Category: US politics

An accurate look at the economy

Tyler Durden has a look at the economic report you didn’t read from the mainstream national media this morning:

Today’s first estimate of Q1 GDP growth is expected to show the US economy growing at a whopping 8.5% rate as government aid and vaccinations fuelled spending. The problem, as discussed recently, is that it’s all downhill from here with Goldman recently slashing its GDP outlook and expecting growth to slide to a muted trendlike 1.5%-2.0% by the end of 2022. Of course, as Bloomberg’s Laura Cooper notes, slowing momentum from an exceptionally strong level doesn’t mean a stalled recovery with the Atlanta Fed’s nowcast still pointing to still-robust activity in July. High-frequency gauges suggest consumer spending remains strong. And solid job gains can extend as workers return to the workforce, with the labor market outlook “very strong”, according to Powell. Of course, risks remain given stumbles towards herd immunity with only half of the country fully vaccinated. And hesitancy is becoming a more prominent risk. But while the variant spread alongside rising infection rates can slow the recovery, it’s unlikely to derail it – even if more data surprises are in store.

And while few would really care about GDP as a result, the BEA managed to shocked market watchers when it reported that in Q2 GDP rose just 6.5% SAAR, a huge miss to the expected 8.5%, and just barely higher than Q1’s 6.4% annualized rate. The print was such a surprise many were wondering if someone at the BEA had a fat finger accident.

What was behind the huge miss: the main cause was an unexpected drop in inventories, which subtracted 1.13% from the bottom line GDP print. This number was expected to be positive (more below). Another reason is that the GDP Price Index (deflator) rose 6% annualized, vs 5.4% forecast. This subtracted a further 0.6% from the annualized GDP print.

Digging through the numbers, the second-quarter increase in real GDP reflected increases in consumer spending, business investment, exports, and state and local government spending that were partly offset by decreases in inventory investment, housing investment, and federal government spending. Imports, a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased.

  • The increase in consumer spending reflected increases in services (led by food services and accommodations) and goods (led by other nondurable goods, notably pharmaceutical products).
  • The increase in business investment reflected increases in equipment (led by transportation equipment) and intellectual property products (led by research and development).
  • The increase in exports reflected an increase in goods (led by non-automotive capital goods) and services (led by travel).
  • The decrease in inventory investment was led by a decrease in retail inventories.
  • The decrease in federal government spending primarily reflected a decrease in nondefense spending on intermediate goods and services.In the second quarter, nondefense services decreased as the processing and administration of Paycheck Protection Program(PPP)loan applications by banks on behalf of the federal government declined.

A look at the numbers reveals the following:

  • Real Personal Consumption came in at 7.78%, higher than the 7.74% in Q1. On an annualized basis it came in at 11.8%, far above the 10.5% expected and above the 11.4% in Q1. In other words, consumer were not the reason for the big miss in Q2. Final sales to private domestic purchasers q/q rose 9.9% in 2Q after rising 11.8% prior quarter
  • Fixed Investment contributed just 0.57% to the bottom line GDP print, a big drop from the 2.25% in Q1. Nonresidential fixed investment, or spending on equipment, structures and intellectual property rose 8% in 2Q after rising 12.9% prior quarter
  • A big surprise was in the change in Private Inventories, which shrank -1.13% on expectations of an increase. It followed last quarter’s 2.62% inventory destocking, and suggests that there will be a lot of pent up inventory rebuilding growth in the quarters ahead.
  • Trade, or net exports (exports less imports) subtracted another -0.45% from the headline GDP print, as exports turned positive 0.64% reversing Q1’s -0.30% drop. But it was continued imports – a GDP detractor – which subtracted -1.09% from the headline number.
  • Finally, government consumption subtracted another -0.27% from the headline print, a big drop from the 0.77% boost earlier. …

Elsewhere, the BEA reported that real disposable personal income (DPI) — personal income adjusted for taxes and inflation— decreased 30.6% in the second quarter after increasing 57.6percent (revised) in the first quarter. A more updated number will be revealed tomorrow when we will get the personal income and spending data for June.

According to the BEA, the Q2 drop in current-dollar DPI primarily reflected a decrease in government social benefits related to pandemic relief programs, notably direct economic impact payments to households established by the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act and the American Rescue Plan Act. Personal saving as a percent of DPI was 10.9 percent in the second quarter, compared with 20.8 percent (revised) in the first quarter.

But perhaps most important was the inflation/PCE data in the report, which revealed that the GDP price index rose 6% in 2Q after rising 4.3% prior quarter, and well above the 5.4% expected, while core PCE q/q rose 6.1% in 2Q after rising 2.7% in the prior quarter, in line with expectations.

The BEA added that prices of goods and services purchased by U.S.residents increased 5.7% in the second quarter after increasing 3.9%. Energy prices increased 20.6% in the second quarter while food prices increased 2.0% •Excluding food and energy, prices increased 5.5% in the second quarter after increasing 3.2% in the first quarter.

Overall, this was a surprisingly poor GDP pring, but it had two silver linings: personal consumption was far stronger than expected as households continued to drain those $2.5 trillion in excess savings; second the drop in inventory means that in the current and future quarters, retailers will have to restock inventories which will of course boost GDP, in other words, today’s GDP shortfall will translate into stronger GDP contributions in future quarters.

Tim Nerenz adds:

This was not supposed to happen. Two massive stimulus bills, rapid drops in Covid, rapid increase in vaccination, reopening of businesses and schools, and a general euphoria brought about by the change in administration.

While the experts were surprised, ordinary folks are not. We see the higher prices, restricted hours of operation, empty storefronts and commercial office spaces, unfilled jobs, shortages of all sorts of things from disrupted supply chains. 13 million remain jobless 15 months after the 2020 lockdown crash.

Surveyed confidence in the direction of the economy has fallen steadily in recent weeks from 60% to 40%, and the President’s approval rating – rightly or wrongly – has fallen accordingly.

I recently read an interesting old article defending Say’s Law (the law of markets) which proposed that there is no “cause” for poverty – it is the default setting and natural state of idleness. It is prosperity that can and must be “caused”; and it is caused by the the production and exchange of valuable goods and services.

That is why the growth of “P” in GDP is so important; it is a measure of our prosperity and living standards.

“Lockdowns” can be better described as forced idleness to understand their impact on prosperity and poverty. Unlike partisan political matters which benefit one faction to the detriment of another, economic prosperity policies cut across party and ideological affiliations.

Economics is not red or blue; it is either sound or unsound, and markets – not politicians – pass judgment on particular theories and policy prescriptions. We are all economic actors in our market economy; we are the P in real GDP.

My favorite economist joke: economists and meteorologists both use complex mathematical pattern models to predict future events. The difference is that meteorologists have not yet fooled themselves into believing they can make it rain.

If economic growth is 6.5 percent but inflation is 6 percent, then real economic growth is only 0.5 percent. That’s Barack Obama levels of “recovery.”

 

The opposite of collective bargaining

Rick Esenberg and Will Flanders:

It’s been 10 years since Wisconsin passed Act 10, which limited the rights of public employee unions to demand collective bargaining, and Wisconsin is still reaping the benefits: better educational outcomes, more teacher freedom, less ability on the part of unions to influence politics and cost-savings to school districts — just to name a few.

However, the left is still working to say otherwise, so two prevalent myths deserve to be dispelled. The passage of Act 10 and “right-to-work” legislation — which gave employees in Wisconsin the same freedom to choose whether to be in the union as is enjoyed in 26 other states — did not increase income inequality or harm education in Wisconsin. In fact, close to the opposite is true.

