The (Green) New Deal wasn’t (and isn’t)

Jonah Goldberg:

In his piece “There Is No Green New Deal,” Charlie writes:

What Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has thrust upon our national conversation is not, in any sense, a “Green New Deal.” It does not resemble a Green New Deal. It does not approximate a Green New Deal. It does not so much as represent the shadows or the framework or the embryo of a Green New Deal. It is, instead, the inchoate shopping list of a political novice who has managed to get herself elected to Congress and believes that this has turned her into a visionary.

I agree with that, but it’s worth reminding folks that there was never any single coherent thing called “the New Deal.” From the beginning, FDR was clear that he was winging it. At Oglethorpe University, he famously set the tone for what they were up to: “bold, persistent experimentation.” He added, “It is common sense to take a method and try it; if it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

Roosevelt fans on the left — and of late on the right — have lionized FDR’s “pragmatism” ever since. But this is a terrible credo for a nation committed to the idea that we live under the rule of law, not of men. Some avenues are supposed to be closed off from “experimentation.” Let’s try getting rid of the Bill of Rights for a bit and see if we can’t get great things done! Let’s be — as Tom Friedman puts it — “China for a Day.” Implicit in the idea of experimentation from Washington is the idea that planners should not be constrained. Implicit in the idea of a constitutional republic is that they should be. As we put it in our editorial on the Green New Deal, “The Left really has only one idea: control” — and that is the idea implicit in New Deal–style “experimentation.”

But there’s something else implicit in the idea of such experimentation: a total lack of policy coherence.

The New Deal cargo-cultists have a vexing habit of pointing at the things they like or liked about the New Deal and saying, “That’s the New Deal.” So they like Social Security but are silent — usually from ignorance — about the policies that caused blacks to protest the NRA (National Recovery Administration) as the “Negro Run Around” and “Negroes Ruined Again.” They like all the government makework for artists and writers but don’t talk about the little things, like Jacob Maged or the scuttling of the London Economic Conference, that helped deepen the Depression.

The simple fact, as I argued here, is there was no single New Deal (which is one reason why historians talk about the second New Deal, which produced most of the stuff people associate with the good New Deal). It was the steady pursuit of control and constantly updated wish lists. As FDR told Congress in 1936:

We have built up new instruments of public power. In the hands of a people’s government this power is wholesome and proper. But in the hands of political puppets of an economic autocracy such power would provide shackles for the liberties of the people.

In other words, so long as we have the power, whatever we want to do is “wholesome and proper.” But if our political opponents get power, look out!

“I want to assure you,” FDR’s aide Harry Hopkins told an audience of New Deal activists in New York, “that we are not afraid of exploring anything within the law, and we have a lawyer who will declare anything you want to do legal.”

The New Deal wasn’t a program, it was the by-product of ad hoc experimentation by people who thought their own power was self-justifying. And to look back on it as somehow more coherent than the would-be Green New Deal is to give it too much credit.

“To look upon these programs as the result of a unified plan,” wrote Raymond Moley, FDR’s right-hand man during much of his rule, “was to believe that the accumulation of stuffed snakes, baseball pictures, school flags, old tennis shoes, carpenter’s tools, geometry books, and chemistry sets in a boy’s bedroom could have been put there by an interior decorator.” When Alvin Hansen, an influential economic adviser to the president, was asked — in 1940 — whether “the basic principle of the New Deal” was “economically sound,” he responded, “I really do not know what the basic principle of the New Deal is.”

It was control. And wish lists. And it was ever thus.

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Green Fantasyland

Jonah Goldberg:

On Thursday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced what many news outlets described as “legislation” for the Green New Deal, a wildly ambitious plan to eliminate the American fossil fuel industry within a decade or so. It’s worth noting that it’s not legislation as people normally understand the term. It’s a resolution titled “Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal.” In other words, even if it passed — a considerable if — nothing would really happen.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi isn’t taking it too seriously. She didn’t put Ocasio-Cortez on the new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, and when asked about the resolution, she was dismissive.

“It will be one of several or maybe many suggestions that we receive,” Pelosi said. “The green dream or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it, right?”

I bring this up for the simple reason that a lot of people on the left and right have every incentive to make this thing a much bigger deal than it is.

Still, given that almost everyone running for the Democratic presidential nomination feels obliged to say they’re for it, it’s worth taking somewhat seriously.

This raises the first of several problems: It’s not a very serious proposal. The goal is to eliminate the fossil fuel industry over a decade and, perversely, phase out nuclear power over a slightly longer period. All of the jobs dependent on these industries would be replaced by government-guaranteed jobs.

“We set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years,” the backers explain in an outline, “because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast, but we think we can ramp up renewable manufacturing and power production, retrofit every building in America, build the smart grid, overhaul transportation and agriculture, plant lots of trees and restore our ecosystem to get to net-zero.”

Well, at least the plan isn’t too ambitious. Retrofitting “every building in America” can be done in 10 years, but eliminating all the gassy cows will take a bit longer. Maybe we’ll move them all to Hawaii, which with the near-abolition of airplanes will be effectively cut off from America anyway.

