Earth and its humans on Earth Day

Ronald Bailey reviews Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction:

Humanity isn’t destroying the natural world. We’re changing it. And in many ways, our changes are creating richer and more vibrant ecosystems.

That’s the persuasive and liberating argument advanced by the York University conservation biologist Chris D. Thomas in his riveting new book, Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction. “It is time for the ecological, conservation and environmental movement—of which I am a life-long member—to throw off the shackles of a pessimism-laden, loss-only view of the world,” he writes. Instead, he thinks a thriving world of exotic ecosystems and biological renewal is at hand. By the time readers have finished this carefully researched treatise, they should agree.

Thomas’ thesis isn’t exactly the conventional wisdom. In her Pulitzer-winning 2015 book The Sixth Extinction (Henry Holt and Co.), journalist Elizabeth Kolbert argues that current species losses are comparable to the five prior mass extinctions that have occurred in the past 540 million years. In each case, around 75 percent of then-living species were killed off. Kolbert and the biologists she cites suggest not just that a sixth such event is underway but that human activities are the chief cause of the disaster.

Last year, the Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich made a similar argument in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concluding that all trends are “painting a dismal picture of the future of life, including human life.” Inheritors of the Earth brilliantly demonstrates that there are good scientific reasons to doubt these dire prophecies.

Thomas forthrightly acknowledges that the “‘extinction crisis’ is real” and “we are in the process of losing many species that existed before humans arrived on the scene.” Researchers estimate that 178 of the world’s largest mammal species disappeared before 1500. Since then, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature reports that 2 percent of mammals, 1.6 percent of birds, and 2 percent of amphibians have gone extinct. “This loss is devastating,” Thomas writes, “but, luckily, it isn’t the whole story.”

He observes that by 2000, human beings accounted for about 30 percent of the biomass of all land mammals, with our domestic livestock making up 67 percent of the rest. Due to human activities, the total amount of mammal flesh is “over seven times greater than it was before humans came along.” And this does not take into account the billions of domestic poultry we raise. The upshot is that “the natural state of the world—to be full of large herbivorous animals and carnivores that eat them—continues to the present day.”

Meanwhile, as people grow wealthier and agriculture more productive, fewer folks have to hunt for food or cut down forests for farms, so more space opens up for the return of wild nature. As a result, European bison have grown from a single wild population to 33; beaver populations have increased by 14,000 percent since mid-century; deer and wild boar in Europe have quadrupled since 1960.

Predators are increasing, too. For example, European gray wolf and lynx populations have risen by more than 300 percent since the ’60s.

Similarly, the white-tailed deer population in the United States went from 300,000 in the 1930s to over 30 million today; bison have gone from just over 1,000 in 1890 to more than half a million today. Black bears were locally extinct in many parts of the contiguous United States in 1900; more than 300,000 are now estimated to roam the lower 48 states. Killed off in the eastern U.S. by the 1930s, mountain lions now number more than 30,000 and are spreading eastward. “Once we stop killing them, large animals come back, rejoining the 90-plus percent of smaller ones that never disappeared in the first place,” observes Thomas.

Humanity is also creating a new Pangaea by moving thousands of species around the globe and thereby increasing local biodiversity almost everywhere. We are, in Thomas’ words, “acting as dispersal agents for other plants and animals.”

New Zealand’s 2,000 native plant species have been joined by 2,000 from elsewhere, doubling the plant biodiversity of its islands. Meanwhile, only three of New Zealand’s native plants have gone extinct. In California, 1,000 new species of vascular plants have joined the state’s 6,000 native species, while fewer than 30 species have gone extinct. Overall, Thomas estimates that “roughly one in a thousand species that arrives [at a new location] causes a real issue for the native animals and plants.”

Indeed, moving species around has turned some that were on the brink of extinction into ecological winners. Take the Monterey Pine: Endangered in its California coastal homeland, it is now thriving in New Zealand, Chile, Australia, Argentina, Kenya, and South Africa. Accumulating evidence shows that many introduced species of plants and animals are improving ecosystems by increasing local biomass and speeding up the recycling of nutrients and energy.

As plants and animals populate new regions, they start down different evolutionary paths that are already transforming some of them into new species. Spanish star thistles transplanted to California and allowed time to evolve are much less fertile when crossbred with their European ancestors—a sign that the two sets of thistles have significantly diverged. Australian crickets in Hawaii have evolved so that they no longer chirp and thus have a greater chance of staying hidden from the flies that want to lay their eggs on them. European hawthorn flies have adapted to lay their eggs on apples in North America. “We are living through a period of rapid formation of new populations, races, and species,” Thomas writes.

Many ecologists view this worldwide mixing and matching with revulsion. Neophobe biologists James Russell and Tim Blackburn, for instance, recently denounced researchers who do not automatically condemn introduced biota as “invasive species denialists,” likening them to people who challenge the scientific consensus on “the risks of tobacco smoking or immunisation, the causes of AIDS or climate change, [and] evidence for evolution.”

Such researchers behave, Thomas writes, “as if there is an ‘ought to be’ state of the world, with each species having its own ‘correct’ location.” But species and ecosystems have been evolving for eons. “Nature just happens, and the distributions of species change—no slice of time has any more or less merit than any other.” …

Since ecological change is inevitable, Thomas urges us to throw aside static notions of restoring local ecosystems to some imagined prehuman Edenic state. Instead, we should embrace our central role in molding the natural world and become more proactive in managing species and landscapes. “Our aim should be to maintain robust ecosystems (however different from those that exist now or existed in the past) and species, rather than defend an unstable equilibrium,” argues Thomas. “We can let change happen.”

Why not “rewild” parts of North America that once contained mammoths, camels, and saber-tooth tigers with ecologically similar species from other parts of the world? Let’s loose elephants, lions, cheetahs, camels, and llamas to roam unpopulated regions of the West. In place of the now-extinct woolly rhinoceros and European hippopotamus, why not settle the Sumatran hairy rhinoceros and African hippopotamus in the Camargue wetlands of southern France? Or transplant giant flightless birds—ostriches, rheas, cassowaries—to New Zealand, where they can fill the ecological niches of the giant moas eaten to extinction by the Maoris’ Polynesian ancestors?

“We can think about engineering new ecosystems and biological communities into existence, inspired but not constrained by the past,” argues Thomas. Employing such strategies also means that “we can protect plants and animals in places where it is feasible to do so, rather than where they came from.”

Thomas accepts that we are now living in the Anthropocene, a new geological age in which human activity has become the dominant influence on the earth’s environment. While our impacts on nature are sometimes regrettable, the trajectory of this exciting era may well bring many more gains than losses for both humanity and the resilient natural world around us.


Happy (?) Tax Freedom Day

The Tax Foundation bullet-points:

  • This year, Tax Freedom Day falls on April 19, 109 days into 2018.
  • Tax Freedom Day will be three days earlier than it was in 2017, in large part due to the recent federal tax law, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which significantly lowered federal individual and corporate income taxes.
  • In 2018, Americans will pay $3.4 trillion in federal taxes and $1.8 trillion in state and local taxes, for a total bill of $5.2 trillion, or 30 percent of the nation’s income.
  • Americans will collectively spend more on taxes in 2018 than they will on food, clothing, and housing combined.
  • If you include annual federal borrowing, which represents future taxes owed, Tax Freedom Day would occur 17 days later, on May 6th.

Tax Freedom Day is the day when the nation as a whole has earned enough money to pay its total tax bill for the year. Tax Freedom Day takes all federal, state, and local taxes and divides them by the nation’s income. In 2018, Americans will pay $3.39 trillion in federal taxes and $1.80 trillion in state and local taxes, for a total tax bill of $5.19 trillion, or 30 percent of national income. This year, Tax Freedom Day falls on April 19th, 109 days into 2018.

