Fun in the state capital

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fairfax also discounted the charge about Northam.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Foxconn’s on/off switch

The Milwaukee Business Journal:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Lack of) media correlation or voter causation

The Associated Press:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alleged news from the South Arctic Circle

The Associated Press claims:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… eight to 14 days …

… three to four weeks …

… and overall the next month …

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

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


More media self-beclowning

Charles C.W. Cooke:

Our national press is a national joke. Vain, languid, excitable, morbid, duplicitous, cheap, insular, mawkish, and possessed of a chronic self-obsession that would have made Dorian Gray blush, it rambles around the United States in neon pants, demanding congratulation for its travails. Not since Florence Foster Jenkins have Americans been treated to such an excruciating example of self-delusion. The most vocal among the press corps’ ranks cast themselves openly as “firefighters” when, at worst, they are pyromaniacs and, at best, they are obsequious asbestos salesmen. “You never get it right, do you?” Sybil Fawlty told Basil in Fawlty Towers. “You’re either crawling all over them licking their boots or spitting poison at them like some Benzedrine puff adder.” There is a great deal of space between apologist and bête noire. In the newsrooms of America, that space is empty.

It’s getting worse. Despite presenting an opportunity for sobriety and excellence, the election of President Donald Trump has been an unmitigated disaster for the political media, which have never reckoned with their role in Trump’s elevation and eventual selection, and which have subsequently treated his presidency as a rolling opportunity for high-octane drama, smug self-aggrandizement, and habitual sloth. I did not go to journalism school, but I find it hard to believe that even the least prestigious among those institutions teaches that the correct way to respond to explosive, unsourced reports that just happen to match your political priors is to shout “Boom” or “Bombshell” or “Big if true” and then to set about spreading those reports around the world without so much as a cursory investigation into the details. And yet, in the Trump era, this has become the modus operandi of all but the hardest-nosed scribblers.

The pattern is now drearily familiar. First, a poorly attributed story will break — say, “Source: Donald Trump Killed Leon Trotsky Back in 1940.” Next, thousands of blue-check journalists, with hundreds of millions of followers between them, will send it around Twitter before they have read beyond the headline. In response to this, the cable networks will start chattering, with the excuse that, “true or not, this is going to be a big story today,” while the major newspapers will run stories that confirm the existence of the original claim but not its veracity — and, if Representative Schiff is awake, they will note that “Democrats say this must be investigated.” These signal-boosting measures will be quickly followed by “Perspective” pieces that assume the original story is true and, worse, seek to draw “broader lessons” from it. In the New York Times this might be “The Long History of Queens Residents’ Assassinating Socialist Intellectuals”; in the Washington Post, “Toxic Capitalism: How America’s Red Hatred Explains Our Politics Today”; in The New Yorker, “I’ve Been to Mexico and Was Killed by a Pickaxe to the Head”; in Cosmopolitan, “The Specifics Don’t Matter, Men Are Guilty of Genocide.”

By early afternoon, the claim will be all the media are talking about, and the talking points on both sides of the political divide will have become preposterously, mind-numbingly stupid. On a hastily assembled panel, a “political consultant” who spends his time tweeting “The president is a murderer. This. Is. Not. Normal” will go up against a washed-out politician trying desperately to squirm his way around the protean Trump-didn’t-do-this-how-dare-you-but-if-he-did-it’s-actually-good-because-Trotsky-was-a-Communist-and-anyway-didn’t-Obama-drone-terrorists position that he contrived in a panic in the green room.

And then, just when the fracas is reaching boiling point, a sober-minded observer will point out that Donald Trump wasn’t actually born until 1946 and so couldn’t have killed Trotsky in 1940, and everyone will wash his hands, go to bed, and move on to the next “Boom!” project.

Everyone, that is, but the victim of the frenzy — who is usually Donald Trump but might also be Brett Kavanaugh or Nikki Haley or Ben Shapiro or a county comptroller from Arkansas or the children of Covington High School or someone who just happens to share a name with a school shooter and once complained online about his property taxes — who will complain bitterly about the spectacle and then be condescended to on the weekend shows by professional media apologists such as CNN’s Brian Stelter.

