Monday, May 21, 2018


Writing for The Washington Post, Petula Dvorak asks, "Can Americans ditch guns the way we ditched cigarettes?"
Not that long ago, cigarettes were completely woven into American culture. The Marlboro Man, posters telling us: “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette,” even the armrests on planes and all our cars were designed for smokers.

And now? Not so much.

Can it work like that with guns?

... somehow, within a couple generations, we’ve altered the culture of smoking in our country. In 2016, just 15 of every 100 adults aged 18 and older were smokers — a huge decline from the 1960s.

Can gun culture be similarly uncoupled from Americana?
Gun control can reduce the bloodshed, but I don't think we'll ever really make a dent in the problem until the country, including red America, begins to regard ownership of huge arsenals and quasi-military weapons as appalling and excessive. The culture will also have to start notice that our easy commerce in guns is making it far too easy for the sociopathic, the reckless, and the suicidal to shed blood.

But even if individuals turn away from the gun culture as it exists now, defenders of the culture will still dominate the debate, just as they do now, because of the NRA and right-wing media.

I know that industry lobbyists fought hard to save the tobacco culture. But the tobacco industry was never able to persuade heartlanders that smoking was a way to get back at elitist liberals who wanted to control ordinary people's lives. That's the message we would have heard if the surgeon general's report had been issued in 2004 rather than 1964.

Fox and the rest of the right-wing media would have worked closely with the tobacco industry to discredit the report as "junk science," just the way the right-wing media now works to discredit legitimate climate science. Any links between smoking and disease would have been mocked as fantasies cooked up by agenda-driven liberals determined to exercise social control for its own sake. Smoking would be identified with patriotism and freedom; Fox hosts would personally do a lot of on-air smoking. The science would be mocked at Drudge and Breitbart, on talk radio, and in right-wing podcasts and YouTube videos. (I'm sure Alex Jones would have many fascinating theories.)

As long as we have a right-wing media with as much power as it has now, and as long as its sworn mission is to oppose anything liberals support, cultural change will be tremendously difficult -- especially if the Republican Party remains as dominant as it is today. In the years following the surgeon general's report, the anti-smoking message met less resistance than it would meet now.

So I think change on guns will come slowly, if at all. Conservatism has too much power.


The summit hasn't happened yet, and it may not, but Donald Trump's administration is already patting him on the back for it (and being awfully nice to Kim Jong Un as well):
The White House Communications Agency on Monday released a commemorative “trip coin” to mark the upcoming summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

One side of the coin features Air Force One taking off over the White House, while the flip side depicts silhouettes of Trump and Kim. The coin refers to Kim as “supreme leader,” and denotes the occasion as “peace talks.”

What's done with these coins?
The White House has a long history of minting commemorative coins, including the president’s newly redesigned coin, which are given out to visiting dignitaries and others.
And, clearly, photos of them are released to the media, which informs the public about them, to the greater glory of the endlessly glory-seeking president. Trump really has an addict's craving for glory, doesn't he?

Jonathan Chait makes an obvious point:

Right -- it's clear that Trump wants this summit desperately, whereas Kim can probably take it or leave it. Kim wanted to be accepted as the equal of major world leaders, and Trump agreed to elevate his status, so Kim has already won. Kim can win again if he blows Trump off, thus demonstrating how easy it is for him to play Trump. Bu

But Trump doesn't care -- his ego needs this summit and he's fine with weakening America's bargaining position if that's what it takes to get it. Although his desperation for any deal makes it extremely unlikely that he'll get a good one, all he has to do is say he got a good one and his fan base will agree, and will accept his insistence that a great deal came about because he was a tough guy. (That's basically what he's saying about trade negotiations with China, despite the evidence that he's getting rolled.) So he gets praise at multiple points, regardless of what happens to U.S. policy. (Probably, as in the case of China, it won't change much.) There's no Art of the Deal, but there is an art of satisfying Trump's glory cravings on an ongoing basis.

Final thought: I guarantee that there are "Nobel Prize Winner Donald J. Trump" coins already in the works, assuming they haven't already been pressed.


Here are the lead paragraphs of a New York Times story about opinions on guns in Texas after the Santa Fe shooting:
One mile from the scene of the shooting that left 10 people dead at her school, Monica Bracknell, a senior at Santa Fe High School, approached Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in the lobby of Arcadia First Baptist Church here Sunday morning.

Her message was simple: The violence was not “a political issue,” she told Mr. Abbott, explaining to reporters afterward that schools needed to be safer but restricting the availability of guns was not the way to achieve it.

After the February rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., students there helped ignite the most successful push for action on gun control in decades in that state. There is little indication of anything similar in Texas, a place where guns are hard-wired into the state’s psyche, Republicans control virtually all the levers of power, and where the victims of Friday’s rampage in a conservative rural area are showing little of the anti-gun fervor that followed the Parkland shooting in a more diverse, suburban one.

In the wake of the tragedy, gun issues are likely to take on a new urgency in a few Texas political races, including Republican congressional districts that Democrats are trying to flip, but the debate is far more muted and dominated by support for gun rights than it had been in Florida post-Parkland.

“Florida is a swing state,” said Calvin Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “You start with the understanding that Florida is a purple state in which Democrats and Republicans are both competitive. Texas is a deep-red state, in which the Republican Party is in complete and total control. They don’t feel that partisan electoral heat.”

