Wednesday, May 23, 2018

ATLANTIC WRITER: REPUBLICANS ARE SAYING ABSURD THINGS ABOUT GUNS -- APPARENTLY FOR THE FIRST TIME!

A young Atlantic writer named Elaina Plott informs us that the conversation on guns has changed after the Santa Fe massacre:
In the wake of mass shootings in America, Republicans and Democrats migrate to their respective marks as though urged on by a stage director. They read from their respective scripts, Democrats amping up their calls for gun control and Republicans stressing the need for more effective mental health care.

Friday’s mass shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, in which a teenager murdered 10 people at Santa Fe High School, appeared to represent a break in that script.
I'm ignoring the bothsiderism of that lede and focusing on the assertion that the usual GOP "script" after a mass shooting consists exclusively of Republicans talking about mental health. That strikes me as an oversimplification, to put it mildly. But go on, Elaina. Tell us what's different now.
Conservative pundits and lawmakers alike have floated several different reasons behind the shooting, from trench coats to the school’s excess of doors to ADHD medication. The array of diagnoses suggests a couple of things: one, that Republicans remain steadfastly unwilling to consider the merits of gun control, even as the number of mass shootings steadily climbs; and two, that as many Americans demand a more immediate response to gun violence from Washington, Republicans feel pressured to reach for new causes, however incongruous they may seem.
What? Republicans are "reaching for new causes" (or alleged causes) for school shootings? And these "new" scapegoats include trench coats and prescription drugs?

Yes, that's what Plott is saying -- Republicans have never talked this way before.
National Rifle Association president Oliver North offered [a] potential cause: Ritalin. In an interview with Fox News Sunday, North said with regard to mass shootings, “We’re trying like the dickens to treat the symptom without treating the disease.” He said that American youth are “steeped in a culture of violence,” and ADHD medication exacerbates that violent culture, he argued....
Elaina, have you been paying attention? Republicans have been blaming school shootings on prescription drugs at least since Sandy Hook. Here's Jerome Corsi with a 2012 World Net Daily articled titled "Psych Meds Linked to 90% of School Shootings." Tennessee congresswoman (and possible future U.S. senator) Marsha Blackburn blamed Sandy Hook on meds in a CNN interview a month later. In 2015, GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry suggested that meds led Dylann Roof to kill nine people in Charleston, South Carolina.
Conservative pundit Hugh Hewitt suggested that teachers stay vigilant about identifying “the creepy people” in their schools. What’s Hewitt’s tell-tale sign for a “creepy” person? Trench coats. “To the teachers and administrators out there, the trench coat is kind of a giveaway,” Hewitt said on his popular talk-radio show on Monday. “You might just say, ‘No more trench coats.’ The creepy people, make a list, check it twice.”
Plott treats this as a new idea. She makes no mention of the fact that trench coats were (erroneously) scapegoated after the 1999 Columbine massacre; many kids at the time were subject to trench coat bans in schools.
And then there was Texas Senator John Cornyn, who tweeted a Wall Street Journal story about the killer—highlighting the father’s quote that his son was “a good boy” who had been “mistreated at school.” After a barrage of angry replies, Cornyn attempted to clarify the tweet: “Not sending a message, crediting claim, or excusing murder,” Cornyn wrote. “Just noting the fact he said it. That is what news does.”
Bullying? Does Plott really believe no one's ever blamed school shootings on bullying before? That Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were bullied was one of the most persistent myths about Columbine.

Plott writes, in horror:
Perhaps the most notable aspect of these responses, taken together, is that they didn’t come from fringe figures. Cornyn is the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, for example, while Hewitt has long been one of the right’s most prolific commentators.
Yes, it's shocking! No Republican senator in the past ever engaged in this kind of blame-shifting!

Um, well, maybe Senator Jeff Sessions did after Columbine when he said this about school shooters on the Senate Floor, in his capacity as chairman the Senate Judiciary Committee' Subcommittee on Youth Violence:
They are able to hook into the Internet and play video games that are extraordinarily violent, that cause the blood pressure to rise and the adrenaline level to go up, games that cause people to be killed and the players to die themselves. It is a very intense experience. They are able to get into Internet chat rooms and, if there are no nuts or people of the same mentality in their hometown, hook up with people around the country. They are able to rent from the video store ― not just go down and see “Natural Born Killers” or “The Basketball Diaries” ― but they are able to bring it home and watch it repeatedly. In this case, even maybe make their own violent film. Many have said this murder was very much akin to “The Basketball Diaries,” in which a student goes in and shoots others in the classroom. I have seen a video of that, and many others may have.

In music, there is Marilyn Manson, an individual who chooses the name of a mass murderer as part of his name. The lyrics of his music are consistent with his choice of name. They are violent and nihilistic, and there are groups all over the world who do this, some German groups and others. I guess what I am saying is, a person already troubled in this modern high-tech world can be in their car and hear the music, they can be in their room and see the video, they can go into the chat rooms and act out these video games and even take it to real life. Something there is very much of a problem.
Plott writes that this strange and unprecedented wave of GOP scapegoating is something that "even fellow Republicans find unnerving." But the only Republicans she can find who are upset are strategist Steve Schmidt and former RNC chair Michael Steele, both of whom are persona non grata in the contemporary Republican Party. (Both, however, were in good standing when Republicans first began this sort of blame-shifting.)

****

I'll tell you a little bit about Plott. She's young. She was a William F. Buckley Fellow at National Review. Before signing on with The Atlantic, she wrote for Washingtonian, where one of her pieces was titled "I Was a Teenage Ann Coulter Fangirl!" In it, Plott talks about her excitement at seeing a Coulter appearance at Yale -- and then a sense of letdown a couple of years later when Coulter began promoting Donald Trump.
Idols lose their luster, and at some point we grow up and the curtain is jerked back and we wonder whether they changed or we did. What I mean to say is that Ann Coulter was once inextricably tied to my vision of conservatism and the Republican Party. And when those two institutions broke down this year, with the advent of a nominee who seems devoted to neither, I was jarred to see Coulter proudly tout her role in the crackup.

