May 26, 2024

Nikki Haley Shows Her True Colors

There has long been uncertainty as to how much integrity we should attribute to erstwhile U.N. ambassador and presidential primary candidate Nikki Haley.

During her run for the Republican nomination, Haley repeatedly told everyone what a horrible candidate Donald Trump is. After dropping out of the race, she did not discourage people from voting for her in the remaining primaries—as many did—and there was hope in some circles that she might, at the very least, not support Trump’s run for the White House.

Nikki Haley
  Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 3.0
via Wikimedia Commons

The question of Haley’s integrity, however, has now been resolved. She has revealed herself to be, in the worst sense, a politician and neither a statesperson nor a patriot. Although she has yet to endorse the former president, in the sense of telling others to vote for him, she has declared that she will do so in the contest with Joe Biden.

In a historic understatement, Haley admitted in a recent interview that Trump “has not been perfect” on policies she considers important. Those policies include reducing government debt—something Trump massively increased when he was in office—and supporting freedom—something that Trump proudly took away from American women. Remarkably, Haley declared, “But Biden has been a catastrophe.” 

No doubt, many voters who watch Fox News or Newsmax or other right-wing pseudo-news outlets find Haley’s characterization of President Biden unremarkable. In driving from Clifton Springs to Geneva, I regularly pass a house displaying a sign declaring “Biden Sucks.” And I often see Trump supporters interviewed on television attributing characteristics, policies, and actions to Biden that are provably false. One might have hoped, however, that an intelligent politician who has clearly recognized Donald Trump’s multitudinous faults would be able to acknowledge at least some virtues in a fellow politician who is virtually the opposite of Donald Trump.

What is the nature of the Biden “catastrophe”? Although Trump initiated the quest for a COVID vaccine, it was Biden who orchestrated its successful rollout that halted the mounting death toll. Is saving people from dying a catastrophe?

Infrastructure Week had become a standing joke during the Trump presidency. Under Biden, the country is finally addressing the deferred maintenance of its extensive infrastructure. A catastrophe?

Trump either doesn’t believe in climate change or doesn’t care about it. Under Biden, however, the country is taking steps—possibly small ones—but steps to counter climate change. Well, Haley might find this catastrophic. The environment be damned!

Haley wants a president who will “have the backs of our allies.” Well, Biden is supporting Ukraine as it faces Russian aggression. It has been difficult, however, as Trump wants to sue for peace and, most likely, cede Ukrainian land to Putin. He tried to prevent Congress from supporting Ukraine. Isn’t what Biden has done supporting our allies? Isn’t this opposite to Trump’s inclinations? More catastrophe, I suppose. Biden has supported longtime ally Israel. Is supporting Israel’s defense while trying to restrain Netanyahu a catastrophe?

Haley wants a president who will “secure the border.” But when the Senate reached a bipartisan agreement to do exactly that last February—an agreement Biden was ready to sign— Trump made it clear that Republican legislators needed to kill that initiative so it could be used as a Republican fund-raiser and campaign issue. Another catastrophe on Biden’s watch?

Haley wants a president who will support “capitalism.” Biden has raised tariffs to protect, for example, the electric vehicle industry. Under Biden, the government is subsidizing the revitalization of the computer chip industry. Another catastrophe, I suppose. Better that we have a president who is only interested in enriching himself and his billionaire friends. But surely that would not be a catastrophe! 

Under Biden, inflation and unemployment are down. Another catastrophe, I suppose!

Alas, like so many Republicans, Haley has turned out to be a total hypocrite. Haley’s real catastrophe is that Democrats, not Republicans, are in power. Policy really isn’t the issue. If her favored candidate wins a second term, however, we will see what a real catastrophe looks like.

May 25, 2024

A Bad Culinary Week

Things have not gone well in the cooking department this week. Two days ago I was baking banana bread for yesterday’s coffee hour at the Clifton Springs Library. I poured the batter into three small (2 × 5 × 2¼ in.) silicone pans and placed the pans in the oven on one of the wire racks. Since baking was to take about an hour, I then went into the bathroom to take a shower.

As I was drying off from my shower, I detected a burning smell, which was not how my banana bread was supposed to smell. When I opened the oven, I discovered that the soft-sided pans had listed to the side and disgorged some of their contents. I quickly decided to write off my baking project, removed the silicone pans, and assessed the damage. Some of the batter clung to the oven racks—this was cleaned up easily enough—and some of it fell to the bottom of the oven. Unfortunately, the oven floor has wide slits on either side, and some of the batter fell into one of them. I turned off the oven and, when it cooled, removed whatever semi-baked batter was visible. Later, after regaining my composure, I got out my nut driver, removed the oven floor, and cleaned up the mess under it. I put the oven back together and attended coffee hour the next day empty-handed.

