What we can do

David French:

The United States is facing a puzzling paradox. Even as gun crime has plunged precipitously from the terrible highs of the early 1990s, mass shootings have increased. Consider this, 15 of the 20 worst mass shootings in U.S. history have occurred since the Columbine school shooting in 1999. The five worst have all occurred since 2007, and three of those five were in 2016 and 2017.

It’s horrifying, and governmental solutions are hard to find. Twitter’s fondest wishes to the contrary, the unique characteristics of mass shootings mean that they often escape the reach of public policy. The Washington Posts Glenn Kessler (hardly an NRA apologist) famously fact-checked Marco Rubio’s assertion that new gun laws wouldn’t have prevented any recent mass shootings and declared it true. Time and again, existing laws failed, or no proposed new gun-control law would have prevented the purchase.

The reason is obvious. Mass shootings are among the most premeditated of crimes, often planned months in advance. The shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School reportedly wore a gas mask, carried smoke grenades, and set off the fire alarm so that students would pour out into the hallways. Though we’ll obviously learn more in the coming days, each of these things suggests careful preparation. A man who is determined to kill and who is proactive in finding the means to kill will find guns. He can modify guns. He can find magazines.

But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do. When policies fail, people can and should rise to the occasion. Looking at the deadliest mass shootings since Columbine, we see that the warning signs were there, time and again. People could have made a difference.

Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik spent at least a year preparing for their attack in San Bernardino, Calif. Farook may have even discussed the attack three years before the murders. A neighbor reportedly witnessed suspicious activity at the the shooters’ home, but was afraid to report what she saw.

The story of Devin Patrick Kelley — the church shooter in Sutherland Springs, Texas — is full of warning signs, acts of aggression, and missed opportunities. He was violent, he never should have passed a background check, and he “displayed a fascination with mass murders.”

Evidence of extended mental-health problems, aberrant behavior, or political radicalization is so common that the absence of such evidence in the Las Vegas shooting renders it the mysterious black swan of mass killings.

Adam Lanza’s family struggled with him for years before he committed mass murder at Sandy Hook. His mother was “overwhelmed” by his behavior, and he lived in deep isolation — blocking anyone from entering his room and even covering his windows with black plastic bags.

Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech killer, was known to be profoundly troubled. He stalked and threatened female schoolmates. In 2005, a court ruled that he was “an imminent danger to others,” but he was released for outpatient care.

The FBI twice investigated Omar Mateen, the Orlando Nightclub shooter, and he once claimed that he was affiliated with al-Qaeda and Hezbollah.

The list could go on and on. In fact, evidence of extended mental-health problems, aberrant behavior, or political radicalization is so common that the absence of such evidence in the Las Vegas shooting renders it the mysterious black swan of mass killings.

In 2015 Malcolm Gladwell wrote an extended essay in the New Yorker about school shootings and offered a provocative thesis:

What if the way to explain the school-shooting epidemic is . . . to think of it as a slow-motion, ever-evolving riot, in which each new participant’s action makes sense in reaction to and in combination with those who came before?

Gladwell argues that each new shooting lowers the threshold for the shooters to come. Each new shooting makes it easier for the next shooter to pick up his gun.

Others have used the term “contagion” to describe the wave of copycat killers. Again, each killing inspires the next, and as the killings increase so does the inspiration.

We can’t deflect responsibility upwards, to Washington. We’re still the first line of defense in our own communities.

What does this mean? It means that Americans need to be aware that this contagion exists, that this “ever-evolving riot” is under way. We can’t deflect responsibility upwards, to Washington. We’re still the first line of defense in our own communities. We cannot simply assume that the kid filling his social-media feed with menacing pictures is just in “a phase” or that strange obsessions with murder or mass death are morbid, but harmless.

We’ve trained ourselves to mind our own business, to delegate interventions to professionals, and to “judge not” the actions of others. But in a real way, we are our brother’s keeper; and an ethic of “see something, say something” is a vital part of community life.

Instead, we all too often retreat into our lives — either afraid that intervention carries risks or falsely comforted by the belief that surely someone else will do the right thing. We’ve seen this dynamic in other crimes. The worst of the sexual predators revealed (so far) by the #MeToo movement, Harvey Weinstein and Larry Nassar, could have been stopped so much earlier if the people around them had shown just an ounce more courage in the face of known complaints and known misconduct. We didn’t need better laws to stop rape. We needed better people.

One of the greatest challenges for any society is stopping a man who is determined to commit murder, and we’ll never fully succeed. Even the most vigilant community will still suffer at the hands of evil men. But it’s days like these, when children lay dead in school, that we must remind ourselves that we’re all in this together. We have responsibilities, not just to mourn and comfort the families of the lost, but to think carefully about our own communities and the circle of people in our lives — and to take action to guard our own children and our own schools.

It is the duty of a free people to be aware, to have courage, and to care for one another. For me, that’s a reminder that I can’t consider a troubled person someone else’s problem. I can’t assume it won’t happen in my school or in my town. Rather than tweet impotently, I’ve armed myself to protect my family and my neighbors; in my past role as a member of a school board, I’ve worked to better secure my kids’ school; and I’ve vowed that if — God forbid — I ever see evidence or warning signs of the darkness of a killer’s heart, I’ll have the courage to seek the intervention that can save lives.

That’s not public policy. It’s personal responsibility. It’s also the best way to confine the contagion that’s killing our kids.



The sincere sacrifice test

The patron saint of cynics, H.L. Mencken, wrote that “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

As we have seen in the past 24 hours to the latest obscenity, the Parkview, Fla., school shooting. Gun control has been brought up again despite no evidence gun control reduces any kind of crime. Improving mental health care has been brought up without any good ideas about what to do or if better mental health care will prevent bad things done by people who generally do not believe they are mentally ill.

One person yesterday brought up the fact that the high school has 3,000 students, and that’s too large. Maybe a 3,000-student high school (which is bigger than every high school in Wisconsin) is too large for reasons not related to the possibility of school shootings, but there are other mammoth high schools where school shootings do not take place.