Even if you take these goals seriously, as a practical matter it’s a fantasy masquerading as green virtue-signaling.

But it’s a fantasy based on a worldview that should be treated seriously because it’s so dangerous. NPR’s Steve Inskeep asked Ocasio-Cortez whether she was comfortable with the “massive government intervention” critics say is required by such an undertaking.

“We have tried their approach for 40 years,” Ocasio-Cortez replied. “For 40 years we have tried to let the private sector take care of this. They said, ‘We got this, we can do this, the forces of the market are going to force us to innovate.’ Except for the fact that there’s a little thing in economics called externalities. And what that means is that a corporation can dump pollution in the river and they don’t have to pay for it, and taxpayers have to pay.”

The fascinating thing is that Ocasio-Cortez thinks this is actually true.

Thanks to the government intervention known as the Clean Water Act and other regulations, corporations can’t pollute waterways. Ironically, the only entities that can pollute with impunity are government agencies such as the EPA, which did precisely that in Colorado in 2015. Closer to home, ExxonMobil has spent millions cleaning up Newtown Creek, which happens to run through Ocasio-Cortez’s native Brooklyn, close to her district. Ironically, the city of New York is still allowed to pollute the creek whenever there’s a heavy rainfall.

Even if Ocasio-Cortez was speaking figuratively in her talk of “externalities,” the larger point remains. The free market hasn’t been given free rein, and over the last 40 years the free market and government regulations alike have made laudable environmental progress. In 2017, the U.S. had the largest reductions of CO2 emissions in the world for the ninth time this century. Rather than celebrate and build on that reality, the Green New Dealers would rather embrace their fantasies — and waste a lot of time and money in the process.

Green crap

No, the headline is not an accident for this piece from David Harsanyi:

A number of Democratic Party presidential hopefuls — including Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Julián Castro, and Beto O’Rourke, for starters — have already endorsed or expressed support for the “Green New Deal” (GND). [Thursday], Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edward J. Markey dropped details about her plan.

It is not hyperbole to contend that GND is likely the most ridiculous and un-American plan that’s ever been presented by an elected official to voters. Not merely because it would necessitate a communist strongman to institute, but also because the societal costs are unfathomable. The risible historic analogies Markey and Ocasio-Cortez rely on, the building of the interstate highway system or moon landing, are nothing are but trifling projects compared to a plan overhauls modernity by voluntarily destroying massive amounts of wealth and technology. That is the GND.

While some of the specifics need to be ironed out, the plan’s authors assure that this “massive transformation of our society” needs some “clear goals and a timeline.” The timeline is ten years. Here are some of the goals:

  • Ban affordable energy. GND calls for the elimination of all fossil fuel energy production, the lifeblood of American industry and life, which includes not only all oil but also natural gas — one of the cheapest sources of American energy, and one of the reasons the United States has been able to lead the world in carbon-emissions reduction.
  • Eliminate nuclear energy. The GND also calls for eliminating all nuclear power, one of the only productive and somewhat affordable “clean” energy sources available to us, in 11 years. This move would purge around 20 percent of American energy production so you can rely on intermittent wind for your energy needs.
  • Eliminate 99 percent of cars. To be fair, under the GND, everyone will need to retrofit their cars with Flintstones-style foot holes or pedals for cycling. The authors state that the GND would like to replace every “combustion-engine vehicle” — trucks, airplanes, boats, and 99 percent of cars — within ten years. Charging stations for electric vehicles will be built “everywhere,” though how power plants will provide the energy needed to charge them is a mystery.
  • Gut and rebuild every building in America. Markey and Cortez want to “retrofit every building in America” with “state of the art energy efficiency.” I repeat, “every building in America.” That includes every home, factory, and apartment building, which will all need, for starters, to have their entire working heating and cooling systems ripped out and replaced with…well, with whatever technology Democrats are going invent in their committee hearings, I guess.
  • Eliminate air travel. GND calls for building out “highspeed rail at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary.” Good luck Hawaii! California’s high-speed boondoggle is already in $100 billion dollars of debt, and looks to be one of the state’s biggest fiscal disasters ever. Amtrak runs billions of dollars in the red (though, as we’ll see, trains will also be phased out). Imagine growing that business model out to every state in America?
  • A government-guaranteed job. The bill promises the United States government will provide every single American with a job that includes a “family-sustaining wage, family and medical leave, vacations, and a pension.” You can imagine that those left in the private sector would be funding these through some unspecified “massive” taxation. On the bright side, when you’re foraging for food, your savings will be worthless.
  • Free education for life. GND promises free college or trade schools for every American.
  • A salubrious diet. The GND promises the government will provide “healthy food” to every American (because there are no beans or lettuce in your local supermarket, I guess).
  • A house. The GND promises that the government will provide, “safe, affordable, adequate housing” for every American citizen. I call dibs on an affordable Adams Morgan townhouse. Thank you, Ocasio-Cortez.
  • Free money. The GND aims to provide, and I am not making this up, “economic security” for all who are “unable or unwilling” to work. Just to reiterate: if you’re unwilling to work, the rest of us will have your back.
  • Bonus insanity: Ban meat. Ocasio-Cortez admits that we can’t get zero emissions in 10 years “because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast.” The only way to get rid of farting cows is to get rid of beef.