What played out instead was a reminder, as happened after 26 people were killed in a church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Tex., in November, that major gun violence often does not produce a backlash against guns. The differences in how the issue has played out in Texas and Florida illustrate just how hard it can be to establish a consensus on gun issues in America. For gun control advocates, what works in one part of the country does not work in others, even down to the vocabulary used. Some pro-gun Texans question the phrase “gun violence” and avoid using it, saying it is as arbitrary as talking about knife violence.
All of this may be true, and the story goes on for sixteen more paragraphs in this fashion. But then we're told:
Polling shows the state’s voters are more split on guns than popular culture might indicate. According to an October poll by the University of Texas and The Texas Tribune, more than half of the registered voters surveyed said gun control laws should be stricter. Only 13 percent said the laws should be less strict than they are now, and 31 percent would prefer to leave current gun laws unchanged.
My response is: So it's not "popular culture" that's misinforming us about Texans' attitudes regard gun laws -- it's you, New York Times. It's you saying that "guns are hard-wired into the state’s psyche" and quoting (as the story goes on to do) primarily Republican politicians and residents of this rural community. (Texas isn't a rural state -- it has four of the eleven most populous cities in America. City dwellers are Americans, too -- and city dwellers in Texas are Texans.)

I wish this story had examined the disjuncture between the widespread support for at least some tightening of gun laws and the political impossibility of tightening in many parts of America. In Texas, it's not because keeping the gun laws loose is the will of the state's residents -- the poll numbers make that clear -- but because the minority that resists change is dominant. The story could have made clearer that that's what's going on, rather than implying that love of unrestricted guns is essential to the entire state's culture and we liberals just don't understand.

Sunday, May 20, 2018


The L.A. Times reports that Dimitrios Pagourtzis, who's confessed to Friday's school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, targeted a fellow student who'd rejected his advances.
One of Pagourtzis' classmates who died in the attack, Shana Fisher, "had 4 months of problems from this boy," her mother, Sadie Rodriguez, wrote in a private message to the Los Angeles Times on Facebook. "He kept making advances on her and she repeatedly told him no."

Pagourtzis continued to get more aggressive, and she finally stood up to him and embarrassed him in class, Rodriguez said. "A week later he opens fire on everyone he didn't like," she wrote. "Shana being the first one." Rodriguez didn't say how she knew her daughter was the first victim.
Most of the online responses I've seen to this story express disgust at Pagourtzis for believing he was entitled to respond to rejection this way. But the Times's framing of the story has also been criticized.

The school shooting happened shortly after New York Times published a profile of the pseudointellectual self-help guru Jordan Peterson, who rails against those who (in his view) pursue "equality of outcomes" -- except when the outcomes involve male access to sex. In such cases, Peterson prefers "equality of outcomes." Peterson was asked about this shortly after a self-proclaimed "involuntary celibate," Alex Minassian, killed ten people in Toronto.
Violent attacks are what happens when men do not have partners, Mr. Peterson says, and society needs to work to make sure those men are married.

“He was angry at God because women were rejecting him,” Mr. Peterson says of the Toronto killer. “The cure for that is enforced monogamy. That’s actually why monogamy emerges.”

... But aside from interventions that would redistribute sex, Mr. Peterson is staunchly against what he calls “equality of outcomes,” or efforts to equalize society. He usually calls them pathological or evil.

He agrees that this is inconsistent. But preventing hordes of single men from violence, he believes, is necessary for the stability of society. Enforced monogamy helps neutralize that.

In situations where there is too much mate choice, “a small percentage of the guys have hyper-access to women, and so they don’t form relationships with women,” he said. “And the women hate that.”
Peterson has developed a large following among young conservative-leaners, especially young men. So can we combine these two stories and expect the right to blame the Santa Fe shooting on a teenage girl who said no to the shooter?

So far, I don't see that happening, at least among mainstream wingnuts.

The new NRA president, Ollie North, is playing the old hits:
Two days after a 17-year-old opened fire in his Texas high school, killing at least 10, incoming National Rifle Association president Oliver North said students “shouldn’t have to be afraid” to go to school and blamed the problem on “a culture of violence” in which many young boys have “been on Ritalin” since early childhood.
As was the lieutenant governor of Texas:
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick blamed what he deemed the social acceptance of abortion and violent video games for the epidemic of school gun violence.

“Should we be surprised in this nation? We have devalued life, whether it’s through abortion, whether it’s the breakup of families or violent movies and particularly violent video games, which now outsell music and music,” he said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “Psychologists and psychiatrists will tell you that students are desensitized to violence and have lost empathy to their victims by watching hours and hours of violent video games.”
And the townspeople in Santa Fe seem to like the oldies, too:
Most residents here didn’t blame any gun for the tragedy down the street. Many of them pointed to a lack of religion in schools.

“It’s not the guns. It’s the people. It’s a heart problem,” said Sarah Tassin, 61. “We need to bring God back into the schools.”
These folks have so many go-to scapegoats for gun violence that it's going to be hard for Peterson's idea to break through -- especially because the classics target so many groups right-wingers already hate. Blame secularism? Damn liberals took God out of the schools. Blame movies and video games? Liberals control the entertainment industry. Blame abortion? Liberals, liberals, liberals.

But won't misogynist right-wingers be eager to blame women and girls? Aren't liberals responsible for the sexual revolution? And feminism?

I know -- but if the solution is "enforced monogamy," I don't think the average right-winger is going to buy it.

I know that righties are supposed to be believers in "traditional values" -- but you see how much they admire Donald Trump, don't you? They like sex, including that's not at all consistent with "traditional values." There are just as many strip clubs in red America as in blue America -- maybe more. There's just as much interest in porn. Red America really likes skimpily dressed cheerleaders and the Fox News leg-cam. And country music is full of non-marital sex.

Red America's utter indifference to Donald Trump's sexual predation makes clear that rank-and-file conservatives have no problem if "a small percentage of the guys have hyper-access to women," even if those guys are brutish toward those women, or cheat on their wives with them -- as long as the guys with "hyper-access" are guys they like, namely conservatives with money and power (whom they can imagine they might emulate someday, the same way they imagine they might someday be as rich and gilt-splashed as Trump). Their feelings about rich and powerful men's success with women probably mirror their feelings about economic inequality: If you lose, it's because you're a loser. You deserve it.

The alt-right/incel/Jordan Peterson culture might eventually take over conservatism. But for now, the old ideas still seem to rule.