Let’s consider income inequality first by looking at a common measure of the gap between the rich and the poor — the Gini coefficient. It attempts to represent, with a single number, the difference between the poorest and wealthiest individuals in a particular area. State-level Gini coefficient data collected by a Sam Houston State Economics professor shows that Wisconsin’s hasn’t changed much in terms of income inequality before or after Act 10. Indeed, the state has remained more equal than the average across the United States. In other words, the claim that labor union reforms have increased inequality is patently absurd based on the data.

Contrary to popular understanding, Act 10 did not restrict the rights of unions to advocate for their members. It did, however, restrict their ability to insist upon collective bargaining — a system in which the government is obliged to negotiate with its employees. While this may sound innocuous, in practice it allows unions to influence government decision-making in a way that citizens with competing interests — say, taxpayers — may not. Under collective bargaining, public employee unions exercise outsized power on public decision making. For example, while parents across the country became more interested in opening schools following the growing consensus that it was safe to do so, teacher unions fought to prevent it. Research from our organization and others found that COVID-19 played little role in school reopening decisions — what mattered was whether there was a strong union in the area.

While COVID-19 no doubt hurt education, Act 10 did not. Specifically, Act 10 is not the reason for a declining number of people becoming teachers, which is one of the left’s arguments regarding Act 10 hurting education. The teacher shortage is a national problem, covering states across the political spectrum. According to data from the Department of Education tabulated by the Center for American Progress, almost all states have experienced significant declines in the number of students entering teacher preparation programs.  States such as Illinois and New York, where little union reform is possible, have seen larger declines than Wisconsin.

The real purpose of today’s liberalism

Nathaniel Blake:

They want to make your life worse. They are the various diversity, equity, and inclusion activists and apparatchiks whose obsessions with race, sex, and gender now govern much of American life. They are the nation’s scolds, afraid that someone, somewhere, is having fun in a way that offends the ever-shifting demands of diversity and inclusion.

The latest victims of their killjoy spree are in Virginia, where prom kings and queens and daddy-daughter dances are about to be banned in public schools. By law, all Virginia public schools are required to implement policies that are “consistent with but may be more comprehensive than the model policies developed by the Department of Education.” These model policies are a disaster, requiring schools to “accept a student’s assertion of their gender identity without requiring any particular substantiating evidence, including diagnosis, treatment, or legal documents.”

Thus, on nothing more than a child’s say-so, schools must allow males into female locker rooms and showers, and house boys with girls on overnight trips. School employees are even told to keep a student’s steps toward transition secret from parents deemed insufficiently “supportive,” and to consider calling Child Protective Services on them. But the malice of the trans-kids movement may be most evident in the smaller cruelties of prohibiting prom queens and daddy-daughter dances.

This directive is meant to ensure the inclusion of students who identify as transgender, but it is an inclusion by elimination, achieved by banning sex-specific celebrations and honors. Any sex-specific distinctions, it is feared, might hurt the feelings of those with gender dysphoria.

But by this logic, even a generic gender-neutral parent-child dance should be cut for making children with dead, absent, or terrible parents feel left out. Indeed, dances in general should be cancelled because they might make socially awkward or physically disabled students feel bad. And so on the reasoning goes, cancelling everything that might make someone, somewhere, feel excluded.

This mindset allows misery to take happiness hostage, and it is particularly pernicious for sex and gender. We are embodied, and the reality of biological sex is fundamental to our being. It is also essential to human existence, for new persons are conceived through the union of male and female. That some people are uncomfortable with the sexed reality of physical embodiment is tragic (that cultural and political leaders are trying instill and encourage such discomfort is wicked), but that is no reason to require everyone else to officially ignore the basic experiential reality of being male and female.

Yet this is precisely what Virginia is doing to the children in its public schools. The cancellations of dances and other events are emblematic of a deeper erasure of identity, in which young men and women have the sexed reality of bodily existence officially erased in the name of inclusion. We are born male and female, but Virginia has decided that helping children grow into men and women is wrong, and that fundamental relational identities such as “father” and “daughter” must be publicly eliminated.

The irony in this is that those who preach most fervently about celebrating diversity seem terrified of acknowledging human differences. If, for instance, they really believe that “trans women are women,” then what is diverse about them? Only by acknowledging the difference between biological women and biologically male trans women can there be any diversity to celebrate. But admitting these differences threatens the entire ideological project.

The difficulty the ideologues face is that their mantra of diversity, equity, and inclusion is borderline incoherent. Diversity means difference, which intrinsically imperils equity and inclusion, for differences are by nature unequal in some way and exclusive of something. To be one thing is to not be another. To prefer one thing is to disfavor another. And so on.

Identifying and responding to important differences are always fundamental social and political tasks, as is finding commonalities that might unite us. These duties require wisdom and discernment, and the advocates and acolytes of diversity, equity, and inclusion are not up to the job. They efface essential differences and magnify those that they should minimize. And they lack a unifying principle that could unite different people and groups. Hence their flailing attempts to reconcile the tensions inherent in their sloganeering.

The Virginia public school system is a case in point, with Loudoun County alone providing a plethora of egregious examples that have provoked a major parental backlash even in this wealthy, solid-blue area. For instance, Loudoun administrators have illegally punished a teacher for stating the truth about biological sex, and they have become racial obsessives who have spent tens of thousands on critical race theory training that denounces colorblindness.

But the distinction between male and female is literally fundamental to human existence, whereas the construction of racial identities has little to no basis in biological reality. Effacing the former while emphasizing the latter is the opposite of what educators should be doing.

This folly arises because they are trying to remake society with a half-baked, incoherent ideology that is enforced by the shifting demands of the woke internet mob. And those people will always find something else to be unhappy about and another ideological envelope to push. Thus, the same ideology that cancels daddy-daughter dances in Virginia is putting men into female prisons in California, with predictably horrifying results.

These policies are the products of unhappy people who have realized that combining ideology and claims of victimhood give them power, which they can use to hurt others. This is why so much of our public discourse, especially from thelLeft, amounts to little more than accusations that “the thing you like is bad, and you should feel bad for liking it.”

The truth is that a daddy-daughter dance hurts no one, except those already determined to be miserable. Banning the dance helps no one, except for those eager to punish those who are happy.

The most divisive championship of all time!

On Tuesday the Milwaukee Bucks ended a 50-year NBA championship drought.

It shouldn’t be surprising given our fractious times that this was not met with universal praise throughout the home state of the Bucks. Some people fail to grant others the same rights of opinion as they grant themselves when opinions disagree. (This is a bigger thing with liberals than conservatives, but too few conservatives grant others the right to be wrong.)

There is also the dynamic of Milwaukee vs. the rest of Wisconsin. Some of that comes through this rather defensive piece from On Milwaukee:

Hello, big market sports punditry. I see you over there on the coast, scoffing about Milwaukee’s historic victory in the NBA Finals.

You’ve probably never been to Milwaukee, so let me try to explain this to you.

What’s happening in Milwaukee this week is about so much more than an NBA title. It’s about so much more than some sports talk blowhard who called us a “terrible city.”

It’s about humility. It’s about passion. It’s about showing up and being yourself when everyone else says you should be embarrassed of who that is, and grinning like Bobby Portis and not giving a f*ck.

Did you catch that, Stephen A? We know you didn’t want to come to Milwaukee. We don’t care, we were having a great time regardless. We think it’s hilarious that you had to come anyway. We hope you hated how much fun you had.

Because being a champion is easy when everyone else sees a champion. Being a champion when everyone sees a nobody – when the world sees “Flyover Country” – that takes guts.

That’s why Giannis Antetokounmpo is such a perfect avatar for this place. That’s why his statue will stand taller than the “Bronze Fonz” (but probably in its general vicinity).

Because nobody outside of Wisconsin saw a champion when Giannis stepped onto an NBA court as a gangly, quiet 18-year-old who barely spoke any English.