... I don’t have a great answer as to what changed my mind. Though I can remember every detail of times I’ve listened to and watched Coulter in the last several years—sitting on the couch watching Fox News after school, staring up at her behind a podium in that college auditorium—I don’t have the faintest idea of what she said. It was never about what she said, after all. It was about the hair, the dresses, the rhetorical shutdowns. But when there’s a Republican presidential nominee amplifying her words, and to such frightening influence, those gaps in memory vex me. Did I really just never listen?
If, in Plott's fangirl years, it never occurred to her that Coulter was a hatemongering rabble-rouser -- if that never dawned on her until the Trump campaign -- then I guess she wasn't listening, just as she hasn't been listening all these years as her party-mates blamed mass shootings on everything except guns.


LET'S NOT GET TOO EXCITED ABOUT THAT TEACHER WINNING IN KENTUCKY

At first glance, the result in this Kentucky state legislative election seems like a big deal:
... Rockcastle County High School math teacher R. Travis Brenda narrowly defeated House Majority Floor Leader Jonathan Shell of Garrard County in one of the most-watched races for the state House....

Brenda tried in the Republican primary election for the 71st House District seat to capitalize on teacher anger against legislators who backed a controversial pension bill in this year's law-making session. It was Brenda's first bid for public office.

Shell, a farmer who has occupied the seat since 2012 and had the backing of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell as a potential rising star in the GOP, played a prominent role in handling the pension bill in the legislature.

The measure sparked a backlash of frustration by thousands of teachers who held protests at the Capitol.
New York magazine's Eric Levitz thinks this "could transform the GOP."
... a recent analysis of public opinion data by the political scientist Larry Bartels found that “a majority of Republicans endorse government efforts to regulate pollution, provide a decent standard of living for people unable to work, and ensure access to good health care.” That finding is buttressed by the past two years of polling on the Republican rank and file’s views about supply-side tax cuts (they’re against them) and federal spending on health care (they want more of it), and validated by Voter Study Group data showing that more than 70 percent of 2016 voters held left-of-center opinions on economic policy.

To this point, GOP officeholders have paid little price for defying their voters’ preferences on fiscal policy....

But Brenda’s victory is, nonetheless, potentially transformative.....

If economically progressive Republicans start to contest the party’s fiscal agenda — from inside its own tent — the GOP could quickly become a less reliable mercenary in the one percent’s class war.
But we have no reason to believe that Brenda is "economically progressive." Nor do we have any reason to believe that about the Republican voters who chose him.

I'm not expressing skepticism because Brenda is culturally conservative. Yes, on his campaign site he boasts about his Christian faith, opposition to abortion, and support for the Second Amendment. It's possible that someone could be all those things and be economically progressive -- I've long wondered what would happen to America if blue-collar cultural conservatives rediscovered the economically progressive ideas many of their forebears had eighty or a hundred years ago. (They seem to have discovered right-wing nativist populism instead.)

I question whether Travis Brenda is economically enlightened at all. As Levitz notes, "Brenda did not run on a promise to transform his state’s fiscal priorities, only to restore its public workers’ pensions."

I suspect that Brenda, who calls himself "a lifelong conservative," is doing what conservatives often do when an issue hits home for them: He's become liberal on that issue alone, because it matters to him. It's comparable to Dick Cheney's endorsement of same-sex marriage a decade ago -- yay for him, but he became enlightened only because it was an important issue for his lesbian daughter. Apart from that, it's unimaginable that Cheney would have expressed the same opinion.

Brenda doesn't like the GOP fiscal policies that led to pension cuts for people like him. But if he's elected, will he recognize that conservatism's obsession with tax cuts, especially for the wealthy, is causing harm to ordinary Kentuckians who aren't counting on government pensions? Or will he continue to assume that tax cuts are good, that the particular benefits he wants can be painlessly restored by cutting "waste, fraud, and abuse," and that the suffering of others as a result of right-wing economic orthodoxy is just fine?

I shouldn't jump to conclusions. Brenda may understand the problem better than I think he does, or he may begin to understand it once he's in office, assuming he wins the general election. For now, however, even though this is a timely warning to mainstream Republicans that they should stop putting the squeeze on public education, it might not change Republican thinking very much at all.

THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA'S BRO CODE

Responding to news that President Trump uses highly insecure phones, Brian Beutler concludes that the mainstream media rewards Republican bad faith.
... the 2016 election turned to a comical degree on a fabricated consensus among Republicans and the political media that strict adherence to information security protocols was a central qualification for the presidency. Specifically, Republicans pretended to believe Hillary Clinton had committed a disqualifying and imprisonable crime by using a personal email server to do work when she was secretary of state, and reporters pretended to believe that these infosec concerns were offered up in good faith.

... It is so taken for granted in the halls of power that Republicans don’t actually care about this issue, and never did, that nobody even bothers to ask them to square their hair-on-fire behavior in 2016 with their insouciance today. Two years ago, House Speaker Paul Ryan repeatedly and publicly requested that Clinton be stripped of her security clearance because of her email practices. On Tuesday, less than 24 hours after the Trump phone-breach story broke, he held a routine Capitol briefing for reporters and fielded zero questions about it.

... If the standard journalists set for themselves is that anything Republicans claim to be outraged about must be treated as a live controversy, then journalists disclaim a major potential point of failure, and become conduits for propaganda. This insulates media organizations from accountability for their handling of the email server matter, but also guarantees that the patterns of the past years will repeat themselves.
I wouldn't say that the mainstream media believes that literally anything "Republicans claim to be outraged about must be treated as a live controversy" -- now that Trump is in office, the mainstream press seems capable of resisting a certain amount of GOP scandal invention. Uranium One isn't a major MSM scandal. Nor was "unmasking." The press is even resisting the notion that it's criminal to hire an informant when you're investigating possible espionage. It's conceivable that mainstream journalists are on to the game now -- though it's more likely that Republicans aren't trying to sell these scandals to the mainstream. They're just for base consumption. They're R&B or country hits that the record label has decided probably won't cross over to pop radio, so why waste money promoting them there?

But the most likely reason that information management became the #1 issue in 2016 is that it was directed against a Democratic presidential candidate who wasn't a charismatic bro. The "liberal media" may seem culturally liberal on, say, LGBT rights or immigration, but the press doesn't like Democratic candidates for president unless they have star quality and at least a little bit of bro in them -- and even then there's disillusionment if the Democrats actually attain office (see the press sneering at Bill Clinton practically from the moment he took office; also see the "Well, what does he want to do if he gets a second term?" yammering about Barack Obama circa 2012). But if you don't have that somewhat bro-ish charisma, forget even reaching the White House -- whatever the Republicans unleash on you will be eagerly echoed by the mainstream press during the campaign.