What Taxes Do We Pay?

This year, Americans again will work the longest to pay federal, state, and local individual income taxes (44 days). Payroll taxes will take 26 days to pay, followed by sales and excise taxes (15 days), corporate income taxes (seven days), and property taxes (11 days). The remaining six days are spent paying estate and inheritance taxes, customs duties, and other taxes.

Speaking of state taxes, here is a remarkable statistic:

Wisconsin’s Tax Freedom Day and the nation’s are both today. That means that, wonder of wonders, Wisconsin’s tax burden, which is 34th lowest (or, more pertinently, 17th highest) in the U.S., is average compared with other states. I’m not sure that has ever been the case before now.

This blog follows Tax Freedom Day every year — April 12, 2010, April 16, 2011, April 21, 2012, April 20, 2013, April 22, 2014, April 25, 2015, April 27, 2016, and April 27, 2017. The first seven years were under Democratic presidents, and Democrats raise taxes as often as the sun rises in the east.

The Tax Foundation adds:

In the denominator, we count every dollar that is officially part of net national income according to the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the numerator, we count every payment to the government that is officially considered a tax. Taxes at all levels of government – federal, state, and local – are included in the calculation. In calculating Tax Freedom Day for each state, we look at taxes borne by residents of that state, whether paid to the federal government, their own state or local governments, or governments of other states. Where possible, we allocate tax burdens to each taxpayer’s state of residence. Leap days are excluded, to allow comparison across years, and any fraction of a day is rounded up to the next calendar day.

For 2018, the methodology for calculating each state’s Tax Freedom Day has been updated significantly. As a result, the date of Tax Freedom Day for each state in 2018 is not strictly comparable to the date of Tax Freedom Day for states in previous years. In addition, calculations of the date of Tax Freedom Day for states in 2018 may not take full account of the secondary effects of the recently passed federal tax bill on state and local tax collections.

It would be nice if the Tax Foundation would go back and compute past Tax Freedom Days under this new formula so we could in fact compare. However measured, this is too late, of course. It would be nice if Tax Freedom Day was Jan. 1, because government at every level either wastes or abuses your tax dollars 100 percent of the time. (And sometimes both.) I have lived in several different places in this state, with Democratic and Republican governors and legislatures, and I have never once felt as though my tax dollars are being spent wisely. (Paying high taxes so that people paid by my salary get better benefits than I do for less than I pay is both a waste and abuse of my tax money.)

A reasonable goal for Tax Freedom Day, however, in these flawed times would be March 31. (Not because of the anniversary of this blog.) There have been polls for decades that have asked people how much of their income they should pay in taxes. The consistent answer has been 25 percent. Notice that we haven’t been at 25 percent — a Tax Freedom Day of March 31 — since the mid-1950s.

Stay classy, Democrats

Christian Schneider:

In May of 2010, long-standing Wisconsin Congressman David Obey announced his retirement from the House of Representatives. Obey had first been elected in 1969, nearly a year before then up-and-coming Republican Congressman Paul Ryan was born. And even though Obey frequently criticized Ryan’s policies, Ryan issued a statement praising the stalwart Democrat for his service.

“David and I have had our policy disagreements over the years,” said Ryan, “but he has always had my respect.” Ryan noted that Obey had “served Wisconsin and served this country honorably,” and wished him the best.

It was not a courtesy always extended to Ryan when the now-Speaker of the House announced on Wednesday that he would not be seeking re-election. Shortly after the announcement, Democratic Madison-area Congressman Mark Pocan took to Twitter to post a single enthusiastic smiley face emoji, before posting an op-ed that accused Ryan of overseeing the Republican Party’s “moral demise.”

On Instagram, Democratic State Rep. Chris Taylor of Madison posted a snarky video of herself gleefully waving goodbye to a cardboard cutout of Ryan. On Twitter, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett — a former congressman himself — used Ryan’s retirement to take a swipe at  Republican Gov. Scott Walker. “If Paul Ryan is stepping down because he can’t defend his policy decisions to voters,” Barrett said, “perhaps Scott Walker should consider that too.” (Of course, Barrett tried to keep Walker from the governor’s office twice, and lost both times.)

And these were just the responsible people. In The New York Times, a Paul Krugman column accused Ryan of being complicit in supporting “fascism” by working with President Donald Trump. The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin offered “Three ways that Paul Ryan could recover his soul.” Randy Bryce, a Democratic candidate for Ryan’s former seat who goes by the moniker “Iron Stache,” ludicrously suggested it was the robustness of his facial hair that drove Ryan from the race.

This is a surprising level of grave-dancing from a party that just a year ago lost a presidential race to one of the most absurd candidates to ever run for the nation’s highest office. (And yes, the same could be said of the GOP, but they are not setting off fireworks over Ryan’s retirement.)

What is clearly evident is that even the basic mores of political decency are melting away, leaving us engaged in ideological war all the time. There’s no doubt that Donald Trump has a great deal to do with this change: “Magnanimity” is not a word synonymous with a man who took to Twitter just this Friday to once again label the woman he beat 16 months ago “Crooked Hillary.”

And it is Trump who has tarnished Ryan’s legacy as a man of dignity and principle, who suffered unspeakable abuse while never responding in kind.

Yet people forget that Trump happened in spite of Ryan, not because of him. And yes, while many conservatives took issue with Ryan’s eventual endorsement of Trump during the campaign, what exactly was Ryan supposed to do once Trump assumed office? Refuse to work with the president in passing legislation because of whatever fleeting offense Trump may have given that week? Should Ryan just have shut Congress down until the president decided to behave, or should he have continued trying to do the work demanded of him by his constituents and the voters that elected his members to Congress?

If anything, the undignified reaction on the left to Ryan’s retirement should provide a silver lining for Republicans, who look to be in for a difficult slate of November elections. As the union protests of 2011 demonstrated in Wisconsin, there is no anodyne issue to which progressives won’t ludicrously overreact. Just as their overreach seven years ago drove more Republicans into elected office in the state, so too can their histrionics in 2018. “Overplaying your hand” appears to be both the first and last chapter in the Democratic playbook.

Just three weeks ago, Ryan held a ceremony on the House floor to commemorate U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) becoming the longest-serving woman in the history of the House of Representatives. Following his gracious speech, Ryan briefly hugged Kaptur and his long-time nemesis, Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. It was a moment of dignity between political rivals that is becoming all too rare.

Evidently, we live in an era where some elected officials can’t be respectful even for a moment. Unless we can all grow up a little, America needs a more representative symbol than the bald eagle. Given the current quality of our members of Congress, perhaps a sad-face emoji will do.

What’s the biggest thing in Republicans’ favor? Democrats.


Full of sound and fury signifying little

Michael Graham of watched ABC-TV so you didn’t have to:

It’s the morning after the “Comey Interview” and, believe it or not, Donald Trump is still president.

If you watched the buildup to the release of the former FBI director’s new book and his prime-time ABC interview, this fact might come as a bit of a shock. Based on the press hype—and partisan hopes—surrounding the publication of James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership, you’d expect this insider’s expose of Trump’s shocking scandals to be, if not the end of his presidency, the beginning of the end.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of Trump’s political death continue to be exaggerated.  Comey’s book is unlikely to have any impact on Trump’s presidency—other than perhaps to strengthen Trump’s standing among his supporters.

Trump haters counting on the former head of the FBI to have career-ending dirt on Donald Trump will be gravely disappointed by Comey’s book.  The only “big reveal” in A Higher Loyalty is how loyal Jim Comey is to … Jim Comey.  For Washington insiders who’ve been dealing with him since the George W. Bush administration, this isn’t breaking news.