This phase is the final one within the cycle, and it may also be the most pernicious, for it is here that it is made clear to the architects of the screw-up at hand that they should expect no internal policing or pressure from their peers and that, on the contrary, they should think of themselves as equals to Lewis and Clark. To watch Stelter’s show, Reliable Sources, after a reporting debacle is to watch a master class in whataboutism and faux-persecution, followed by the insistence that even the most egregious lapses in judgment or professionalism are to be expected from time to time and that we should actually be worrying about the real victim here: the media’s reputation. This, suffice it to say, is not helpful. Were a football commentator to worry aloud that a team’s ten straight losses might lead some to think they weren’t any good — and then to cast any criticisms as an attack on sports per se — he would be laughed out of the announcers’ box.

“Accountability” doesn’t mean “always running a retraction when you get it wrong.” At some point it means learning and adapting and changing one’s approach. It is not an accident that all of the press’s mistakes go in one political or narrative direction. It is not happenstance that none of the major figures seem capable of playing “wait and see” when the subject is this presidency. And it is not foreordained that they must reflexively appeal to generalities when a member of the guild steps forcefully onto the nearest rake. Ronald Reagan liked to quip that a government department represented the closest thing to eternal life we are likely to see on this earth. In close second is a bad journalist with the right opinions, for he will be treated as if he were the very embodiment of liberty.

That, certainly, is how they regard themselves. “The last person to rule America who didn’t believe in the First Amendment was King George III,” wrote MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt, back in June — which is true only if you discount that the colonists actually enjoyed robust speech protections relative to their English cousins; if you are insensible of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the pro-slavery “gag” rules that bound the House of Representatives from 1835 to 1844, the Civil War, the Espionage Act of 1917, the Sedition Act of 1918, New York Times Co. v. United States, Woodrow Wilson, Charles Schenck, or Eugene Debs; and, most crucially, if you remain wholly incapable of distinguishing between criticism and restriction.

Donald Trump, at whom Hunt’s quip was aimed, does indeed have instincts toward the First Amendment of which he and his acolytes should be ashamed; he does indeed have a tenuous relationship with the truth; and he does indeed wear a skin so thin as to border on the translucent. But he has not — ever — “attacked the free press”; he has not prevented, or attempted to prevent, the publication of a single printed word; and he has made no attempt whatsoever to change the law that he might do so. Rather, he has repeatedly — and often stupidly — criticized the press corps. The difference between these two actions is the difference between a bad art critic’s savaging a painting in print and a bad art critic’s savaging a painting with a chainsaw. One is the exercise of liberty; the other, vandalism and intimidation.

If the media understand this difference, they are doing an excellent job pretending otherwise. In complaint after complaint, the “press” and “the First Amendment” are held to be synonymous when they are no such thing and cannot logically be so. Thomas Jefferson, who was as reliable a critic of suppression as the early republic played host to, wrote famously that if it were left to him “to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” And yet he also contended that “nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper.” This represented no contradiction whatsoever. One can believe simultaneously that the press must remain free and that it has built itself into an ersatz clerisy that regards its primary job not as conveying information in as effective a manner as possible but as translating writs for the benighted public, the better to save its soul. If the polls are to be believed, a majority of Americans believes exactly this.

And why wouldn’t they, when it’s made so obvious? Last year, when the White House unveiled an immigration change that it hoped to persuade Congress to pass, CNN’s Jim Acosta showed up in the press room with an indignant look on his face and began to recite poetry from the stalls. It is true that Acosta, a man who seems unable to decide whether he’s a political correspondent on basic cable or a member of the cast of Hamilton, is particularly absurd. But he is by no means an aberration. It is for a good reason that one cannot imagine a member of the mainstream press behaving toward a Democratic administration in the manner that Acosta behaves, and the reason is that he’d never think to do so against his own team.

What Schultz is and Sanders and Trump should have been

Investors Business Daily:

Democrats are worrying about former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz running as an independent for president in 2020. They say it will only help President Trump. But the only reason this lifelong Democrat is thinking about an independent bid is because the Democratic party has moved so far to the left.