Saturday, May 19, 2018


Shortly after the mass shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas, Ben Shapiro posted an item at the Daily Wire titled "CNN Says There Have Been 22 School Shootings This Year. That’s a Lie."

When Shapiro says CNN lied, he's lying.

Shapiro writes:
On Friday, CNN reported on the latest awful mass shooting at an American school – this time at the Santa Fe High School in Texas, where 8 people were murdered. According to CNN, one of these shootings has been happening at a school more than once per week:

Every shooting is an act of evil. But this statistic is plainly untrue.
What CNN says here is "plainly untrue"? Really? Explain, Ben.
CNN used the following parameters for their count:

* A shooting that involved at least one person being shot (not including the shooter)

* A shooting that occurred on school grounds

* We included grades K through college/university level

* We included gang violence, fights and domestic violence

* We included accidental discharge of a firearm as long as the first two parameters are met

So, in other words, not mass shootings; not even purposeful shootings; not even shootings involving children. If a gang member shot another gang member on school grounds during the summer, this would count as a school shooting. If a wife shot a husband at a school, they counted it.
Yes, Benjamin, but read the CNN tweet again. It doesn't say there have been 22 mass shootings at schools this year. It doesn't say there have been 22 incidents of deliberate murder by gunfire at schools this year. It doesn't even say there have been 22 incidents of death by gunfire at schools this year.

Benjamin, read the plain text of the tweet.

It says: "this year there have already been 22 school shootings where someone was hurt or killed." And as the CNN story makes clear, that's correct.

Shapiro goes on to "debunk" CNN's assertion:
So here are some of the 22 supposed shootings CNN counted:

* April 12, Rayton, MO: Someone fired a gun in the parking lot of a track meet, and a man was wounded.

* April 9, Globersville, NY: A student shot another student with a BB gun.

* March 13, Seaside, CA: A teacher accidentally discharged a firearm during a public safety class. No one was killed.

* March 8, Mobile, AL: A non-student was shot at an apartment on the University of South Alabama campus.

* March 7, Birmingham, AL: Two students were shot accidentally during dismissal time at a school.

* March 7, Jackson, MS: A student was shot at a dorm at Jackson State University.

* March 2, Mount Pleasant, WA: Two non-students were shot at a dorm at Central Michigan University – and police blamed a domestic dispute.

* February 27, Norfolk, VA: A student at Norfolk State University was apparently accidentally shot from an adjacent dorm room.

* February 27, Itta Bena, MS: A non-student was shot at a recreation center at Mississippi Valley State University.

* February 24, Savannah, GA: A non-student shooter shot a non-student victim on the Savannah State University campus.

* February 9, Nashville, TN: A 14-year-old shot a 17-year-old in a targeted murder attempt in a parking lot of a school.

* February 5, Oxon Hill, MD: Two teenagers shot a third teenager in a robbery attempt outside a school.

* February 1, Los Angeles, CA: A 12-year-old girl accidentally shot two 15-year-olds.

* January 31, Philadelphia, PA: A 32-year-old non-student was shot outside a high school after a fight.

* January 20, Winston Salem, NC: A college football player was shot to death on campus at a party.

None of these events meet the more typical definition of a school shooting: a multiple-murder attempt on a school campus directed at children. CNN merely broadens the definition to include typical murders that happen to take place on school campuses, or in parking lots, or including non-students.
But again, Benjamin, read the damn tweet. CNN didn't say that there have been 22 incidents this year that "meet the more typical definition of a school shooting." CNN said -- forgive me if I'm repeating myself -- that "this year there have already been 22 school shootings where someone was hurt or killed." As you yourself acknowledge, someone was shot -- and, therefore, "hurt" -- in each of the incidents you list.

(Let me correct myself. You don't acknowledge that anyone was hurt in the March 13 incident in Seaside, California, in which a teacher's gun went off during a safety demonstration. In fact, three students were injured in that incident.)

So when you say CNN is lying, you're lying. CNN established strict criteria and you simply don't like those criteria:
That doesn’t mean these incidents are unworthy of reportage. But it’s plainly dishonest to state, as CNN does, that there have been 22 “school shootings” this year. When you remove those on the list that don’t fulfill the typical definition, the number is more like seven. Seven is awful. 22 is blatant misreporting. But CNN has an agenda, and they won't let facts get in the way.
No, it's not "plainly dishonest to state" that 22 incidents meet CNN's criteria. It's not "blatant misreporting." It's accurate reporting. Your post is "blatant misreporting." It's plainly dishonest to state that CNN failed to meet its own criteria when it failed to meet your criteria.

The New York Times has told us that Ben Shapiro "is the cool kid’s philosopher, dissecting arguments with a lawyer’s skill."

That's true -- if the lawyer you have in mind is Rudy Giuliani.

Friday, May 18, 2018


The teenager arrested in today's school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, had a Facebook page that hinted at trouble, as BuzzFeed reports:
On [his] now-deleted Facbeook page, [Dimitrios] Pagourtzis had ... uploaded photos of a military green jacket with what appeared to be Nazi-related insignia.

It's not just Nazi regalia -- there's a hammer-and-sickle pin on the collar and various other menacing symbols. The coat is a duster -- reputedly the favored outerwear of the Columbine killers.

But that hammer-and-sickle pin was just too tempting for Gateway Pundit's Jim Hoft. Did he call Pagourtzis a communist? Nahhh -- that's so twentieth century. Here's Hoft's post:
BREAKING: Santa Fe High School Killer Wore ANTIFA and Columbine Hammer-and-Sickle Pin

... Dimitrios Pagourtzis was wearing a jacket with the ANTIFA terrorist hammer-and-sickle emblem.

They sell these Antifa stars on Amazon.
Go to the Amazon page and you'll see that they're not called "Antifa stars" at all -- the words "Antifa" appears nowhere on the page.

But this is right-wing negative branding. This is Hoft tying Antifa to mass slaughter for a gullible, disturbingly large readership.