Lacking evidence of actual wrongdoing—in last night’s interview, Comey yet again refused to accuse President Trump of obstruction—Comey turned instead to the petty and political.  He talked about Mr. Trump’s appearance (“His face appeared slightly orange with bright white half-moons under his eyes where I assumed he placed small tanning goggles”), the size of his hands (“As he extended his hand, I made a mental note to check its size. It was smaller than mine, but did not seem unusually so.”) and he called the president “morally unfit.”  It was the sort of snarky partisan punditry found on cable news 24/7.

Then again, should we be surprised? if Comey ever did see actual wrongdoing by Mr. Trump, do we really believe we’d just be hearing about it from a notoriously leak-friendly fellow like Comey?

As Nate Silver of tweeted, it’s “not particularly honorable, if you have information you believe is of immediate and vital national importance, to wait 11 months to release it until you can have a giant book launch and publicity tour.” Silver—no Trump fan– calls the book “A Higher Royalty.”

Trump supporters were dismissing the fired FBI director and his message before the book even hit, putting Comey’s story in the broader context of what they believe was a partisan, pro-Clinton FBI.  Comey confirmed their view when he acknowledged that his decision to speak publicly in the last days of the campaign about Clinton’s email investigation was influenced by his assumption that Hillary was going to be his new boss.

“I was operating in a world where Hillary Clinton was gonna beat Donald Trump,” he told George Stephanopolous.  “And so I’m sure that it was a factor [in my decision to announce the Clinton email case was being re-opened].”  He also revealed that his wife and kids wanted Clinton to win, too, though Comey said that he didn’t vote in 2016.

To many on the Right, the ABC interview sounded an awful lot like a former Clinton staffer talking to a partisan Trump hater. And for obvious reasons.

One GOP campaign operative told me Comey’s book “is a home run for us.  This guy hates Trump, and he ran the FBI. If they had anything on Trump, he’d know it, and he’d tell it.”

It’s hard to call a book that talks about allegations of Moscow prostitutes and bodily functions a “home run,” but the point is that this is yet another bullet that zipped by President Trump.  The Left keeps  announcing Donald Trump’s doom, and yet, he keeps showing up for work.

This weekend, for example, the New Yorker ran a piece entitled “Michael Cohen and the End Stage of the Trump Presidency,” arguing that the recent raid on the law offices of the president’s personal attorney Michael Cohen mark the final phase of his time in office. This is the week we know, with increasing certainty, that we are entering the last phase of the Trump presidency, Adam Davidson wrote.

Another anti-Trump website,, made the case that the recent attack on Syria over its use of chemical weapons could result in the impeachment of both Trump and members of his cabinet.

Impeachment would be a worthy course corrective and is entirely proper under the circumstances,” wrote Colin Kalmbacher.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that a Congress controlled by Republicans is not going to impeach a Republican president over bombing a dictator who used sarin gas on children. But for Trump opponents who still cannot accept that he won the election, every prediction of his imminent demise is seized upon and believed.

These are the people liberal activist Tom Steyer was targeting last night when he ran a ad during the Stephanopolous interview. Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans who want Congress to start impeachment proceedings is declining while Trump’s approve rating is rising (slightly).

Consider this: In the month or so between the Stormy Daniels interview on “60 Minutes” and the Comey interview last night, President Trump has been hit with a nonstop stream of negative press. And yet according to the latest Washington Post/ABC poll, Trump’s approval is at 44 percent among registered voters.

Donald Trump is not going to be shamed out of office by Jim Comey, or pushed out by an angry press corps, or laughed out by late-night comics.  Yes, it’s still possible he might be led out of the Oval Office in handcuffs by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, but at this point that looks like a long shot.

Which means Democrats will be forced to drive Donald Trump out of the White House the old-fashioned way: The ballot box.

What’s worse, from the perspective of Trump-hating Democrats (pardon the redundancy) is that not only is Trump polling better, but according to the Washington Post the generic-Democrat advantage in Congressional races has dropped from 12 points to four points. It is ridiculous to predict the results of elections nearly seven months in advance (seven hours might be more accurate in our turbulent times), but predictions of that blue wave might be exaggerated too.

The Nov. 6 elections might be a test of the claim of the good-government types that partisan gerrymandering (more correctly termed “incumbent gerrymandering”) guarantees that certain parties win certain seats. Given the large number of Republicans not running in November, including U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R–Janesville), if most of them are replaced with Democrats the gerrymandering arguments will lose considerable weight.

Who’s paying and who isn’t today

Inside Sources:

Tax time is here again, but while almost 100 percent of households will be filing their federal taxes, only about 40 percent will actually pay any. According to the Congressional Budget Office, 60 percent of U.S. households actually receive more money from the federal government than they pay in all federal taxes combined.

This sobering statistic draws a huge question mark over the oft-repeated claim that the rich don’t “pay their fair share,” because as it stands, the poor and middle-class pay less than nothing when both taxes and transfers are considered.

Transfers are the other side of the tax coin: money households receive from the government through programs like the earned income tax credit, Social Security, income assistance and various welfare supports. They are, in effect, negative taxes by which the government hands people money instead of taking it away.

Ignoring transfers, the bottom 20 percent of households pay an average effective tax rate of around 5 percent, and middle-income households pay around 17 percent. The top 1 percent? They pay 34 percent after their deductions, exemptions and write-offs. Even though the top 1 percent earn almost 20 percent of all the income in the United States, they pay 40 percent of all federal taxes.

But when we account for transfers, the average household among the poorest 20 percent actually experiences a negative federal tax rate — receiving $9,600 in transfers while paying only $800 in taxes, for a minus 56 percent effective tax rate.

Even the average middle-class household receives more back from the federal government ($16,700) than it pays in taxes ($8,900). Accounting for both taxes and transfers, only 40 percent of households are net payers in the end, which is why every proposed tax cut is met with the charge that it is one more “tax cut for the rich.” When only the richest 40 percent of households are net payers, by definition, every tax cut is a tax cut for the rich.

None of this is news to the politicians who fiddle endlessly with the tax code. If they can convince voters that the rich aren’t paying their fair share, politicians are then in the clear to tweak the U.S. tax code. And tweak it they do, always toward the same end: buying votes. Politicians have made the tax code so progressive that a near super-majority of Americans actually benefit from increased taxation.

Politicians promise all sorts of largesse in exchange for votes. Once elected, they ratchet up taxes on the 40 percent of net payers and dole out benefits to the 60 percent of net receivers.

This explains why both major parties have become such fans of big government. Bigger government means more taxes. More taxes means more money to dole out to voters in the form of one new program after another. More handouts for voters mean more votes for politicians who deliver the handouts. And the government grows year over year, regardless of which party finds itself in power.

The real question that taxpayers should be asking this tax season is a simple one: What percentage of the American public should be exempt from paying any federal tax at all? Because anyone truly concerned about people paying their fair share would likely not answer, “60 percent.”

Act like Republicans

Investors Business Daily:

For the GOP, hand-wringing and self-reflection seem to be the order of the day following the resignation of House Speaker Paul Ryan. Many see this as yet another ill omen of a midterm-election shellacking by the Democrats. Maybe, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Give Ryan his due: He pushed through the giant GOP tax-cut bill and, along with Trump, deserves a great deal of credit for the improved tone of the U.S. economy, in particular its robust jobs growth. And, in a city increasingly marked by bitterly divisive and mean-spirited partisanship, Ryan stood out as a genuinely nice person.

That could be seen in his classy exit speech, which focused on accomplishments, not finger-pointing.

“We’ve gotten tax reform done for the first time in a generation. We’ve rebuilt the military from being hollowed out, which was really important,” he said. “We deregulated the economy, which is really helping the economy grow.”