Today, I had another cooking project. I had agreed to make potato salad for the Memorial Day picnic for my apartment building. As the potatoes were boiling and later cooling, I collected the other ingredients for the dish, chopping as necessary. One of my recipe’s ingredients is chopped parsley. I have been told that this is unusual, but I haven’t researched the matter. Certainly, parsley doesn’t make my potato salad seem strange. (The apple cider vinegar is another matter, but I like the recipe.) I was midway through chopping parsley and adding it to a bowl of chopped hard-boiled egg when I realized that I wasn’t chopping parsley at all. I had mistakenly bought cilantro, an ingredient of which I am not at all fond.

Realizing that not everyone has the same aversion to cilantro that I do, I stopped chopping and substituted dried parsley for the remaining “parsley” that hadn’t yet been added to the chopped egg. The resulting potato salad tastes different from my usual effort—one can definitely taste cilantro—but my hope is that people will still find it acceptable.

I’m planning to cook as little as possible this weekend.

May 22, 2024

The Ten Commandments in Louisiana

Louisiana is about to enact a law mandating that the Ten Commandments—a specified version of them—be posted in every Louisiana school classroom. The proposed law even specifies a minimum size for the Ten Commandments classroom posters.

It should be obvious to any thinking American citizen that the proposed legislation violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Louisiana lawmakers argue that recent Supreme Court decisions have so weakened the wall of separation between church and state that their latest legislative fiat may survive judicial scrutiny. They have a point, but I hope they’re wrong. Surely, the proposed law is one “respecting an establishment of religion,” as the Ten Commandments are taken directly from a text sacred to Judaism and Christianity.

Dodie Horton, a representative from District 19 in northwest Louisiana argues: “Our laws are based on the Ten Commandments. In fact, without them, a lot of our laws would not exist.” This, of course, is pure poppycock. Our laws are no more based on the Ten Commandments than on Aesop’s Fables.

It is worth considering the Ten Commandments in light of our actual laws. The first four commandments are purely religious and therefore inappropriate in light of the Establishment Clause. They command that you should (1) have no god before the God of Israel, (2) not worship idols, (3) not curse using God’s name, and (4) keep the Sabbath holy. No U.S. laws are based upon these injunctions, nor should they be. Only the Fourth Commandment comes close. Though blue laws privileged Sunday, not the Jewish Sabbath, they are largely a thing of the past and have little support for their reintroduction.

Four commandments involve behavior about which the law is silent. Number 5 requires the honoring of one’s parents. Numbers 7, 9, and 10 enjoin abjuring adultery, bearing false witness against a neighbor, and coveting the property of others. Of course, bearing false witness is illicit in particular legal contexts but not in ordinary discourse.

In fact, only two commandments have any significant relation to American law at all. Number 6 prohibits murder, and number 8 prohibits theft. Such provisions have been part of virtually every legal and moral system for millennia and probably did not originate among the Israelites anyway.

Louisiana legislators argue that the Ten Commandments offer moral guidance, though guidance unlikely to be appreciated by atheist, Muslim, Sikhi, Jain, or other student religionists. And it may be tricky to explain idol worship or adultery to first graders or why non-Jews seem not to care about the Sabbath.

The Louisiana initiative is ill-conceived and, I pray to God, is destined to be struck down by the Supreme Court. If it is not, this country will be in even more trouble.

The proposed legislation follows a 2023 Louisiana law requiring “In God We Trust” to be displayed in every classroom. (Classrooms may run out of wall space if the legislature continues what is becoming a trend.) I have written about the motto elsewhere and will merely say here that the sentiment that has become our nation’s official motto is, at best, hypocritical.

One final aside: If I were allowed to post Christian propaganda in school classrooms, it would be Jesus’s admonition to love God and one’s neighbor. Or, on second thought, just

May 20, 2024

Movements in My Lifetime

I’ve lived through the Civil Rights movement and the Women’s movement, each of which achieved successes though neither achieved all its goals.

The recent Reactionary movement was suppressed by the election of Joe Biden. That movement is attempting a resurgence, threatening to usher in a Totalitarian movement.

Your vote is important to preserve the Republic.

May 15, 2024

Will We Get Better Presidential Debates This Year?