As soon as Schultz stepped down from his perch at Starbucks last June, speculation arose about his running as a Democrat in 2020. But then, during an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” around that time, Schultz had this to say:

“It concerns me that so many voices within the Democratic Party are going so far to the left. I say to myself, ‘How are we going to pay for these things,’ in terms of things like single payer (and) people espousing the fact that the government is going to give everyone a job.”

“I don’t think that’s realistic,” he said. Then he added: “I think we got to get away from these falsehoods and start talking about the truth and not false promises.”

Schultz went on to say that the greatest threat domestically to the country is “this $21 trillion debt hanging over the cloud of America and future generations. The only way we’re going to get out of that is we’ve got to grow the economy, in my view, 4% or greater. And then we have to go after entitlements.”

To today’s Democrats, Schultz must sound like an alien invader.

He’s asking how to pay for universal health care and guaranteed jobs? Everyone knows it’s by taxing rich people like Schultz. He wants to “go after” entitlements? The party line is to expand all of them. He calls national debt the “greatest threat”? The official position of the Democratic Party is that the greatest threat we face is global warming.

And 4% economic growth? When President Trump promised to deliver growth rates that high, Democrats called him crazy.

But Schultz is absolutely right about his fellow Democrats. As we have pointed out many times in this space, the Democratic Party has veered to the extreme left in recent years. So far, in fact, that it is now embracing an economic agenda that is to the left of any other industrialized nation — including China.

Top Democrats have, for example, bear-hugged Bernie Sanders’ radical “Medicare for all” plan, which promises “free” government-provided health care benefits more generous than any other nation, and that would cost trillions of dollars a year.

The party’s most recent fascination is with “guaranteed jobs,” an idea straight out of the Soviet Union’s constitution that would cost upward of $750 billion a year.

And that’s to say nothing of the party’s promise of free college, student loan forgiveness and various other big ticket items.

As we noted in this space recently, Sanders, a self-described socialist who nearly stole the Democratic nomination from Hillary Clinton, “seems to have opened the way for the mainstreaming of socialism in the Democratic Party.”

In fact, Hillary Clinton recently tried to pin her troubles in the 2016 Democratic primaries on the fact that she was perceived as — gasp — “a capitalist.”

It’s not just party leaders who’ve veered far to the left, but the Democratic base itself. A survey of 1,000 likely Democratic voters taken before the 2016 elections found that nearly 60% said socialism would be great for America. A Pew Research Center report out last year found that while the center of the Republican Party shifted slightly to the right between 1994 and 2017, the center for Democrats moved sharply to the left.

So, it should not come as a surprise that, instead of listening to the more practical-minded Schultz, Democrats immediately tried to force him off the stage.

Helaine Olen, writing in the Washington Post, acknowledges that Schultz was a good liberal when he headed Starbucks. He won kudos for things like providing health benefits to part-time workers, defending gay marriage, offering financial aid for college, and for standing up to Trump on immigration.

But she goes on to complain that Schultz’s “politics are not exactly in sync with the Democratic Party today” and says he “shouldn’t run for president.”

The Daily Beast says Schultz’s resume “seems inherently out of step with a party in which Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Corey Booker, Kamala Harris are luminaries” and that “no one is excited” about him running for president.

Eric Levitz, writing in New York magazine, goes so far as to say that Schulz’s combination of socially liberal and what Levitz calls “fiscally conservative” views “put him on the radical fringe in the United States.” He says Democrats “must reject” Schultz’s “ideology.”

So Schultz, realizing he has no future as a Democrat, announced on “60 Minutes” over the weekend that he’s “seriously thinking of running for president….as a centrist independent, outside of the two-party system.”

“Both parties,” he said, “are consistently not doing what’s necessary on behalf of the American people and are engaged, every single day, in revenge politics.”

That has Democrats starting to worry that a Schultz run could hurt Democratic chances in 2020. Julian Castro, one of several left-liberal Democrats who’ve already announced plans to run in 2020, complained on CNN that “it would provide Donald Trump with his best hope of getting re-elected.”

Maybe Castro and Co. should be focused more on their party’s lurch into the left-wing fringes, which has made it impossible for moderate Democrats like Schultz to find any home there.