For the GOP, hand-wringing and self-reflection seem to be the order of the day following the resignation of House Speaker Paul Ryan. Many see this as yet another ill omen of a midterm-election shellacking by the Democrats. Maybe, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Give Ryan his due: He pushed through the giant GOP tax-cut bill and, along with Trump, deserves a great deal of credit for the improved tone of the U.S. economy, in particular its robust jobs growth. And, in a city increasingly marked by bitterly divisive and mean-spirited partisanship, Ryan stood out as a genuinely nice person.

That could be seen in his classy exit speech, which focused on accomplishments, not finger-pointing.

“We’ve gotten tax reform done for the first time in a generation. We’ve rebuilt the military from being hollowed out, which was really important,” he said. “We deregulated the economy, which is really helping the economy grow.”

When Ryan gives as reasons for quitting that he wants to watch his kids grow up and is tired of Washington, we don’t doubt it. He didn’t ask to be House speaker. His party chose him.

Moreover, virtually alone in Washington, he has pushed and pushed to have spending and entitlement reforms that would put the U.S. budget back onto fiscally sound footing, rather than sliding into fiscal hell, as we are now. At least he tried.

Unfortunately, now many in the GOP see Ryan’s departure as a sure sign they can’t win in November. Given recent special elections, which have been dominated by Democrat winners, there’s reason to think they’re right.

Even so, that’s no reason to give up on basic principles. Indeed, if anything, Republicans have every reason to double-down on their core beliefs of smaller, more responsive government, low taxes, rule of law, and personal responsibility over collective responsibility.

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After Ryan’s Departure, GOP Can Avoid Dreaded ‘Blue Wave’ Only By Fighting For Bedrock Principles

For the GOP, hand-wringing and self-reflection seem to be the order of the day following the resignation of House Speaker Paul Ryan. Many see this as yet another ill omen of a midterm-election shellacking by the Democrats. Maybe, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Give Ryan his due: He pushed through the giant GOP tax-cut bill and, along with Trump, deserves a great deal of credit for the improved tone of the U.S. economy, in particular its robust jobs growth. And, in a city increasingly marked by bitterly divisive and mean-spirited partisanship, Ryan stood out as a genuinely nice person.

That could be seen in his classy exit speech, which focused on accomplishments, not finger-pointing.

“We’ve gotten tax reform done for the first time in a generation. We’ve rebuilt the military from being hollowed out, which was really important,” he said. “We deregulated the economy, which is really helping the economy grow.

When Ryan gives as reasons for quitting that he wants to watch his kids grow up and is tired of Washington, we don’t doubt it. He didn’t ask to be House speaker. His party chose him.

Moreover, virtually alone in Washington, he has pushed and pushed to have spending and entitlement reforms that would put the U.S. budget back onto fiscally sound footing, rather than sliding into fiscal hell, as we are now. At least he tried.

Unfortunately, now many in the GOP see Ryan’s departure as a sure sign they can’t win in November. Given recent special elections, which have been dominated by Democrat winners, there’s reason to think they’re right.

Even so, that’s no reason to give up on basic principles. Indeed, if anything, Republicans have every reason to double-down on their core beliefs of smaller, more responsive government, low taxes, rule of law, and personal responsibility over collective responsibility.

They should assume the worst: They’ll go down in flames to the Democrats, who, along with the mainstream media, have basically run into the American theater every day for the last year and a half yelling “fire” while pushing a big-government agenda that will impoverish us all. If Americans buy the Democrats’ dire baloney amid our unusual economic prosperity and deregulation, Ryan will be handing his gavel over to a Democrat — maybe even giving it back to far-left relic Nancy Pelosi.

But, ever the optimist, Ryan doesn’t think so.

“I have every confidence that I’ll be handing this gavel on to the next Republican speaker of the House next year,” Ryan said, in announcing his retirement.

Asked how much of a role the chance of a congressional landslide by the Democrats played in his decision, his answer was direct: “None whatsoever, actually.”

But rank-and-file Republicans are worried about being hit by a Democrat blue tidal wave this fall. Already, 24 Republicans have announced they will retire from the House this year, “the most in one congressional cycle dating back to 1973, according to ‘casualty lists’ compiled by the congressional reporting outlet Roll Call,” wrote The Daily Signal.

Both House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, the No. 3 GOP leader in the House, and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy are considered logical replacements for Ryan.

But here’s the point: No matter who takes over, they face an uphill battle.

In the meantime, presuming that current polls are correct and Democrats could take back the House in November, why should the Republicans continue to wallow in defeatism?

Wouldn’t it be far better for the conservative cause they espouse and say they deeply believe in to go down fighting, pushing for major welfare and entitlement reforms, making the Trump tax cuts permanent, putting dozens of judges on the bench that actually respect the Constitution, curbing spending by big government, cutting even more regulations, building our defense, and putting an end to our open-door immigration policies?

If they showed that kind of courage, they might be surprised that a lot of voters would support them — and maybe they’d even hold the House and the Senate.

We know losing is not fun. But here’s a message to the GOP faithful in both the House and the Senate:

Our country is in the middle of a historic and bitterly divisive debate over whether it will continue to be a republic built on individual rights and limited government, or become a kind of postmodern, politically correct, progressive social democracy with limited individual rights and creeping collectivism.

It’s no exaggeration to say our very freedoms and traditions as a republic are at stake. If you truly believe what you say you do, don’t quit. Fight for what you believe in. There’s deep respect for those who fight hard but lose, and none at all for those who walk away from the fight.

The soon-to-be former speaker

Jonah Goldberg:

In a normal time, the announcement that the Republican speaker of the House is retiring to spend more time with his family — after just a few years on the job — at a moment when Republicans control the federal government and have more officeholders nationwide than at any time in almost a century and the economy is roaring would be almost unimaginable. But that news is already starting to feel like one of those mildly interesting things that happened last week, like when you find a lone curly fry in your bag of normal fries.

As a general proposition, I don’t like getting to know politicians. The list of reasons why is too long to lay out in its entirety here. But some of the top reasons include:

Most politicians are actually pretty boring. Maybe they’re not boring with constituents and their friends, or when they’re tying women to bed posts, but around pundit types, they often tend to be so cautious and untrusting (I wonder why!) that normal conversations outside of sports (which I am hardly fluent in) often become awkward and, sometimes, painful.

Many are conniving and needy. I’m always amazed by how many House members remind me of characters from Glengarry Glen Ross. They may not be constantly begging for the good leads, but they’re always looking to make a sale, work an angle, or get some advantage. Many older Republicans love to complain, like Jack Lemmon’s Shelley Levene over a cup of cold coffee, that they’re never given the respect they’re due from conservative journalists. The senators are often Stepford Politicians. You can almost hear the gears grinding inside their skulls as they try to figure out how the biped in front of their Ocular Sensors could be useful, or detrimental, to their future presidential run. Again, this may not be how they are with normal people. It might just be how they treat people in my line of work, particularly if they don’t know them. Lions don’t make friends with hyenas and all that.

Very few of them are intellectually interesting. I have no idea what the numbers are — but it seems to me that very few politicians are really interested in ideas, save when tactics, marketing ploys, and stratagems can be gussied up as ideas. This doesn’t mean they’re not smart — or, at least, cunning — but for both good and ill, politics doesn’t reward being able to talk about de Tocqueville nearly as much as it rewards being able to remember the first names of every car-dealership mogul and union honcho in your district.

There are exceptions to all of these things, of course. Mike Gallagher is a really interesting and fun congressman. Kevin McCarthy isn’t an intellectual as far as I can tell, but he comes across as the kind of guy you’d want to go to Vegas with. Ben Sasse — my occasional podcast victim — is the rare exception to all of these observations. I’m not sure he’d be a good Vegas wingman (he’d probably be constantly asking the pit boss about casino metrics of something or other), but he’s almost surely the most intellectually engaging senator since Pat Moynihan.

