Open Thread for Tuesday, September 27, 2022

It’s about time for one of these:

  1. Joe Cunningham really doesn’t want me to vote for him — I need to write a separate, full post about this, but I wanted to mention his latest before it falls off my radar: Now, he wants judges in S.C. to be directly, popularly elected. You know, you can say all kinds of sharply critical things about our system of judicial selection, but I can’t imagine anything more likely to make it worse than this. It’s one of those few things about the way we run this state that makes me look at other states and be thankful that at least we don’t do that. “Popular” judges, being motivated to make only popular decisions. Wow.
  2. Recruitment officer wounded in latest attack on a Russian draft office — This is awful on so many levels — that Putin is calling these people up for his indefensible war, that this officer who was just doing his unsavory job was shot, that the guy who shot him couldn’t think of any better way to express his outrage (so someone gets shot, and the shooter has ruined his own life), and that the shooter’s friend got drafted despite not being one of the experienced troops that Putin had said this draft was limited to. No winners here. But you know what’s worse? That same day in another part of Russia, a gunman shot up a school, killing 17 people, 11 of them children. Remember when the Russians just wanted to get their hands on American blue jeans? That was fine; blue jeans are great. Now they’re importing the very worst things our culture has to offer…
  3. The dollar is surging. The pound is falling. — Wow, we should have postponed our 2010-11 trip to England until now. Anyway, the dual link is to NPR talking about what a rising dollar means, and The Washington Post discussing the pound. I’m sorry that this is happening right after the passing of the queen. Now folks who don’t understand how things work are going to blame King Charles III, and the guy’s just getting started. Of course, we know this is really the responsibility of the new PM and her team.
  4. USC postpones football game because of hurricane — Excellent idea! I hope every other football team in the country gets inspired and does the same thing — whether they see a hurricane coming or not. I mean, you never know with these things — they’re even hitting Canada now! My recommendation is to postpone all football until, say, 2042. And keep watching that weather! If it still looks menacing, put them off a bit longer…
  5. Thousands evacuate as Hurricane Ian barrels toward Florida — I hope they all get out safely, because one way or the other, it’s coming…
  6. NASA smashes into an asteroid — I think this is awesome, and I look forward to finding out whether it worked — in terms of altering the rock’s course slightly. It’s good to see us doing cool things in space. Now, back to the moon!

31 thoughts on “Open Thread for Tuesday, September 27, 2022

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    By the way, I’m waiting now for someone to defend Joe Cunningham because his context is that goes around saying of the incumbent, “He’s appointed the judges who are letting violent offenders back on the streets.”

    Which would be the opposite of a defense.

    A guy wanting to be governor and not knowing the governor doesn’t appoint our judges is no defense at all. And an attorney wanting to be governor and not knowing that is way, way worse. (And don’t try defending it by mentioning the magistrates thing. That would be further evidence that you don’t know how things work.)

    The second stupid thing — advocating for popular election of judges — is what his campaign said when challenged on the first stupid thing.

    It appears the Cunningham campaign is working really hard to try to prove he knows even less than Henry does…

  2. Barry

    I can’t defend him. I am not even paying attention.

    A governor can’t make the SC legislature change the way they select their buddies for judge positions.

    I think most people in South Carolina realize our judicial system, in many ways, is corrupt but we our powerless to do anything about it so people just play in the system as much as they can.

    When you have elected reps appointing judges and voting on judges and then appearing before those judges or their law partners appearing before those same judges – the system is set up to favor one side.

    It is what it is.

    It’s why so many people have no trust in attorneys- nor should they.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      “I am not even paying attention.”

      No one is paying attention, which is one reason why Joe’s going to lose. Which is why he sometimes does desperate things. Like the childish rants about “geriatric politicians,” and trying to distance himself from Biden. He wants the press, any kind of press, good or bad.

      To have a chance, he needs something to rescue him.

      And here comes the hurricane… Which may have been the final straw for us in 2018. We were almost caught up to Henry in polling before that storm. Then, after a week or so of Henry doing the “I’m in charge” thing every day on live TV, and us silenced by the hiatus that the situation forced upon us, we had lost ground we never recovered.

      The odds were always against us, but we had a chance until then…

      1. Barry

        Well, Joe could go down to Hilton Head today and announce that Hwy 278 is reversed with all lanes going out.

        But not sure that would do the trick.

        I guess he doesn’t have much money but he’s a non issue.

        He should be at the old Bowater plant today standing just outside the gates with a news conference blasting McTrumpmaster and DHEC for stinking up the entire countryside with their feeble regulations and irresponsibility.