He doesn’t fit the mold of an NBA champion. Even today, there is a sizable segment of the national sports punditry that (not-so-secretly) resents him for that.

He doesn’t brag. He doesn’t make drama. He’s not flashy.

He shows up, and he does the work. He stays humble and grateful. He doesn’t just remember his roots, he never left them.

There’s no pretension there, just an authentic human being who is awkward and doofy and full of passion.

NBA fans no longer get to count the seconds as Giannis prepares for his free throws.

No, from here on out, they have to spell:

A-N-T-E-T-O-K-O-U-N-M-P-O

After the game, Giannis described himself as “a people pleaser.”

Believe me, the people of Milwaukee are pleased. We identify with this dude.

If he stays in Milwaukee Antetokounmpo will be as loved as Henry Aaron was. And those who are ignoring the Bucks because of (they believe) incorrect political views are missing out on one of the greatest sports figures (not just for athletic reasons) in our lifetimes.

And we needed this W bad.

Because you don’t GET nice things when you’re from Milwaukee. This city’s entire history is about getting knocked on its butt just when it’s on the precipice of having something nice.

Kevin Smith’s movie classic “Dogma” sums it up succinctly. When Linda Fiorentino asks if Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were sent to hell, Alan Rickman infamously deadpans, “Worse. Wisconsin.”

Nobody quotes that line more than we do here in Milwaukee, and we laugh it off with our customary Midwestern good grace. But there is real pain under that laughter.

People forget that Milwaukee was poised to be a global super-city at the turn of the 20th century. Milwaukee City Hall was the tallest secular building in the world, and the city had growth and population density that rivaled New York, London and Paris.

Maybe we forgot because no one reading this was alive at the time. But I digress.

It didn’t pan out – seems like it never does for Milwaukee. People forgot about the city that “Feeds and Supplies the World.” Factories closed. Racial discrimination reared its ugly head. The rust belt decay took hold. Affluent folks fled to the suburbs and took their wealth with them, and Milwaukee became a scapegoat for the rest of the state to look down upon.

Even when we learned Milwaukee would play host to the Democratic National Convention in 2020 and soak up some warm political press, somehow we knew it wouldn’t work out. We’d never heard of COVID at that point, but we knew that Milwaukee can’t have nice things.

So some thing or another was bound to screw it up.

It’s OK. We’re still here. We’re still doing the work. And let me tell you what I saw Tuesday night in Milwaukee.

I saw 100,000 deliriously giddy people packed into a “Deer District” that sits on top of a scar.

When I moved to Milwaukee nine years ago, that’s what it was – a scar, both metaphorical and physical.

This scar was a reminder of a time when some privileged someones decided to rip out one of the Midwest’s most vibrant African American neighborhoods so they could build a freeway, so that some white folks could get to their homes in the suburbs five minutes more quickly.

And then decades later, when they tore down that ill-conceived Park East Freeway, 24 acres of blighted gravel pit just sat there like a knife through Milwaukee’s heart. When I moved to Milwaukee, I figured that ugly scar would be with us forever.

My hat is off to the Lasry family. When they bought the team in 2014, Milwaukeeans had low expectations. Billionaires from New York don’t normally do much for us here in “Flyover Country.”

Not so with the Lasrys. They threw their talents and their wealth into healing that scar – both metaphorically and physically.

The Lasrys didn’t just build the new Fiserv Forum arena and the surrounding Deer District on top of that ugly Park East Freeway scar.

They committed to hiring unemployed or underemployed Milwaukeeans to make up 40% of their construction workforce. Contractors and detractors said it couldn’t be done, but the Lasrys invested in recruitment and upskilling programs and exceeded that goal.

Those people dancing in the Deer District last night were dancing in a monument to Midwest urban renewal that was built for Milwaukeeans, by Milwaukeeans – folks who showed up and did the work.

Those kids diving off the bridge into the Milwaukee River – they would have come out with chemical burns if they had tried that in 1971.

The scars are healing.

Now, it would be ridiculous and reductionist to say this NBA title marks a turning point for the city of Milwaukee.

This city still grapples with a legacy of racial discrimination that won’t just go away. It’s still the scapegoat of a state legislature that sees Milwaukee as its perennial punching bag. And a humming decade of businesses reinvesting in Milwaukee has suddenly been slammed into neutral amid the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Maybe if Milwaukee wasn’t the source of most of the state’s social pathologies — high (compared with the rest of the state) crime, horrible schools (that no additional amount of money could fix), playing of the race card against the rest of the non-Madison state, and failure to get rid of the politicians who are fixing nothing, to name four — and had made any attempt at all to rectify that, Milwaukee might have more sympathy outside the 414 area code. We’ll return to that “punching bag” point momentarily.

But last night, Milwaukee finally got to have something nice. And it may not be a panacea, but it reminded us why we keep showing up, and why we keep doing the work.

In Downtown Milwaukee, I saw a vibrant city firing on all cylinders and living up to its full potential. I saw white guys who wear MAGA hats hugging Black guys who wear Black Lives Matter shirts. I saw just a little bit of pride creeping out from under that Midwest veneer of humility.

No, we’re not LA or New York or Miami. We never will be. We don’t want to be.

We’re authentic and awkward and doofy and full of passion. We’re Milwaukee.

Any basketball fan will tell you it doesn’t matter what the scoreboard says at halftime.

What matters is momentum. And right now, Milwaukee has the momentum.

Jake Curtis presents an alternative view:

As Wisconsin basks in the glory, it is worth keeping in mind how the Bucks got to this point and the important role the state’s conservatives played in ensuring this moment was possible.

During Games 4 and 6, the packed Fiserv Forum literally shook, and on Tuesday night over 65,000 additional fans packed the Deer District just outside the arena. The story of the Fiserv arena offers proof that the bold reforms ushered in during Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s era included a long-term vision for economic development based on true public-private partnerships, not the phony ones that far too many taxpayers have had hoisted upon them.

Following the 2014 sale of the franchise by longtime Bucks owner (and former U.S. senator) Herb Kohl to hedge-fund managers Marc Lasry and Wes Edens, the NBA made it clear if the Bucks did not upgrade the aging Bradley Center, the team would be purchased by the NBA and sent off to Las Vegas or Seattle. Unlike other boondoggles, Kohl and the new ownership group put up $250 million while the remaining cost (the total came to around $524 million) came from state income tax revenue, a ticket surcharge, $4 million annually from Milwaukee County, $47 million from the City of Milwaukee, and $203 million in Wisconsin Center District bonding.

Would the billionaire owners have had the ability to pay for the entire construction package? Probably. In a perfect world, should Wisconsin taxpayers have been forced to shoulder the load? No. But the reality at the time was that the Wisconsin legislature, under the leadership of state Sen. Scott Fitzgerald (now a member of Congress) and longtime Speaker Robin Vos, and Gov. Walker and his team ushered through the financing plan. Without their work, which was aided by the state’s largest business lobby (the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce), NBA fans could very well have been left watching a Finals played between the Phoenix Suns and Las Vegas Bucks.

Despite opposition from some Milwaukee Democrats, legislators like my former boss, Sen. Duey Stroebel, who represented districts that straddled metro Milwaukee and more rural communities, were forced to take a tough vote to keep the team in Milwaukee. As a result of this bold leadership, the financing package ultimately garnered bipartisan support in both chambers.

The jury is still out on whether public financing arrangements like the one that made the Fiserv Forum possible directly benefits taxpayers. Critics of such deals raise legitimate free-market concerns. However, had Wisconsin conservatives not stepped forward to assist, Wisconsin would have lost an asset and the city’s Deer District would be nothing more than an aging basketball skeleton. Instead, as the Bucks took the court Tuesday night, a full house was present in the Fiserv Forum, 65,000 plus were cheering (and spending money in nearby bars and restaurants) outside, and viewers across the state witnessed a historic performance by Giannis and his teammates.