Trump wasn’t really a Republican when he ran. Trump adopted some GOP positions, and the establishment GOP adopted some of his (for instance, opposition to free trade and support of severely limited immigration). The Democrats’ screwing over Sanders lost them votes that otherwise would have made Hillary Clinton president.

It’s not as if an independent president would find governing very easy, to have to cobble together coalitions on issues. But it might, depending on who the candidate is, give Americans more palatable choices for president.


Trump’s cave-in

Three days ago, this appeared in my Facebook o’ memories:

That was what happened during the nation’s longest government shutdown. Other than wildcat strikes by people who should not be government employees (air traffic controllers and the Internal Revenue Service), service people who should have been paid but weren’t (Coast Guard), and government services that weren’t provided because they shouldn’t be provided (beer labeling), the “shutdown,” in which 800,000 federal workers went without pay, went by with little notice for Americans who work hard and don’t obsess over politics.

(Just so it’s clear: I could not have cared less, nor could I care less, about the plight of those government workers. None of those federal employees helped anyone who lost their jobs in Barack Obama’s worst recovery in U.S. history. As a friend of mine pointed out, “after missing two paychecks, the government owes $6 billion to 800,000 workers. If my math is correct, that is $97,500 per worker. The median (average) household income in America — not average worker’s salary — is $61,858.” That’s how you know that government employees are overpaid.”)

Unfortunately, the “shutdown” has ended, as reported by the Washington Post:

President Trump on Friday announced a deal with congressional leaders to temporarily reopen the government while talks continue on his demand for border wall money, handing Democrats a major victory in the protracted standoff.

The pact, announced by Trump from the Rose Garden at the White House, would reopen shuttered government departments for three weeks while leaving the issue of $5.7 billion for a U.S.-Mexico border wall to further talks. …

Trump said that a congressional conference committee would spend the next three weeks working in a bipartisan fashion to come up with a border security package.

If a “fair deal” does not emerge by Feb. 15, Trump said, there could be another government shutdown or he could declare a national emergency, a move that could allow him to direct the military to build the wall without congressional consent. Such an action would likely face an immediate legal challenge.

“No border security plan can never work without a physical barrier. It just doesn’t happen,” Trump said in his remarks, during which he dwelled on his arguments for making good on his marquee campaign promise of a wall at the Mexican border.

Since the Dec. 22 start of the partial shutdown, Trump had insisted that Democrats must relent to his demand for wall funding before he would allow the government to reopen. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had insisted on no negotiations until the shutdown ended.

There is really no way to spin this except as Trump’s losing his nerve, unless Trump is really serious about the national emergency thing (which is of dubious constitutionality). For one thing, it apparently ends the possibility of eliminating those jobs.

As someone who did not vote for Trump and correctly supports him when he does the right thing and opposes him when he does the wrong thing, I am agnostic about the wall. But when you campaign on something, if you don’t get what you espouse, you lose, and voters take it out on you and/or your party at their next opportunity.

Politics, remember, is a zero-sum game. One side wins, which means the other side loses. In three weeks, there will be no movement on funding for the wall. Schumer and Pelosi have already said there won’t be. Then what?

The next generation of journalists, or not

KATV-TV in Little Rock, Ark.:

Prior to last year, Arkansas schools were required to offer journalism classes as an elective. But many lawmakers voted to remove it, calling it a mandate.

State Rep. Julie Mayberry, R-Hensley, told KATV she was appalled when lawmakers did away with the requirement. That prompted her to file House Bill 1015 this legislative session.

Under Mayberry’s proposed legislation, all Arkansas public schools would be required to offer journalism as an elective. It’s a requirement that she said dates back to 1984.

“Journalism is essential to our American government,” she said. “We have three branches of government so that we have a watch on each department. But who keeps an eye on them? The journalist.”

Mayberry said journalism classes aren’t just about training future journalists but about teaching future generations how to stay informed.

“People are sharing information and not understanding where the source is,” she said. “They’re just trying to get something out there really quickly. And in journalism school we are taught make sure you get the story right, get your facts straight first and then present the story. And that’s not what’s happening right now, so it’s something everybody can learn from.”