The GND uses the word “massive” to explain the size “investments” (formerly known as “taxes”) 13 times. How will we pay for this plan? “The same way we did the New Deal, the 2008 bank bailouts and extend quantitative easing,” say Markey and Cortez, who earned her degree in economics at an institution of higher learning that should be immediately decertified. The plan itself seems to insinuate that billionaires can pay for the whole thing. Of course, best case scenario, it is estimated that instituting a top marginal tax rate of 70 percent would raise a little more than $700 billion over that decade. She does not explain how we’re going to raise the other 20 bazillion dollars it will cost to deconstruct modernity.

Cortez and Markey claim that 92 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans support the Green New Deal. I’m not sure where that number is derived. But ask them again when government agents come to take out their water heater.

This is, bluntly, treason.

Democrats vs. Catholics

New York Roman Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan (formerly of Milwaukee, and I attended one of his Masses once upon a time):

It’s been a rough time for faithful Catholics recently in our state government’s frantic rush for “progressive” ideas.

I’m thinking first of the ghoulish radical abortion-expansion law, which allows for an abortion right up to the moment of birth; drops all charges against an abortionist who allows an aborted baby, who somehow survives the scissors, scalpel, saline and dismemberment, to die before his eyes; mandates that, to make an abortion more convenient and easy, a physician need not perform it; and might even be used to suppress the conscience rights of health care professionals not to assist in the grisly procedures. All this in a state that already had the most permissive abortion laws in the country.

As if that’s not enough, instead of admitting that abortion is always a tragic choice, and that life-giving alternatives should be more vigorously promoted, the governor and his “progressive” supporters celebrated signing the bill. At the governor’s command, even the lights of the Freedom Tower sparkled with delight.

Those who once told us that abortion had to remain safe, legal and rare now have made it dangerous, imposed and frequent.

Then our governor insults and caricatures the church in what’s supposed to be an uplifting and unifying occasion, his “State of the State” address.

The bishops of this state have long supported a reform of the inadequate laws around the sexual abuse of minors. Yes, we and many others expressed reservations about one element, the retroactive elimination of the civil statute of limitations, but urged dramatic reform that, in many ways, was tougher than what was being proposed by legislators. A month ago we renewed that stance, and even dropped our objections to the “look-back” section if all victims would benefit. The governor was aware of all this.

Why, then, would he use his address to blame the church, and only the church, for blocking this bill? Why would he publicly brag in a political address about his dissent from timeless and substantive church belief? Why would he quote Pope Francis out of context as an applause line to misrepresent us bishops here as being opposed to our Holy Father? Why did he reduce the sexual abuse of minors, a broad societal and cultural curse that afflicts every family, public school, religion and government program, to a “Catholic problem?”

I’m a pastor, not a politician, but I feel obliged to ask these questions, as daily do I hear them from my people, as well as colleagues from other creeds. I’ve been attacked in the past when I asked — sadly and reluctantly — if the party that my folks proudly claimed as their own, the Democrats, had chosen to alienate faithful Catholic voters. Now you know why I asked.

As an American historian, I am very aware of our state’s past record of scorn and sneers at Catholics. It used to be called “know-nothings.” Now it’s touted as “progressivism.”

Genuine progressives work to pass a “DREAM act,” a “voters rights act,” a “prison reform act,” and we pastors of the church pitch in to support them. That’s government at its best. I pray that spirit returns.

The New York law that allows abortion up to birth should disgust even those who consider themselves to favor abortion rights.

 

United Socialists of America

The Wall Street Journal:

Now that Donald Trump has criticized the “new calls to adopt socialism in this country,” Democrats and the media are already protesting that the socialist label doesn’t apply to them. But what are they afraid of—the label or their own ideas? The biggest political story of 2019 is that Democrats are embracing policies that include government control of ever-larger chunks of the private American economy.

Merriam-Webster defines socialism as “any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.”

The U.S. may not be Venezuela, but consider the Democratic agenda that is emerging from Congress and the party’s presidential contenders. You decide if the proposals meet the definition of socialism.

• Medicare for All. Bernie Sanders’ plan, which has been endorsed by 16 other Senators, would replace all private health insurance in the U.S. with a federally administered single-payer health-care program. Government would decide what care to deliver, which drugs to pay for, and how much to pay doctors and hospitals. Private insurance would be banned.

As Senator Kamala Harris put it recently on CNN, “the idea is that everyone gets access to medical care, and you don’t have to go through the process of going through an insurance company, having them give you approval, going through the paperwork, all of the delay that may require. Who of us has not had that situation, where you’ve got to wait for approval, and the doctor says, well, I don’t know if your insurance company is going to cover this? Let’s eliminate all of that. Let’s move on.”