And not just Hoft -- Mike Cernovich is on the case, too:

Nice how Cernovich gets "gang logo" in there as well -- the right's booga-booga "Antifa" is not just a murder cult, it's a gang, like ... um, MS-13.

Which brings me to my point. This is one of the right's favorite propaganda techniques: Link anything you possibly can to a group you've pre-demonized, and now you've expanded the fear that drives right-wing group solidarity, and you've also widened the pool of political enemies who are deemed so evil and vicious that they need to be expunged from society. This is essentially what the Trump administration and right-wing media have done with MS-13: They've made their fans believe that a massive percentage of immigrants are MS-13, to the point that every Hispanic immigrant is now suspected by the right of being linked to the gang.

Note that the Hoft/Cernovich "Antifa" trick (Bill Mitchell is in on it, too) is in addition to the fake Pagourtzis Facebook sites that sprang up after the shooting, at least one of which overtly portrayed him as an Antifa backer (though, absurdly, it also depicted him in a Hillary Clinton cap).

Little Green Footballs suspects Russian involvement in that fakery. It's not clear where Hoft and Cernovich got their inspiration.


Bill Gates has America's largest stash of fuck-you money, so he can say this without fearing the wrath of Trump:
Bill Gates discloses in newly revealed footage that President Trump twice asked him to clarify the difference between HIV and human papillomavirus (HPV).

MSNBC’s “All in With Chris Hayes” aired footage Thursday night of the Microsoft founder speaking at a Gates Foundation event, telling the crowd about two meetings he had with Trump, one at Trump Tower during the presidential transition and another at the White House last year.

“Both times he wanted to know if there was a difference between HPV and HIV,” Gates said. “So I was able to explain that those were rarely confused with each other.”
Unfortunately, there's always someone who's willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt, at least up to a point. This time it's Politico's Dan Diamond:

Diamond is right about point (2) -- it would be dangerous if Trump, who's a skeptic, ever convenes the commission on vaccines he once seriously considered creating. But point (1)? Sorry, but age is no excuse for Trump.

Diamond elaborated:

Yes, Trump is an "older American." But he's the president of the United States. There are plenty of subjects on which he's allowed to be just another old guy. I assume he doesn't know the difference between XXXTentacion and Lil Uzi Vert. (Probably he's never even heard of either.) That's fine. It's not a problem if a president doesn't know such things.

But HIV and HPV? Sorry, that's policy stuff. He's supposed to know that. (He also has a son who's at the age when he should be getting the HPV vaccine, according to the CDC.)

But I'm discussing Trump as if he's a normal president and a normal father of a twelve-year-old. We know he's ignorant and incurious. We know he doesn't study anything and wings everything. We know he's simply not interested in learning new things. (We don't really need "more details" to know why he asked about the distinction twice.) And within his family, we know he doesn't do any parenting himself -- he never changed a diaper (by his own admission) and never played with his kids in the park, according to his first wife.

Diamond went on to tweet this:

We know the answer to that: Of course it wouldn't be different. Trump is doing what the religious right wants him to do. Trump always does what the religious right wants him to do. Knowledge wouldn't affect his decision -- he's been handed a to-do list, and he's dutifully checking items off, as Diamond knows, or ought to.

Your media at work, folks.


... members of political tribes seem to have trouble recognizing that they, too, can push people away and energize them to vote for the other side. Nowhere is this more on display today than in liberal control of the commanding heights of American culture.

... Liberals often don’t realize how provocative or inflammatory they can be. In exercising their power, they regularly not only persuade and attract but also annoy and repel.

... It’s one thing to police your own language and a very different one to police other people’s. The former can set an example. The latter is domineering.
--Gerard Alexander, "Liberals, You’re Not as Smart as You Think," New York Times, May 12, 2018

Conservatives, I guess, are never guilty of offending liberals through an arrogant sense of superiority -- if I imagine that they are, it must be because I'm a hypersensitive left-leaning snowflake. So I suppose I shouldn't be appalled to learn that not one but two Republican candidates in the Georgia governor's race are trying to intimidate undocumented immigrants with their big vehicles.

One of the candidates you've probably heard of.
It's the kind of message you don't expect to see on a US election campaign bus: "FOLLOW ME TO MEXICO."

Those are the words on the back door of a repainted school bus Michael Williams is using to drum up support in his bid for the Georgia governor's seat. He's dubbed it the "Deportation Bus" and says it's a show of support for the Trump administration's crackdown on illegal immigration....

"We are going to implement my 287(g) deportation plan. That's going to fill this bus with illegals, to send them back to where they came from." Williams says.
For good measure, Williams says he's not conducting "one of those pansy political bus tours," as metal guitars play in the background. Can you feel the hair growing on your chest?

I know, I know: Williams isn't much of a threat. He's way back in the polls. The bus broke down on the road yesterday. Cracker Barrel told Williams the bus isn't welcome at its restaurants. DeKalb County police suggested that the Williams campaign faked a claim of violence directed at the bus.

But Williams isn't the only candidate threatening undocumented immigrants with a big vehicle. Here's Brian Kemp, who's a front-runner in the race:

Kemp says:
I'm Brian Kemp. I'm so conservative, I blow up government spending. I own guns that no one's takin' away. My chainsaw's ready to rip up some regulations. I got a big truck, just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take 'em home myself. Yep, I just said that. I'm Brian Kemp. If you want a politically incorrect conservative, that's me.
The macho strutting -- explosives! a rifle! a chainsaw! a big truck! -- is laughable, but the point is that Kemp, who has an excellent shot at being the next governor in this still-red state, is saying, "Vote for me -- I'll go out of my way to offend liberals."

What the Gerard Alexanders don't understand is that there are large swaths of America where people like Kemp and Williams are at the "commanding heights" of the local culture, and are just as "domineering" and offensive as Alexander claims liberals are. In fact, I can't think of any Democrat who's ever made an ad or a speech saying, "I'm really going to make those right-wing yokels squeal. I'm going to wear a pussy hat and use a non-gender-binary bathroom and deliver all my speeches in Spanish, while eating all my meals from Whole Foods. Take that, deplorables!" A Democrat might attack conservatives on policy with this much relish, and might personally be a lefty cultural cliché -- but no Democrat would devote an entire ad to offending the other side culturally.