All that said, the most important reason I try to avoid getting to know politicians is that friendship is a burden.

Because I haven’t bought that pill whose main ingredient was originally found in jellyfish, I can’t remember if I’ve written this before, but I bring this up all the time in speeches. My policy towards politicians is similar to that of research scientists towards their lab animals: You don’t want to get too attached, because you might have to stick the needle in deep one day.

It’s much easier to jab Test Subject 37B than it is to stab Mr. Whiskers.

Similarly, it’s easier to give politicians a hard time if you don’t feel any personal loyalty to them. As I’ve long argued, friendship can be far more corrupting than money (if a friend asked me to write a column on their book, I’d sincerely consider it. If a stranger offered me cash to write about it, I’d show him the anterior side of the digit between my index and ring fingers).

And that brings me to Paul Ryan.

I’ll admit upfront: I like Paul Ryan, personally. I’ve known him a bit for years. No, we’re not buddies. I’ve never gone bow-hunting with him or eaten a single cheese curd in his presence (a bonding ritual in his native lands). But even before I met him, I felt I knew and understood him better than most politicians. I started in D.C. as a larval think tanker, and so did Ryan. We’re about the same age (I know, I know: I look so much younger — and healthier) and share a lot of the same intellectual and political lodestars. There was a time when Jack Kemp was my Dashboard Saint, too.

I’ll spare you all the punditry about Ryan’s retirement (I’ll simply say ditto about Dan McLaughlin, Jim Geraghty, and John Podhoretz’s takes). I think he’s telling the truth about wanting to be with his family. But I also think, if we were on Earth-2 and President Mitch Daniels were in office and Republicans were enjoying the luxury of a boring and mature presidency that was tackling head-on the Sweet Fiscal Crisis of Death coming our way, the pull of Ryan’s family might not have been nearly so acute.

Again, I’m biased. But as a general rule, whether you’re on the right or the left, if you personally hate Paul Ryan, that’s an indicator to me that you’re an unreasonable person. Sure, you can disagree with him. You can be disappointed in him. But if you buy the claptrap from the Krugmanite Left or the Bannonite Right about Ryan, if you think he’s evil or a fraud, I’m going to assume you’re part of the problem in our politics.

As Jonathan Last and Michael Warren pointed out on a Weekly Standard podcast, the hatred aimed at Ryan, and also people like Marco Rubio, from the Left stems from the fact that Ryan and Rubio defy the strawman the Left so desperately wants to have as an enemy. How dare they be thoughtful and compassionate! How dare they be young and attractive! By what right do they make serious arguments for conservative policies! To paraphrase Steve Martin in The Jerk, they listen to their serious responses to journalists’ questions, and scream at the Maître d’, “This isn’t what we ordered! Now bring me those toasted cheesy gaffes you talked us out of!”

Beyond the brass-tacks punditry on the significance of Ryan’s retirement — what this means for the midterms, etc. — there is a deeper historical and political significance. I’ve been saying for a couple years now that conservatism, stripped of prudential, traditional, and dogmatic adornment, boils down to simply two things: The idea that character matters and the idea that ideas matter. Stripped of the compromises Ryan made and the decisions he was forced into, Ryan’s career boils down to modeling these two things. He is a man of deeply decent character, and he’s a man that cares deeply about the importance of ideas. Did he fall short of the ideal? Of course. Who hasn’t?

There’s a reason Bill Rusher’s favorite psalm was, “Put not your faith in princes.”

Politicians are flawed not only because of the incentive structure that is inherent to their jobs but also because, to borrow a phrase from social science, they’re people.

(Pat Moynihan had his flaws. You could set up a bowling alley using his weekly allotment of wine bottles as the pins. He wrote like a liberal-leaning neocon intellectual, but he voted like a ward-heeling Irish politician.)

The fact that Paul Ryan was a man out of place in his own party says far more about the state of the GOP than it does about the man. Consider this week alone:

A president who cheated on his first wife with his second and “allegedly” cheated on his third with a porn star is tweeting that Jim Comey is a “slimeball.”The president’s personal PR team over at Hannity HQ is calling Robert Mueller the head of a crime family.The CBO just announced that we’re in store for trillion-dollar deficits for as far as the eye can see.The president is tweeting taunts about how his missiles are shinier toys than Putin’s.The president’s nominee for secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, a once passionate and thoughtful defender of Congress’s sole right to authorize war, is now invoking law-review articles as justification for a president’s right to wage war on a whim.The president’s lawyer’s office was raided by the FBI (not Bob Mueller’s team, by the way) after getting a warrant from a judge and following all of the onerous protocols of the Justice Department, and the former speaker of the House — and avowed historian — is insisting that the Cohen and Manafort raids are morally equivalent to the tactics of Stalin and Hitler. I’m pretty sure the Gestapo didn’t have “clean teams” to protect attorney-client privilege (particularly of dudes named “Cohen”), and last I checked the KGB wasn’t big on warrants.On Monday evening, the president convened a televised war council and spent the first ten minutes sputtering about how outraged he was by an inquiry into a pay-off of his porn-star paramour.And people are shocked that Paul Ryan isn’t comfortable in Washington?

Steve Hayes is right that Ryan was “always more a creature of the conservative movement than of GOP politics. His departure punctuates the eclipse of that movement within the party.”

The GOP will never be the same. We’ve known this instinctively for a while. But Ryan’s departure removes all doubt. He was too good for the job — and the party.

After Ryan

From the category of surprising-but-not-surprising news, James Wigderson reports:

House Speaker Paul Ryan announced [Wednesday] that he is not running for re-election. Ryan began his remarks by saying that when you become Speaker of the House, you realize that it’s only for a short period in the nation’s history.

“You all know that I did not seek this job,” Ryan said. “I took it reluctantly, but I have given it everything that I have, and I have no regrets whatsoever about accepting this responsibility.”

Saying that the job of Speaker is all-time consuming, Ryan said that it interfered with his family obligations.

“That’s why today I am announcing that this year will be my last one as a member of the House,” Ryan said. “To be clear, I am not resigning. I will serve my full term as I was elected to do.”

In his remarks, Ryan talked about the effect of serving as the Republican leader for another term would have on his family.

“What I realize is, if I am here for one more term, my kids will only have ever known me as a weekend dad,” Ryan said. “I just can’t let that happen.”

During the 2016 race for president, Ryan’s name was frequently mentioned as a possible candidate to unite the Republican Party. However, Ryan declined to run and often cited his young family as a reason.

In his remarks, Ryan said the two biggest achievements of his time as Speaker of the House were tax reform and re-building the nation’s military. “These I see as lasting victories that will make our country more prosperous and more secure for decades to come,” Ryan said.

Ryan also thanked the voters in Wisconsin for electing him to the House of Representatives.

“I also want to thank the people of southern Wisconsin for placing their trust in me as their representative for the last 20 years,” Ryan said. “I have tried to bring as much Wisconsin to Washington as I can in that time. It’s been a wild ride, but it’s been a journey well worth taking to be able to do my part to strengthen the American Idea.”

Ryan was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1998, replacing former Congressman Mark Neumann. In October 2015, Ryan replaced Congressman John Boehner (R-OH) as Speaker of the House. Ryan was a reluctant candidate for the position, but was chosen by his colleagues as a compromise between the moderate ahd hardline factions.

Ryan’s departure means Wisconsin Republicans find themselves defending an open congressional seat that already has one well-funded Democrat, Randy Bryce, running, as well as another candidate, teacher and school board member Cathy Myers.