If replacing private insurance with government control isn’t socialism, what is?

• The Green New Deal. This idea, endorsed by 40 House Democrats and several Democratic presidential candidates, would require that the U.S. be carbon neutral within 10 years. Non-carbon sources provide only 11% of U.S. energy today, so this would mean a complete remake of American electric power, transportation and manufacturing.

Oh, and as imagined by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, all of this would be planned by a Select Committee For a Green New Deal. Soviet five-year plans were more modest.

• A guaranteed government job for all. To assist in this 10-year transformation of society, the Green New Deal’s authors would “provide all members of our society, across all regions and all communities, the opportunity, training and education to be a full and equal participant in the transition, including through a job guarantee program to assure a living wage job to every person who wants one.”

This is no longer a fringe idea. The Center for American Progress, Barack Obama’s think tank, supports a government job for everyone “to counter the effects of reduced bargaining power, technical change, globalization,” and presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand tweeted her support for it as an alternative to tax reform.

• A new system for corporate control. Senator Elizabeth Warren wants a new federal charter for businesses with more than $1 billion in annual revenue that would make companies answer to more than shareholders. Employees would elect 40% of directors, who would be obliged to consider “benefits” beyond returns to the owners. This radical redesign of corporate governance would give politicians and their interest groups new influence over private business decisions and assets.

• Vastly higher taxes. These ideas would require much more government revenue, and Democrats are eagerly proposing ways to raise it. Mr. Sanders wants to raise the top death tax rate to 77%. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez wants a new 70% tax rate on high incomes, which is supported by the Democratic intelligentsia. The House Ways and Means Committee is working on a plan to raise the payroll tax to 14.8% from 12.4% on incomes above $400,000.

Never to be outdone on the left, Ms. Warren wants a new 2% “wealth tax” on assets above $50 million and 3% above $1 billion, including assets held abroad. France recently junked its wealth tax because it was so counterproductive, and such a tax has never been levied in America. This is government confiscation merely because someone has earned or saved more money than someone else. Socialism?

These are merely the most prominent proposals. There are many others, such as Ms. Warren’s plan to set up a government-owned generic drug maker that would inevitably put private companies out of business because its cost of capital would be zero.

***
Some readers might think this is all so extreme it could never happen. But presidential candidates don’t propose ideas they think will hurt them politically. The leftward lurch of Democratic voters, especially the young, means the party could nominate the most left-wing presidential candidate in U.S. history. If other Democratic candidates oppose any or all of this, we’d like to hear them.

The American public deserves to have a debate about all this, lest it sleepwalk into a socialist future it doesn’t want. Credit to Mr. Trump for teeing it up.

Richmond > Madison

The Associated Press has more to report on the soap opera that is Virginia state government:

The political crisis in Virginia exploded Wednesday when the state’s attorney general confessed to putting on blackface in the 1980s and a woman went public with detailed allegations of sexual assault against the lieutenant governor.

With Gov. Ralph Northam’s career already hanging by a thread over a racist photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook, the day’s developments threatened to take down all three of Virginia’s top elected officials, all of them Democrats.

The twin blows began with Attorney General Mark Herring issuing a statement saying he wore brown makeup and a wig in 1980 to look like a rapper during a party as a 19-year-old student at the University of Virginia.

Herring — who has been among those calling on Northam to resign — said he was “deeply, deeply sorry for the pain that I cause with this revelation.” He said that in the days ahead, “honest conversations and discussions will make it clear whether I can or should continue to serve as attorney general.”

Then, within hours, Vanessa Tyson, the woman whose sexual assault allegations against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax governor surfaced earlier this week, issued a detailed statement saying Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex on him in a hotel room in 2004 during the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

Tyson, a 42-year-old political scientist who is on a fellowship at Stanford University and specializes in the political discourse of sexual assault, said she was not motivated by politics to come forward, writing: “I am a proud Democrat.”

The Associated Press typically does not identify those who say they were sexually assaulted, but Tyson issued the statement in her name.

Fairfax — who is line to become governor if Northam resigns — has repeatedly denied her allegations, saying that the encounter was consensual and that he is the victim of a strategically timed political smear.

“At no time did she express to me any discomfort or concern about our interactions, neither during that encounter, nor during the months following it, when she stayed in touch with me, nor the past 15 years,” he said in a statement.

Herring, 57, went public after rumors of a blackface photo of him had circulated at the Capitol for a day or more. But in his statement, he said nothing about the existence of a photo.

The disclosure further roils the top levels of Virginia government, which has been hit with one crisis after another since the yearbook picture came to light last Friday. Herring would be next in line to be governor after Fairfax. …

Herring made a name for himself nationally by playing a central role in getting Virginia’s ban on gay marriage lifted, and he had been planning to run for governor in 2021.

The chairman of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, Del. Lamont Bagby, said its members need time to process the news about the attorney general: “We’ve got a lot to digest.”