The other reason this comes up is because of Wednesday’s report that Donald Trump reportedly favors a 25-cent-per-gallon increase in the federal gas tax to fund his $1 trillion of proposed infrastructure improvements. Of course, as a millionaire Trump probably couldn’t care less that his post-presidential flights to his resorts will cost more. Those of us working stiffs faced with 10 percent increases in the cost of travel will end up forgoing non-essential travel. Businesses will logically raise the cost of their products because their cost of doing business will increase. (Assuming the report is accurate and his supposed idea passes Congress, neither of which are sure things.)

Instapundit Glenn Harlan Reynolds‘ skepticism about climate change activists is expressed in his observation that “I’ll believe it’s a crisis when the people who keep telling me it’s a crisis start acting like it’s a crisis.” This was in response to the report that Al “Earth in the Balance” Gore’s house uses 34 times as much electricity as an average American house,” and of course all the private planes flown to Davos, Switzerland, for the latest global climate change crisis summit.

It is rank hypocrisy for, to use an example from this week, someone who doesn’t own guns to assert that guns should be banned, because that person would have to sacrifice nothing. Or for someone who doesn’t own an AR-15 rifle to assert that AR-15s (called, once again mistakenly by the Washington Post yesterday, an “assault rifle”) or semiautomatic rifles should be banned. Warren Buffett has called for taxes to be raised on himself and his fellow billionaires, which would be more persuasive had he not employed a squadron of accountants to reduce his taxes. (In fact, I always assume insincerity on the part of those who claim they would gladly have their taxes raised to fund more government spending of something.)

One of the rules around here is that doing nothing is better than doing the wrong thing. This flies in the face of the political-liberal worldview, of course. The liberal hero Franklin Roosevelt said that “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” And so after Pearl Harbor Roosevelt ordered the internment of 120,000 Japanese–Americans during World War II, presumably figuring this would prevent sabotage. It didn’t, but it did grossly violate the civil rights of those 120,000 Japanese–Americans. But hey, try something. (Roosevelt never expressed regret for that, though Eleanor Roosevelt did write in her newspaper column in 1943 that the internment camps should be closed. That would have made for some interesting White House dinner-table conversation were it not for the fact that Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt were about as married as Bill and Hillary Clinton are.)

I have therefore discovered the Sincere Sacrifice Test to judge political proposals. (I’m sure it’s not original.) In keeping with what I’ve had posted on the top of my computer for decades — the question “What does this story mean to the reader?” — the question to ask is what do you lose by what you’re advocating? And unless you have to make a major sacrifice, your statement is therefore as useful as anyone else with an opinion. If you don’t have skin in the game, you have no more persuasive standing than anyone else.

If you don’t own an AR-15 and you want AR-15s banned, your argument is automatically null and void. If you think overpopulation is a world problem and you being of parenting age are not willing to be sterilized, take your argument somewhere else. If you think climate change is a problem and you’re not willing to give up your single-family house or travel, you’re a rank hypocrite. In other words, unless your solution to your self-identified problem involves real sacrifice on your part, go away.


More signs of our deterioration

NBC News:

At least 17 people were dead after a 19-year-old former student opened fire at a South Florida high school on Wednesday afternoon, officials said.

The suspect was identified as Nikolaus Cruz, a former student who had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland for disciplinary reasons, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said. He said at least 14 other people were injured in addition to the 17 people killed.

The Washington Post adds:

He had been getting treatment at a mental health clinic and then stopped. He was expelled from school for discipline problems. Many of his acquaintances had cut ties in part because of his strange Instagram posts and reports that he liked shooting animals. His father died a few years ago. His mother, reportedly the only person with whom he was close, died around Thanksgiving.

Finally, Nikolas Cruz, 19, had a fascination with guns. …

“Weird” was the word students had used for Cruz since middle school. And he seemed to only be getting weirder, they said.

At first “it was nothing alarming,” said Dakota Mutchler, who went to middle school with Cruz. There was something “a little off about him,” said the 17-year-old, but that was it — for a while.

Then, as Cruz transitioned into high school, he “started progressively getting a little more weird,” Mutchler told The Washington Post. Cruz, he said, was selling knives out of a lunchbox, posting on Instagram about guns and killing animals, and eventually “going after one of my friends, threatening her.” …

Neighbors told the [Fort Lauderdale] Sun-Sentinel that police were called out repeatedly to deal with complaints about Cruz. Shelby Speno said he was seen shooting at chickens owned by a resident. Malcolm Roxburgh told the Sun-Sentinel that Cruz took a dislike to the pigs kept as pets by another family. “He sent over his dog … to try to attack them.” …

Years earlier and in recent months, however, young people acquainted with Cruz, like Mutchler, had seen enough to disturb them.

Joshua Charo, 16, a former classmate during their freshman year, told the Miami Herald that all Cruz would “talk about is guns, knives and hunting.” While Charo said Cruz joined the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps as a freshman, he continued to be “into some weird stuff,” like shooting rats with a BB gun.

Drew Fairchild, also a classmate during Cruz’s freshman year, agreed. “He used to have weird, random outbursts,” he told the Herald, “cursing at teachers. He was a troubled kid.”

He was suspended from Stoneman Douglas for fighting, Charo told the Herald, and because he was found with bullets in his backpack. …

An Instagram account that appeared to belong to the suspect showed several photos of guns. And one appeared to show a gun’s holographic laser sight pointed at a neighborhood street. A second showed at least six rifles and handguns laid out on a bed with the caption “arsenal.” Other pictures showed a box of large-caliber rounds with the caption “cost me $30.” One of the most disturbing appeared to show a dead frog’s bloodied corpse. Most of the photos were posted July 2017.

About this and every mass shooting, read this and this.

The other obscenity of this week happened in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune’s John Kass:

Of the many things Chicago should sear into its memory from Tuesday, one was this:

That long procession of police cars, blue lights flashing, trailing the ambulance carrying the body of Chicago police Cmdr. Paul Bauer from Northwestern Memorial Hospital to the morgue.

Chicago is a city of pain.

Dozens and dozens of squad vehicles joined the procession, and dozens of police officers stood to the side and saluted as the procession passed, and more mounted police units lined up and saluted in the darkening late afternoon.

The police were there for the commander, one of their own.