Now speculation will begin on both sides about candidates jumping into the race, with Republicans needing to recruit a solid candidate to hold the seat. State Sen. Van Wanggard (R-Racine) has already announced he is not running, according to Jay Weber on WISN. Possible candidates include Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), Rep. Samantha Kerkman (R-Burlington), state Sen. Dave Craig (R-Town of Vernon), Assembly Speaker Pro-Tem Tyler August (R-Lake Geneva), Rep. Amy Loudenbeck (R-Clinton) and former Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. Another possible candidate is Bryan Steil, a member of the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents.

Vos issued a statement today on Ryan’s retirement that did not mention a potential run. “Paul has been perhaps the best congressman Wisconsin has ever sent to Washington and also one of the best speakers to have gaveled Congress into session,” Vos said. “His commitment to serving the people of Wisconsin and the United States is unparalleled.”

“I am happy for my friend and his family, but sad for the 1st Congressional District and our country because men like him don’t come around often,” Vos said.

More prominent Democrats may enter the race as well. Former Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) represented the district in the House of Representatives after winning a special election to succeed Congressman Les Aspin when he became the Defense Secretary for President Bill Clinton.

Nationally, Ryan’s departure signals Republicans are not likely to hold onto control of the House of Representatives after this November’s elections. Other congressional retirements could be expected as a result.

As a member of Congress and when he ran for Vice President on the Republican ticket with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in 2012, Ryan was an advocate for bringing entitlement spending under control. With his departure, neither party has a prominent leader on that issue.

This is, first, not good news for Wisconsin at all. The only Wisconsinites with as much power over national politics that come to mind are former Defense Secretary Melvin Laird and, in non-positive ways, U.S. Sens. Joe McCarthy and “Fighting Bob” La Follette. Whether you like it or not, Congress is driven by (1) seniority and (2) the majority party in the House. Wisconsin’s next senior representative is U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D–La Crosse), who looks moderate only compared with the other two Wisconsin Democrats, U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan (D–Black Earth) and Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee). Does anyone think Kind, Pocan or Moore represent the interests of Wisconsin Republicans? How about the last Democratic speaker, Nancy Pelosi?

The high-fives of those who view Ryan as a Republican In Name Only are, frankly, stupid. (For instance: Republicans support free trade; RINOs, including Trump, favor stupid trade wars.) It is not Ryan’s fault that legislation that passed the House of Representatives fails to get considered in the Senate due to its cloture rules or the lack of leadership of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. (And some legislation dies on its merits.) Republicans have been complaining about the House speaker since 1994, when they got control of the House. The speaker may be first in line to the presidency, but House speakers have to lead more than propose.

Facebook Friend Louis D’Alfabeto says to Ryan and then to his supposedly conservative detractors …

In an alternate and better universe, you’re halfway through your second term as VP and preparing to run for the White House – and our policy discourse is the better for it.

Those who purport to be conservatives spewing negativity right now can spare us your lack of critical thinking and reasoning skills. You’re clueless as to how the game is played, mere infants throwing tantrums because you can’t have the impossible, completely ignorant that “politics is the art of the possible…”

… which prompted this response from Facebook Friend Tim Nerenz:

I could probably stand on pure libertarian principle with the best of them, and I bet Ryan could too if that were his wont. I don’t know him well, but I have done a couple things with him and heard him in some thoughtful forums. He is a) one of the highest quality human beings in politics, and b) the smartest person in the room, you pick the room. He knows the both economics and the pragmatics down dead cold and should have stayed as committee chair where he could maneuver budget and economic policy legislation – what he knows and does best. People who expect Republicans to be Libertarians are pissing at windmills – Ron Paul was the RINO, Rand Paul is the RINO, Donald Trump is the RINO. Paul Ryan is center-cut, straight out of central casting Republican. I think the GOP missed a YUGE opportunity to write their script with Trump in the white house to sign whatever came out of the sausage grinder on the Hill – I wouldn’t have taken a lunch break, let alone all the recesses and retreats over the past year. But to the Ryan-haters, the simple question is who’s next. Ryan got the Speaker’s job because Boehner was a mess and there was nobody else to take it. He never wanted it. There is still nobody else. It’s not my party and so I don’t care all that much, but seriously, who is the GOP going to turn to as Speaker and face of the Party now? Lou – you probably know.

Readers know what I think of 2012 Barack Obama voters, and there is literally no possible comparison between Romney’s character and Donald Trump’s character, such as that is. The only thing people know about Mike Pence is that he’s not president, but he might be president if the fevered dreams of Democrats come true.

I recall being on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Week in Review when Ryan chaired the House Ways and Means Committee and was saying he wasn’t interested in becoming speaker. When asked who should, I didn’t say Ryan, I said U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R–Michigan), who is about as libertarian as it gets in Congress for someone whose last name is not Paul. For Amash to become the next speaker (assuming he’s even interested, and given Ryan’s term as speaker maybe he shouldn’t be) requires the GOP’s winning the House, which isn’t looking good now, though in these turbulent political times much can happen between now and Nov. 6.

Pelosi has already vowed to undo the tax cut passed earlier this year. House Democrats have proposed, with the support of Pocan and Moore, banning all semi-automatic weapons. If you seriously think that’s better than Ryan as Speaker of the House, for all Ryan’s faults, you’re not a conservative.


When the media doesn’t do its job

The Wisconsin Newspaper Association convention is this weekend. (No, I’m not going.)

I wonder if this Politico Special Report! will get discussed:

President Donald Trump’s attacks on the mainstream media may be rooted in statistical reality: An extensive review of subscription data and election results shows that Trump outperformed the previous Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, in counties with the lowest numbers of news subscribers, but didn’t do nearly as well in areas with heavier circulation.

POLITICO’s findings — which put Trump’s escalating attacks on the media in a new context — were drawn from a comparison of election results and subscription information from the Alliance for Audited Media, an industry group that verifies print and digital circulation for advertisers. The findings cover more than 1,000 mainstream news publications in more than 2,900 counties out of 3,100 nationwide from every state except Alaska, which does not hold elections at the county level.

President Donald Trump’s attacks on the mainstream media may be rooted in statistical reality: An extensive review of subscription data and election results shows that Trump outperformed the previous Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, in counties with the lowest numbers of news subscribers, but didn’t do nearly as well in areas with heavier circulation.

POLITICO’s findings — which put Trump’s escalating attacks on the media in a new context — were drawn from a comparison of election results and subscription information from the Alliance for Audited Media, an industry group that verifies print and digital circulation for advertisers. The findings cover more than 1,000 mainstream news publications in more than 2,900 counties out of 3,100 nationwide from every state except Alaska, which does not hold elections at the county level. …

“I doubt I would be here if it weren’t for social media, to be honest with you,” Trump told Fox Business Network in October. Without it, he said at the time, he “would never … get the word out.”

POLITICO’s analysis shows how he succeeded in avoiding mainstream outlets, and turned that into a winning strategy: Voters in so-called news deserts — places with minimal newspaper subscriptions, print or online — went for him in higher-than-expected numbers. In tight races with Clinton in states like Wisconsin, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, the decline in local media could have made a decisive difference.

To assess how the decline in news subscriptions might have affected the presidential race, POLITICO made a county-by-county comparison of data from AAM. Almost all daily newspapers report their subscription numbers, print and online, to AAM for verification in order to sell to advertisers. (Some of the smallest outlets do not, though, including weekly publications.) After ranking the counties on subscription rates, POLITICO compared election results between counties with high and low subscription rates, and used regression analysis to determine the correlation between news circulation and election results.

Among the findings:

• Trump did better than Romney in areas with fewer households subscribing to news outlets but worse in areas with higher subscription rates: In counties where Trump’s vote margin was greater than Romney’s in 2012, the average subscription rate was only about two-thirds the size of that in counties where Trump did worse than Romney.

