over specific departments from UTS. State employees, many who were within years of retirement, were terminated from their state jobs and offered jobs with IBM (not under the state retirement program) and guaranteed to be employed by IBM for one year. Many employees were forced to either come up with money to purchase retirement time or take different, and often less paying, positions to stay on the state retirement program. For long-time employees you either put in your 28 years or wait until you turn 65 to start receiving benefits. Jeff Farnham had his hands all over this contract as well. Bill Hogue may also have played a part, but he has rarely been seen on campus for the past two years that who knows what he’s involved or not involved in. The man’s legacy will be that he was one of the longest serving CIO’s at USC and accomplished absolutely nothing during that time.

      And I agree, not one news source within Columbia will report anything on this. It’s all ignored or swept under the rug, because the local news outlets don’t dare say anything negative about USC. We’re talking in total around $150 – $200 million dollars of SC taxpayer money being tossed away, SC state employees being terminated, and completely ignored by the local media. It’s been this way since the Holderman days when all negative reporting stopped overnight and coincidentally a State newspaper executive’s son was awarded a full scholarship to USC. Brad was likely at The State and probably knows more about this than I do.

      1. Mark Stewart

        Why on earth should USC employees be employees of the State of SC? That’s the first problem right there.

        You are complaining that they system should be that employees ought to have the eternal right to sit in place for 28 years and be entitled to a full government pension, regardless of how far from 65 they are? Yeah, no sympathy for that viewpoint here.

        Decision makers should be held accountable; but so should implimentors. It isn’t one or the other.

        1. Rose

          USC is a state agency so their employees are state employees. Same for Clemson and other state funded schools, even though the state funding is hovering around 10%.

          It’s absolutely shameful that the State and other media haven’t picked this up. Low-paid employees being pressured by their boss to join a pyramid scheme, and employees afraid to use the whistleblower hotline because it’s operated by one of the very people they need to report.

        2. Claus

          If that upsets you, you’re going to love hearing that employees of places like Lexington Hospital, Richland County, and the City of Columbia fire and police departments are also covered under the State of South Carolina Retirement System.

            1. Mark Stewart

              What percentage of SC’s total workforce is employed on the government dime?

              It’s got to be way higher, proportionally, than other states. I know I may sound like Doug saying this, but we really ought to think more about being more free-market. For a state that rails on about “Conservatism” and Republicanism, it’s at its core a New Deal kind of place.

              I am not suggesting public schools are not a core government function (or that police, fire, etc. are also not), but if a school of Higher Ed (or an airport, port, whatever) no longer receives at least 50% of its total expenses from the state, than it should be weened from governmental civil service. At 10% USC (and Clemson) are poster children for bad fiscal – and human resource – policy. They have both the free market money and the government rules/protections. It’s amazing that every initiative there doesn’t turn into a gold plated boondoggle. There is no reward for initiative, efficiency and excellence to go along with playing with Other People’s Money. That’s a real problem.

              1. Doug Ross

                I’m guessing the pension system needs as many contributors as possible to keep it solvent. Unfunded government pensions are going to be a huge issue in the coming years.

                I’d favor eliminating pensions and having a 401K-like system instead. Let people save for their own retirement and then spend the money as they see fit when they retire. I’d like to see the same done with some percentage of Social Security contributions as well.

              2. Rose

                My memory is fuzzy on this, but I think that during the Holderman investigation, the courts ruled that even though the Carolina Research and Development Foundation received a small percent of USC funding, it was still a public agency and subject to public records laws, and not a private entity as the lawyers for Holderman and USC were arguing.

                Brad do you remember?

                So even with just 10% percent state funding, USC et al are still public agencies. Reduced state funding for public universities is a national trend, though I think we have some of the most extreme examples. But then, we have an awful lot of colleges and universities for such a small state.

                1. Mark Stewart

                  I can only find data on state and local employees as a percentage of total population. SC is in the middle of the pack on this – though except for NY the states with the highest percentages (SC included) are Red States.

                  What would be most instructive would be % of state pension receivers in comparison with the total employment base.

                  That would likely shoot SC to the top off the list.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      This story aside, there is no doubt that our community’s (and most communities’) newsgathering capacity has been seriously damaged by the same economic forces that threw me on the beach against my will.

      That’s another reason it’s a tragedy for the community, and not just his family and friends, that we lost Charlie Nutt last week. He was a newspaperman through and through and was doing a good job with Free Times. Niche publications such as that one have not been damaged as much as midsized papers, and Charlie was doing a good job with the resources he had…

  3. Barry

    I watched some of Raul Castro and the press conference today.

    That guy was extremely uncomfortable having any questions asked at a press conference, and he was – uh- a really, really terrible speaker.