Democrats have expressed fear that the uproar over the governor could jeopardize their chances of taking control of the GOP-dominated Virginia legislature this year. The party made big gains in 2017, in part because of a backlash against President Donald Trump, and has moved to within striking distance of a majority in both houses.

In his statement, Herring said he and two friends dressed up to look like rappers they listened to, including Kurtis Blow, admitting: “It sounds ridiculous even now writing it.”

“That conduct clearly shows that, as a young man, I had a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behavior could inflict on others,” he said.

But he also said: “This conduct is in no way reflective of the man I have become in the nearly 40 years since.”

Northam has come under pressure from nearly the entire state and national Democratic establishment to resign after the discovery of a photo on his profile page in the Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook of someone in blackface standing next to a person in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe.

Northam admitted at first that he was in the photo without saying which costume he was wearing. A day later, he denied he was in the picture. But he acknowledged he once used shoe polish to blacken his face and look like Michael Jackson at a dance contest in Texas in 1984, when he was in the Army.

Herring came down hard on Northam when the yearbook photo surfaced, condemning it as “indefensible,” ″profoundly offensive,” and “shocking and deeply disappointing.” He said that it was no longer possible for Northam to lead the state.

Herring earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Virginia and his law degree from the University of Richmond, and served as a county supervisor and a state senator before getting elected attorney general in 2013 by just 165 votes out of more than 2.2 million cast. He won re-election by a more comfortable margin in 2017.

Shortly after taking office for his first term, Herring announced he would no longer defend the state’s ban on gay marriage, saying it was time for Virginia “to be on the right side of history and the right side of the law.”

A federal judge overturned the ban, citing Herring’s opposition, and Virginia began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2014, nearly a full year before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide.

By Democrats’ own standards all three should resign. The reason none will comes in the paragraph I deleted to emphasize it here:

After Herring comes the speaker of the state House, Kirk Cox, a conservative Republican.

 

Fun in the state capital

The Washington Post has suddenly taken a big interest in Virginia state politics, because …

RICHMOND — The state Capitol hit a new level of chaos Monday as Gov. Ralph Northam (D) asked staffers to stand by as he decided his fate, while the man who would succeed him, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D), denied a sexual assault allegation that appeared on a conservative website.

Northam gathered Cabinet members and staffers Monday to apologize for the pain caused by a racist photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page and told them he was still weighing options, according to several people who attended.

The governor urged staffers not to quit and promised to decide his fate soon, but how soon was left unsaid, according to three people familiar with what transpired, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to decribe a private meeting. It could take days, according to one person familiar with his thinking.

Northam is trying to assemble evidence to prove that he was not in that racist photo and is exploring whether he has enough support in the government to continue to be effective, according to several people who have spoken with the governor. Feedback from constituents has begun to shift, becoming more positive, one person said.

Sen. Richard H. Stuart (R-King George), Northam’s closest friend in the legislature, who has been in contact with the governor throughout the crisis, said Monday night that Northam was not giving up.

“I know people are speculating that Ralph is going to resign and still considering it, but I can tell you he is not going anywhere,” he said. “He’s dug in, and he is going to fight this thing out.”

Elected officials from both parties stood by their calls that Northam must go, but the way forward became cloudier Monday with the incendiary charges against Fairfax. The lieutenant governor vehemently denied the claim that he sexually assaulted a woman in 2004, a report that was posted on the same website that revealed the photo from Northam’s yearbook Friday.

“She was very much into a consensual encounter,” Fairfax said about the 2004 incident. “Everything was 100 percent consensual. And now, years later, we have a totally fabricated story out of the blue to attack me once I was in politics.”

Fairfax, 39, called it an attempt to damage him.

“Does anybody think it’s any coincidence that on the eve of my potentially being elevated, this uncorroborated smear comes up?” he said. “You don’t have to be cynical, you don’t have to understand politics, to understand when someone’s trying to manipulate a process to harm someone’s character without any basis whatsoever.”

He would not say whether he believes that Northam should step down.

“I believe the governor has to make a decision in the best interest of the commonwealth of Virginia,” Fairfax said, adding that he had not spoken with Northam in “a couple of days.”

Swarms of journalists from national news outlets shouted questions at Fairfax in the Capitol rotunda as what had seemed like a death watch for Northam’s political career morphed into a political circus. Amid the clamor, delegates and senators hunkered down at either end of the building on what was already the busiest day of the legislative year, grinding through hundreds of bills before a Tuesday deadline to act.

“We have to stay focused,” said Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax), the House minority leader. “We’ve got 350-something bills to move.” That included tuning out the furor over Fairfax. “Really, I haven’t had time to follow that right now, I’m just focused on the floor,” she said.

While Northam was quickly and intensely criticized for the photo, lawmakers were less certain how to react to the Fairfax allegations, which came with no hard evidence.

“I have no comment on the Justin thing. He denies it, so I don’t know what else to think at this moment,” said Sen. Barbara A. Favola (D-Arlington).

“There were only two people present” at the time of the encounter between Fairfax and his accuser, said Sen. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria). “The lieutenant governor has said that the version of events that has been described is not what occurred.”