City Hall will tell you that downtown Chicago is safe and that yes, things happen, but if you think of it in terms of statistics, it’s safe.

But what happened downtown Tuesday, at the Thompson Center — just across the street from Chicago’s City Hall — is just the kind of thing that shakes people’s sense of safety.

Chicago police commanders aren’t supposed to be shot to death, not there, not at the heart of city business and politics.

Gunfire isn’t supposed to happen just a stone’s throw from City Hall. But it happened, and passers-by were frightened and they screamed and heard shouting and a few saw the blood.

Bauer, 53, husband and father, a 31-year-veteran of the Chicago Police Department and commander of the Near North District, was shot while confronting a robbery suspect.

Now comes the politics, the finger-pointing, and the political angles taken to benefit one side or another, none of them benefiting the police. Included on this list will be the suspect’s criminal record, whether he was treated leniently, how he got the gun. All of it will come out.

But right now I’m thinking of the cops, like one I talked to just as the news about Bauer was breaking. I’ll call him Joe.

Retired now, he spent his life as the real police — meaning he wasn’t a politician or some house cat or a climber connected to an alderman. He put his hands on people, making arrests in Chicago.

He has two sons on the police force and the boys are in action spots, not soft spots. They’re not guarding City Hall.

“We’re just sitting here all together, just watching the news, and I keep telling them to be careful, that you never know, that any day something like this can happen” Joe said. “I always wonder if it sinks in. You know they understand, but do they get it? Or do they think it won’t happen to them?”

The rest of us who don’t know the life, we look at police as men and women who make arrests, the people who put muscle behind the laws, or as human actors leveraged in political dramas about excessive police force.

But it wouldn’t hurt us to think of them as somebody’s son or daughter, because they are that, too.

“All I want is for my sons to come home after their shift,” said Joe. “Do people ever think of that? They say they think of it, and they’re thinking of it now, but do they really think it, say a month from now? I think of it.”

Another thing Chicago might want to remember on this day of pain was the police radio chatter, reported in the papers, when the suspect was being chased downtown.

“Don’t anybody get hurt,” warned an officer chasing the suspect. “We just wanted to do a street stop on him and he took off on me.”

Don’t anybody get hurt.

That was downtown. That wasn’t on the West Side or South Side.

So the suspect ran and Bauer, who had heard the call on his radio, recognized him and ran after him.

And not long after that, the commander was dead.

Choking back tears, police Superintendent Eddie Johnson walked to the microphones, cops behind him, and made a statement.

“Cmdr. Bauer was shot multiple times,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, Cmdr. Bauer passed away. The offender is in custody. The weapon is recovered. I just ask the citizens of this city to keep the Bauer family in their prayers. I’ve been meeting with his wife and daughter. It is a difficult day for us. But we’ll get through it.”

In order to live our lives, we choose to become numb to almost everything. We become numb to Chicago’s river of violence that for years has been claiming so many lives in the gang wars. We’re become numb to the bleating of politicians with no answers.

We’ve become numb to all of it.

That’s what happens in a city of pain. You grow numb.

About Bauer and his killer, the Tribune’s Annie Sweeney reports:

Just four months ago, Chicago police Cmdr. Paul Bauer didn’t mince words when he spoke about his frustrations that career offenders weren’t facing stiffer consequences in court.

“We’re not talking about the guy that stole a loaf of bread from the store to feed his family,” Bauer told the Loop North News. “We’re talking about career robbers, burglars, drug dealers. These are all crimes against the community. They need to be off the street.”

He took exception to Cook County’s push to set more affordable bails for defendants as part of an effort to reduce the population in the jail.

“Maybe I’m jaded,” he said. “But I don’t think that is anything to be proud of.”

On Tuesday, Bauer was fatally shot in the Loop by a four-time felon who had drawn the suspicion of tactical teams in the busy downtown area, police said. Officers tried to stop the man a few blocks from the Thompson Center, but he took off running, according to radio traffic of the incident.

Bauer encountered him at the Thompson Center, where a physical struggle resulted at a stairwell outside the government building, Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. Bauer was found by other officers. The suspect was taken into custody.

As a four-time felon Bauer’s alleged shooter committed another crime by possessing a gun. And neither he nor Cruz should have been out on the streets.

Why economic growth is better than “equality”

Amity Shlaes:

Free marketeers may sometimes win elections, but they are not winning U.S. history. In recent years, the consensus regarding the American past has slipped leftward, and then leftward again. No longer is American history a story of opportunity, or of military or domestic triumph. Ours has become, rather, a story of wrongs, racial and social. Today, any historical figure who failed at any time to support abolition, or, worse, took the Confederate side in the Civil War, must be expunged from history. Wrongs must be righted, and equality of result enforced.

The equality campaign spills over into a less obvious field, one that might otherwise provide a useful check upon the nonempirical claims of the humanities: economics. In a discipline that once showcased the power of markets, an axiom is taking hold: equal incomes lead to general prosperity and point toward utopia. Teachers, book review editors, and especially professors withhold any evidence to the contrary. Universities lead the shift, and the population follows. Today, millennials, those born between 1981 and 2000, outnumber baby boomers by the millions, and polls suggest that they support redistribution specifically, and government action generally, more than their predecessors do. A 2014 Reason/Rupe poll found 48 percent of millennials agreeing that government should “do more” to solve problems, whereas 37 percent said that government was doing “too many things.” A full 58 percent of the youngest of millennials, those 18–24 when surveyed, held a “positive” view of socialism, in dramatic contrast with their parents: only 23 percent of those aged 55 to 64 viewed socialism positively.

At least for now, most progressives acknowledge that markets and economic growth are necessary. But progressives in academia contend that growth has proved itself secondary to equality efforts—something to be exploited, rather than appreciated. Not just nationally, but worldwide, policymakers and the press regard the subordination of growth to equality to be a benign practice, as in the recent line in the Indian periodical Mint: a policy aimed at “reducing inequality need not hurt growth.”