And yet it's our side that's accused of this, while conservatives aren't.

Thursday, May 17, 2018


A day after The Washington Post's James Hohmann told us that "the far left is winning the Democratic civil war," we have this headline on the front page of the print New York Times:

"Hard to the left"? Omigod! Is Phil Murphy nationalizing the means of production? Is he breaking the eyeglasses of intellectuals and forcing them to do stoop labor on collective farms?

No -- he's being a liberal.
A recently adopted equal pay law has put New Jersey at the forefront of national efforts to narrow the gender wage gap. The state’s new automatic voter registration law ranks among the most sweeping in the country, while its funding of Planned Parenthood, package of gun control laws, renewable energy legislation and a measure to provide state financial aid to immigrants who came to the United States as children are all part of the progressive playbook.
And the "liberal" New York Times is not amused:
In a state whose political profile has been marked by scandal and dominated most recently by a bellicose Republican governor, the first few months of Gov. Philip D. Murphy’s Democratic tenure have seen an abrupt ideological makeover as New Jersey lurches to the left, joining the ranks of the most liberal states in the nation.

His aggressive steering reflects the mandate Mr. Murphy believes he was given last year by his lopsided victory.

But his policies have also left Republicans and even moderate Democrats with a case of whiplash and raised serious questions about how Mr. Murphy will pay for his agenda in a state saddled with severe financial difficulties.
We know Murphy is a dangerous radical because his Republican opposition is made to seem so middle-of-the-road:
... Mr. Murphy’s approach has provoked fierce backlash from many Republicans.

“He’s not liberal; he’s extreme,” said Jon Bramnick, the Republican minority leader in the State Assembly. “I don’t even have a problem with people who are somewhat liberal, though I may disagree with them. But this is not a liberal agenda. This is an extreme left-wing agenda that is sending people out of the state who might have stayed.”

... Mr. Bramnick, who at times has been critical of Mr. Trump, believes that the shift to the left could help increase support for the Republican Party, and he has been trying to appeal to moderate voters and the state’s significant number of independents under the banner of “rallying the reasonable.”
Whereas all this New Jersey progressivism is ... a contagion!
The state’s shifting political winds extend beyond Mr. Murphy.... Four of the state’s five Republican-held congressional seats are considered competitive in this year’s midterm elections. The State Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of a stricter separation of church and state. And the mayor of Hoboken, Ravinder S. Bhalla, the first Sikh to be elected mayor in New Jersey, issued an ordinance that public and private single-occupancy restrooms be gender-neutral.

Gurbir Grewal, who achieved a milestone as the first Sikh in the country to become a state attorney general, has joined numerous lawsuits against the Trump administration, including challenges to the travel ban and to a prohibition on transgender people in the military.
Not only is there leftism all over the state, but the Sikhs are taking over!

(The success of these Sikhs in New Jersey politics seems interesting, but I'm not sure why the faith of these officials is relevant to this story.)

Approximately eight years ago, when Chris Christie was in his first year as New Jersey's governor, the Times was noticeably more impressed:
New Jersey Governor Defies Political Expectations

A momentous deal to cap property taxes was all but done, but Gov. Chris Christie was taking no chances, barnstorming the state to commiserate with squeezed homeowners and keep pressure on the Legislature.

Outside a farmhouse here in central New Jersey last week, buttoned up in a dark suit despite the triple-digit heat, Mr. Christie promised to tackle rising pension costs, transportation financing, municipal spending — all while poking fun at his opponents, the news media and, mostly, himself....

It was a model taste of Mr. Christie, six months into his term as governor: blunt, energetic, clearly enjoying himself.

And having his way.

Mr. Christie has turned out to be a far more deft politician than his detractors — and even some supporters — had expected, making few compromises as he pursues a broad agenda for remaking New Jersey’s free-spending political culture. So far, polls suggest, the public is giving him the benefit of the doubt.
One poli sci professor is quoted as saying, “You can’t deny that he’s been a tour de force in Trenton." A Democratic operative says, “I think the tough times have dictated straight talk and forceful moves, and that fits him quite well.” A possible presidential bid is discussed.

The following year, the Times Magazine would run a cover story on Christie:

The subhead is "How a no-name New Jersey governor became a Republican superstar."

The story, by then-Timesman Matt Bai, was a bit more skeptical than the cover, but Bai found Christie's star power undeniable, and believed he was succeeding because he'd identified a real villain:
What makes Christie compelling to so many people isn’t simply plain talk or swagger, but also the fact that he has found the ideal adversary for this moment of economic vertigo. Ronald Reagan had his “welfare queens,” Rudy Giuliani had his criminals and “squeegee men,” and now Chris Christie has his sprawling and powerful public-sector unions — teachers, cops and firefighters who Christie says are driving up local taxes beyond what the citizenry can afford, while also demanding the kind of lifetime security that most private-sector workers have already lost.
Yup -- public-sector workers, a.k.a. history's greatest monsters.

That's The New York Times for you. Fast-forward to the present day and the Times is fretting about Phil Murphy's alleged fiscal imprudence:
New Jersey owes its state-run pension system $119 billion, according to Standard & Poor’s Global Ratings, one of the largest debt obligations in the country, which has contributed to 11 credit downgrades in the past decade. The state also has the nation’s highest property taxes, with many residents facing higher bills under the recent federal tax overhaul, while it has consistently underfunded local school districts.

At the same time, Mr. Murphy’s $37.4 billion budget comes with $2.7 billion in new spending, including proposals to make community colleges tuition-free for many families, to expand prekindergarten and to significantly increase funding for the state’s beleaguered public transit system. But to pay for all this, Mr. Murphy is counting on initiatives that so far have been coolly received by some leaders in the Democratic-controlled Legislature — notably $1.7 billion in new taxes, including a levy on the wealthy, and the legalization of recreational marijuana, which would also add to the state’s coffers.
New Jersey has more millionaires per capita than any state in the union apart from Maryland, but, sorry, there's more will than wallet, according to the "liberal" New York Times.