Ebbin added that the allegations against Fairfax have not affected his belief that Northam should immediately resign, saying anxiety among Democrats is growing as Northam continues to hold out.

“The longer the governor is in place without the confidence of the legislature, then you can see a lack of stability occurring,” Ebbin said. “It’s important that we have a governor who’s focused on the business of the state and a citizenry that is supportive of our governor.”

Only a week ago, the Democrats had momentum during an election year when all 140 seats in the legislature are on the ballot in November and Republicans hold razor-thin majorities in both chambers.

Northam, Fairfax and state Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) have been popular statewide — and Northam, in particular, has been respected by members of both parties. He worked with GOP leadership last year to expand Medicaid to 400,000 low-income residents; has achieved bipartisan agreement for criminal justice reform, permanent funding for Metro and coal-ash cleanup; and landed the biggest economic development coup in recent history: 25,000 jobs tied to Amazon’s HQ2 in Arlington.

On Monday, lawmakers were filling idle time between votes with speculation about various succession scenarios should Northam step down, and if Fairfax faced a similar fate.

There were even rumors that Northam’s office was behind the leak of the Fairfax allegations to try and slow the rush for resignation.

The Collective PAC, which has supported Fairfax and other black candidates around the country, accused “Northam’s team and advisors” of spreading unspecified “lies” about the lieutenant governor. It offered no evidence when making that claim in a tweetSunday.

Northam spokeswoman Ofirah Yheskel dismissed that claim. “There was no involvement from the governor’s team in this allegation surfacing,” Yheskel said.

Fairfax also discounted the charge about Northam.

“I have no indication in that regard,” he said in a second media scrum Monday afternoon.

When someone mentioned another scenario — that Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who is said to aspire to statewide office, had links to someone who brought the woman’s charges to light — Fairfax said, “You’re great reporters, and you’ll get to digging, and you’ll get to make some connections.”

Asked whether Stoney facilitated or encouraged the leak of the sexual assault allegation, his spokesman Jim Nolan said: “This insinuation is 100 percent not true. Period.”

During a brief recess of the House of Delegates, some legislators stepped outside for a breather, trading barbs with staffers or Capitol police.

Del. Tim Hugo (R-Fairfax) called the sequence of events that began Friday “like a Hollywood movie.”

“You couldn’t write this,” he said, cheerfully.

Whether or not Northam will step down is still anybody’s guess, he said, adding, “Let’s see how the day ends.”

The crisis actually began last Wednesday when Northam, a pediatric neurologist, defended a Democratic delegate’s late-term-abortion bill. His words in a WTOP radio interview led critics on social media to brand him a “baby killer.” Then, Friday afternoon, the racist photo surfaced.

Despite initially taking responsibility for the photo, which shows one person in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan robes, and appears on his personal page in the Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook, Northam now says the picture is not of him.

He is surrounded by a close circle of advisers and supporters — including the first lady, Pam Northam — who are encouraging him to clear his name and working to gather information to explain the picture.

Those close to him say Northam, who served as president of the Honor Court during his senior year at VMI, froze up when first confronted with the photo and was stunned by the swift condemnation from across the state and the nation. He felt compelled to apologize by the end of the day Friday, they said.

But that night, he said he didn’t remember dressing that way and became convinced that the image wasn’t of him, these people said. The prospect of resigning in shame over something he is certain he did not do was unpalatable to him — especially in an era when other political figures, such as President Trump, transgress so openly and with no apparent consequence. Even former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell (R) served out his term knowing he was under federal investigation for corruption charges. McDonnell was found guilty but later had his conviction overturned on appeal.

But in his nationally televised press conference on Saturday, Northam admitted darkening his face with shoe polish to imitate Michael Jackson at a dance contest in 1984 – an episode that many public officials have said disqualifies Northam from holding the governor’s chair.

“Regardless of the veracity of the photograph, the governor’s lost the confidence of the people and cannot effectively govern,” House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) said to reporters Monday. He renewed his call for Northam, 59, to step down, but expressed “hesitation” about the possibility that the legislature would try to force him out.

“I think there’s a rightful hesitation about removal from office,” Cox said. “Obviously you have to consider that to some degree you’re overturning an election. I think the constitutional provisions are very specific . . . it really does call for mental or physical incapacitation.… And obviously impeachment, that’s a very high standard.”

Since the photo became public Friday, nearly every political ally in state and national political circles has called on him to step down.

The drumbeat spread to the state’s public universities. The College of William & Mary on Monday announced that Northam would not attend Friday’s inauguration of new president Katherine Rowe, saying in a statement that “the Governor’s presence would fundamentally disrupt the sense of campus unity we aspire to and hope for with this event.”

University of Virginia President James Ryan issued a statement Sunday suggesting that Northam should resign, saying that if a leader’s “trust is lost, for whatever reason, it is exceedingly difficult to continue to lead. It seems we have reached that point.”

In contrast, Wisconsin now has a governor who appears to be totally lost (see Foxconn), and a lieutenant governor who has interesting woman issues too that would have gotten a Republican or white male legislator crucified.