Everyone should be thankful that in 2015 Wisconsin conservatives did not let the team leave on their watch. Instead, they rolled up their sleeves and ensured the Bucks would remain part of the state’s amazing economic comeback. And because of their efforts, Wisconsin will be able to proudly feature a humble and hungry role model like Giannis for years to come.

About that opposition from Milwaukee Democrats: One of them, Rep. David Bowen, sent a congratulatory social media message that might make you think he had supported the Fiserv Forum package. He didn’t.

As was pointed out in the aforementioned post (when reposted on Facebook), the state funding package was more an allocation of tax revenue than a tax increase, by earmarking the so-called “jock tax” toward the package instead of just dumping it into state General Purpose Revenue. As Walker put it at the time, “I think it’s arguably the most fiscally conservative idea in the country for a professional sports team,” Walker said. “We’re having them pay their own way. It’s not coming out of revenues from anywhere else. It’s not coming from new taxes. It’s keeping the foundation we have today.”

And yet, it helped Walker in no political sense. In fact, nothing the Republican Party has done to help Milwaukee has helped the GOP politically. Did Republicans benefit by getting Miller Park built? Ask former state Sen. George Petak, who got recalled for his support of the 0.1-cent stadium tax, which then lost control of the Legislature. How about Milwaukee school choice? Democrats outside Milwaukee routinely bludgeon Republicans on the spurious claim that private school choice money takes away from public schools.

Fiserv Forum? Notice that instead of Walker as governor …

… Wisconsin has a governor who, as politicians will do, takes credit for something he had absolutely nothing to do with.

 

National Propaganda Radio

Matt Taibbi, who is not a conservative:

[Monday’s] NPR article, “Outrage As A Business Model: How Ben Shapiro Is Using Facebook To Build An Empire,” is among the more unintentionally funny efforts at media criticism in recent times.

The piece is about Ben Shapiro, but one doesn’t have to have ever followed Shapiro, or even once read the Daily Wire, to get the joke. The essence of NPR’s complaint is that a conservative media figure not only “has more followers than The Washington Post” but outperforms mainstream outlets in the digital arena, a fact that, “experts worry,” may be “furthering polarization” in America. NPR refers to polarizing media as if they’re making an anthropological discovery of a new and alien phenomenon.

The piece goes on to note that “other conservative outlets such as The Blaze, BreitbartNews and The Western Journal that “publish aggregated and opinion content” have also “generally been more successful… than legacy news outlets over the past year, according to NPR’s analysis.” In other words, they’re doing better than us.

Is the complaint that Shapiro peddles misinformation? No: “The articles The Daily Wire publishes don’t normally include falsehoods.” Are they worried about the stoking of Trumpism, or belief that the 2020 election was stolen? No, because Shapiro “publicly denounced the alt-right and other people in Trump’s orbit,” as well as “the conspiracy theory that Trump is the rightful winner of the 2020 election.” Are they mad that the site is opinion disguised as news? No, because, “publicly the site does not purport to be a traditional news source.”

The main complaint, instead, is that:

By only covering specific stories that bolster the conservative agenda (such as… polarizing ones about race and sexuality issues)… readers still come away from The Daily Wire’s content with the impression that Republican politicians can do little wrong and cancel culture is among the nation’s greatest threats.

NPR has not run a piece critical of Democrats since Christ was a boy. Moreover, much like the New York Times editorial page (but somehow worse), the public news leader’s monomaniacal focus on “race and sexuality issues” has become an industry in-joke. For at least a year especially, listening to NPR has been like being pinned in wrestling beyond the three-count. Everything is about race or gender, and you can’t make it stop.

Conservatives have always hated NPR, but in the last year I hear more and more politically progressive people, in the media, talking about the station as a kind of mass torture experiment, one that makes the most patient and sensible people want to drive off the road in anguish. A brief list of just a few recent NPR reports:

Billie Eilish Says She Is Sorry After TikTok Video Shows Her Mouthing A Racist Slur.” Pop star caught on tape using the word “chink” when she was “13 or 14 years old” triggers international outrage and expenditure of U.S. national media funding.

Black TikTok Creators Are On Strike To Protest A Lack Of Credit For Their Work.” White TikTok users dance to Nicky Minaj lyrics like, “I’m a f****** Black Barbie. Pretty face, perfect body,” kicking off “a debate about cultural appropriation on the app.”

Geocaching While Black: Outdoor Pastime Reveals Racism And Bias.” Area man who plays GPS-based treasure hunt game requiring forays into remote places and private property describes “horrifying” experience of people asking what he’s doing.

Broadway Is Reopening This Fall, And Every New Play Is By A Black Writer.” All seven new plays being written by black writers is “a step toward progress,” but critics “will be watching Broadway’s next moves” to make sure “momentum” continues.

She Struggled To Reclaim Her Indigenous Name. She Hopes Others Have It Easier.” It took Cold Lake First Nations member Danita Bilozaze nine whole months to change her name to reflect her Indigenous identity.

Tom Hanks Is A Non-Racist. It’s Time For Him To Be Anti-Racist.” Tom Hanks pushing for more widespread teaching of the Tulsa massacre doesn’t change the fact that he’s built a career playing “white men ‘doing the right thing,’” NPR complains.

Mixed in with Ibram Kendi recommendations for children’s books, instructions on how to “decolonize your bookshelf” and “talk to your parents about racism” (even if your parents are an interracial couple), and important dispatches from the war on complacency like “Monuments And Teams Have Changed Names As America Reckons With Racism, Birds Are Next,” “National” Public Radio in the last year has committed itself to a sliver of a sliver of a sliver of the most moralizing, tendentious, humor-deprived, jargon-obsessed segment of American society. Yet without any irony, yesterday’s piece still made deadpan complaint about Shapiro’s habit of “telling [people] what their opinions should be” and speaking in “buzzwords.”

This was functionally the same piece as the recent New York Times article, “Is the Rise of the Substack Economy Bad for Democracy?” which similarly blamed Substack for hurting “traditional news” — and, as the headline suggests, democracy itself — by being a) popular and b) financially successful, which in media terms means not losing money hand over fist. There, too, the reasons for the rise of an alternative media outlet were presented by critics as a frightening, unsolvable Scooby-Doo mystery.

It’s not. NPR sucks and is unlistenable, so people are going elsewhere. People like Shapiro are running their strategy in reverse and making fortunes doing it. One of these professional analysts has to figure this one out eventually, right?

Cockburn of The Spectator:

‘Hey, that’s some nice Facebook traffic you’re getting. Would be a shame if something happened to it.’

That’s the tone, more or less, from a Monday NPR article ‘profiling’ Ben Shapiro’s phenomenally successful Daily Wire news brand.

The average New York Times article on Facebook collects just under 2,000 likes, shares, and comments. The average Daily Wire link receives nearly 40,000. At the peak of the 2020 election, Daily Wire articles averaged almost 100,000 engagements. No other publication comes close.

And all of this really bothers NPR. For 2,000 petulant words, NPR does everything it can to imply that the Daily Wire should be kicked off Facebook. Why? Because…because…it’s just not fair! Why do people read their articles more than ours?

That’s the guts of the entire temper tantrum posing as an article. NPR gets very angry at the public for not liking the ‘right’ news outlets and basically calls for Big Tech to decide what people are supposed to read. And they do it with the same cudgel they’ve become so fond of in the past year: kvetching about ‘misinformation’.