The redistributionist impulse has brought to the fore metrics such as the Gini coefficient, named after the ur-redistributor, Corrado Gini, an Italian social scientist who developed an early statistical measure of income distribution a century ago. A society where a single plutocrat earns all the income ranks a pure “1” on the Gini scale; one in which all earnings are perfectly equally distributed, the old Scandinavian ideal, scores a “0” by the Gini test. The Gini Index has been renamed or updated numerous times, but the principle remains the same. Income distribution and redistribution seem so crucial to progressives that French economist Thomas Piketty built an international bestseller around it, the wildly lauded Capital.

Through Gini’s lens, we now rank past eras. Decades in which policy endeavored or managed to even out and equalize earnings—the 1930s under Franklin Roosevelt, the 1960s under Lyndon Johnson—score high. Decades where policymakers focused on growth before equality, such as the 1920s, fare poorly. Decades about which social-justice advocates aren’t sure what to say—the 1970s, say—simply drop from the discussion. In the same hierarchy, federal debt moves down as a concern because austerity to reduce debt could hinder redistribution. Lately, advocates of economically progressive history have made taking any position other than theirs a dangerous practice. Academic culture longs to topple the idols of markets, just as it longs to topple statutes of Robert E. Lee.

But progressives have their metrics wrong and their story backward. The geeky Gini metric fails to capture the American economic dynamic: in our country, innovative bursts lead to great wealth, which then moves to the rest of the population. Equality campaigns don’t lead automatically to prosperity; instead, prosperity leads to a higher standard of living and, eventually, in democracies, to greater equality. The late Simon Kuznets, who posited that societies that grow economically eventually become more equal, was right: growth cannot be assumed. Prioritizing equality over markets and growth hurts markets and growth and, most important, the low earners for whom social-justice advocates claim to fight. Government debt matters as well. Those who ring the equality theme so loudly deprive their own constituents, whose goals are usually much more concrete: educational opportunity, homes, better electronics, and, most of all, jobs. Translated into policy, the equality impulse takes our future hostage.

Touring American history with an eye on growth, not equality, has become so unusual that doing so almost feels like driving on the wrong side of the road. Nonetheless, a review trip through the decades is useful because the evidence for growth is right there, in our own American past. Four decades, especially, warrant examination: the 1920s, the 1930s, the 1960s, and the 1970s.

Moron, fascist, or smarter than you?

The latest Donald Trump-generated outrage is his proposal for a military parade in Washington on Independence Day.

The rule, of course, for Republican presidents dating back to Ronald Reagan is that, according to liberals, they are either idiots or evil, hence two-thirds of this headline.

Choice number three is the opinion of Jake Novak:

President Donald Trump wants a parade, and it’s setting off yet another angry debate.

That’s because the president wants a military parade, reportedly inspired by the Bastille Day festivities he witnessed in Paris in July. That feeds into some persistent criticisms from the staunch anti-Trump side that he is a fascist looking to appeal to red state America’s nascent militarism.

Everybody calm down.

This parade actually makes sense in the most non-fascist and democratic terms possible. Unlike fascist regimes, Trump needs voter support. That sometimes means winning over new voters here and there. But the real imperative for an incumbent is to keep and acknowledge the voters who got you in office in the first place.

By contrast, the anti-Trump types triggered by this move sure seem like a lost cause. People jumping at the chance to frequently compare the president to Adolf Hitler aren’t going to be won over, anyway. But as they go before the more moderate public and show such an extreme opposition to a parade, they make Trump look much more reasonable in comparison.

Take a good look at the Bastille Day parade from last year, and it’s not hard to see why such an event appeals to Trump. That’s because the Bastille Day parade isn’t exactly like the Nazi or Soviet military parades of the past. The stars of the French parade aren’t the politicians or even the weapons, but the actual troops and military veterans. They dominate the parade route at every turn.

That’s the key to what makes copying such a spectacle such a positive for Trump. Polls show that America’s troops continue to be stronger supporters of this president than the public at large. U.S. military veterans are much more pro-Trump than almost any other group, with data showing they chose him over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election by a large 60 percent-to-34 percent margin.

There’s a geographic aspect to this as well. It’s not so much that blue state America doesn’t support the troops. The bigger issue is that most of blue state America seems to be generally disconnected from the military. The Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and New England regions where Trump tends to poll poorly send a significantly smaller portion of enlistees to the military than the national average. Trump strongholds in the South and rural America send a much higher proportion than the national average of their populations to the armed forces.

Active duty troops tell only part of the story. Veterans are more likely to support Trump than non-veterans and those still serving in the armed forces. It was those veterans in the key swing states who likely made the difference in the 2016 election for the Trump campaign.

Now the picture should be getting clearer: The Trump team wants to put his strongest and largest source of support in the spotlight and reward it with national attention on the July 4 holiday. It’s really a political no-brainer.

Of course, there are right ways and wrong ways to do it. Americans will be rightly spooked if the parade includes massive missiles and artillery rolling along Constitution Avenue. Tanks are probably okay, but only as long as there are troops visibly sticking out of them and being acknowledged as they are in the Bastille Day event.

But imagine a parade dominated by some of the elite military bands, Medal of Honor recipients marching together, and those awesome B-2 stealth bomber and F-35 fighter jet flyovers. These are the exact same kinds of imagery America rolls out during every Super Bowl Sunday, but all too briefly when you consider there are so many other troops and veterans who never get acknowledged on a stage anywhere near that big.

That imagery also works well for Trump. Appearing with the troops with big American flags providing the backdrop is almost never a negative for any president.

A famous story in veteran media circles proves that point. After then-CBS News correspondent Leslie Stahl aired that was highly critical of President Ronald Reagan’s policies, top White House advisor Michael Deaver actually thanked Stahl because the video in the piece was dominated with Reagan standing proudly at patriotic events. Deaver said: “In the competition between the ear and the eye, the eye always wins.”

It’s that image of Trump as the ultimate cheerleader and defender of the troops and the military that seems to be working for him right now. Last month, he framed the government shutdown as the Democrats choosing the so-called “Dreamer” illegal immigrants over paying the troops. The polls seem to show the president won the shutdown battlethanks to that argument.

Now, he’s pushing support for the recent budget agreement in Congress solely on the argument that it boosts defense spending and helps the troops.