Lawmakers against bringing back this requirement said it puts public schools in a difficult position.

“Journalism is a great class,” said state Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado. “I think it’s a great profession. But mandating by the state that every single school teaches it puts a financial strain and other strain on schools. I grew up in a very rural school. My graduating class was 60 people and we barely had enough teachers for Spanish and other kind of basic courses.”

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement that he opposes the bill on similar grounds.

“I appreciate Rep. Mayberry’s efforts to include journalism in all of our schools, but I believe the decision to do so is best left to local school districts,” he said. “All Arkansas high schools have the option to offer a journalism course, and in fact, the vast majority already do. Journalism is an important area of study, and high school is the perfect place for students to learn the fundamentals of gathering news and checking facts. However, with 38 courses already mandated in every Arkansas public school, another mandate would be burdensome and expensive for many districts—especially those with limited resources.“


Great moments in journalism (again)

Caitlin Flanagan:

On Friday, January 18, a group of white teenage boys wearing maga hats mobbed an elderly Native American man on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, chanting “Make America great again,” menacing him, and taunting him in racially motivated ways. It is the kind of thing that happens every day—possibly every hour—in Donald Trump’s America. But this time there was proof: a video. Was it problematic that it offered no evidence that these things had happened? No. What mattered was that it had happened, and that there was video to prove it. The fact of there being a video became stronger than the video itself.

Ambisjon og frihet

On many Independence Days I repeat the words of former Facebook Friend (former because he’s not on Facebook anymore) Tim Nerenz:

Americans are the perfected DNA strand of rebelliousness.  Each of us is the descendant of the brother who left the farm in the old country when his mom and dad and wimpy brother told him not to; the sister who ran away rather than marry the guy her parents had arranged for her; the freethinker who decided his fate would be his own, not decided by a distant power he could not name.  How did you think we would turn out?

Those other brothers and sisters, the tame and the fearful, the obedient and the docile; they all stayed home.  Their timid DNA was passed down to the generations who have endured warfare and poverty and hopelessness and the dull, boring sameness that is the price of subjugation.

They watch from the old countries with envy as their rebellious American cousins run with scissors.  They covet our prosperity and our might and our unbridled celebration of our liberty; but try as they might they have not been able to replicate our success in their own countries.

Dan Mitchell somewhat brings this up in comparing here with the “old country” for those of us of Scandinavian heritage:

The most persuasive data, when comparing the United States and Scandinavia, are the numbers showing that Americans of Swedish, Danish, Finnish, and Norwegian descent produce much more prosperity than those who remained in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Norway.

This certainly suggests that America’s medium-sized welfare state does less damage than the large-sized welfare state in Scandinavian nations.

But maybe the United States also was fortunate in that it attracted the right kind of migrant from Scandinavia.

Let’s look at some fascinating research from Professor Anne Sofie Beck Knudsen of Lund University in Sweden.

If you’re in a rush and simply want the headline results, here are some excerpts from the abstract.

This paper examines the joint evolution of emigration and individualism in Scandinavia during the Age of Mass Migration (1850-1920). A long-standing hypothesis holds that people of a stronger individualistic mindset are more likely to migrate as they suffer lower costs of abandoning existing social networks. …I propose a theory of cultural change where migrant self-selection generates a relative push away from individualism, and towards collectivism, in migrant-sending locations through a combination of initial distributional effects and channels of intergenerational cultural transmission. …the empirical results suggest that individualists were more likely to migrate than collectivists, and that the Scandinavian countries would have been considerably more individualistic and culturally diverse, had emigration not taken place.

If you’re interested in more detail, here are passages from the study.

We’ll start with the author’s description of why she studied the topic and what she wanted to determine.

People of Western societies are unique in their strong view of themselves… This culture of individualism has roots in the distant past and is believed to have played an important role in the economic and political development of the region… differences in individualism and its counterpart, collectivism, impact processes of innovation, entrepreneurship, cooperation, and public goods provision. Yet, little is known about what has influenced the evolution of individualism over time and across space within the Western world. …I explore the relationship between individualism and a common example of human behavior: migration. I propose a theory, where migration flows generate cultural change towards collectivism and convergence across migrant-sending locations.