  3. Doug Ross

    Teleprompter Reader In Chief, Joe Biden, today thanked a dead congresswoman for her work on a bill.

    “Jackie are you here? Where’s Jackie?”

    Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN) died in a car accident in August. Biden (well, his staff) put out a press release back then mourning her death. Watch him do his low energy, mumbling version of himself…

    He’s not running in 2024. He’s one and done… emphasis on done.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Which makes you terribly happy, doesn’t it?

      I wish you’d tell us about something positive that makes you happy, instead of your constant rain of cynicism, contempt and disgust toward everything in the world. Particularly toward anything you know we like.

      Of course, I just posted a real downer post myself. Maybe you’re having an effect on me. Hey, something else for you to celebrate, huH?

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Oh, and if you again bring up that nonsense about how I am somehow disproportionally negative about Trump — your favorite argument, as absurd as it is — I won’t post it. I’ll just urge you to go out and read more, to get a sense of perspective.

        But yes, you’ll succeed in having offended me — such delight for you! — by suggesting again that Joe Biden and Donald Trump can be compared, as though they existed on the same moral plane…

        1. Doug Ross

          At what point will you be able to assess Joe Biden’s mental decline without bringing up Trump.

          Here’s my challenge to you and all the Trump obsessives. Go ONE WEEK without writing anything the references Trump, Trumpism, Republicans, etc. If you see something that references Trump, don’t read it. Turn off the TV or Radio when he is mentioned. Think you can do it? If you can’t, you have a problem.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Doug, I know you don’t see the problem, but it’s still here with us. The degradation of American politics that led to Trump is still a huge, festering problem — all around us. For that matter, he himself is still with us, and planning to run again.

            And of course, any time people trash Joe Biden — a fine man and a fine president — they make it that much more likely that Trump will again be president. In spite of everything.

            I don’t know why it bothers you so much that other people remain concerned about that…

      2. Doug Ross

        There’s plenty that makes me happy.. and none of it has anything to do with the current or previous Presidents. Our current one is an empty suit and the previous one was a blowhard. Both liars in their own special way.

        The thing is Biden could end all the talk of his obvious decline by taking an independent evaluation. Instead, we get to see him ride on a bike (until he falls down). Or wander around on stage until Jill Biden or another handler points in him the right direction. He hasn’t even hit the halfway point yet — and would have to face a grueling campaign trail starting next fall. He’s done.

        What makes me happy? Good times with friends and family where we don’t spend a moment talking about politics. My dogs. Sports. Gambling. Plenty of TV shows. Traveling. Going on cruises. Walking 2000 miles this year. and laughing at hypocrites.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Well, except maybe for the “laughing at hypocrites” thing — I don’t see how that could lead to joy in the long run; it seems a path to deeper and deeper bitterness — those sound good. Maybe you should indulge more in all of them.

          I wish you joy.

          Maybe you could offer us a Top Five list on the TV shows. Personally, I think we’re going through a sort of dry spell. Oh, there’s a lot of good stuff out there — it’s still the Golden Age — but there’s a lack of really great, blockbuster shows at the moment. Nothing like the Sopranos, The West Wing, Breaking Bad, the early days of The Walking Dead, or Game of Thrones (despite attempts to reignite that magic).

          Seems like there are a lot of good B shows, but no A+ at the moment.

          But maybe I’m looking in the wrong places….

  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    By the way, on item No. 1 about Joe Cunningham… if you’d like to know what an actual DEMOCRAT has to say instead of what I think, here’s what Leon Lott — possibly the most popular Democrat in Richland County — had to say today

    “Governor McMaster’s experience as a prosecutor makes him the kind of uncommonly strong partner we can trust to help us do our jobs,” Lott said. “From fighting for law enforcement protective gear to law enforcement pay raises, we could not ask for more from a governor, and that is why we support him in this campaign.”

    Any way you slice that, whether you like Leon or not, it’s pretty remarkable.

    By the way, this endorsement by Leon and the others in this group was brought to my attention by another prominent Democrat — off-the-record, which is about the only kind of criticism you’re likely to hear from Democrats of their nominee.

    Which is one of the things that makes Leon’s willingness to speak out on this so striking…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I enjoyed this comment from Leon, which was at the very end of The State‘s version of the story:

      Lott, who turns 69 in five days, also criticized Cunningham Wednesday for his stance that politicians should no longer serve past age 72, similar to judges. “It’s an insult to think in three years I’ll be too old to do this job,” Lott said. “It’s about caring (and) loving this state. That is a definition of a public servant. That is what our governor is, a true public servant.”

      You tell ‘im, Leon! That impudent puppy!