It seems more than a coincidence that this is also the time that the president’s support for a military parade leaks out to the news media. Trump can now take a page out of his shutdown strategy and make the point that the parade would really be a celebration of the troops and ask why any American would oppose that.

Trump knows he won the election largely due to active duty troops and veterans. That’s why this parade idea works for him and fighting and ridiculing it could be a dangerous trap for those who oppose him.

Rumors of the mid-term disaster are exaggerated (for now)

The Hill reports:

Republicans are feeling better about their prospects in the midterm elections, buoyed by recent polls that show their numbers improving.

An ebullient President Trump touted the shift in public sentiment reflected in recent polls during a joint Senate-House Republican retreat in West Virginia this week.

“I just looked at some numbers, you’ve even done better than you thought,” Trump told lawmakers, citing poll numbers he discussed Thursday with National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Steve Stivers (R-Ohio).

“The numbers are pretty good and that’s one example of how things are getting better,” Stivers told reporters after discussing polling numbers with Trump.

Stivers said the bump in Trump’s approval rating is a good sign for Republicans running for reelection.

“No president in their second year has seen their approval rating go up except now this one,” Stivers noted. …

Pollsters David Winston and Myra Miller of the Winston Group gave a presentation to lawmakers Wednesday evening entitled “Middle Class Americans’ Views of the Tax Plan: The Opportunity for 2018.”

A Monmouth University Poll released Wednesday showed that Trump’s approval rating had jumped 10 points compared to last month, while the Democratic advantage on the generic ballot had shrunk to 2 percentage points.

A nationwide Monmouth survey in December showed Democrats with a 15-point advantage on the generic ballot.

The generic ballot question, which asks respondents if they would be more likely to vote for a Democratic or Republican candidate in their own district, is considered an indicator of future wave elections.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Wednesday showed that Trump’s approval rating has ticked up in the past week.

Another Reuters/Ipsos poll shows voters think Republicans have a better plan for jobs and employment than Democrats, by a margin of 37.6 percent to 27.8 percent.

“The numbers for or against Republicans in different states have moved dramatically favorable, where two months ago there was a much lower rating,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.). “There were about four or five polls they listed out.”

The swing in the polling numbers has been matched by a swing in sentiment.

The political landscape looked bleakest for the GOP in the second half of 2017, after their top legislative priority — the repeal and replacement of ObamaCare — floundered in the Senate.

That failure raised doubts over Trump’s ability to work with Congress to deliver accomplishments.

Meanwhile, public attention was fixed on the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to investigate allegations of collusion between Trump’s inner circle and Russian government officials, as well as potential obstruction of justice by the president.

Trump’s approval rating hit a low of 33 percent in the Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll on Dec. 13, a week before Congress passed the final version of the tax package. …

Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats to recapture control of the House and two seats to win back the Senate. …

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), a former NRCC chairman, said the environment is looking “much better” for his party compared to two months ago.

“I think you’re seeing all the data improve,” Walden said.

Walden believes Democrats made a tactical mistake by taking a hard stance against the tax bill. It passed the Senate and House without a single Democratic vote in either chamber.

“The Democrats have completely overplayed their hand. When [House Democratic Leader] Nancy Pelosi [Calif.] says $1,000 or $2,000 is ‘crumbs,’ people in West Virginia, rural Oregon go, ‘$1000 is a lot of money to me,’ ” Walden said.

He argued the tax victory also saved the party’s standing with its conservative base, which threatened to desert them following the health-care debacle.

“Our base said, ‘OK, you guys actually could come together and get something big done.’ So you’re seeing that reflected in the generic ballot that has gone from double digits down to single digits,” he said.

“It feels like it’s bottomed out and we’re coming back up,” he said. “We will have a very good record to run on.”

He also noted that Trump’s numbers “are getting better.”

Walden acknowledged that House Republicans don’t have many pickup opportunities, but argued that the party is focused on playing defense, not offense, this year.

“Let’s face it: in the last two cycles you had a 247-seat majority and 241-seat majority. Those are the biggest Republican back-to-back majorities in the history of the country,” he said. “It’s holding in a time like this. The marginal gain is limited.”

Vice President Pence and GOP leaders urged rank-and-file members to stress whenever possible the economic impact of the $1.5 trillion tax package Congress passed last year.

“We made history in 2016, and we’re going to make history in 2018 when we reelect Republican majorities in the House and Senate,” he said. “We got our work cut out for us, but we have a story to tell.”

And Democrats’ story is: We’re not Donald Trump, or in Wisconsin Scott Walker. That didn’t work too well in 2014 in this state.

It is, of course, far too early to predict what will happen nine months from now. I think given the volatile state of politics today, predictions the day before the election are even hazardous. Recall that one day before the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in and Democrats were going to triumph all over the U.S.

But it’s going to be hard after nearly a year of bigger paychecks for Democrats to argue that you shouldn’t be able to keep more of your own money.



Victor Davis Hanson:

Some things still do not add up about the so-called Steele dossier, FISA warrants, the Nunes memo, and the hysterical Democratic reaction to it.

1) Progressives and Democrats warned on the eve of the memo’s release that it would cause havoc throughout the intelligence agencies, by exposing classified means and processes.

When no serious intelligence expert claimed that the released memo had done such damage, the official response to the memo was suddenly recalibrated by progressives. It went from being radioactive to a “nothingburger.”

The obvious conclusion is cynical: Cry Armageddon to prevent its release, then, after the release, resort to yawns to downplay its significance. An even more cynical interpretation is that Rod Rosenstein, James Comey, and other officials stridently objected to the release of the memo because they are named in it. Comey incoherently mocked the memo’s purported unimportance even while listing all its deleterious effects and the crises that would ensue.

Congressional, DOJ, and FBI resistance to the release of most documents connected to FISA-gate apparently originates with fears that information will either reveal Obama-administration efforts to surveille Trump officials during a campaign or will suggest that the impetus for the Mueller investigation came as a result of illegal activities and a concocted dossier — or both.

2) Critics scream, “Carter Page is no big deal.” Aside from the easy retort that neither, initially, was a petty break-in at the Watergate complex, or rumors of supplying arms to distant guerillas in Central America, Page is a big deal for a variety of reasons.