And that's what we're going to hear from the Times in 2020: Yes, Trump is awful, but all those government programs being proposed by Gillibrand (or Sanders or Harris or Booker or Warren) -- we simply can't afford them! Why won't the Democratic presidential aspirants acknowledge our very real budgetary woes?

The "liberal" media will find the 2020 Democrats too liberal. Mark my words.


There's an implausible passage in yesterday's big New York Times story about the origins of the FBI's Trump-Russia investigation:
The facts, had they surfaced, might have devastated the Trump campaign: Mr. Trump’s future national security adviser was under investigation, as was his campaign chairman. One adviser appeared to have Russian intelligence contacts. Another was suspected of being a Russian agent himself.
Do you believe that? Do you believe there's a chance that this information "might have devastated the Trump campaign"?

I don't. I realize it's 20/20 hindsight, but we now know that there was nothing anyone could say that was going to reduce the Trump vote in November 2016. His fan club thought he could do no wrong. Apart from a handful of professional pundits who occupied the #NeverTrump market niche, the rest of the GOP decided to sink or swim with Trump, and nothing that was revealed during the campaign, or has been revealed since, has made any of those Republicans waver in their support. The Russia revelations we have now haven't alienated his backers. Why would things have been different two years ago?

More plausible are these passages from the Times story:
[FBI a]gents ... worried that any overt actions against Mr. Trump’s campaign would only reinforce his claims that the election was being rigged against him.


But officials have told the inspector general something quite different. They said [FBI agent Lisa] Page and others advocated a slower, circumspect pace [for the investigation], especially because polls predicted Mr. Trump’s defeat. They said that anything the F.B.I. did publicly would only give fodder to Mr. Trump’s claims on the campaign trail that the election was rigged.
It angers me that The New York Times ran a story eight days before the election titled "Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia" -- but in retrospect it's clear that Trump had a successful strategy in place whether he seemed to be under a cloud or not. If he appeared to be in the clear, as this Times story suggested he was, he could sell himself as much cleaner than Crooked Hillary. On the other hand, if the public had been told what the FBI was learning, Trump would have begun shouting "Witch hunt!" even earlier, and we'd have probably had the same electoral outcome, because his voters would have wanted to stick it to the FBI. It was win-win for Trump.

Hillary Clinton had the opposite problem. When she was cleared, Trump -- and anti-Clinton progressives, and Russian propaganda -- said she'd been let off easy. The same thing probably would have been said if she'd been cleared without a James Comey lecture. And when her case was reopened shortly before the election, that was a sign that she was guilty too (even though, of course, it wasn't). Much of the public concluded that she was guilty if she was declared innocent and she was guilty if she was accused of being guilty. For her it was lose-lose.

The "liberal media" didn't close ranks around Clinton, nor did the loudest progressives. The most influential segments of the conservative media did close ranks around Trump, as did nearly every Republican politician.

Clinton didn't know how to turn bad news to her advantage. For Trump, all bad news was part of the elitist plot against him.

So, yes, there was a double standard: We were told a lot about the investigation of Hillary Clinton and next to nothing about the Trump investigation. The treatment of them by the FBI and the media should have been more equitable.

But, electorally, it wouldn't have made a difference. Trump thrived on bad news as well as good news. Clinton couldn't benefit from either.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018


We've all heard the laments: Democrats can't just be anti-Trump! Democrats can't survive on anti-Trumpism alone! Democrats have to stand for something!

And then when they do, they hear this from The Washington Post's James Hohmann:
The far left is winning the Democratic civil war

... The success of very liberal candidates in primaries across four states is causing a new bout of heartburn among party strategists in Washington, who worry about unelectable activists thwarting their drive for the House majority. But it also reflects a broader leftward lurch among Democrats across the country since President Trump took office.

-- In Nebraska, a liberal social worker and political neophyte ... scored a shocking upset in a Democratic primary to take on Rep. Don Bacon (R). Kara Eastman, 45, beat former congressman Brad Ashford, 68, in an Omaha-area district that national Democrats believed they could pick up in November.
Good Lord, what does this "far left" candidate stand for?
[Eastman] built her campaign around “Medicare for All” ...

Eastman advocated for universal background checks to buy guns, raising taxes and decriminalizing marijuana.
So radical!

What other wild-eyed crazies won yesterday?
In Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, where GOP Rep. Charlie Dent’s retirement created a winnable open seat for Democrats, early front-runner John Morganelli — a district attorney who has been locally prominent for decades — lost the primary to attorney Susan Wild, who ran at him from the left.
Why would Wild do something so reckless as run against a fellow Democrat from the left?
Morganelli, who opposes abortion rights and “sanctuary cities,” was attacked relentlessly on the airwaves for speaking positively about Trump and tweeting that he was open to taking a job in the administration during the transition.

(Check out the "Principles" section of Wild's campaign site for all of her extremist, nutball ideas -- strong unions, apprenticeship programs, and rural broadband! Practically out of The Communist Manifesto! Allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices! Restoring the full Voting Rights Act and reversing Citizens United! Loonier and loonier!)

Hohmann goes on and on in this vein, and yet he concedes:
If Democrats are going to retake the House, Pennsylvania will be the keystone. It’s realistic that Democrats could pick up as many as a half-dozen seats of the 24 they need there.
What?! Even after nominating all those pinko candidates?