      Full disclosure: As y’all know, Leon is my “twin.”

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Like a study, with numbers? I’m not sure how you’d even structure a study that would be able to PROVE that X number of judicial decisions were due to public opinion. I just have to go by everything I know about human nature, and a lifetime of closely observing what happens in what we call the “political branches.”

      Think of the cowering behavior of GOP politicians since 2016, terrified to do anything that would offend their base. I don’t need that example to reinforce this impression of mindless slavery to the popular will, but I offer it as one extreme example. Frankly, I think THE dominant trend in electoral politics in this country over the past few decades has been decreasing independent thought by elected “leaders,” and more fingers in the wind.

      Frankly, I would expect judges to be somewhat less susceptible to twitch to public sentiment, because of their training in the law. But it’s not enough difference to make me think it’s a good idea. And I can’t begin to imagine what would make an impartial person truly believe it IS a good idea. Why add such a complication to the system?

      As for trying to quantify the effect — when I try to Google it, I notice that gay rights groups have been particularly interested in looking at it. And I can well imagine how judges more attuned to the polls would worry them.

      If I had stayed in the state where I started my newspaper career — Tennessee — I might have a bunch of good stories to tell you illustrating my point. But of course, they’d just be anecdotal evidence….

      But even if there were a great number of studies that absolutely supported my position, I’d be doubtful about how reliable such numbers could be…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Still on the subject of the political branches…

        So many people who are most strongly critical of government are CONVINCED that the problem with politicians is that they go off and forget what the people who elected them want. This is what fuels term limit proposals, for instance.

        But everything I’ve seen indicates that the opposite is true — that most pols don’t forget for a second what the voters want. It’s one of the big problems with our system at this point in our history….

  5. Ken

    ” I just have to go by everything I know about human nature”

    In other words: I just know … because I know. That’s nothing more than annecdotal-ism.

    What happened to states being “laboratories of democracy”? As I pointed out, there are between 20 and 23 states that elect judges in either partisan or non-partisan elections. (They clearly don’t seem to mind the “comications” involved.) So we should be able to devise a means of determing whether and if so how that selection process affects the quality of jurisprudence in those states. Social scientists are quite capable of analyzing decision-making of this kind.
    Anyway, it’s altogether possible that it’s more a matter of WHO than of HOW. In other words, standing for election may well have less bearing on how that judge then rules on cases than does who it is becomes judge. All qualifications being equal, then, the method of selection may not be all that significant. A legislature, for example, may prefer a “tough on crime” jurist as much as the general public. Or whatever the preference may be.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      “In other words: I just know … because I know. That’s nothing more than annecdotal-ism.”

      No, that would be LESS than “anecdotalism,” because I’m not even offering an anecdote.

      Also, I’m not saying I KNOW — I’m simply saying that based on everything I’ve seen of how elected people act (and the examples are legion), I can recognize a bad idea when I see it.

      And of course, I’m not alone. Sandra Day O’Connor agrees with me. As did Alexander Hamilton. But that’s just like, ya know, their opinion, right? Of course, this is an opinion blog, which means such things are perfectly legitimate here, but let’s not go off on a digression about that obvious fact…

      You were asking earlier for “evidence.” Well, in trying to find the O’Connor and Hamilton quotes just now, I ran across this analysis of some studies, which found:

      • The more frequently television ads air during an election, the less likely state supreme court justices are, on average, to rule in favor of criminal defendants.
      • Trial judges in Pennsylvania and Washington sentence defendants convicted of serious felonies to longer sentences the closer they are to re-election.
      • In states that retain judges through elections, the more supportive the public is of capital punishment, the more likely appellate judges are to affirm death sentences.
      • In the 37 states that heard capital cases over the past 15 years, appointed judges reversed death sentences 26 percent of the time, judges facing retention elections reversed 15 percent of the time, and judges facing competitive elections reversed 11 percent of the time.
      • Trial judges in Alabama override jury verdicts sentencing criminal defendants to life and instead impose death sentences more often in election years.

      I wasn’t really looking for that, though. Just as I didn’t look hard for studies previously. Because I don’t think something like this can be measured with perfection, I don’t fully trust such studies. And these didn’t find proof of the poisonous nature of judicial elections — just indications. Indications that what any thoughtful person would expect to happen, does happen.

      But it’s not proof, of course. Even if you had affidavits from every judge saying “I did this because an election was coming up,” I wouldn’t consider it perfect proof, in a ones and zeroes sense. After all, they could be perjuring themselves, for instance (because the real reason was something WORSE). But then, I don’t need mathematical proof to see that this is a bad idea…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I can’t believe I just wasted that much time justifying MY reaction to a proposal tossed out in a desperate attempt to distract people from Joe’s complete lack of understanding of how judges are selected in South Carolina..