• Trump struggled against Clinton in places with more news subscribers: Counties in the top 10 percent of subscription rates were twice as likely to go for Clinton as those in the lowest 10 percent. Clinton was also more than 3.7 times as likely to beat former President Barack Obama’s 2012 performance in counties in the top 10 percent compared to those in the lowest 10 percent — the driest of the so-called news deserts.

• Trump’s share of the vote tended to drop in accordance with the amount of homes with news subscriptions: For every 10 percent of households in a county that subscribed to a news outlet, Trump’s vote share dropped by an average of 0.5 percentage points.

To many news professionals and academics who’ve studied the flow of political information, there’s no doubt that a lack of trusted local media created a void that was filled by social media and partisan national outlets. …

Starting in the 1970s, when the control of the nominating process shifted from party elites to primary-election voters, a common sight at rallies, conventions and debates was small groups of journalists, men and women, most of them having traveled in from Washington, gathering to compare observations. Together, they would decide what news had been made — which candidate handled himself better, which exchanges were the most relevant, which assertions were the most questionable.

In the days before the Internet, about a dozen news outlets dominated national political coverage. They included the major television networks, weekly news magazines, The Associated Press, and about a half-dozen newspapers. Wire services such as The New York Times News Service and The Washington Post-Los Angeles Times service sent out their articles to smaller papers across the country, guaranteeing vastly wider circulation for their stories.

There is a giant error here. (Actually more than one, but follow me for a bit.) To call an area — say, Ripon, where I used to live — a “news desert” because it doesn’t have a weekly newspaper is a gross misrepresentation. Ripon has a weekly newspaper, and an award-winning weekly newspaper at that. A lot of communities have award-winning weekly newspapers that are doing better in a business sense than the nearest daily newspaper.

In fact, across the newspaper industry weeklies are doing considerably better than dailies. Dailies face more competition for the advertising dollar (which is the majority of income for newspapers) than weeklies in smaller markets do, and often competition that relies on ad revenue for all of its revenue (radio and TV).

Dailies focus on the community whose name is in their masthead (i.e. the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel), showing up in small towns only when there’s something they think is meaty. The weekly newspaper, meanwhile, covers things that don’t get the attention of the daily, such as school events, local sports, etc. The competently run weekly newspaper doesn’t focus on state or national issues except to the extent those issues affect their readers. So if Paul Ryan comes to town, they’ll cover Ryan, but they’re not going to write about politics beyond their market every week.

Chain ownership is a reality of journalism today, as it is in many fields of business. Though there is nothing innately wrong with chain ownership in the same way there is nothing innately wrong with ownership by a publicly traded company, chain ownership hasn’t worked out so well for daily newspaper readers. Gannett owns most of the daily newspapers east of the Interstate 39 corridor. None are considered quality newspapers (other than by themselves) except for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (and the JS certainly has its non-fans, which is probably a growing group, given the USA Today-ization of the Journal Sentinel). Gannett newspapers outside the Journal Sentinel run a page or two of news from the previous day’s edition of USA Today (which makes those pages USA Yesterday, actually two-day-old news, which should be unacceptable for a “daily” newspaper).

Other daily newspapers have made business decisions seemingly designed to alienate their audience. The Wisconsin State Journal decided to stop covering the southwestern part of the state at the same time the Dubuque Telegraph Herald stopped printing its own newspaper. So, you ask? The issue is that the TH’s print deadlines for a morning daily newspaper are the previous early afternoon, except for page 1 stories. Both the State Journal and the TH have simultaneously cut back on sports coverage in the area where they previously had overlap, reducing readers’ daily choices from two to none. Readers stop reading, or don’t start reading, due to (in their definition) bad product.

The Internet is a difficult problem for those who are used to getting customers to pay for their product. A lot of daily newspapers started putting their work online for free, and then discovered that people don’t like paying for something they used to get for free. The online model that seems to work best is to charge for the product but include it in a print subscription package, but a lot of daily newspapers haven’t figured that out.

The State Journal is the daily newspaper I grew up reading (starting at age 2, according to my parents, which did not compel the State Journal to hire me, not that I’m bitter or anything). It has been owned by Lee Newspapers for decades. State Journal readers if asked might say that the State Journal has gone backward in quality since Lee decided it wanted to buy bigger newspapers, such as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, that had increasing business problems. For all The Capital Times’ numerous faults, it was locally owned, and still is, though it is no longer a daily newspaper and still has those numerous faults.

Strange though this sounds, the Cap Times’ (as it calls itself now as a weekly tabloid) ending daily publication wasn’t a benefit to the State Journal’s non-liberal readers. The State Journal, both editorially and in its news coverage, has lurched leftward ever since then, while continuing to print Sunday screeds of editor Paul Fanlund and his predecessor, Dave Zweifel. The State Journal used to have a moderate-to-conservative editorial page, but that hasn’t been the case for years. (Similarly, the merger of the former Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel resulted in a generally slightly-less-than-liberal Journal Sentinel editorial page.)

What Politico terms “news deserts” are simply markets not large enough to support a daily newspaper. It’s pretty arrogant to assume that journalism occurs only in daily newspapers, but that’s one of the (often valid) criticisms of my line of work.

And speaking of that, David Harsanyi adds:

We’re now into our second year of theorizing about what went wrong in 2016, which is itself illustrative of the prejudice in much of political media. Most of these stories have nothing to do with Donald Trump’s policies or his behavior — topics well worth covering — and everything to do with creating the impression that the electoral process was dangerously flawed. Whether The Comey Letter swung the election or Fake News swung the election or Facebook data mining swung the election, there have been so many stories intimating that our democratic institutions have been subverted, that you sense certain people might be reluctant to accept the sanctity of the process.

I bring this up, because this week, a new Politico piece theorizes that a lack of “trusted news sources” in rural areas, rather than any particular issues, gave Donald Trump victory in 2016. It is perhaps the most unconvincing, inference-ridden, self-aggrandizing piece in the entire “What Went Wrong?” genre. The premise, basically, is that a lack of local media sources left a void that was filled by Donald Trump’s tweets and unreliable conservative sites, and that factor turned the 2016 election, “especially in states like Wisconsin, North Carolina and Pennsylvania,” where hapless Americans were unable to make educated choices without proper guidance from journalists.

“The results,” Shawn Musgrave and Matthew Nussbaum write, “show a clear correlation between low subscription rates and Trump’s success in the 2016 election, both against Hillary Clinton and when compared to Romney in 2012.” Setting aside the problem of correlational/causation and all that, every one of these stories is driven by the unstated notion that Clinton was predestined to win the 2016 election, and any other outcome means something went wrong. There’s simply no way, a year into Hillary’s presidency, that major outlets would be doing a deep dive into the viewing habits of urbanites to try and comprehend how they could have been crazy enough to elect her.

It’s true, the world is changing and also it is inarguable that places with larger populations that have the means to support local newspapers (like the scrappy New York Times) would be more inclined to vote for Clinton, while in rural areas where subscription-based outlets are more difficult to maintain, they would not not. Both these things are true. Yet, there is no data in the piece — despite nearly 4,000 words and a number of graphs to create a scientific veneer — offering any compelling evidence that the dynamics of a race would be altered if the Bedford Falls Examiner was still in business.

In the old days, we’re told, the local reliable church-going editor would run dispassionate stories from trustworthy sources.

In the days before the Internet, about a dozen news outlets dominated national political coverage. They included the major television networks, weekly news magazines, The Associated Press, and about a half-dozen newspapers. Wire services such as The New York Times News Service and The Washington Post-Los Angeles Times service sent out their articles to smaller papers across the country, guaranteeing vastly wider circulation for their stories.