Democrats allege that, given Carter Page’s familiarity with Russians, it was logical for the Obama administration to use the dossier’s references to him to substantiate FISA warrants.

But is not the opposite more likely true?

He was apparently known to intelligence agencies for years (supposedly under investigation variously by the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network), and he may have been the object of a 2014 FISA warrant. But such intelligence agents were never able to bring charges against him, and it appears he even cooperated with American intelligence in gathering info against the Russians. So why would the FBI and DOJ, suddenly in 2016, believe that mention of Page’s name in an unverified opposition-research dossier warranted four FISA warrants to find wrongdoing?

After all, if he was so well known to the FBI for so many years, during which they never charged him with being a Russian agent, and if the FBI nonetheless still regarded him as suspicious in 2016, why not simply go to a regular court to obtain a warrant to wiretap him? Such a court, of course, would be less secretive, not known for a 99 percent approval rate, subject to far more deliberation, and less useful for surveilling Trump associates.

A more likely supposition is that it was not Page’s past flirtations with the Russians (who supposedly dubbed him an “idiot”) that abruptly brought him back into the sights of the DOJ and FBI in 2016. Instead, it was his brief and minor relationship with Trump, and his appearance in a bogus dossier, that offered useful pretexts for court-ordered surveillance sweeps and indirect targeting of possible Trump associates.

Page was simply a tool, to be surveilled in hopes of also sweeping up other names and information that might corroborate some shred of the dubious Steele dossier. In that narrow sense, his name might as well have been Jones or Smith.

So far, all Carter Page has been found guilty of is momentarily working for the Trump campaign. His likely future lawsuits against Steele, Fusion GPS, the Clinton campaign, the FBI, and the DOJ will probably follow a number of avenues.

3) The New York Times and others strangely have claimed that the dossier-based FISA warrants were not the real basis of the Russian-collusion allegations, given, as the memo implies, that the FISA warrants were issued after FBI agent Peter Strzok had investigated George Papadopoulos, another minor Trump-campaign official of brief tenure.

But there has never been much connection between Page and Papadopoulos, as the Nunes memo also made clear. It is far more likely that Papadopoulos was written off as a dead-end functionary by Strzok, who also claimed to his paramour that there was likely nothing to be found at all in the Russian-collusion investigation. (And indeed Papadopoulos eventually pled guilty to making false statements, not collusion).

More likely, the collusion narrative gained ground only when the Steele dossier energized subsequent FISA requests in October and after the election, resulting in surveillance sweeps.

Moreover, given the admissions by Strzok that he detested Trump and pondered ways of stopping him, and given that he and the FBI were never able to find Papadopoulos indictable on intended collusion charges, it is entirely unlikely that Papadopoulos prompted much of anything.

If he was not a dead end, then the argument could just as well be that an admittedly biased FBI agent hounded a minor, former Trump aide to find collusion, failed to find it, tried to turn him by the usual “false statements” perjury traps, and then Strzok or others around him leaked information about collusion investigations to damage the Trump campaign.

4) Other than Andrew McCarthy of National Review, few have written about the FISA-court application(s) for surveillance of Trump-campaign officials that the FISA court rejected in June 2016, shortly before Trump was nominated as the Republican candidate.

Given that 99.97 percent of FISA requests are eventually granted, why exactly did a federal judge quite extraordinarily reject an Obama-administration FBI-DOJ request? Was it too “broad” or insufficiently sourced in June? And what (or who) had changed by October, when a subsequent request was apparently granted? Was Strzok’s July investigation of Papadopoulos better grounds to surveille Trump associates? Was the dossier (which apparently became known to the FBI as early as June or July 2016) initially used to obtain a warrant, to no avail? Or was the dossier instead used first in October, on a subsequent attempt, and in this case the FISA court granted the warrant?

5) The talented, Trump-hating Peter Strzok was a sort of ubiquitous Zelig of FISA-gate and the most interesting of all the players named so far in the case. He probably convinced Comey to change the wording of his report on Hillary Clinton to prevent criminal liability. He may have started the whole shebang off by investigating George Papadopoulos. He texted away to his mistress and fellow FBI investigator Lisa Page the court secrets of the FBI and Mueller investigations, saying his gut sense was that there was “no big there there” to the entire effort. He interviewed Mike Flynn without Flynn’s lawyer being present, and he probably compared Flynn’s responses in that interview to FISA intercepts. He also met with Andrew McCabe to ponder ways to nullify the Trump ascendency. And unlike his far less talented superiors, he may have been careful to avoid strictly breaking the law.

6) Even less has been written about the Obama administration’s public attitude to the ongoing efforts of its own DOJ and FBI to seek FISA warrants to surveille Trump associates.

Trump (apparently tipped off to prior FISA surveillance of his campaign associates) presciently tweeted on March 4:

Most of the establishment media insisted that Trump’s tweet proved he was unhinged and paranoid. Former Obama White House officials issued haughty denials. Yet it is increasingly likely that Trump received good counter-intelligence on Obama-administration efforts that were either improper or illegal, and likely both.

An Obama communiqué that replied to Trump’s accusation had the inadvertent effect of leaving even more doubt:

A cardinal rule of the Obama Administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice. As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.

Some have noted that the disavowal was carefully worded. First, it claims that no “White House official” interfered with any independent investigation. Fine, but does that mean other administration officials may have, or that a White House official may have interfered with investigations not deemed “independent”? And does “interfered with” include unmasked? Second, if neither President Obama nor a White House official ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen, does that mean that Obama-appointed DOJ and FBI officials might well have?

The problem may not be that the Obama White House itself had ordered surveillance of Trump associates, but rather than it sat back and enjoyed the wide berth granted to its DOJ and FBI investigators.

In support of the Obama denial, the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, to take one example, at the time issued an embarrassing second denial in a “fact check” that was soon made inoperative by leaks about ongoing FISA-warranted surveillance of Trump officials:

The Washington Post for months has sought to confirm this report of a FISA warrant related to the Trump campaign but has been unable to do so. Presumably other U.S. news organizations have tried to do so as well. So one has to take this claim with a huge dose of skepticism.