The articles the Daily Wire publishes don’t normally include falsehoods (with some exceptions), and the site said it is committed to ‘truthful, accurate and ethical reporting.’

As NPR’s quoted experts explain, only covering specific stories that bolster the conservative agenda (such as negative reports about socialist countries and polarizing ones about race and sexuality issues) and only including certain facts, readers still come away from the Daily Wire‘s content with the impression that Republican politicians can do little wrong and cancel culture is among the nation’s greatest threats.

Grrr! The conservative outlet promotes conservatism! Why can’t they be 100 percent fair and unbiased, like all the publications that deep-sixed Hunter Biden’s laptop for partisan political purposes? Why can’t they do responsible and accurate reporting like the Washington Post, which won a Pulitzer Prize for writing approximately infinity articles about Russian collusion? Why can’t they be more like the bravely non-partisan New York Times, which forced out an editor for publishing an op-ed by a sitting US senator stating a view that more than half the country agreed with? Why can’t they come up with rhetorical innovations like ‘mostly peaceful protests’ in order to lie to the public about what’s happening right in front of their faces?

And speaking of Pravda-esque sleight of hand, NPR’s article delivers this gem from William and Mary academic Jaime Settle, who explains how even telling the truth is actually ‘misinformation’ if it makes NPR’s Facebook shares look bad.

‘They tend to not provide very much context for the information that they are providing,’ Settle said. ‘If you’ve stripped enough context away, any piece of truth can become a piece of misinformation.’

Soon, NPR is reduced to basically suggesting that Facebook’s news consumers are touched in the head:

‘On its “About” page, the site declares, “The Daily Wire does not claim to be without bias,” [but] It’s not clear that the millions of people engaging with the site’s news stories every month recognize that.

‘The Daily Wire‘s content looks no different in Facebook’s newsfeed than an article from a local newspaper, making it potentially difficult to distinguish between more and less reliable or biased information sources. “This is about what we end up consuming inadvertently,” Settle said.’

To borrow a word from Taylor Lorenz, does NPR think that Facebook users are r-slurred? They use the Daily Wire because they can’t tell the difference between it and the ‘right’ news sources?

Please. The truth is the exact opposite. The Daily Wire, and every other conservative outlet thriving on Facebook, is doing well because it is very obviously not part of the sanctimonious, equivocating, censorious, hypocritical, hysterical, deceptive, propagandistic orgy of self-righteous school-marmery that passes for ‘mainstream’ media. Unlike the typical NPR reporter, actual news consumers know the press is biased, so they at least want to pick an outlet that isn’t biased against them.

If the standard press wants their articles to be shared more, they could start by not being a never-ending cascade of moralizing lectures and psy-ops promoting foreign wars or polyamory. But that would be difficult. It takes decades of responsible practice to build up trust from the general public. It only takes a few days to simply call your rivals ‘misinformation’ and get them banned.

Wisconsin Public Radio (for whom, you may recall, I was a participant on its Friday morning political pundit panel, previously) recently ran a piece quoting UW–Milwaukee Prof. Mordecai Lee, a former state legislator, that Gov. Tony Evers won the budget battle with the state Legislature, despite the fact that the budget the Legislature created and passed is what Evers signed (with 50 Evers vetoes).

The WPR commenters all agreed with Lee, which means they are ignorant because no one, impartial or not, could look at that budget and say that Evers had anything to do with it other than signing it.

The past isn’t what it used to be

Jonah Goldberg:

Joe Biden loves to say, “America is back.” He used it to announce his incoming national security team last November. “It’s a team that reflects the fact that America is back, ready to lead the world, not retreat from it.”

Last February, there were a slew of headlines about his first big foreign policy speech along the lines of this from the Associated Press:

Biden declares ‘America is back’ in welcome words to allies.”

In that speech, Biden told diplomats at the State Department, “when you speak, you speak for me. And so—so [this] is the message I want the world to hear today: America is back. America is back. Diplomacy is back at the center of our foreign policy.”

That phrase—as well as those Biden-tells-allies-America-is-back headlines—keeps coming to mind every time I read about the inexorable advance of the Taliban in Afghanistan. For the Afghans, America was “here,” and now it’s leaving. I wonder how “America is back” must sound to the people feeling abandoned by America in general, and the guy saying it in particular.

I’m not trying to pull on heart strings, so I won’t trot out the girls who will be thrown back into a kind of domestic bondage or the translators and aides who rightly fear mass executions may be heading their way. All I’ll say is that their plight does pull on my heart strings.

But let’s get back to this “America is back” stuff. For Biden, it seems to have two meanings. One is his narrow argument that we are rejoining all of the multilateral partnerships and alliances that Trump pulled out of or denigrated. Fair enough. I can’t say this fills me with joy, even though I disliked most of that stuff from Trump (the two obvious exceptions being getting out of the Paris Accord and the Iran deal). I think diplomacy often gets a bad rap. But I also think diplomacy is often seen as an end rather than a means. We want diplomats to accomplish things, not to get along with each other just for the sake of getting along. For too long, Democrats have cottoned to a foreign policy that says it’s better to be wrong in a big group than to be right alone.

But there’s another meaning to “America is back.” It’s an unsubtle dig at Trump and a subtle bit of liberal nostalgia all at once. It’s kind of a progressive version of “Make America Great Again.” It rests on the assumption that one group of liberal politicians speaks for the real America, and now that those politicians are back in power, the real America is back, too. But the problem is, there is no one real America. There are some 330 million Americans and they, collectively and individually, cannot be shoe-horned into a single vision regardless of what labels you yoke to the effort.

Liberals were right to point out that there was a lot of coding in “Make America Great Again.” I think they sometimes overthought what Trump meant by it, because I don’t think he put a lot of thought into it. He heard a slogan, liked the sound of it, and turned it into a rallying cry—just as he did with “America first,” “silent majority,” and “fake news.” Still, when, exactly,  was America great in Trump’s vision? The consensus seems to be the 1950s, a time when a lot of good things were certainly happening, but a lot of bad things were going on that we wouldn’t want to restore.

Liberal nostalgia is a funny thing. Conservative nostalgia I understand, because I’m a conservative and I’m prone to nostalgia (even though nostalgia can be a corrupting thing, which is why Robert Nisbet called it “the rust of memory”). Conservatives tend to be nostalgic for how they think people lived. Liberals tend to be nostalgic about times when they had power.

Consider the New Deal. Being nostalgic for the New Deal certainly isn’t about how people lived, not primarily. America was in a deep depression throughout the New Deal. Breadlines and men holding signs saying “will work for food” are probably the most iconic images of that time. Who wants to return to that? And yet, liberals will not banish it from their collective memory as something like the high water mark of American history. That’s why they keep pushing for new New Deals and slapping the label on new programs that consist of spending money we don’t have.

The only thing that competes with the New Deal in the liberal imagination is the 1960s in general and the civil rights movement and Great Society in particular. I’m reminded of a Washington Post interview with Howard Dean in 2003 in which he explained his nostalgia for that era:

“Medicare had passed. Head Start had passed. The Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the first African American justice [was appointed to] the United States Supreme Court. We felt like we were all in it together, that we all had responsibility for this country. … [We felt] that if one person was left behind, then America wasn’t as strong or as good as it could be or as it should be. That’s the kind of country that I want back.”

“We felt the possibilities were unlimited then,” he continued. “We were making such enormous progress. It resonates with a lot of people my age. People my age really felt that way.”

That’s not how people his age felt back then. It’s how a certain group of liberals felt because they were winning. The 1960s and the 1930s were times of massive civic strife marked by race riots, domestic bombings, assassinations, and anti-war protests. But liberals were in charge, felt like history was on their side, and they had a lot of “wins” as Donald Trump might say.