First of all, Democrats still seem to have an enthusiasm advantage, as Hohmann makes clear:
Democratic enthusiasm was on display across the country: They cast about 100,000 more ballots than Republicans in Pennsylvania. In northwest Pennsylvania’s Erie County, a linchpin of Trump’s narrow 2016 victory in the state, 5,000 more Democrats voted than Republicans. In the race for Dent’s open seat in the Lehigh Valley, there were about 42,000 votes in the Democratic primary and 29,000 in the also competitive Republican contest.
Second, we don't know what's acceptable and unacceptable to voters anymore. Heartlanders have been conditioned not to like people they regard as effete liberal elitists -- but it's also clear from most polling that heartlanders are worried about health care and other kitchen-table issues, and aren't exactly head over heels in love with capitalism these days. I think it's possible that you can win even in a not very liberal district if you have progressive economic ideas, as long as you seem like regular folks to the voters. Tell me, does this look like an ivory-tower coastal elitist to you?

There are going to be mismatches. Some Democratic candidates will be too progressive for their states or districts. But some centrist Democrats are uninspiring and lose anyway. In this political climate, we can't be sure of the right fit.

I still say you should absolutely vote Democratic in a general election if a centrist won the primary -- the Republican Party is so vile and toxic right now that any opportunity to weaken its grip on power must be seized. And even the most disappointing Democrat centrists have better voting records than, say, supposed moderate Susan Collins, who votes with President Trump 81% of the time. I wish Joe Manchin's number were a lot lower than 61%, but I'll take that 20%, and remember that the number for his potential GOP replacement would be close to 100% -- and that replacement would also vote to keep Mitch McConnell as majority leader.

Beating Republicans is good. Progressive ideas are also good. Let's just keep fighting.


Interesting item from Axios's Sara Fischer about the right's media strategy:
Pro-Trump media is spreading across the U.S., disseminating Trumpian rhetoric about fake news and mainstream media bias through every medium.

The big picture, from Rodney Benson, chair of NYU's Department of Media, Culture, and Communication: "Many of the media moving toward subscriptions have disproportionately left-liberal audiences. ... While liberal media draw their circles ever tighter around themselves (via paywalls, high-level content, etc.), conservatives are fighting to extend their mass reach."
The link in the paragraph above cites an earlier Axios post, which notes that Bloomberg, Vanity Fair, Wired, Business Insider, and The Atlantic have all recently introduced paywalls, while important newspapers -- The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal -- have tightened already existing paywalls.

So as serious news organizations make news less accessible, what's the right doing? Fischer notes the moves made by Sinclair on TV and Salem on radio to push pro-Trump content, as well as Newsmax TV's reported effort to raise its profile by hiring Bill O'Reilly for a new show.

A handful of local news sites, like “Tennessee Star” and the “Arizona Monitor,” are popping up, with headlines supporting GOP candidates that are then sometimes featured for GOP election ads, Politico reports. These sites are intentionally framed to look like real news websites....
Starting about thirty years ago, conservatives began to take over an unfashionable part of the media -- the AM radio dial. We see how that turned out: In much of the heartland, Rush Limbaugh could plausibly call himself "America's anchorman" -- he really was many Americans' main source for news (and still is to some extent).

Now we're supposedly in a cord-cutting Netflix-and-chill era -- but maybe Sinclair's bet on local broadcast news is no crazier than the talkers' bet on AM. And the fake local news sites probably don't even have to make a profit -- they're basically political contributions by other means, whether from U.S. plutocrats or the Kremlin (or both).

I think we're a long way from the Russianization of our media -- but we could well be heading in that direction. Right-wing incursions into untrendy media spaces could be a significant part of the trend.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018


I agree with Paul Waldman that Democratic efforts to win the respect of Trump voters are futile:
... the mistake is to ignore where the belief in Democratic disrespect actually comes from and to assume that Democrats have it in their power to banish it.

It doesn’t come from the policies advocated by the Democratic Party, and it doesn’t come from the things Democratic politicians say. Where does it come from? An entire industry that’s devoted to convincing white people that liberal elitists look down on them.

... The right has a gigantic media apparatus that is devoted to convincing people that liberals disrespect them, plus a political party whose leaders all understand that that idea is key to their political project and so join in the chorus at every opportunity.

If you doubt this, I’d encourage you to tune in to Fox News or listen to conservative talk radio for a week. When you do, you’ll find that again and again you’re told stories of some excess of campus political correctness, some obscure liberal professor who said something offensive, some liberal celebrity who said something crude about rednecks or some Democratic politician who displayed a lack of knowledge of a conservative cultural marker. The message is pounded home over and over: They hate you and everything you stand for.
Right -- little of the so-called disrespect for Trump Country voters is coming from Democratic politicians. Most comes from people outside politics whose words are hung around the necks of Democratic officeholders and candidates. When a Dem politician does say something offensive to white heartlanders -- Barack Obama's "cling to guns and religion" remark, or Hillary Clinton talking about "deplorables" -- the statement is put on auto-repeat in the right-wing press. Consumers of right-wing media never hear words of sincere outreach from Democrats (Waldman quotes examples from Clinton and Obama). The words that give offense remain front and center.

But that's not the only reason Trump voters are unreachable for Democrats. Another reason is that Trump voters identify with the president so closely that you literally can't criticize him without making his supporters believe you're criticizing them.

Consider the new book The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics, written by journalist and "Trump whisperer" Salena Zito and GOP political consultant Brad Todd. Emma Green has reviewed the book for The Atlantic, and it's clear that many of Zito and Todd's interviewees believe Trump is them and they are Trump.

Green writes:
... voters who had lived through a major crisis or setback felt drawn to Trump’s narrative of self-reinvention, Zito and Todd argue. “One of the things I really don’t get about the Democratic Party or the news media is the lack of respect they give to people who work hard all of their lives to get themselves out of the hole,” said a Michigan woman who owns a variety store. “It is as though they want to punish us for the very things we hold dear: hard work, no dependence on the government, no debt, and so on.”
Try to ignore the notion that living with "no debt" is one of things Donald Trump "hold[s] dear" -- what's clear from this is that the Michigan woman thinks Trump, like her, is a self-made bootstrapper who overcame setbacks through nothing but determination and grit.