What happened to Hillary Clinton also happened to John Kerry (Swiftboating and charges of elitism and flip-floppery), Al Gore (earth tones, excessive ambition, claiming to have invented the Internet), and Mike Dukakis (wimpiness and an inadequate desire for vengeance against criminals).

In 1992 the mainstream press liked Bill Clinton somewhat more than it liked those candidates (though Clinton was attacked on his sex life and his patriotism), and in 2008 Barack Obama generally avoided MSM scorn after the Jeremiah Wright moment passed. But those are exceptions. The rule is that the mainstream press doesn't like Democratic candidates at all. We'll see it in 2020, when the Democratic likely won't have a bro in the bunch (unless you count Joe Biden, assuming he runs). Republicans will lob phony attacks at that Democrat, too. The "liberal media" will know they're phony -- and take them seriously anyway.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

UM ... SHOULDN'T EVERY PHONE TRUMP USES SHOW A BLOCKED NUMBER?

Politico has a big story today:
President Donald Trump uses a White House cellphone that isn’t equipped with sophisticated security features designed to shield his communications, according to two senior administration officials — a departure from the practice of his predecessors that potentially exposes him to hacking or surveillance.

The president, who relies on cellphones to reach his friends and millions of Twitter followers, has rebuffed staff efforts to strengthen security around his phone use, according to the administration officials.

The president uses at least two iPhones, according to one of the officials. The phones — one capable only of making calls, the other equipped only with the Twitter app and preloaded with a handful of news sites — are issued by White House Information Technology and the White House Communications Agency, an office staffed by military personnel that oversees White House telecommunications.

While aides have urged the president to swap out the Twitter phone on a monthly basis, Trump has resisted their entreaties, telling them it was “too inconvenient,” the same administration official said.

The president has gone as long as five months without having the phone checked by security experts....

Trump’s call-capable cellphone has a camera and microphone, unlike the White House-issued cellphones used by Obama. Keeping those components creates a risk that hackers could use them to access the phone and monitor the president’s movements.
The obvious point, to quote the title of a Jonathan Chait post, is that "Trump Is Doing Same Thing He Demanded Clinton Be Locked Up For." His so-called Twitter phone is insecure. His alleged phone-exclusive device has hackable components. And he doesn't care.

But I'm wondering about this detail in the Politico story:
Dozens of Trump’s friends and advisers testify to his frequent cellphone use. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Trump confidant, told POLITICO in April that he hears from the president either late at night or early in the morning, sometimes from a blocked number and sometimes from “a 10-digit number that starts with a 202 area code.”
Um, why is Trump making calls on any phone that doesn't block his number? Isn't that an extreme security risk?

Sure, we're told that, in addition to his two phones (only one of which is supposed to be able to make phone calls), he also has other phones at hand:
Several aides close to the president also carry secure devices from which he can place calls — a standard practice in any presidential administration.
But wouldn't those devices also have blocked numbers?

A quick search tells me that if you received a call from the phone of a lower-level White House aide during the Obama years, the number would be blocked. Here's a story about Tangela Roberts, a Boston University graduate student who was invited to a White House LGBT event in 2016 (emphasis added below):
On the day of the Pride event, Roberts was with the friend she was staying with in Washington, D.C. when she got a call from a blocked number. Her friend joked that it was the White House calling. It was.

“The person at the other end said, ‘I’m calling you because you actually are going to meet the president. I need you to meet at this portrait of a past president at this specific time.’ I dropped the phone,” Roberts said.

Roberts went to the Abraham Lincoln portrait at the appointed time, along with a dozen others. While they were waiting, they heard applause outside. Suddenly, President Barack Obama appeared in the room where they were being held.
Here's a 2015 Politico story about a congressional Democrat who was at odds with the Obama White House on trade:
Texas Democratic Party chairman Gilberto Hinojosa had just put out a statement opposing President Barack Obama’s trade platform when his cellphone starting flashing with a blocked number. He assumed White House political director David Simas was calling to ask him to stop.

Hinojosa didn’t pick up.

“What was he going to do? We’re pretty firm on our opposition to this,” Hinojosa recalled in an interview.
Here's a passage from Senator Arlen Spector's memoir in which he talks about a phone conversation his chief of staff had with a White House official just after he switched to the Democratic Party in 2009:



It sure looks as if the phone number of everyone in the White House was blocked as far back as Obama's first year.

We know the number is blocked on some of Trump's calls -- Gaetz says so. We also assume that Trump's pre-presidential phone blocked its number, based on suspicion that Donald Trump Jr.'s calls to a blocked number before and after that notorious June 2016 Trump Tower meeting were to his father.

So how is Trump still managing to make calls on phones that lack this simple security measure, if every call he makes is on a phone that's been cleared with White House IT?

GUN VIOLENCE EXCUSE-MAKERS PLAY THE HITS (Part II)

On Sunday, I told you that Jordan Peterson's notion of what will prevent angry young men from turning to violence -- "enforced monogamy," which will supposedly redistribute women as sex partners to now-frustrated males -- might not catch on among conservatives, in part because conservatives have a large repertoire of excuses for male violence already.

Now the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins has weighed in on last week's school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas:
Mankind has had instruments of destruction dating back to Cain and Abel. The real crisis is the moral vacuum left behind when society kicked religion — and with it, morality — out of the public space. Violence, relativism, promiscuity, and suicide didn’t get their start when God was expelled from school. But they’ve certainly been given a culture in which to thrive now that we’ve removed the Judeo-Christian foundation that anchored the country.

... We can talk about limiting access to guns, but if we’re truly concerned about violence, let’s also talk about expanding access to God. Until we’re willing to address both — the instrument and the motivation – nothing will change. A spiritually sick society that embraces violence instead of values needs God.
This leaves me wondering why a shooting of this kind would happen in Santa Fe, of all places. As NPR's Wade Goodwyn noted this morning:
The town is a predominantly white, rural, and evangelical community. In 2000, Santa Fe High was the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court decision about whether students could pray over the loudspeaker before football games . When the Court ruled no, they could not, it prompted anguish and outrage in the town.
Perkins would say this just proves his point -- the town's high school football fans were deprived of pre-game loudspeaker prayer, and, well, everyone knows that inevitably leads to mass slaughter. I'd say that a town as religious as Santa Fe ought to still be as religious as it was when its students were praying openly over the PA system -- angry evangelicals talk as if bans on mass prayer from public schools somehow deprive them of all religious expression, but clearly that's not the case. There are eighteen Christian churches in Santa Fe, a town of approximately 13,000 people. The shooter attended a church dance days before the massacre. I'm sure Santa Fe is significantly more Christian than, say, the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where I'm typing this now, and where there's never been a mass shooting of the kind that just took place in Santa Fe.