For people who care about the news, larger papers and stations still exist, but they exist online. Rural Americans, like urban Americans, get most of their news online. They follow national trends in their news consumption. After decades of skewed coverage, they’ve become skeptical. But like other voters, they rarely alter their positions, and when they do seek out the news they seek our news that feeds their predominant political prejudices. You may not like that rural Republicans get their news from FOX and Sinclair rather than CNN and MSNBC, but that’s a matter of ideological taste.

It is almost also certainly true that Trump’s “relentless use of social media” had something to do with perceptions of his voters (his obsession with Hillary is another story.) But would his successful application of new media, once celebrated when the appropriate people won elections, been any less effective because there was a Washington Post wire story running in the local paper? Would Trump voters have traded in the MAGA hat for an “I’m with her” bumper sticker if they read Paul Krugman in their paper? This seems unlikely.

What’s far more plausible is that a combination of factors made Trump in 2016 a marginally more agreeable Republican candidate to rural voters than Mitt Romney in 2012. Or, perhaps, even more relevant, that Hillary Clinton was far less likeable, and had far less political acumen, than the candidate Romney faced in 2012, Barack Obama. But even without factoring in the personalities, comparing turnout and voting patterns in different years in the way Politico does is fraught with other problems. Americans are fickle, and national events, trends, local economic factors, and thousands of other variables can alter results, as well.

The idea that a lack of a local newspaper is a determinative factor in swinging enough people to turn a national election is probably a reflection of journalism’s self-importance and an inability to live with the idea that Americans could vote for Trump without being hoodwinked in some way. Because, let’s face it, Democrats never really lose an election, do they? If the Supreme Court isn’t stealing the presidency then propaganda outfits are weaponizing social media mindbots to control your vote or the Constitution is getting in the way of proper “democracy.” We’re going to keep doing this until Americans make the right choice.

Trump may or may not get reelected (or even run) in 2020. But daily newspapers have probably lost those Trump voters permanently, and that is the daily media’s own fault. Alienating vast numbers of paying customers is not a successful recipe for staying in business.

Democrats’ hate speech, aka Walker Derangement Syndrome

The Associated Press reports the latest Democrat verbal diarrhea:

Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker is accusing Democrats of being driven by “anger and hatred,” a line of attack the two-term incumbent began emphasizing last week that his opponents say more accurately reflects the tactics of President Donald Trump.

Walker, who is up for a third term in November, made the charge against Democrats on Twitter the night a liberal-backed candidate for Wisconsin Supreme Court trounced her conservative opponent. Walker has repeated it many times in the week since, as he also sounds an alarm about Wisconsin being hit by a “blue wave” in November.

“Their rhetoric is increasingly not just liberal, but filled with hatred and anger towards me, towards the president, towards Republicans in general,” Walker said on the “Fox and Friends” show broadcast nationwide Monday.

Democrats said the new line of attack is desperate.

“For all his boasting about being unintimidated, it is clear Scott Walker is panicked, and he should be,” said Mahlon Mitchell, one of more than a dozen Democratic gubernatorial candidates.

Walker said Democrats running against him were once “mild-mannered, low-key people” but “to win that primary they’re going to have to show that they can match the rhetoric of hate and anger.”

When asked for specific examples of what Walker was referring to, the Wisconsin Republican Party pointed to a January story in the Hudson Star-Observer newspaper in River Falls, Wis., where Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers called Walker an “idiot” for rejecting federal Medicaid matching funds.

The state GOP also mentioned a radio interview where challenger Matt Flynn called Walker “too stupid to be governor.” The party also produced a sampling of profane comments posted on Twitter in reaction to Walker that came from random people, not Democratic candidates for office.

Walker has long been the subject of vitriol from some political opponents after he effectively ended collective bargaining for public workers shortly after taking office in 2011. That anger fueled the ultimately failed attempt to recall him in 2012.

But Democrats running against Walker this year reject the claim they’re fueled by hate and anger, and say Walker’s accusation ignores Trump’s behavior.

“Hate and anger — he must be reading the president’s 3 a.m. tweets!” said Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andy Gronik.

Another Democratic gubernatorial candidate — state Rep. Dana Wachs, of Eau Claire — called Walker’s claims “ridiculous and disingenuous.” Wachs said Walker and Republicans “accuse Democrats of being hateful while practicing the politics of hate — it’s classic smoke and mirrors.” …

Walker is urging Republicans to spread an optimistic and positive message, something Democrats say their own candidates and party are already doing.

“We reject the politics of anger, hatred, and division that have turned neighbor against neighbor over the past eight years,” said candidate Kelda Roys.

Mike McCabe, a longtime political activist, said his campaign isn’t even focused on criticizing Walker.

“I challenge anyone to find anger and hate in what I say as I’m traveling the state or in any of our campaign videos,” McCabe said. “We have to focus on what we love, not what we hate. We have to focus on what we’re for, not what we’re against. I say that everywhere I go.”

McCabe’s comments notwithstanding, I suppose, none of the Democrats quoted here would dare say any of this to Walker’s own face, or the face of anyone who could provide physical repercussions for their verbal hatred. That, of course, is a major reason why social media has become such a cancer on our society — people feel perfectly free to write things they would never say to someone in person. (Or say things to reporters they’d never say to someone close enough to respond with a punch to the face.)

Well, two can play that game. The 1988 Democratic presidential field was known derisively as the Seven Dwarfs. This year’s Democratic gubernatorial field could well be called the 17 Dwarfs, or whatever number of Democrats have decided to run for reasons known only to themselves. Comrade Soglin persists under the delusion that the People’s Republic of Madison’s Mayor for Life has created Madison’s prosperity instead of having the state capital and a world-class university there, neither of which Soglin has anything to do with. Tony Evers keeps sending out news releases announcing himself as “State Superintendent,” as if he has more power than he actually as. I wonder why a successful business person (Gronik, according to himself) would run for office. I wonder why a former political party head (Flynn) who has never been elected to public office thinks he’s qualified to be governor. For that matter, on what planet is a firefighter union head qualified to run anything other than a public employee union? Who is Wachs? Who is Roys?

There is a difference between them and me. I would say exactly what I wrote one paragraph ago to their faces if they had the guts to show up. As you know, I hate politicians. I hate the politicians I vote for slightly less than the politicians I oppose.

Yesterday I posted the opinion that one reason why most school referenda passed April 3 was because the state had finally corraled, in the opinion of voters, sky-high school property taxes. The comment a regular reader made it appear that he believes that the responsibility of taxpayers is to (1) provide schools with as much money as they want and teachers unlimited autonomy and then (2) shut up. That, of course, is not how it works. Any government service gets the money and authority the Legislature authorizes, and not one cent more.

The thing voters who voted for Walker in 2010, 2012 and 2016 should remember is these and other Democratic dirtbags are not merely insulting Walker — they are personally insulting everyone who voted for Walker. (In the same way that Hillary Clinton and other Democrats continue to insult people who voted for Trump in 2016.) That seems like a strange way to attract voters to yourself, unless their interest, beyond demonstrating their low character, is to wind up Democratic-leaning voters. That says a lot about Democratic-leaning voters.

Libertarians will point out, correctly, that this is the logical result of government that has grown far too large and taxes and controls too much, which has led to increasing the stakes in elections, made the zero-sum-game aspect of politics far worse, and thus requires winning at all costs.

I continue to read these comments from Democrats, both nationally and in this state, and conclude that Democrats’ number one goal is to exact revenge on Republicans following the Nov. 6 elections. I also wonder how in the world we haven’t had assassinations of politicians and/or their supporters in this country and this state in this decade. Yet.


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