    I’ve seen bad speakers before – guys that have never stood up in front of anyone but had to in a job situation- and they were better than Raul Castro. He seemed clueless on how a simple earpiece works, kept clearing his throat directly into the microphone, and looked as if he was 164 years old.

    In a free election, he’d run 5th place for local dog catcher.

    That is one sad, pathetic excuse for a leader of a country.

  4. Mark Stewart

    Yancy McGill is in need of some serious PR help.

    That was a great article in The State; uddles of truth slithered out everywhere. He did a wonderful job presenting himself as he is. I just don’t think any of it was what he intended.

    I even liked the part where he says he went home to Kingstree to loose 50 lbs. Thats some serious discipline in the face of some seriously good bar-b-que.

  5. Doug Ross

    Flavor of the week, John Kasich, lost in Arizona and Utah last night while Trump and Cruz split the wins.

    Delegate count: Trump 738, Cruz 463, Rubio 166, Kasich 143

    Next states up for Republicans are Wisconsin (April 5) and Colorado (April 8). Then New York on April 19 followed by CT, DE, MD, PA, RI on April 26. If Kasich doesn’t win Wisconsin or Colorado, he should quit. He’s closer to Ben Carson (8 delegates) than he is to Cruz. But I suppose he will hold on until that April 26th date and then throw everything he has into winning neighbor state Pennsylvania. The fact that he’s the third choice or worse everywhere else in the country seems to be lost on him.

    1. Doug Ross

      The whole brokered convention option will likely come down to California on June 7. 172 delegates with all 10 of the state level delegates going to the winner and then each individual district winner gets 3 delegate per district. There are 54 districts.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      What’s lost on you, Doug, is that that is irrelevant.

      If Trump fails to win on the first ballot, all bets are off, and if there are three candidates left, and only one of them is not widely despised by Republicans, he has a chance.

      It would be absurd for Kasich to quit between now and the convention, and therefore eliminate the possibility of prevailing, however thin that possibility may be.

      The only way he knows absolutely for sure that he will lose is if he quits.

      1. Doug Ross

        It isn’t irrelevant… it is reality. Kasich has no path to the nomination without winning more delegates. Tell me where he wins? If Trump is at 1100 and Cruz is at 700 and Kasich is at 250, how do you see Kasich getting the nomination? Don’t give me “stranger things could happen” pipe dreams. Tell me the path Kasich has to the nomination.

        It will be Trump or Cruz or someone not named Kasich if it gets to that point. Democrats would destroy Kasich with the message that he couldn’t win any state but his own.

      2. Claus

        Can you imagine if delegates at the convention select someone other than one of the two front runners? Ohio better have their National Guard ready. There is no reason for Kasich to be in the running right now, his chances are just as great to be a write-in at the convention as they are of being on the ballot.

      3. Doug Ross

        And unless Kasich gets some huge influx of money, he won’t be able to compete in the large states. Cruz and Trump are both ignoring Kasich so he doesn’t even get THAT attention.

        I don’t think you ever addressed the fact that Kasich is one of the biggest supporters of school vouchers. Are you okay with supporting him if that becomes a focus area of his Presidency? Or is the fact that he is pro-life in a country that will remain pro-choice more important?

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I couldn’t care less about his position on that purely state issue. He’s wrong, but that’s true of most Republicans these days.

          Remember, Doug, I’m not like you. If I rejected all candidates who disagree with me on something, I would have to reject all candidates all of the time, and that would be rather impractical. SOMEBODY has to get electe, and there’s not a candidate on the planet that agrees with me on everything.

          And here’s the thing about Kasich — I’m not all that crazy about him. He’s acceptable, and the people he’s running against are light years away from being that.

          The correct and honorable choice could not be more clear…

          By the way, I’ve started another Kasich-related post

          1. Doug Ross

            I have basic principles that I expect the candidates I support to value. It doesn’t have to be 100% but 85% would probably be the lowest limit… there are some basic ones though that are non-negotiable: reducing the military presence around the world and eliminating government programs that are inefficient and wasteful and cutting the size of government; after that I would expect a candidate to support personal freedom (legalize drugs, gay marriage, etc.); I could accept a pro choice candidate even though I am pro life because I know that issue is decided. I don’t really care much about positions on climate change because I don’t think there is any solution.

            In the past you have had such a visceral reaction to ANY discussion of school vouchers that I thought that might be a core value for you. Apparently it is not. A vote for Kasich is a vote for school vouchers.

  6. John

    My understanding is that none of them have quit their campaigns, only suspended them. That allows them to keep their delegates, I think even keep fundraising and come to the convention. If there is a second round of voting they can come back to life and re-enter the process (like brine shrimp waiting for rain in the desert! ). In that case Kasich is smart to keep his campaign active and hope for rain.

    That’s one of the things made Rubio’s ‘God doesn’t want me to be President this time’ speech so odd during his suspension announcement. It sounded like he was saying he was out for good, but I think the FEC only accepts “I quit” as meaning “I quit.”