Meanwhile, NRA spokesman Colion Noir seems to be playing the entire right-wing scapegoat songbook, like a veteran rock band playing a classic double album in its entirety.
COLION NOIR (NRATV HOST): So, when are we going to be completely honest and acknowledge the awkward, bullied, sexually frustrated, psychotropic drug-laced, suicidal, mass shooters in the room for what they are? Or are we just going to keep acting like we don't know what's going on in the name of not confronting the miserable reality that they are a creation of our so-called progressive culture and media?

... our moronic media in their blind pursuit for ratings will post every picture they can find of the shooter and repeat the shooters's name habitually, turning the kid into a damn rock star within hours of the damn shooting....

Instead of teaching our kids how to cope with the harsh realities of life, we shield them in safe spaces and give them participation trophies incentivizing mediocrity and tell our young boys that their masculinity is toxic, and our young girls that being a woman means acting like a man further confusing the hell out of kids who are naturally going to struggle with their identity as is.
Drugs! Progressive culture! The media! Safe spaces! Participation trophies! The questioning of traditional gender behavior!

Sorry, Professor Peterson, we'll keep your scapegoat on file, but I'm afraid we don't have an opening right now.

Monday, May 21, 2018

IN A RIGHT-DOMINATED COUNTRY, WE CAN'T CHANGE MINDS ON GUNS -- AND WE COULD NEVER HAVE CURBED SMOKING

Writing for The Washington Post, Petula Dvorak asks, "Can Americans ditch guns the way we ditched cigarettes?"
Not that long ago, cigarettes were completely woven into American culture. The Marlboro Man, posters telling us: “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette,” even the armrests on planes and all our cars were designed for smokers.

And now? Not so much.

Can it work like that with guns?

... somehow, within a couple generations, we’ve altered the culture of smoking in our country. In 2016, just 15 of every 100 adults aged 18 and older were smokers — a huge decline from the 1960s.

Can gun culture be similarly uncoupled from Americana?
Gun control can reduce the bloodshed, but I don't think we'll ever really make a dent in the problem until the country, including red America, begins to regard ownership of huge arsenals and quasi-military weapons as appalling and excessive. The culture will also have to start notice that our easy commerce in guns is making it far too easy for the sociopathic, the reckless, and the suicidal to shed blood.

But even if individuals turn away from the gun culture as it exists now, defenders of the culture will still dominate the debate, just as they do now, because of the NRA and right-wing media.

I know that industry lobbyists fought hard to save the tobacco culture. But the tobacco industry was never able to persuade heartlanders that smoking was a way to get back at elitist liberals who wanted to control ordinary people's lives. That's the message we would have heard if the surgeon general's report had been issued in 2004 rather than 1964.

Fox and the rest of the right-wing media would have worked closely with the tobacco industry to discredit the report as "junk science," just the way the right-wing media now works to discredit legitimate climate science. Any links between smoking and disease would have been mocked as fantasies cooked up by agenda-driven liberals determined to exercise social control for its own sake. Smoking would be identified with patriotism and freedom; Fox hosts would personally do a lot of on-air smoking. The science would be mocked at Drudge and Breitbart, on talk radio, and in right-wing podcasts and YouTube videos. (I'm sure Alex Jones would have many fascinating theories.)

As long as we have a right-wing media with as much power as it has now, and as long as its sworn mission is to oppose anything liberals support, cultural change will be tremendously difficult -- especially if the Republican Party remains as dominant as it is today. In the years following the surgeon general's report, the anti-smoking message met less resistance than it would meet now.

So I think change on guns will come slowly, if at all. Conservatism has too much power.

TRUMP'S JUNKIE LOGIC ON NORTH KOREA

The summit hasn't happened yet, and it may not, but Donald Trump's administration is already patting him on the back for it (and being awfully nice to Kim Jong Un as well):
The White House Communications Agency on Monday released a commemorative “trip coin” to mark the upcoming summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

One side of the coin features Air Force One taking off over the White House, while the flip side depicts silhouettes of Trump and Kim. The coin refers to Kim as “supreme leader,” and denotes the occasion as “peace talks.”


What's done with these coins?
The White House has a long history of minting commemorative coins, including the president’s newly redesigned coin, which are given out to visiting dignitaries and others.
And, clearly, photos of them are released to the media, which informs the public about them, to the greater glory of the endlessly glory-seeking president. Trump really has an addict's craving for glory, doesn't he?

Jonathan Chait makes an obvious point:



Right -- it's clear that Trump wants this summit desperately, whereas Kim can probably take it or leave it. Kim wanted to be accepted as the equal of major world leaders, and Trump agreed to elevate his status, so Kim has already won. Kim can win again if he blows Trump off, thus demonstrating how easy it is for him to play Trump. Bu

But Trump doesn't care -- his ego needs this summit and he's fine with weakening America's bargaining position if that's what it takes to get it. Although his desperation for any deal makes it extremely unlikely that he'll get a good one, all he has to do is say he got a good one and his fan base will agree, and will accept his insistence that a great deal came about because he was a tough guy. (That's basically what he's saying about trade negotiations with China, despite the evidence that he's getting rolled.) So he gets praise at multiple points, regardless of what happens to U.S. policy. (Probably, as in the case of China, it won't change much.) There's no Art of the Deal, but there is an art of satisfying Trump's glory cravings on an ongoing basis.

Final thought: I guarantee that there are "Nobel Prize Winner Donald J. Trump" coins already in the works, assuming they haven't already been pressed.

TEXANS LOVE GUNS WITHOUT QUALIFICATION (EXCEPT FOR THE MAJORITY WHO DON'T)

Here are the lead paragraphs of a New York Times story about opinions on guns in Texas after the Santa Fe shooting:
One mile from the scene of the shooting that left 10 people dead at her school, Monica Bracknell, a senior at Santa Fe High School, approached Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in the lobby of Arcadia First Baptist Church here Sunday morning.

Her message was simple: The violence was not “a political issue,” she told Mr. Abbott, explaining to reporters afterward that schools needed to be safer but restricting the availability of guns was not the way to achieve it.