The current obsession with the “new Jim Crow” seems like a perfect example of how liberal nostalgia distorts and corrupts. As I write today, I’m not a fan of the arguments coming out of the GOP or the Democrats. But the simple fact is that we don’t live in the 1960s—or 1890s—anymore. Whatever the future holds, it will not be a replay of that past. And that’s overwhelmingly for the good.

I always find it funny that the same people who ridicule “excessive” fidelity to the timeless principles of the Founding as archaic are often also the same ones who worship at the altar of the New Deal and the Great Society. The Founders didn’t know about mobile phones and the internet! Well, neither did the New Dealers or the Johnson administration. But that doesn’t matter because the part they really liked and yearn to restore is timeless: people in Washington deciding how Americans everywhere else should live and work.

I don’t know how the White House’s new collaboration with Facebook to combat “misinformation” will actually play out and I’m not fully up to speed on what the administration really intends to do. Though—given press secretary Jen Psaki’s comment that “you shouldn’t be banned from one platform and not others,” etc.—it doesn’t sound good. But I think David French’s gut check is exactly right: “Moderation is a platform decision, not a White House decision. Trying to force more moderation is as constitutionally problematic as trying to force less moderation.”

The principle at the heart of that speaks not just to social media regulation, but to all of the competing efforts from right and left to throw aside the rules in a thirsty search to rule.

Listeners of The Remnant know that I often find myself suffering from a peculiar form of nostalgia, for want of a better word. The title of my podcast comes from an essay by Albert Jay Nock, who was one of the “superfluous men” of the long Progressive Era that stretched—with a brief, and partial, parentheses under the sainted Calvin Coolidge—from the end of the Teddy Roosevelt administration to the end of the Franklin Roosevelt administration. I don’t agree with Nock, or the other superfluous men, on everything—they were a diverse lot. But the thing that connected them all—hence their superfluousness—was how they felt that they were standing on the sidelines as the major combatants at home and abroad competed over how best to be wrong, how to stir up populist anger for their agendas, and, most of all, how to use the state to impose their vision on the “masses.” The remnant was the sliver that wanted no part of any of it.

“Taking his inspiration from those Russians who seemed superfluous to their autocratic nineteenth-century society and sought inspiration in the private sphere, even to the point of writing largely for their desk drawers,” writes Robert Crunden, Nock’s biographer. “Nock made the essential point: ransack the past for your values, establish a coherent worldview, depend neither on society nor on government insofar as circumstances permitted, keep your tastes simple and inexpensive, and do what you have to do to remain true to yourself.”

Or as the great superfluous man of the Soviet Empire, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, put it, “You can resolve to live your life with integrity. Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.”

I share this—yet again—as a kind of omnibus response to all of my critics these days and the ones yet to come. I’m lucky that I don’t have to write for my desk drawer, though I am reliably informed — daily — that many people would prefer I did. But I am going to continue to write for the remnant as I see it and those I hope to convince to swell its ranks, and not for those who think that to be against what “they” are doing I must endorse what “we” are doing. Our politics may be a binary system of competing asininities these days, but just because one side of a coin is wrong, that doesn’t mean the other side is right.

Words hurt you if you let them

Charlie Sykes used to produce solid conservative/libertarian content, and does here:

Apparently, we have to remind people about this again:

If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.
― Benjamin Franklin

There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.
― Ray Bradbury

We’ve devoted a great deal of time lately to discussing illiberalism and authoritarianism, and justifiably so. But we have to recognize that liberalism and free expression face a two-front assault — from the intolerant Left as well as the troglodyte Right.

ICYMI: The other day, the American Booksellers Association donned the sackcloth of wokeness and issued this statement of performative groveling:

Twitter avatar for @ABAbookAmerican Booksellers Association @ABAbook

Image

The “serious, violent incident” here was sending out copies of this book:

Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters by [Abigail Shrier]

Some background.

The author of the offending book, Abigail Shrier, writes for the Wall Street Journal, and is a graduate of Columbia College, Oxford University, and Yale Law School. Her book is obviously controversial, but it was named one of the best books of the year by The Economistand one of the best of 2021 by The Times of London.

Reviewing the book in Commentary Magazine, Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote:

“If you want to understand why suddenly it seems that (mostly) young girls from (mostly) white middle- or upper-class backgrounds (many of whom are in the same friend groups) have decided to start dressing like boys, cutting their hair short, changing their name to a masculine one, and even taking hormones, using chest compressors, and getting themselves surgically altered, you must read Abigail K. Shrier’s urgent new book, Irreversible Damage.”

But not surprisingly, this sort of thing triggered opponents, who demanded that it be suppressed.

After receiving two Twitter complaints, Target stopped selling the book (a decision they later reversed… and then reversed again). Hundreds of Amazon employees signed a petition demanding the company stop selling the book.

Even the ACLU seemed to break bad on the idea that the book should be available in the marketplace of ideas. Chase Strangio, the American Civil Liberties Union’s deputy director for transgender justice, tweeted: “Abigail Shrier’s book is a dangerous polemic with a goal of making people not trans…. We have to fight these ideas which are leading to the criminalization of trans life again.”

He declared: “Stopping the circulation of this book and these ideas is 100% a hill I will die on.”

Shrier commented: “You read that right: Some in today’s ACLU favor book banning. Grace Lavery, a professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, went further, tweeting: ‘I DO encourage followers to steal Abigail Shrier’s book and burn it on a pyre.’

“This,” Shrier wrote, ”is where leftist extremism, encouraged by cowardly corporations, leads.”

**

Under normal circumstances, the American Booksellers Association is very much into free expression and opposed to censorship. They are the sort of people who wear buttons declaring “WE READ BANNED BOOKS.”

Its website still includes this declaration:

But it turns out there are limits to free expression, not just for the ABA, but for many of the nation’s booksellers. This month ABA sent a mailing to 750 bookstores, which included a copy of the heretical book. Blowback was fierce.

Publisher’s Weekly reported that the American Booksellers Association was “facing withering criticism from booksellers after walking back its promotion of an anti-trans title to member bookstores.”

Among booksellers… there was little disagreement about the content of the book. “As longtime @ABAbook members with beloved staff across the gender spectrum, we’re extremely disappointed and angered to see the ABA promoting dangerous, widely discredited anti-trans propaganda, and we’re calling for accountability,” the Harvard Book Store wrote on Twitter.

Within hours, it issued the fulsome apology. Shrier’s reaction:

If there were a Hall of Fame for capitulations to Woke bullies, the American Booksellers Association is hereby inducted. The “serious, violent incident” they perpetrated? Including my book in a large box of new book samples sent out to independent booksellers.

Despite the tone of the apology, the wokest of the booksellers were not satisfied. The outraged booksellers, “said the statement fell short, calling out the organization’s use of the passive voice in the opening sentence.” ReportedPublishers Weekly:

“They also demanded greater transparency about how the decision to include the book was initially made, and called for demonstrable steps to restore trust with trans book workers and authors. Some called on the ABA to offer promotions for trans authors’ books at no cost.”

But elsewhere, the reaction to the ABA’s statement was blistering, with much of it focusing on the irony of an organization devoted to selling books apologizing for selling a book.

Rich Horton @PurePopPub

Joanne Mason @JoanneMason11

If mailing a book to members of your professional booksellers group is a “serious, violent incident” then words have no meaning, and we can no longer call ourselves a serious people. I’m not saying this is how you get a president Trump, but this is how you get a president Trump.

Brian Schubert @SchubertBrian

@ABAbook The thing about totalitarianism isn’t the gulag but society’s acquiescence in living the lie. Like, including a book title in a mailing to book sellers is “violent.”