President Biden has challenged Donald Trump to participate in presidential debates this year, and the former president has accepted. Given that Mr. Trump has avoided debating his Republican challengers, it has not been clear that he would agree to debate Mr. Biden. Today’s news is therefore encouraging. Details of any debates will need to be negotiated. Neither side has been satisfied in the past with decisions made by the Commission on Presidential Debates, which apparently will have no part in structuring the 2024 presidential debates.

The Biden team has articulated its desired ground rules:

  • Two debates: in June and September. This is apparently acceptable to Team Trump, but Mr. Trump has expressed a desire for more debates.
  • There should be no live audience. Mr. Trump has spoken of wanting a large venue, presumable with a large audience.
  • The only participants are to be the Republican and Democratic candidates.
  • Only broadcast networks that have hosted recent debates (CNN, ABC News, Telemundo, and CBS News) should be eligible to host the first debate. Apparently, the same restriction has not been proposed for the second debate. It likely should be.
  • The moderator should be chosen from a network’s “regular personnel.”
  • There should be firm time limits on candidate responses, and the candidates should be allotted equal time.
  • A candidate’s microphone should only be live when it is his turn to speak.

We may get more effective and useful presidential debates this year, but, when the presidential camps get down to serious negotiations, that goal may prove elusive. Donald Trump would certainly like a large, preferably partisan, audience, and may not take kindly to the concept of losing his microphone for any reason. That Mr. Trump has said he would like more debates is a bit surprising—he is not good at actual debate—but this may be a negotiating position to facilitate horse trading involving other matters.

I have long advocated some of the ground rules Mr. Biden is promoting—widely available debates, no audience, and time limits enforced by controlling candidate microphones. (See my October 29, 2015, post “Suggestions for Presidential Debates.”) The presence of an audience is particularly problematic. Historically, audiences told to keep quiet do not, in fact, do so. Moreover, it is virtually impossible to assemble a non-partisan audience in which everyone exercises the same level of self-control. The debates are for the American people, not for a selected debate audience.

Most important, and most likely to be fought by the Trump camp, is the idea of time-limited speech enforced by administratively controlled microphones. The former president exhibits limited self-control in general and virtually none in past debates. Clearly, the Biden campaign wants to avoid Mr. Trump’s garrulousness and his obnoxious habit of interrupting other participants. I discussed this issue in the aforementioned essay. I revisited the issue in “A Suggested Tool for Debate Moderators.”)

It has often been noted that debating skill, or whatever skill is needed for the so-called presidential debates, is not a particularly important capability needed by the President of the United States. Readers may be interested in a very different debate format I once proposed in “A Different Kind of Presidential Candidate Debate.” That essay was oriented toward debates leading up to the selection of a presidential candidate, but some of the ideas could usefully inform the contests between actual candidates.

Perhaps, we will get better presidential debates this year. But perhaps not.

May 6, 2024

Outside Agitators

The news has recently been dominated by reports of demonstrations supportive of Palestinians at U.S. colleges and universities. It is distressing that many seemingly peaceful protests have been shut down by police at the invitation of school administrators. In some cases, civil authorities have in part justified police action by asserting that “outside agitators” were among the demonstrators. Often, the “agitators” have been quite literally outside, which is to say not on campus at all.

I am greatly distressed by the term “outside agitators.” I remember this term as one used by racist Southerners to identify the brave souls from northern states who risked their lives to take a stand against Jim Crow. The present “outside agitators” may be non-students, but we have seen no evidence that they are “agitators” rather than citizens in sympathy with the goals of student demonstrators. Among this group may in fact be a few agents provocateurs with disreputable motives—not an established fact—but damning every non-student as an “outside agitator” is unfair.

As for the student demonstrators generally, I think they may be seeking the wrong objective. Imploring their institutions to disinvest in Israeli enterprises is an obvious goal, but it is difficult for the schools to implement and an objective with considerably less than universal appeal. It means to punish Israel but will not be particularly helpful to the Palestinians about whom the students purport to be concerned.

Unfortunately, President Biden seems incapable of taking any action that might discourage bad behavior by Benjamin Netanyahu. The students should adopt a more useful objective: insist that the United States cease providing any and all military and financial support to the state of Israel pending resolution of the current war against Hamas, a war that seems increasingly like a war against the Palestinian people. A less extreme objective might be to obtain an immediate ceasefire by all combatants.

Students have missed an opportunity here and, as of tonight, Israel seems to be proceeding with its military plans against Hamas and the inhabitants of Gaza.