After the February rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., students there helped ignite the most successful push for action on gun control in decades in that state. There is little indication of anything similar in Texas, a place where guns are hard-wired into the state’s psyche, Republicans control virtually all the levers of power, and where the victims of Friday’s rampage in a conservative rural area are showing little of the anti-gun fervor that followed the Parkland shooting in a more diverse, suburban one.

In the wake of the tragedy, gun issues are likely to take on a new urgency in a few Texas political races, including Republican congressional districts that Democrats are trying to flip, but the debate is far more muted and dominated by support for gun rights than it had been in Florida post-Parkland.

“Florida is a swing state,” said Calvin Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “You start with the understanding that Florida is a purple state in which Democrats and Republicans are both competitive. Texas is a deep-red state, in which the Republican Party is in complete and total control. They don’t feel that partisan electoral heat.”

What played out instead was a reminder, as happened after 26 people were killed in a church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Tex., in November, that major gun violence often does not produce a backlash against guns. The differences in how the issue has played out in Texas and Florida illustrate just how hard it can be to establish a consensus on gun issues in America. For gun control advocates, what works in one part of the country does not work in others, even down to the vocabulary used. Some pro-gun Texans question the phrase “gun violence” and avoid using it, saying it is as arbitrary as talking about knife violence.
All of this may be true, and the story goes on for sixteen more paragraphs in this fashion. But then we're told:
Polling shows the state’s voters are more split on guns than popular culture might indicate. According to an October poll by the University of Texas and The Texas Tribune, more than half of the registered voters surveyed said gun control laws should be stricter. Only 13 percent said the laws should be less strict than they are now, and 31 percent would prefer to leave current gun laws unchanged.
My response is: So it's not "popular culture" that's misinforming us about Texans' attitudes regard gun laws -- it's you, New York Times. It's you saying that "guns are hard-wired into the state’s psyche" and quoting (as the story goes on to do) primarily Republican politicians and residents of this rural community. (Texas isn't a rural state -- it has four of the eleven most populous cities in America. City dwellers are Americans, too -- and city dwellers in Texas are Texans.)

I wish this story had examined the disjuncture between the widespread support for at least some tightening of gun laws and the political impossibility of tightening in many parts of America. In Texas, it's not because keeping the gun laws loose is the will of the state's residents -- the poll numbers make that clear -- but because the minority that resists change is dominant. The story could have made clearer that that's what's going on, rather than implying that love of unrestricted guns is essential to the entire state's culture and we liberals just don't understand.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

JORDAN PETERSON OFFERS THE RIGHT SOME NEW TUNES, BUT THE RIGHT WOULD RATHER PLAY THE HITS

The L.A. Times reports that Dimitrios Pagourtzis, who's confessed to Friday's school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, targeted a fellow student who'd rejected his advances.
One of Pagourtzis' classmates who died in the attack, Shana Fisher, "had 4 months of problems from this boy," her mother, Sadie Rodriguez, wrote in a private message to the Los Angeles Times on Facebook. "He kept making advances on her and she repeatedly told him no."

Pagourtzis continued to get more aggressive, and she finally stood up to him and embarrassed him in class, Rodriguez said. "A week later he opens fire on everyone he didn't like," she wrote. "Shana being the first one." Rodriguez didn't say how she knew her daughter was the first victim.
Most of the online responses I've seen to this story express disgust at Pagourtzis for believing he was entitled to respond to rejection this way. But the Times's framing of the story has also been criticized.



The school shooting happened shortly after New York Times published a profile of the pseudointellectual self-help guru Jordan Peterson, who rails against those who (in his view) pursue "equality of outcomes" -- except when the outcomes involve male access to sex. In such cases, Peterson prefers "equality of outcomes." Peterson was asked about this shortly after a self-proclaimed "involuntary celibate," Alex Minassian, killed ten people in Toronto.
Violent attacks are what happens when men do not have partners, Mr. Peterson says, and society needs to work to make sure those men are married.

“He was angry at God because women were rejecting him,” Mr. Peterson says of the Toronto killer. “The cure for that is enforced monogamy. That’s actually why monogamy emerges.”

... But aside from interventions that would redistribute sex, Mr. Peterson is staunchly against what he calls “equality of outcomes,” or efforts to equalize society. He usually calls them pathological or evil.

He agrees that this is inconsistent. But preventing hordes of single men from violence, he believes, is necessary for the stability of society. Enforced monogamy helps neutralize that.

In situations where there is too much mate choice, “a small percentage of the guys have hyper-access to women, and so they don’t form relationships with women,” he said. “And the women hate that.”
Peterson has developed a large following among young conservative-leaners, especially young men. So can we combine these two stories and expect the right to blame the Santa Fe shooting on a teenage girl who said no to the shooter?

So far, I don't see that happening, at least among mainstream wingnuts.

The new NRA president, Ollie North, is playing the old hits:
Two days after a 17-year-old opened fire in his Texas high school, killing at least 10, incoming National Rifle Association president Oliver North said students “shouldn’t have to be afraid” to go to school and blamed the problem on “a culture of violence” in which many young boys have “been on Ritalin” since early childhood.
As was the lieutenant governor of Texas:
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick blamed what he deemed the social acceptance of abortion and violent video games for the epidemic of school gun violence.

“Should we be surprised in this nation? We have devalued life, whether it’s through abortion, whether it’s the breakup of families or violent movies and particularly violent video games, which now outsell music and music,” he said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “Psychologists and psychiatrists will tell you that students are desensitized to violence and have lost empathy to their victims by watching hours and hours of violent video games.”
And the townspeople in Santa Fe seem to like the oldies, too:
Most residents here didn’t blame any gun for the tragedy down the street. Many of them pointed to a lack of religion in schools.

“It’s not the guns. It’s the people. It’s a heart problem,” said Sarah Tassin, 61. “We need to bring God back into the schools.”
These folks have so many go-to scapegoats for gun violence that it's going to be hard for Peterson's idea to break through -- especially because the classics target so many groups right-wingers already hate. Blame secularism? Damn liberals took God out of the schools. Blame movies and video games? Liberals control the entertainment industry. Blame abortion? Liberals, liberals, liberals.

But won't misogynist right-wingers be eager to blame women and girls? Aren't liberals responsible for the sexual revolution? And feminism?

I know -- but if the solution is "enforced monogamy," I don't think the average right-winger is going to buy it.