More from Green:
Conservative Christians who stuck with Trump through scandals did it for political ends, the authors write. “I was looking for a warrior for our values, for righting the direction of the country,” a 44-year-old woman from Bristol, Wisconsin, said. “When [Trump] said he would appoint Supreme Court justices who would uphold the values of our country and our Constitution, I started to bend towards listening to what he stood for.”
This is another voter who thinks Trump shares her values.

Then there were the Rotary Club presidents and civic leaders from middle-class or rural areas—the college-educated professionals who didn’t feel the same kind of Trump-shame as their urban peers. “There was this sense of reality with him,” said a 39-year-old restaurant owner from Pennsylvania. “It has gotten so in this country that you are not quite sure what you can say to people that might offend them. Things you would never think would make people offended. The politically correct stuff has gotten overboard.”
Translation: Trump dares to say what I think.

Why should Democrats try to win these voters over? How can they possibly do that and still be Democrats? To be a Democrat is to believe that Trump's policies (and rhetoric) are overwhelmingly wrong -- but if you think anything about Trump is wrong, Trump voters won't just say you're insulting him, they'll say you're insulting them.

It's hopeless. They can't be won back. We can't persuade them -- we have to outvote them.


John McCain was a brave POW who became a fair-weather maverick in Congress, a senator who was never particularly courageous, his press clips notwithstanding. But now he's gravely ill and I don't feel qualified to judge him in matters of health. However, Gateway Pundit's Kristinn Taylor isn't being quite so fastidious.
Melania Trump and Harry Reid Both Had Surgery on Monday, Guess Who John McCain Offered His ‘Prayers and Best Wishes’ To?

First Lady Melania Trump had surgery on Monday for a benign kidney problem that will keep her hospitalized for several days. Also on Monday, retired Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had surgery to treat pancreatic cancer.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who has been at the center of a Beltway controversy over an insensitive comment about his ill health made in a private meeting by a White House staffer that was leaked to the press, posted his ‘prayers and best wishes’ to only one of the two:

“From one cantankerous senator to another, sending my prayers & best wishes to @SenatorReid as he recovers from a successful surgery”

McCain did not send get well wishes to the First Lady.
I don't know which is more unacceptable to Taylor: McCain's failure to send best wishes to the wife of a man who despises him and whose administration has closed ranks around a staffer who showed contempt for him -- or the fact that McCain sent best wishes to a former colleague who, like him, has been diagnosed with a very serious form of cancer, but who happens to be a Democrat. A true patriot wants all Democrats to suffer slow, painful deaths -- isn't that obvious?

I'm no fan of the First Lady, who publicly defended her husband's birtherism long before he ran for president, and who has enabled him since -- but I wish her a speedy recovery. McCain, as far as I'm concerned, doesn't have to. But right-wingers always need fresh grievances to collect and lovingly nurture, so we have this post directed at a man who, for all the hate directed at him by Trump and his cult, has voted with the president 83% of the time. I can't imagine how nasty the Trumpers will be about McCain after he's gone.


As you probably know by now, a large number of American evangelicals are delighted with the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem because they believe that the relocation of the embassy will hasten the arrival of the end of the world. Vox's Tara Isabella Burton explains:
For many evangelical Christians — including those who have Trump’s ear — moving the embassy to Jerusalem isn’t just about temporal political goals. Rather, the embassy move is one that will yield cosmic, and catastrophic, results. Evangelicals who subscribe to the quintessentially American tradition of premillennial dispensationalist theology, Trump’s decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem is a necessary step in bringing about the apocalypse.

... books like Hal Lindsey’s 1970 work The Late, Great Planet Earth (as well as the wildly popular Left Behind series of Christian apocalyptic action novels) popularized a general vision of the end times many evangelicals today share. By and large, these visions ... share a common shape. Jesus’s return will immediately follow the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and the restoration of Israel as an exclusively Jewish state.

... Apocalypse is to be hoped for because it presages Christ’s return.

... For many evangelicals, only a fully Jewish Jerusalem will satisfy the prophetic preconditions necessary for the desired end times.
What happens to non-Christians in the End Times? Pastor Robert Jeffress, a Trump favorite who was invited to speak at the opening of the embassy, has made that clear:
He's said that "religions like Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism ... lead people to an eternity of separation from God in Hell." He's called Islam an "evil, evil, religion," referred to Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism as "false religions," and said Catholicism is a "counterfeit religion" that rose from a "cult-like, pagan religion." Jeffress said of Judaism: "Judaism, you can't be saved being a Jew, you know who said that by the way, the three greatest Jews in the New Testament, Peter, Paul, and Jesus Christ, they all said Judaism won't do it, it's faith in Jesus Christ."
So the hoped-for End Times will be awesome for Christians of this particular stripe and will presumably be terrible for everyone else.

This is a contemporary right-wing politics in a nutshell.

How do right-wingers decide which policies to support? It's simple: They support whatever infuriates or actively harms their political enemies -- and they don't care what happens to society as a whole. They support President Trump's saber-rattling in the Middle East because it enrages their domestic enemies and inflames the region -- but they assume no harm will personally come to themselves as a result of the policies. They like loose gun laws that result in increased American bloodshed, because they know they won't die in the high-crime cities they never visit, and they assume their kids will never die in a school shooting or a gun suicide. They like voter ID laws because they can easily obtain birth certificates and driver's licenses, so who cares what the laws do to democracy in America? They're fine with police brutality against non-whites because they're white and so they don't have to worry about it. They want Obamacare repealed because most of them have employer-paid insurance or Medicare, and who cares what happens to America when other people can't afford to stay well?

Pre-millennial dispensationism is the ultimate right-wing religious belief: Let's do what we can to make the end of the world arrive sooner, even though other people will go to hell, because we won't. We don't care about the majority of our fellow humans -- all we care about is ourselves and our tribe. We'll happily make things catastrophic for everyone else if it means we can get what we want.

That's really the definition of modern conservatism.