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yes, the “suspension” dodge is key. Or at least, it looms large in their fantasies of a comeback at a contested convention.

      Doug thinks Kasich, who after all is one of the three survivors, is delusional for carrying on. That’s nothing compared to these guys who have essentially declared themselves losers, but I’m thinking daydream about being the guy the party turns to to fill a vacuum in its moment of crisis…

  7. Doug Ross

    John Erlichmann admitted that the “drug war” was motivated by shutting down anti-war protesters and blacks, Think of the implications this abuse of power has had on our government since then. The resources that have been wasted on imprisoning people for using drugs and ruining their lives in the process is unconscionable. You think Hillary will do anything to stop this? Obama didn’t.

    “You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black people, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I don’t even understand what this means: “John Erlichmann admitted that the ‘drug war’ was motivated by shutting down anti-war protesters and blacks…” It doesn’t follow; I don’t see the connection…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        OK, I think I get it now, reading the original:

        At the time, I was writing a book about the politics of drug prohibition. I started to ask Ehrlichman a series of earnest, wonky questions that he impatiently waved away. “You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

        I must have looked shocked. Ehrlichman just shrugged. Then he looked at his watch, handed me a signed copy of his steamy spy novel, The Company, and led me to the door….

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          In any case, how a bitter Ehrlichman characterized the cynicism of his old team in 1994 isn’t really relevant to the problem we have today.

          Whether Nixon had dark motives or not bears little connection to the awful epidemic of heroin deaths we’re seeing these days — or to the tremendous problem we have with LEGAL opioid abuse…

          1. Doug Ross

            Yes, heroin use is a problem. But jail should NEVER be the response. Treatment programs, education,whatever. But never jail. Never.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              I’m with you on that, Doug. I mean, unless there’s some other crime involved — a violent one.

              For the most part, I don’t think nonviolent offenders of any kind should be locked up.

          1. Doug Ross

            So when the guy who was sitting next to the President says “this is why we did it”, that’s paranoia? You just wave him off as cynical. That’s what is called the “Rainbows and Unicorns Defense of Government”.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              No, Doug, it’s me seeing how much more complicated it was than that — way more complicated than Ehrlichman wanted to get into. (He doesn’t come across in that piece like a guy who wanted to talk; he was blowing off the guy’s questions.)

              Nixon didn’t invent the concern in the country about drugs. There was a great deal of anxiety about it among the very “Silent Majority” that Nixon wanted to appeal to — folks who saw normal standards of decent, healthy behavior breaking down all around them and wanted to push back, and stop it all if they could. That was a big part of Nixon’s appeal.

              Saying it was about the antiwar movement and black people is a cartoonish, impatient oversimplification.

              Anyway, Nixon didn’t wave a wand and create the current situation with so many people in prison over drugs, and entire criminal empires built up around them. That was the product of a whole lot of laws being passed on the state as well as federal levels.

              That wave of “tough on crime” legislation continued for decades, and has only recently lost some steam.

              To boil it down to some nefarious plot against Nixon’s perceived enemies in 1968 is ridiculous.

              Basically, in an interview 22 years ago, Ehrlichman gave a journalist a throwaway line in the process of shoving him out the door, and it made a great anecdote for leading this piece in Harper’s.

              The journalist himself understands the truth, as he writes: “Nixon’s invention of the war on drugs as a political tool was cynical, but every president since — Democrat and Republican alike — has found it equally useful for one reason or another.”

            2. Brad Warthen Post author

              And if you want to legalize MORE mind-altering substances, get back to me when we’ve perfected self-driving cars, and there’s nothing else on the road.

              That Mencken garbage about it all arising from some American “haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy” is just that, garbage. (People always lose me when they start quoting Mencken. He was a prize jerk.)

              There are very good, practical reasons to stop people from running around in a condition when they are not in control of themselves. They do NOT have some inherent right to put other people’s lives in danger.

              Alcohol is deadly enough….

              It’s fascinating the way we fixate on “medical marijuana,” on a number of levels. First, supposing it’s true that THC or whatever has magical properties we can derive from no other substance, there should be ways to deliver it aside from legalizing marijuana in its traditional recreational form.

              And once you’ve explored the possibilities of this miracle substance, where do you go?

              What is the medical benefit — one that the world can’t do without — of crystal meth? Of heroin? Why is it not a worthwhile goal to seek to destroy it all, and prevent its manufacture and/or cultivation?

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                And even when addictive substances ARE legal and regulated, the potential for harm is enormous. I’ve seen the way something like oxycontin can destroy the lives of everyone around the users.

                But if you believe in the fantasy that one’s actions don’t affect others, then why not get high as a kite, right? Who’s to say thee nay?

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