Keep in mind, by the way, that societies with a greater preference for individualism generate much more prosperity.

Anyhow, Professor Knudsen had a huge dataset for her research since there was an immense amount of out-migration from Scandinavia.

During the period, millions of people left Europe to settle in New World countries such as the United States. Sweden, Norway, and Denmark experienced some of the highest emigration rates in Europe during this period, involving the departure of approximately 25% of their populations. …Total emigration amounted to around 38% and 26% in Norway and Sweden respectively.

Here are some of her findings.

I find that Scandinavians who grew up in individualistic households were more likely to emigrate… people of individualistic mindsets suffer lower costs of leaving existing social networks behind… the cultural change that took place during the Age of Mass Migration was sufficiently profound to leave a long-run impact on contemporary Scandinavian culture. …If people migrate based, in part, on individualistic cultural values, migration will have implications on the overall evolution of cultures. Emigration must be associated with an immediate reduction in the prevalence of individualists in the migrant-sending population.

Here is her data on the individualism of emigrants compared to those who stayed in Scandinavia.

As an aside, I find it very interesting that Scandinavian emigrants were attracted by the “American dream.”

…historians agree that migrants were motivated by more than hopes of escaping poverty. Stories on the ‘American Dream‘ and the view of the United States as the ‘Land of Opportunities‘ were core to the migration discourse. Private letters, diaries, and newspaper articles of the time reveal that ideas of personal freedom and social equality embodied in the American society were of great value to the migrants. In the United States, people were free to pursue own goals.

And this is why I am quite sympathetic to continued migration to America, with the big caveat that I want severe restrictions on access to government handouts.

Simply stated, I want more people who want that “American dream.”

But I’m digressing. Let’s now look at the key result from Professor Knudsen’s paper.

When the more individualistic Scandinavians with “get up and go” left their home countries, that meant the average level of collectivism increased among those remained behind.

Several observations are worth mentioning in light of the revealed actual and counterfactual patterns of individualism. First, one observes a general trend of rising individualism over the period, which is consistent with accounts for other countries… Second, the level of individualism would have been considerably higher by the end of the Age of Mass Migration in 1920, had emigration not taken place. Taking the numbers at face value, individualism would have been between 19.0% and 20.3% higher on average in Sweden, 17.8% and 27.9% in Norway, and 7.6% and 12.5% in Denmark, depending on the measure considered.

… To wrap this up, here’s a restatement of the key findings from the study’s conclusion.

I find that people of an individualistic mindset were more prone to migrate than their collectivistic neighbors. …Due to self-selection on individualistic traits, mass emigration caused a direct compositional change in the home population. Over the period this amounted to a loss of individualists of approximate 3.7%-points in Denmark, 9.4%-points in Sweden, and 13.6%-points in Norway. …The cultural change that took place during the Age of Mass Migration was sufficiently profound to impact cross-district cultural differences in present day Scandinavia. Contemporary levels of individualism would thus have been significantly higher had emigration not occurred. …The potential societal implications of the emigration-driven cultural change are of great importance. The period of the Age of Mass Migration was characterized by industrialization, urbanization, and democratization in Scandinavia. Individualism was generally on the rise, in part due to these developments, but it seems conceivable that the collectivistic turn caused by emigration played a role in subsequent institutional developments. While economic freedom is high in contemporary Scandinavia, the region is known for its priority of social cohesion and collective insurance. This is particularly clear when contrasting the Scandinavian welfare model with American liberal capitalism.

This is first-rate research.

Professor Knudsen even understands that Scandinavian nations still have lots of economic freedom by world standards.

Imagine, though, how much economic freedom those countries might enjoy if the more individualism-minded people hadn’t left for America? Maybe those nations wouldn’t have dramatically expanded their welfare states starting in the 1960s, thus dampening economic growth.

The obvious takeaway is that migration from Denmark, Sweden, and Norway to the United States was a net plus for America and a net minus for Scandinavia.

P.S. When she referred in her conclusion to “American liberal capitalism,” she was obviously referring to classical liberalism.