I know that righties are supposed to be believers in "traditional values" -- but you see how much they admire Donald Trump, don't you? They like sex, including that's not at all consistent with "traditional values." There are just as many strip clubs in red America as in blue America -- maybe more. There's just as much interest in porn. Red America really likes skimpily dressed cheerleaders and the Fox News leg-cam. And country music is full of non-marital sex.

Red America's utter indifference to Donald Trump's sexual predation makes clear that rank-and-file conservatives have no problem if "a small percentage of the guys have hyper-access to women," even if those guys are brutish toward those women, or cheat on their wives with them -- as long as the guys with "hyper-access" are guys they like, namely conservatives with money and power (whom they can imagine they might emulate someday, the same way they imagine they might someday be as rich and gilt-splashed as Trump). Their feelings about rich and powerful men's success with women probably mirror their feelings about economic inequality: If you lose, it's because you're a loser. You deserve it.

The alt-right/incel/Jordan Peterson culture might eventually take over conservatism. But for now, the old ideas still seem to rule.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

BEN SHAPIRO SAYS CNN LIED ABOUT THE NUMBER OF SCHOOL SHOOTINGS THIS YEAR. SHAPIRO IS LYING.

Shortly after the mass shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas, Ben Shapiro posted an item at the Daily Wire titled "CNN Says There Have Been 22 School Shootings This Year. That’s a Lie."

When Shapiro says CNN lied, he's lying.

Shapiro writes:
On Friday, CNN reported on the latest awful mass shooting at an American school – this time at the Santa Fe High School in Texas, where 8 people were murdered. According to CNN, one of these shootings has been happening at a school more than once per week:



Every shooting is an act of evil. But this statistic is plainly untrue.
What CNN says here is "plainly untrue"? Really? Explain, Ben.
CNN used the following parameters for their count:

* A shooting that involved at least one person being shot (not including the shooter)

* A shooting that occurred on school grounds

* We included grades K through college/university level

* We included gang violence, fights and domestic violence

* We included accidental discharge of a firearm as long as the first two parameters are met

So, in other words, not mass shootings; not even purposeful shootings; not even shootings involving children. If a gang member shot another gang member on school grounds during the summer, this would count as a school shooting. If a wife shot a husband at a school, they counted it.
Yes, Benjamin, but read the CNN tweet again. It doesn't say there have been 22 mass shootings at schools this year. It doesn't say there have been 22 incidents of deliberate murder by gunfire at schools this year. It doesn't even say there have been 22 incidents of death by gunfire at schools this year.

Benjamin, read the plain text of the tweet.

It says: "this year there have already been 22 school shootings where someone was hurt or killed." And as the CNN story makes clear, that's correct.

Shapiro goes on to "debunk" CNN's assertion:
So here are some of the 22 supposed shootings CNN counted:

* April 12, Rayton, MO: Someone fired a gun in the parking lot of a track meet, and a man was wounded.

* April 9, Globersville, NY: A student shot another student with a BB gun.

* March 13, Seaside, CA: A teacher accidentally discharged a firearm during a public safety class. No one was killed.

* March 8, Mobile, AL: A non-student was shot at an apartment on the University of South Alabama campus.

* March 7, Birmingham, AL: Two students were shot accidentally during dismissal time at a school.

* March 7, Jackson, MS: A student was shot at a dorm at Jackson State University.

* March 2, Mount Pleasant, WA: Two non-students were shot at a dorm at Central Michigan University – and police blamed a domestic dispute.

* February 27, Norfolk, VA: A student at Norfolk State University was apparently accidentally shot from an adjacent dorm room.

* February 27, Itta Bena, MS: A non-student was shot at a recreation center at Mississippi Valley State University.

* February 24, Savannah, GA: A non-student shooter shot a non-student victim on the Savannah State University campus.

* February 9, Nashville, TN: A 14-year-old shot a 17-year-old in a targeted murder attempt in a parking lot of a school.

* February 5, Oxon Hill, MD: Two teenagers shot a third teenager in a robbery attempt outside a school.

* February 1, Los Angeles, CA: A 12-year-old girl accidentally shot two 15-year-olds.

* January 31, Philadelphia, PA: A 32-year-old non-student was shot outside a high school after a fight.

* January 20, Winston Salem, NC: A college football player was shot to death on campus at a party.

None of these events meet the more typical definition of a school shooting: a multiple-murder attempt on a school campus directed at children. CNN merely broadens the definition to include typical murders that happen to take place on school campuses, or in parking lots, or including non-students.
But again, Benjamin, read the damn tweet. CNN didn't say that there have been 22 incidents this year that "meet the more typical definition of a school shooting." CNN said -- forgive me if I'm repeating myself -- that "this year there have already been 22 school shootings where someone was hurt or killed." As you yourself acknowledge, someone was shot -- and, therefore, "hurt" -- in each of the incidents you list.

(Let me correct myself. You don't acknowledge that anyone was hurt in the March 13 incident in Seaside, California, in which a teacher's gun went off during a safety demonstration. In fact, three students were injured in that incident.)

So when you say CNN is lying, you're lying. CNN established strict criteria and you simply don't like those criteria:
That doesn’t mean these incidents are unworthy of reportage. But it’s plainly dishonest to state, as CNN does, that there have been 22 “school shootings” this year. When you remove those on the list that don’t fulfill the typical definition, the number is more like seven. Seven is awful. 22 is blatant misreporting. But CNN has an agenda, and they won't let facts get in the way.
No, it's not "plainly dishonest to state" that 22 incidents meet CNN's criteria. It's not "blatant misreporting." It's accurate reporting. Your post is "blatant misreporting." It's plainly dishonest to state that CNN failed to meet its own criteria when it failed to meet your criteria.

The New York Times has told us that Ben Shapiro "is the cool kid’s philosopher, dissecting arguments with a lawyer’s skill."

That's true -- if the lawyer you have in mind is Rudy Giuliani.

Friday, May 18, 2018

HOW THE RIGHT-WING FEARMONGERING WORKS

The teenager arrested in today's school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, had a Facebook page that hinted at trouble, as BuzzFeed reports:
On [his] now-deleted Facbeook page, [Dimitrios] Pagourtzis had ... uploaded photos of a military green jacket with what appeared to be Nazi-related insignia.

It's not just Nazi regalia -- there's a hammer-and-sickle pin on the collar and various other menacing symbols. The coat is a duster -- reputedly the favored outerwear of the Columbine killers.