In this context, one of the final executive orders of the Obama administration takes on new significance. Shortly before leaving office, Obama abruptly issued yet another expansion of the Reagan-era Executive Order 12333, dramatically enlarging some 17 government agencies’ legal authority to surveille U.S. citizens — an order that had followed even earlier expansions of the number of officials privy to surveilled information. Why such a radical move in the last days in office?

The practical intent of that order might have been inadvertently contextualized by Evelyn Farkas, a former assistant deputy secretary of defense. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe show, she blurted out:

I was urging my former colleagues and — and frankly speaking, the people on the Hill, it was more actually aimed — aimed at telling the Hill people, “Get as much information as you can, get as much intelligence as you can before President Obama leaves the administration.” Because, I had a fear that somehow that information would disappear with the senior people who left. So it would be hidden away in the bureaucracy that the Trump folks, the Trump folks, if they found out how we knew what we knew about their, the staff, the Trump staff’s dealing with Russians, that they would try to compromise those sources and methods, meaning we would no longer have access to that intelligence. So I became very worried, because not enough was coming out into the open, and I knew that there was more. We have very good intelligence on Russia. So then I had talked to some of my former colleagues, and I knew that they were trying to also help get information to the Hill.

What exactly did she mean by “how we knew what we knew about their, the staff, the Trump staff’s dealing with Russians”? Was the DOD also privy to FISA-ordered surveillances, or did DOD staffers simply read the passed-around Steele dossier and other memos?

What Farkas was probably outlining was an eleventh-hour attempt to leak, perhaps improperly and illegally, surveillance and classified gossip to as many government agencies as possible as well as sympathetic congressional leaders, in hopes that the information would flood out (as it did) before the incoming Trump administration could stop such illicit dissemination of improper government surveillance.

At some distant point, investigators and the media will conclude that the nexus of wrongdoing was likely Barack Obama himself. Aside from the massaged investigations of Hillary Clinton’s wrongdoing, during the election of 2016 and the Trump transition of November 2016 to January 2017, Obama allowed his DOJ and the FBI to manipulate the FISA courts to surveille an American citizen and indirectly target others. He then made sure such data were disseminated among as many administration hands as possible. And he further allowed his subordinates to unmask surveilled citizens, whose identities and (in some cases conversations) were ultimately leaked to news organizations.

That was a process of leaking and sensationalism that sought first to damage the Trump campaign. Ultimately, it succeeded in creating overwhelming public and official Washington pressure to justify James Comey’s later efforts to angle for the appointment of a special counsel.

The House Intelligence Committee’s “phase one” memo, as Nunes has described it, limits itself to the likely wrongdoing of DOJ and FBI officials.

One would expect that phase two and beyond would examine the nature of the surveillance itself, the number of Obama intelligence and political officials who had access to such information, the exact requests of named officials to unmask Trump associates, and the correlations of such unmasking with the roughly simultaneous appearance of such names in the media.

Both Watergate and Iran-Contra were multiyear affairs. FISA-gate may last longer, given that the media this time around are not a watchdog, but an enabler, of government misconduct. We are at the very beginning of the exposure of wronging by Obama-era DOJ and FBI officials — and their superiors — and have not begun to learn exactly why and how American citizens were improperly monitored, and by whom. In one of the strangest moments in the history of American journalism, Washington reporters and agencies, known for their loud interests in protecting civil liberties, are either silent or working to suppress news of these scandals, and they may well soon rue their own complacency.

Nor have we learned the full nature of why and how Obama-era investigative agencies departed from normal protocol in exonerating Hillary Clinton from criminal liability during a number of 2015–16 controversies. Presumably there are records, official and otherwise, of these matters; they should come to light as soon as possible.

What seems clear is that the present hysteria about the Trump administration was already deeply seeded in the federal government throughout the 2016 campaign and the 2016–17 transition. A number of powerful Obama officials thought they had both moral right and the administrative means to nullify Trump. And they were not shy in breaking the law to exercise them.

If you don’t grasp the significance of this, reread the last paragraph.

A corrective word

The Associated Press reports:

Investor fears about higher interest rates escalated into rapid, computer-generated selling Monday that wiped out all the market’s gains for the year. At one point, the Dow Jones industrial average dropped 1,000 points in less than an hour, and it ended with its worst day in more than six years. The Standard & Poor’s 500 is now down nearly 8 percent from its record high, set a little more than a week ago.

Market professionals warn that the selling could continue for a bit. But many are also quick to say they see no recession looming, and they expect the strengthening global economy and healthy corporate earnings to help stock prices recover.

“The reasons for the increase in rates is the stronger economy,” said Ernie Cecilia, chief investment officer at Bryn Mawr Trust. “The reasons are positive. It’s not as if something like 2008 or financial Armageddon is coming.”

The trigger for the sell-off came at the end of last week when a government report showed that wages across the country rose relatively quickly last month. While that’s good for workers, traders took it as a signal that higher inflation may be on the way, which could push the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates more quickly than expected. Higher rates not only make it more expensive for people and companies to borrow, they can also drive investors away from stocks and into bonds.

The sell-off Monday was so steep that some market-watchers blamed automated trading systems. These systems are programmed to buy and sell based on several variables, and they may have hit their sell triggers following the first wobble for stock prices after an unusually placid run.

That may mean even more volatility in the coming days, something that investors haven’t had to deal with during a blissful year-plus of record-setting returns. Before Monday, the S&P 500 index had gone a record period of time — roughly 400 trading days — without a drop of even 5 percent.

Monday was also the first day in office for the new chairman of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, and investors are wondering how closely he will stick with the low interest-rate policies set by his predecessor, Janet Yellen.

Still, many market-watchers said they remain optimistic that stocks will recover.

Despite worries about interest rates, they still see a recession as a long shot. With economies growing around the world, profits for U.S. businesses are expected to continue rising, and stock prices tend to follow the path of corporate earnings over the long term.

“The rate worries have been the trigger” for the stock market’s swoon, said Melda Mergen, deputy global head of equities at Columbia Threadneedle. “But fundamentally, we don’t see any new news. It’s earnings season, the time that we get more direct feedback from our companies, and we don’t see any concerns.”