This is not a debate over Transgenderism, but rather a question of whether we can even have a debate at all. It is an objectively ominous moment when the folks who sell books think there are some ideas too dangerous to print… or read.

Take note: if you are offended by a book, (1) don’t buy it, (2) don’t read it, or (3) make an effort to correct or refute it.

Don’t burn it.

Sykes and other anti-Trump conservatives tend to dismiss other conservatives’ claiming a culture war is taking place in this country. It’s hard to argue that we’re not in a cultural cold war when you cannot even discuss a controversial issue.

 

What a real violation of the First Amendment looks like

Robby Soave:

The federal government is stepping up its effort to purge the internet of COVID-19 “misinformation.” On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki singled out a dozen specific anti-vaccine Facebook accounts and called on the platform to ban them.

“There’s about 12 people who are producing 65 percent of vaccine misinformation on social media platforms,” said Psaki. “All of them remain active on Facebook, despite some even being banned on other platforms, including ones that Facebook owns.”

She was discussing a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) report on “confronting health misinformation.” It instructs social media platforms to redesign their algorithms so that false information about COVID-19 is deprioritized, to shield journalists and medical professionals from harassment, and even to address misinformation during livestreams, a task that the report admits is “difficult” given the streams’ “temporary nature and use of audio and video.”

“We all have the power and responsibility to confront health misinformation,” tweetedSurgeon General Vivek Murthy. “That’s why we included recommendations for individuals, educators, researchers, health professionals, tech companies, and more.”

The federal government is not explicitly ordering tech platforms to take down content. These dictates are essentially strongly-worded suggestions. But you’re forgiven if you think Psaki’s summary of the report sounded like command.

“Facebook needs to move more quickly to remove harmful, violative posts,” she said. “Posts that would be within their policy for removal often remain up for days, and that’s too long. The information spreads too quickly.”

Psaki was alluding to anti-vaccine content, though the report itself impugns “medical misinformation” more broadly. Of course, the government itself has spread plenty of “medical misinformation,” from the early bad guidance on masks to White House coronavirus czar Anthony Fauci’s deliberate misstatements about the herd immunity threshold. For months, government health officials treated the lab leak theory of COVID-19’s origins as a wild conspiracy theory, and Facebook followed suit: It vigorously censored content that promoted the lab leak theory. That policy was not revised until June.

Efforts by the government and tech platforms to suppress misinformation have undeniably resulted sometimes in the suppression of information that is either factual, or could plausibly turn out to be factual. (This has been the case outside the realm of pandemic-related content as well.) New initiatives undertaken by the federal government that would encourage Facebook to be even more heavy-handed with potential misinformation should be met with skepticism: The track record is just not very encouraging.

The White House’s targeting of Facebook should make critics a little sympathetic to Mark Zuckerberg’s position. Prominent legislators from both political parties—as well as the current and former presidents—want to aggressively regulate his company if not break it apart entirely. Facebook’s CEO must feel tremendous pressure to give federal health bureacrats exactly what they’re asking for, or else.

Instead of defending the rights of private companies to set their own moderation policies independent of whatever the government would like them to do, Republicans are taking this opportunity to further erode Facebook’s autonomy. Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) even suggested that the site’s submission to the feds renders it an agent of the state.

“The social media platforms are increasingly just arms of the federal government and the Biden White House,” Hawley tweeted. “Why should the #BigTech companies continue to be treated as private companies when they function as agencies of the federal government.”

Hawley is essentially saying that a private company complying with the government becomes a state actor, and thus should be bound to the same restrictions as any other public agency. (Former President Donald Trump’s doomed social media lawsuits rest on a version of this argument.) But Hawley and others are also attempting to punish these same private companies for not doing what the White House wants. (In Hawley’s case, he wants Facebook to suppress fewer posts.) That’s quite a Catch-22: Facebook is in trouble either way.

In case you haven’t noticed, Iran is at war with us

Benny Avni:

When I first got a whiff a while back of the plot, I thought, no way: Even the Iranian regime wouldn’t undermine the nuclear talks in Vienna by kidnapping a journalist as distinguished as Masih Alinejad. Then another thought nagged me: What if the Biden administration, eager to cut a deal with Tehran, would prevent the Feds from indicting, and airing the case in public.

Turns out I was wrong — up to a point — on both counts.

All I knew earlier was that FBI agents had shown Ms. Alinejad high-resolution photographs and videos that were taken by someone that might have worked for, or with, the Iranian camarilla. The G-men told her she was in danger. She and her husband, the journalist Kambiz Foroohar, were hustled to safe houses for their protection and told to cancel all planned international travel. Later, when they returned home to Brooklyn, an NYPD squad car was stationed constantly in front of their house.

On Tuesday night the Justice Department unsealed an indictment against five Iranian agents. Although FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney, Jr., was quoted in the indictment as saying “this is not some far fetched movie plot,” it sure sounded like one.

The pictures and videos I heard of included depictions of Ms. Alinejad and Mr. Foroohar, their daily routines, their Brooklyn home, the garden in front of it — the works. They were shot by an apparently unsuspecting American detective, hired by Iranian agents. They’s said he’d aid an investigation into an uncollected debt from someone who escaped to Dubai.

Other details were even more ominous. One of the conspirators researched military-type speed boats to learn which, after an abduction of Ms. Alinejad, could transport her by sea from the Brooklyn waterfront to Venezuela, where she’d be speedily transferred to Iran. Similar abductions of dissidents, including one from France, have ended up in death.

The Iranian regime has attempted to kidnap Ms. Alinejad before. In her autobiographical book, “The Wind In My Hair,” the Iranian-born Brooklynite details how she canceled a trip to Turkey, where she was told she could meet family members. Just in time she realized the plan was merely a setup by Iran to abduct her.

When Ms. Alinejad first learned of the new plot eight months ago, she was really scared, she told Voice of America’s Farsi Service, where she has a radio show.

Then she concluded that the mullahs are now more scared of her than she is of them. That is because her simple but powerful message, combined with an engaging personality and unparalleled on-air charisma, are so subversive to a rigid regime like Iran’s. It means that she really does threaten its hold on power.

I witnessed Ms. Alinejad’s ability to engage audiences and rouse feelings a while back, in one of our first meetings. She constantly fiddled with her iPhone, posting endless messages and videos to her millions of followers on Telegram, Facebook, and other social media — all without missing a beat on our conversation.

At one point she even managed to get a whole flock of Long Island wild turkeys to answer her bird call loudly, and approvingly. (I suggested she should enter, and win, Kentucky’s annual turkey calling contest.)

While the entire world was busy arguing about resolving Tehran’s nuclear threat, Ms. Alinejad, a journalist who escaped Iran after calling out regime officials, developed a much simpler message: Why should any woman hide a beautiful shock of hair like hers under a hijab, as the Iranian law dictates.

That query became a powerful symbol of the clerical regime’s oppression of women (and also of men). Her followers regularly post selfies as they remove mandatory hair coverings in public squares or defy the ban on women entering sports stadiums. Many of the women get arrested but, inspired by Ms. Alinejad, they remain defiant.

Ms. Alinejad says the kidnapping plot will not deter her from fighting for human rights in Iran. Will America now back her? President Biden vowed to place human rights on top of his foreign policy. Ms. Alinejad’s campaign, however, got no recognition from the administration.

Unlike Secretary of State Pompeo, who warmly and publicly hosted her at the State Department in 2019, Secretary Blinken has yet to meet or acknowledge her feminist message. On Tuesday night the State Department issued a bland statement, generically calling on the Iranian regime to respect human rights and freedom of expression, adding that the kidnapping plot “is a law enforcement matter and we refer you to the Department of Justice for any further inquiries.”