        If he spent that much time (as much as the few minutes I wasted) studying and thinking about it, his campaign wouldn’t offer something like that, and he personally wouldn’t be going around telling people the governor is who “appointed the judges who are letting violent offenders back on the streets.”

        THIS is the only alternative to Henry McMaster we are offered? Really?

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          And he’s a lawyer.

          I wonder what they teach at Salmon P. Chase College of Law. I don’t know. Maybe it’s a great law school, if you’re going to practice in Kentucky. Even if it is named after possibly my least-favorite member of Lincoln’s Cabinet (my view has been warped by Doris Kearns Goodwin’s account of what a pain he was)…

      2. Ken

        You don’t “know” it’s a bad idea. But you “recognize” it’s one. As if there’s a difference.

        “Any thoughtful person” would likewise recognize it – at least if that person wants to be considered “thoughtful.”

        In any case, it’s worth noting that the Brennan Center study cited itself admits to gaps in its methods and findings. Totally aside from the question of whether similar or other negative effects present themselves in states where judges are not popularly elected.

        But such things needn’t matter when it comes to opinions, right? We can all believe per our preference, conjuring up realities the same way a certain former president does: just by thinking them.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Well, perhaps you can, but no, that’s not how I form opinions.

          Anyway, I’m glad we agree that you can’t fully trust studies on something like this. As I said, from the moment you requested some sort of evidence.

          You either see the danger or you don’t. And you can look at trends such as these and say, “yes, that’s what I would expect.” But it doesn’t prove anything.

          Discussing politics is about reasoning things out as well as you can, and kicking ideas around freely and in good faith and mutual respect to see if the group can arrive at, or get closer to, some sort of consensus for action — or at least learn a little something from the debate (which, as we’ve all seen, has becoming incredibly hard in recent years). Things can seldom be “proved” in a mathematical sense. Of course, I think that’s why a lot of people have little patience with politics. They want things to be black and white.

          Anyway, this discussion is over. It’s hard for me to maintain any enthusiasm for a conversation in which whatever I say is answered with dripping sarcasm and condescension. I don’t see it going anywhere.

          I don’t know where your hostility comes from, but I’m sorry that you seem to experience such moods all the time, with no letup…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            In keeping with my announcement that “this discussion is over,” I didn’t approve two or three comments responding to it. But I’ll include this part of one of them, from Ken:

            It’s not a matter of trusting studies on “something like this.” It’s how well the studies are structured, whether the studies note gaps (as the Brennon Center study does) in terms of their methodologies and findings, and whether an adequate number of studies of one or more aspects of an issue have been undertaken. Other studies on judicial elections cited online explicitly point out that certain aspect of this topic have not yet been adequately examined.

            But, no, it’s not a matter of whether a topic is beyond the abilities of social scientists to analyze it…

            Oh, I think they can analyze it all they want. My doubt is that they could analyze it effectively with objective data. I’m reminded of a study I once saw by economists seeking to objectively analyze “bias” in news media. It was unbelievably absurd. They did it by analyzing how many times certain words appeared in reporting. As if news reporting didn’t entail quoting and paraphrasing pet terms of people who hold all sorts of political positions. (For instance, do you really think all the times media quoted Trump saying “fake news” shows that they agreed with him?)

            Anyway, since all of this started with my critical words about Joe Cunningham, we can discuss all that later, when I write about that more fully. Assuming I do. I’m still debating with myself the good it might do, set against the non-constructive ways a number of folks will respond to it…

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Actually, this feels like back in 2007, when I made a passing remark on the blog about what a phony John Edwards was, and promised to explain more fully later.

              I did, months later, one day when I just needed a quick topic for a column, and I was totally unprepared for the national reaction.

              But folks went nuts over that not because Brad Warthen said it, but because the editorial page editor of South Carolina’s then-biggest newspaper said it — and Edwards really needed to win again here.

              I’m not encumbered with that role today. I mean, who cares what this old guy thinks, huh?

            2. Brad Warthen Post author

              Ken, why don’t you try to make your point about what YOU are trying to say without the lecture about what’s wrong with me?

              Unless, of course, what you are trying to say is just that. In which case, never mind…

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                In case you don’t know what that would look like, it would look like this:

                I’m not interested in what Joe Cunningham said. Because barring an unforeseen catastrophe in the R camp, he will lose. And the circumstances that make THAT result all but preordained are, in my view, far more “unconstructive.”


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