More than half the companies in the S&P 500 have told investors how they performed in the last three months of 2017, and most have topped analysts’ expectations, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. Even more encouraging is that more than three quarters of them made more revenue than expected, which means it’s not just cost-cutting and layoffs that are allowing companies to earn more.

The White House cited some of those trends Monday and said “long-term economic fundamentals … remain exceptionally strong.”

President Donald Trump, unlike his predecessors, bragged repeatedly about stocks as the market rose. Monday, he avoided the topic as they plunged.

During the bull market of the last year, Trump complained that the media weren’t giving him credit for record highs in securities values.

“I mean, it’s something that’s pretty amazing,” he said to a group of mayors last month, in characteristic remarks, citing an estimate of $8 trillion in added wealth.

He also has said that the market would have lost 50 percent of its value had Hillary Clinton won the election, a claim that he repeated publicly during a recent speech to global leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The assertion is impossible to prove or disprove.

Trump’s comments came despite frequent reminders from fact checkers and others that stocks began rising during the tenure of former President Barack Obama. In his administration, Obama and his aides were especially careful to avoid making comments about the market, for fear that the president would be blamed when it fell, as markets inevitably do.

During Monday’s market plunge, Trump was delivering a speech touting his tax cuts at a factory in Cincinnati, calling employees to the stage to discuss the gains they expected to make as a result of changes in the tax laws and what they intended to do with bonus checks they were receiving.

Trump did not mention the falling market, but as he bragged about the soaring economy, all three cable news channels airing the speech displayed graphics showing the market dropping in real time. As the speech wore on and stocks continued falling, all three — including Trump-friendly Fox News — pulled away from the speech entirely to report on the Dow.

If the stock market does indeed bounce back, though, many market-watchers expect returns to be more muted than in prior years because prices have already climbed so high. The S&P 500 is up nearly 292 percent since bottoming in early 2009.

And investors should remember that drops like those of the past two days aren’t a unique occurrence for stocks. They’re inherently risky investments, and investors should be prepared to see drops of 10 percent. Such declines happen so regularly that analysts have a name for them: a market correction.

Yesterday’s record drop totaled 4.5 percent, which is not remotely close to a record. The Black Monday 1987 drop was 22.61 percent, and those 508 points were recovered in a year. The Black Tuesday 1929 drop was 12.82 percent, followed a day later by another 11.73-percent drop and a week later by a 9.92-percent drop. In the two months before and after the 2008 election, the Dow Jones dropped 2,870 points over four days. Even with the drops of last week and Monday, the Dow Jones has gained 6,000 points since Election Day 2016.

Investors should look at the long term, not what happened yesterday or last week, and look at their own financial situations instead of what the news media reports.


From Southwest Wisconsin to central London to the world

The recorded appearance of “Steve Prestegahd” on the BBC World Service’s NewsHour can be heard here at the 30-minute mark.

It should be a fascinating listen for those who want to understand why Donald Trump resonates with voters, including those in “rural Grahnt County.”

Live Steve can be heard at 8 a.m. Central time here.



Live worldwide from the world of bangers and mash

Ordinarily I have this attitude about grand speeches from politicians such as tonight’s State of the Union address:

However, I have to watch the State of the Union tonight — recorded, at least — because I’m going to be live on the BBC World Service’s Newshour program (or “programme” to the British), scheduled (pronounced “SHED-U-ulled”) Wednesday at 8 a.m. Central time, which I think is 2 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time, discussing said State of the Union speech. The catalogue of channels on the satellite radios in the vehicles includes the BBC World Service (which seems to employ many Irish announcers, perhaps ironically) on SiriusXM channel 120.

I also recorded some segments Friday that will probably be on the Newshour page, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p002vsnk. Any way one listens, I imagine someone sitting in an Irish pub spitting out his (lukewarm) beer upon something I say, and in this case it means the entire world will have to learn to pronounce “Prestegard.” Right.

No one from the Beeb has offered to buy me a stereotypical English breakfast …

Would I eat this? You have to ask? Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

… but then again we’re not in Britain, though the downtown here was designed in the manner of a British village in 1835. (Meaning: Narrow streets and no place to park.)

I have determined that the older of the BBC crew is an authentic Brit because he knows what this is …

… and even in our discussion threw this in …

… while the other (from Canada, but we haven’t discussed hockey yet) knows this …

… which is a clever spinoff of this …

… which has nothing to do with these, but I decided to throw them in anyway:

(Since I’ve already included one British spelling here I will endeavour to include other British-spelled words elsewhere in this blog.)

I will watch recorded Donald Trump because I have a basketball game to announce between two former conference girls basketball rivals, Platteville and Cuba City, tonight at 7 here. The two teams have a combined 27–6 record, so it should be a good game. (I wonder if the BBC needs a basketball announcer.)

Newshour picked my corner of Wisconsin because a majority of its voters voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016, and they’ve spent a few days here asking why. Of course, Wisconsinites have a reputation for merrily splitting their tickets. On the one hand, the Democrat won the state’s presidential electoral votes from 1988 to 2012, and this state had two Democratic U.S. senators from 1992 to 2010. During that time, however, there was a Republican governor for all but eight years, Republicans controlled at least one house of the Legislature most of that time (this area has been represented by a Democrat in the State Senate twice since statehood), and for the past seven years (minus a hiccup during Recallarama) have controlled both houses of the Legislature. I’m not sure if that makes Wisconsin the colour purple, as in the political centre, or it’s perhaps layered — blue on top, red below — though the entire state, minus a few legislative and Congressional districts, is pretty red right now.

Trump’s election seems to come down to one of two theories. The first is that while most establishment Republicans held their noses and voted for him, other voters voted for him because he resounded with them by refusing to play by establishment rules. The other, perhaps more simple, theory is that whatever his numerous faults are, Trump wasn’t and isn’t Hillary Clinton.

I’m certain he’ll sound statesmanlike tonight. He apparently did at Davos. It’s in those unplugged moments, when it’s him and his Twitter account, where he goes off the deep end. (Repeatedly.)  The longer he’s president, though, the more I wonder if those are calculated outbursts of calculated outrage and calculated offence targeted to his true believers.

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