Foxconn’s on/off switch

The Milwaukee Business Journal:

Foxconn Technology Group on Friday said it will build an LCD screen fabrication facility in Mount Pleasant, a move that was put into question after reports earlier this week of the company reconsidering its plans.

The company said the decision came after “productive discussions between the White House and the company, and after a personal conversation between President Donald J. Trump and Chairman Terry Gou.” That Gen 6 plant will fabricate smaller, high-resolution LCD screens than the company had originally planned to make in its Mount Pleasant plant.

Reports from Reuters and Japanese news publication Nikkei Asian Review had called into question whether Foxconn would be fabricating any LCD screens in Wisconsin at all. The company earlier this week committed to building packaging plants, assembly facilities and research centers over the next 18 months in Mount Pleasant. But it fell short of committing to the Gen 6 fabrication plant to make TFT, or “thin-film-transistor” screens.

“Our decision is also based on a recent comprehensive and systematic evaluation to help determine the best fit for our Wisconsin project among TFT technologies,” Foxconn’s written statement Friday announced. “We have undertaken the evaluation while simultaneously seeking to broaden our investment across Wisconsin far beyond our original plans to ensure the company, our workforce, the local community, and the state of Wisconsin will be positioned for long-term success.”

That fabrication plant could break ground over the next 18 months, according to a Friday statement from Racine County, the village of Mount Pleasant and the Racine County Economic Development Corp. The company in April is expected to hold open houses regarding its upcoming construction plans.

Foxconn’s announcement ends a week where the firm’s Wisconsin plans attracted extreme scrutiny. A Reuters story on Tuesday raised speculation that Foxconn may not manufacture in Wisconsin at all, a point the company refuted.

Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, described it as watching “a Twitter world collide with a dynamic, global business decision.”

Foxconn’s strategy in Wisconsin has evolved over the past six months, which is in keeping with the company’s reputation of being flexible and responsive to market conditions.

Foxconn first announced last year it was backing off from plans for a Gen 10.5 facility in Wisconsin to make very large LCD screens. Instead, the Gen 6 plant will produce small to mid-sized displays that would be used in televisions and by automakers.

“Over the last year at least, the capacity for the large LCD screen manufacturing in China has grown exponentially, and the cost has been cut in half,” Sheehy said.

The actual fabrication of screens in Wisconsin is significant. The company is building Gen 10.5 plants in China, but such operations don’t exist in the United States. Fabricating the screens, versus assembling products around the finished LCD displays, was expected to attract a new supply chain of manufacturers to Foxconn’s plant.

Sheehy said there is value to Foxconn’s research and development operations planned for Wisconsin, but the fabrication plant creates “an opportunity for supply chain and a more robust capital investment.”

Contractors over the last several months have leveled an estimated 3-million-square-foot plot of land near Interstate 94 in Mount Pleasant that was intended for the fabrication facility. That facility is to be the centerpiece of a larger manufacturing and technology campus Foxconn is developing.

That campus will also include extensive research and development operations to explore new applications of Foxconn’s technology in health care and other arenas. Foxconn earlier this week also planned to build a data center and rapid prototyping center at its Mount Pleasant campus.

(Lack of) media correlation or voter causation

The Associated Press:

The steady loss of local newspapers and journalists across the country contributes to the nation’s political polarization, a new study has found.

With fewer opportunities to find out about local politicians, citizens are more likely to turn to national sources like cable news and apply their feelings about national politics to people running for the town council or state legislature, according to research published in the Journal of Communication.

The result is much less “split ticket” voting, or people whose ballot includes votes for people of different parties. In 1992, 37 percent of states with Senate races elected a senator from a different party than the presidential candidate the state supported. In 2016, for the first time in a century, no state did that, the study found.

“The voting behavior was more polarized, less likely to include split ticket voting, if a newspaper had died in the community,” said Johanna Dunaway, a communications professor at Texas A&M University, who conducted the research with colleagues from Colorado State and Louisiana State universities.

Researchers reached that conclusion by comparing voting data from 66 communities where newspapers have closed in the past two decades to 77 areas where local newspapers continue to operate, she said.

“We have this loss of engagement at the local level,” she said.

The struggling news industry has seen some 1,800 newspapers shut down since 2004, the vast majority of them community weeklies, said Penelope Muse Abernathy, a University of North Carolina professor who studies the contraction. Many larger daily newspapers that have remained open have effectively become ghosts, with much smaller staffs that are unable to offer the breadth of coverage they once did. About 7,100 newspapers remain.

Researchers are only beginning to measure the public impact of such losses. Among the other findings is less voter participation among news-deprived citizens in “off-year” elections where local offices are decided, Abernathy said. Another study suggested a link to increased government spending in communities where “watchdog” journalists have disappeared, she said.

Dunaway said voters in communities without newspapers are more likely to be influenced by national labels — if they like Republicans like President Donald Trump, for example, that approval will probably extend to Republicans lower on the ballot.

The diminished news sources also alter politicians’ strategies, Dunaway said.