But that hammer-and-sickle pin was just too tempting for Gateway Pundit's Jim Hoft. Did he call Pagourtzis a communist? Nahhh -- that's so twentieth century. Here's Hoft's post:
BREAKING: Santa Fe High School Killer Wore ANTIFA and Columbine Hammer-and-Sickle Pin

... Dimitrios Pagourtzis was wearing a jacket with the ANTIFA terrorist hammer-and-sickle emblem.



They sell these Antifa stars on Amazon.
Go to the Amazon page and you'll see that they're not called "Antifa stars" at all -- the words "Antifa" appears nowhere on the page.

But this is right-wing negative branding. This is Hoft tying Antifa to mass slaughter for a gullible, disturbingly large readership.

And not just Hoft -- Mike Cernovich is on the case, too:



Nice how Cernovich gets "gang logo" in there as well -- the right's booga-booga "Antifa" is not just a murder cult, it's a gang, like ... um, MS-13.

Which brings me to my point. This is one of the right's favorite propaganda techniques: Link anything you possibly can to a group you've pre-demonized, and now you've expanded the fear that drives right-wing group solidarity, and you've also widened the pool of political enemies who are deemed so evil and vicious that they need to be expunged from society. This is essentially what the Trump administration and right-wing media have done with MS-13: They've made their fans believe that a massive percentage of immigrants are MS-13, to the point that every Hispanic immigrant is now suspected by the right of being linked to the gang.

Note that the Hoft/Cernovich "Antifa" trick (Bill Mitchell is in on it, too) is in addition to the fake Pagourtzis Facebook sites that sprang up after the shooting, at least one of which overtly portrayed him as an Antifa backer (though, absurdly, it also depicted him in a Hillary Clinton cap).



Little Green Footballs suspects Russian involvement in that fakery. It's not clear where Hoft and Cernovich got their inspiration.

POLITICO REPORTER DEFENDS TRUMP'S IGNORANCE

Bill Gates has America's largest stash of fuck-you money, so he can say this without fearing the wrath of Trump:
Bill Gates discloses in newly revealed footage that President Trump twice asked him to clarify the difference between HIV and human papillomavirus (HPV).

MSNBC’s “All in With Chris Hayes” aired footage Thursday night of the Microsoft founder speaking at a Gates Foundation event, telling the crowd about two meetings he had with Trump, one at Trump Tower during the presidential transition and another at the White House last year.

“Both times he wanted to know if there was a difference between HPV and HIV,” Gates said. “So I was able to explain that those were rarely confused with each other.”
Unfortunately, there's always someone who's willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt, at least up to a point. This time it's Politico's Dan Diamond:



Diamond is right about point (2) -- it would be dangerous if Trump, who's a skeptic, ever convenes the commission on vaccines he once seriously considered creating. But point (1)? Sorry, but age is no excuse for Trump.

Diamond elaborated:




Yes, Trump is an "older American." But he's the president of the United States. There are plenty of subjects on which he's allowed to be just another old guy. I assume he doesn't know the difference between XXXTentacion and Lil Uzi Vert. (Probably he's never even heard of either.) That's fine. It's not a problem if a president doesn't know such things.

But HIV and HPV? Sorry, that's policy stuff. He's supposed to know that. (He also has a son who's at the age when he should be getting the HPV vaccine, according to the CDC.)

But I'm discussing Trump as if he's a normal president and a normal father of a twelve-year-old. We know he's ignorant and incurious. We know he doesn't study anything and wings everything. We know he's simply not interested in learning new things. (We don't really need "more details" to know why he asked about the distinction twice.) And within his family, we know he doesn't do any parenting himself -- he never changed a diaper (by his own admission) and never played with his kids in the park, according to his first wife.

Diamond went on to tweet this:



We know the answer to that: Of course it wouldn't be different. Trump is doing what the religious right wants him to do. Trump always does what the religious right wants him to do. Knowledge wouldn't affect his decision -- he's been handed a to-do list, and he's dutifully checking items off, as Diamond knows, or ought to.

Your media at work, folks.

TODAY IN "WHY CAN'T YOU LIBERALS BE LIKE THOSE NICE CONSERVATIVES?"

... members of political tribes seem to have trouble recognizing that they, too, can push people away and energize them to vote for the other side. Nowhere is this more on display today than in liberal control of the commanding heights of American culture.

... Liberals often don’t realize how provocative or inflammatory they can be. In exercising their power, they regularly not only persuade and attract but also annoy and repel.

... It’s one thing to police your own language and a very different one to police other people’s. The former can set an example. The latter is domineering.
--Gerard Alexander, "Liberals, You’re Not as Smart as You Think," New York Times, May 12, 2018

Conservatives, I guess, are never guilty of offending liberals through an arrogant sense of superiority -- if I imagine that they are, it must be because I'm a hypersensitive left-leaning snowflake. So I suppose I shouldn't be appalled to learn that not one but two Republican candidates in the Georgia governor's race are trying to intimidate undocumented immigrants with their big vehicles.

One of the candidates you've probably heard of.
It's the kind of message you don't expect to see on a US election campaign bus: "FOLLOW ME TO MEXICO."

Those are the words on the back door of a repainted school bus Michael Williams is using to drum up support in his bid for the Georgia governor's seat. He's dubbed it the "Deportation Bus" and says it's a show of support for the Trump administration's crackdown on illegal immigration....

"We are going to implement my 287(g) deportation plan. That's going to fill this bus with illegals, to send them back to where they came from." Williams says.
For good measure, Williams says he's not conducting "one of those pansy political bus tours," as metal guitars play in the background. Can you feel the hair growing on your chest?



I know, I know: Williams isn't much of a threat. He's way back in the polls. The bus broke down on the road yesterday. Cracker Barrel told Williams the bus isn't welcome at its restaurants. DeKalb County police suggested that the Williams campaign faked a claim of violence directed at the bus.

But Williams isn't the only candidate threatening undocumented immigrants with a big vehicle. Here's Brian Kemp, who's a front-runner in the race:



Kemp says:
I'm Brian Kemp. I'm so conservative, I blow up government spending. I own guns that no one's takin' away. My chainsaw's ready to rip up some regulations. I got a big truck, just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take 'em home myself. Yep, I just said that. I'm Brian Kemp. If you want a politically incorrect conservative, that's me.
The macho strutting -- explosives! a rifle! a chainsaw! a big truck! -- is laughable, but the point is that Kemp, who has an excellent shot at being the next governor in this still-red state, is saying, "Vote for me -- I'll go out of my way to offend liberals."