Really? As the FBI’s Mr. Sweeney said in the indictment, “We allege a group, backed by the Iranian government, conspired to kidnap a U.S. based journalist here on our soil and forcibly return her to Iran.” What part of “backed by the Iranian government” is no “matter” for our top diplomats? At least Washington could now demand the release of Alireza Alinejad, who was arrested, convicted in a show trial and sentenced to eight years in Iranian dungeons for the “crime” of being Masih Alinejad’s brother.

To add insult to injury, the administration announced, on the day Justice unsealed the indictment, the removal of Iranian oil executives from a list of sanctioned regime officials. It was almost as if Washington rewarded Tehran for a failed plot to seize an American woman on our own soil.

Sure enough, administration officials are making clear to reporters who ask about the indictment fallout that they remain eager to renew a nuclear deal that, if nothing else, fail to end the ayatollah’s nuclear ambitions while making Tehran’s oppressors flush with cash and assuring their survival in power.

When “government” and “patriotism” are opposites

Matt Taibbi, not a conservative:

On Monday, June 28th, Fox host Tucker Carlson dropped a bomb mid-show, announcing he’d been approached by a “whistleblower” who told him he was being spied on by the NSA.

“The National Security Agency is monitoring our electronic communications,” he said, “and is planning to leak them in an attempt to take this show off the air.”

The reaction was swift, mocking, and ferocious. “Carlson is sounding more and more like InfoWars host and notorious conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones,” chirped CNN media analyst Brian Stelter. Vox ripped Carlson as a “serial fabulist” whose claims were “evidence-free.” The Washington Post quipped that “in a testament to just how far the credibility of Tucker Carlson Tonighthas cratered,” even groups like Pen America and the Reporters Committee on the Freedom of the Press were no-commenting the story, while CNN learned from its always-reliable “people familiar with the matter” that even Carlson’s bosses at Fox didn’t believe him.

None of this was surprising. A lot of media people despise Carlson. He may be Exhibit A in the n+2 epithet phenomenon that became standard math in the Trump era, i.e. if you thought he was an “asshole” in 2015 you jumped after Charlottesville straight past racist to white supremacist, and stayed there. He’s spoken of in newsrooms in hushed tones, like a mythical monster. The paranoid rumor that he’s running for president (he’s not) comes almost entirely from a handful of editors and producers who’ve convinced themselves it’s true, half out of anxiety and half subconscious desperation to find a click-generating replacement for Donald Trump.

The NSA story took a turn on the morning of July 7th last week, when Carlson went on Maria Bartiromo’s program. He said that it would shortly come out that the NSA “leaked the contents of my email to journalists,” claiming he knew this because one of them called him for comment. On cue, hours later, a piece came out in Axios, “Scoop: Tucker Carlson sought Putin interview at time of spying claim.”

In a flash, the gloating and non-denial denials that littered early coverage of this story (like the NSA’s meaningless insistence that Carlson was not a “target” of surveillance) dried up. They were instantly replaced by new, more tortured rhetoric, exemplified by an amazingly loathsome interview conducted by former Bush official Nicolle Wallace on MSNBC. The Wallace panel included rodentine former Robert Mueller team member Andrew Weissman, and another of the networks’ seemingly limitless pool of interchangeable ex-FBI stooge-commentators, Frank Figliuzzi.

Weissman denounced Carlson for sowing “distrust” in the intel community, which he said was “so anti-American.” Wallace, who we recall was MSNBC’s idea of a “crossover” voice to attract a younger demographic, agreed that Carlson had contributed to a “growing chorus of distrust in our country’s intelligence agencies.” Figliuzzi said the playbook of Carlson and the GOP was to “erode the public’s trust in their institutions.” Each made an identical point in the same words minus tiny, nervous variations, as if they were all trying to read the same statement off a moving teleprompter.

The scene was perfectly representative of what the erstwhile “liberal” press has become: collections of current and former enforcement types, masquerading as journalists, engaged in patriotic denunciations of critics and rote recitals of quasi-official statements.

Not that it matters to Carlson’s critics, but odds favor the NSA scandal being true. An extraordinarily rich recent history of illegal, politically-directed leaks has gone mostly uncovered, in another glaring recent press failure that itself is part of this story.

It’s admitted. Go back to December, 2015, and you’ll find a Wall Street Journal story by Adam Entous and Danny Yadron quoting senior government officials copping to the fact that the Obama White House reviewed intercepts of conversations between “U.S lawmakers and American-Jewish groups.”

The White House in that case was anxious to know what congressional opponents to Obama’s Iran deal were thinking, and peeked in the electronic cookie jar to get an advance preview at such “incidentally” collected info. This prompted what one official called an “Oh, shit” moment, when they realized that what they’d done might result in “the executive branch being accused of spying.”

After Obama left office, illegal leaks of classified intercepts became commonplace. Many, including the famed January, 2017 leak of conversations between Michael Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak, were key elements of major, news-cycle-dominating bombshells. Others, like “Russian ambassador told Moscow that Kushner wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin,” or news that former National Security Adviser Susan Rice unmasked the identities of senior Trump officials in foreign intercepts, were openly violative of the prohibition against disclosing the existence of such surveillance, let alone the contents.

These leaks tended to go to the same small coterie of reporters at outlets like the Washington Post, New York Times, and CNN, and not one prompted blowback. This was a major forgotten element of the Reality Winner story. Winner, a relatively low-level contractor acting on her own, was caught, charged, and jailed with extraordinary speed after leaking an NSA document about Russian interference to the Intercept. But these dozens of similar violations by senior intelligence officials, mainly in leaks about Trump, went not just unpunished but un-investigated. As Winner’s lawyer, Titus Nichols, told me years ago, his client’s case was “about low-hanging fruit.”

The key issue in those cases was not even so much that someone in government might have been improperly accessing foreign surveillance intercepts — revelations to that effect have been a regular occurrence since the Bush years, with the FBI a serial violator — but that such intercepts were being leaked for public effect, with the enthusiastic cooperation of reporters, often in stories involving American citizens. They got away with it in the Trump years, because it was Trump, but the arrogance to think they can keep getting away with it by power-smearing everyone who objects is mind-blowing.

During Trump’s first run for president, I nearly lost my mind trying to explain to fellow reporters that he was succeeding in part because of us, that the prestige media’s ham-handed, hysterical, anti-intellectual approach to covering the Trump phenomenon was itself massively fueling it, making a case for establishment corruption and incompetence more eloquently than he could.

Something similar now is happening with the collapse of traditional media and the rise of Carlson, the current #1 voice on cable, who is rapidly stealing the audience MSNBC somehow believed it could corral with spokesgoons like Wallace. It seems impossible that Carlson’s haters don’t realize how easy they’ve made it for him, turning themselves into such caricatures of illiberalism that they’re practically handing him the top spot.

The inspiration for his current show seemingly came when Carlson watched his former colleagues among the GOP Brahmins make a show of reacting with horror to Trump’s arrival. These were people who had no problem wantonly bombing poor and mostly nonwhite countries all over the world, made a joke of the rule of law (and America’s reputation abroad) with policies like torture, rendition, and mass surveillance, and shamelessly whored themselves out to Wall Street even after the 2008 crash. Yet they pretended to severe moral anguish before Trump even took office.

Carlson grasped that the sudden piety of the Kristols and Max Boots and David Frenches was rooted in the same terror the Democratic Party nomenklatura felt at the possibility of a Bernie Sanders presidency in 2020, i.e. fear of a line-jumping outsider tearing away their hard-fought consultancies and sinecures.

“He was threatening their rice bowl,” Carlson says. “That’s all it was. I was like, ‘Fuck these people.’”

Biden’s minions, including those in the news media, need to remember the words of Theodore Roosevelt:

“Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.”