“They have to rely on party ‘brand names’ and are less about ‘how I can do best for my district,’” she said.

Southwest Wisconsin, where Presteblog World Headquarters is located, presently has two Democratic Congressmen, but has had Republicans in both houses of the Legislature nearly all the time since the Civil War. Ripon, the previous home of Presteblog World Headquarters, might be even more Republican than that in terms of state legislative representation, and it sits in a Congressional district that has had overwhelmingly Republican representation for decades. In each area there is basically one weekly newspaper per market, but the great consolidation of newspapers ended in the 1960s, and representation hasn’t changed very much in those years.

Alleged news from the South Arctic Circle

The Associated Press claims:

It might seem counterintuitive, but the dreaded “polar vortex” is bringing its icy grip to the Midwest thanks to a sudden blast of warm air in the Arctic.

Get used to it. The polar vortex has been wandering more often in recent years.

It all started with misplaced Moroccan heat. Last month, the normally super chilly air temperatures 20 miles above the North Pole rapidly rose by about 125 degrees (70 degrees Celsius), thanks to air flowing in from the south. It’s called “sudden stratospheric warming.”

That warmth split the polar vortex, leaving the pieces to wander, said Judah Cohen, a winter storm expert for Atmospheric Environmental Research, a commercial firm outside Boston.

“Where the polar vortex goes, so goes the cold air,” Cohen said.

By Wednesday morning, one of those pieces will be over the Lower 48 states for the first time in years. The forecast calls for a low of minus 21 degrees (minus 29 Celsius) in Chicago and wind chills flirting with minus 65 degrees (minus 54 Celsius) in parts of Minnesota, according to the National Weather Service.

The unusual cold could stick around another eight weeks, Cohen said.

“The impacts from this split, we have a ways to go. It’s not the end of the movie yet,” Cohen said. “I think at a minimum, we’re looking at mid-February, possibly through mid-March.”

Americans were introduced to the polar vortex five years ago. It was in early January 2014 when temperatures dropped to minus 16 degrees (minus 27 Celsius) in Chicago and meteorologists, who used the term for decades, started talking about it on social media.

This outbreak may snap some daily records for cold and is likely to be even more brutal than five years ago, especially with added wind chill, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private weather firm Weather Underground. …

Some scientists — but by no means most — see a connection between human-caused climate change and difference in atmospheric pressure that causes slower moving waves in the air.

“It’s a complicated story that involves a hefty dose of chaos and an interplay among multiple influences, so extracting a clear signal of the Arctic’s role is challenging,” said Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center. Several recent papers have made the case for the connection, she noted.

“This symptom of global warming is counterintuitive for those in the cross-hairs of these extreme cold spells,” Francis said in an email. “But these events provide an excellent opportunity to help the public understand some of the ‘interesting’ ways that climate change will unfold.”

Others, like Furtado, aren’t sold yet on the climate change connection.

Northern Illinois University meteorology professor Victor Gensini, who has already felt temperatures that seem like 25 degrees below zero, said there’s “a growing body of literature” to support the climate connection. But he says more evidence is needed.

“Either way,” Gensini said, “it’s going to be interesting being in the bullseye of the Midwest cold.”

So the AP strongly hints that something that has happened twice in this decade is the fault of magical climate change, which causes hot, cold, dry and wet weather.

I am not a climate scientist, but I think two events in five years does not necessarily constitute a trend. Up until the last week, this was a pleasantly mild winter, compared to the much worse winter of 2013–14, the first time the hateful phrase “polar vortex” entered the lexicon. (The 2013–14 cold was blamed on snow in Siberia the previous October.)

One of the things I do in my day(s-ending-in-Y) job is to list the record high and low temperatures each week. Since I have been doing that the past seven years, we have had 10 days of record or record-tying highs, and nine nights of record or record-tying lows. Is that really a trend?

We haven’t had a really bad winter since that 2013–14 winter, which, by the way, set zero cold-temperature records in Presteblog World Headquarters. Did the polar vortex cause the –51 temperature in Lone Rock Jan. 30, 1951? That was the coldest temperature in the nation that day, leading to the U.S. 14 sign “Coldest in the Nation with the Warmest Heart,” accompanied by a polar bear.

How about the –55 in Couderay Feb. 2 and 4, 1996? That was seven months after record highs throughout Wisconsin, including one dog’s-breath day where Appleton had the nation’s highest heat index, 140. How about the days in January 1936 when record lows were set, six months before record highs (including the state’s all-time record high, 114 in Wisconsin Dells July 13, 1936)?

The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center’s predictions for the next six to 10 days …

… eight to 14 days …

… three to four weeks …

… and overall the next month …

… indicate a trend toward colder weather, but not a hugely strong trend.

This is an example of agenda journalism — deciding what the story is about and finding evidence for your position, instead of finding out whether this is really unprecedented weather. (Check the winters of 1977 through 1979, which were horrible and far worse than anything this year.) And the national media wonders why it’s lost credibility with its readers, listeners and viewers.