What the Gerard Alexanders don't understand is that there are large swaths of America where people like Kemp and Williams are at the "commanding heights" of the local culture, and are just as "domineering" and offensive as Alexander claims liberals are. In fact, I can't think of any Democrat who's ever made an ad or a speech saying, "I'm really going to make those right-wing yokels squeal. I'm going to wear a pussy hat and use a non-gender-binary bathroom and deliver all my speeches in Spanish, while eating all my meals from Whole Foods. Take that, deplorables!" A Democrat might attack conservatives on policy with this much relish, and might personally be a lefty cultural cliché -- but no Democrat would devote an entire ad to offending the other side culturally.

And yet it's our side that's accused of this, while conservatives aren't.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

NO LIBERALISM, PLEASE, WE'RE THE LIBERAL MEDIA

A day after The Washington Post's James Hohmann told us that "the far left is winning the Democratic civil war," we have this headline on the front page of the print New York Times:



"Hard to the left"? Omigod! Is Phil Murphy nationalizing the means of production? Is he breaking the eyeglasses of intellectuals and forcing them to do stoop labor on collective farms?

No -- he's being a liberal.
A recently adopted equal pay law has put New Jersey at the forefront of national efforts to narrow the gender wage gap. The state’s new automatic voter registration law ranks among the most sweeping in the country, while its funding of Planned Parenthood, package of gun control laws, renewable energy legislation and a measure to provide state financial aid to immigrants who came to the United States as children are all part of the progressive playbook.
And the "liberal" New York Times is not amused:
In a state whose political profile has been marked by scandal and dominated most recently by a bellicose Republican governor, the first few months of Gov. Philip D. Murphy’s Democratic tenure have seen an abrupt ideological makeover as New Jersey lurches to the left, joining the ranks of the most liberal states in the nation.

His aggressive steering reflects the mandate Mr. Murphy believes he was given last year by his lopsided victory.

But his policies have also left Republicans and even moderate Democrats with a case of whiplash and raised serious questions about how Mr. Murphy will pay for his agenda in a state saddled with severe financial difficulties.
We know Murphy is a dangerous radical because his Republican opposition is made to seem so middle-of-the-road:
... Mr. Murphy’s approach has provoked fierce backlash from many Republicans.

“He’s not liberal; he’s extreme,” said Jon Bramnick, the Republican minority leader in the State Assembly. “I don’t even have a problem with people who are somewhat liberal, though I may disagree with them. But this is not a liberal agenda. This is an extreme left-wing agenda that is sending people out of the state who might have stayed.”

... Mr. Bramnick, who at times has been critical of Mr. Trump, believes that the shift to the left could help increase support for the Republican Party, and he has been trying to appeal to moderate voters and the state’s significant number of independents under the banner of “rallying the reasonable.”
Whereas all this New Jersey progressivism is ... a contagion!
The state’s shifting political winds extend beyond Mr. Murphy.... Four of the state’s five Republican-held congressional seats are considered competitive in this year’s midterm elections. The State Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of a stricter separation of church and state. And the mayor of Hoboken, Ravinder S. Bhalla, the first Sikh to be elected mayor in New Jersey, issued an ordinance that public and private single-occupancy restrooms be gender-neutral.

Gurbir Grewal, who achieved a milestone as the first Sikh in the country to become a state attorney general, has joined numerous lawsuits against the Trump administration, including challenges to the travel ban and to a prohibition on transgender people in the military.
Not only is there leftism all over the state, but the Sikhs are taking over!

(The success of these Sikhs in New Jersey politics seems interesting, but I'm not sure why the faith of these officials is relevant to this story.)

Approximately eight years ago, when Chris Christie was in his first year as New Jersey's governor, the Times was noticeably more impressed:
New Jersey Governor Defies Political Expectations

A momentous deal to cap property taxes was all but done, but Gov. Chris Christie was taking no chances, barnstorming the state to commiserate with squeezed homeowners and keep pressure on the Legislature.

Outside a farmhouse here in central New Jersey last week, buttoned up in a dark suit despite the triple-digit heat, Mr. Christie promised to tackle rising pension costs, transportation financing, municipal spending — all while poking fun at his opponents, the news media and, mostly, himself....

It was a model taste of Mr. Christie, six months into his term as governor: blunt, energetic, clearly enjoying himself.

And having his way.

Mr. Christie has turned out to be a far more deft politician than his detractors — and even some supporters — had expected, making few compromises as he pursues a broad agenda for remaking New Jersey’s free-spending political culture. So far, polls suggest, the public is giving him the benefit of the doubt.
One poli sci professor is quoted as saying, “You can’t deny that he’s been a tour de force in Trenton." A Democratic operative says, “I think the tough times have dictated straight talk and forceful moves, and that fits him quite well.” A possible presidential bid is discussed.

The following year, the Times Magazine would run a cover story on Christie:



The subhead is "How a no-name New Jersey governor became a Republican superstar."

The story, by then-Timesman Matt Bai, was a bit more skeptical than the cover, but Bai found Christie's star power undeniable, and believed he was succeeding because he'd identified a real villain:
What makes Christie compelling to so many people isn’t simply plain talk or swagger, but also the fact that he has found the ideal adversary for this moment of economic vertigo. Ronald Reagan had his “welfare queens,” Rudy Giuliani had his criminals and “squeegee men,” and now Chris Christie has his sprawling and powerful public-sector unions — teachers, cops and firefighters who Christie says are driving up local taxes beyond what the citizenry can afford, while also demanding the kind of lifetime security that most private-sector workers have already lost.
Yup -- public-sector workers, a.k.a. history's greatest monsters.

That's The New York Times for you. Fast-forward to the present day and the Times is fretting about Phil Murphy's alleged fiscal imprudence:
New Jersey owes its state-run pension system $119 billion, according to Standard & Poor’s Global Ratings, one of the largest debt obligations in the country, which has contributed to 11 credit downgrades in the past decade. The state also has the nation’s highest property taxes, with many residents facing higher bills under the recent federal tax overhaul, while it has consistently underfunded local school districts.

At the same time, Mr. Murphy’s $37.4 billion budget comes with $2.7 billion in new spending, including proposals to make community colleges tuition-free for many families, to expand prekindergarten and to significantly increase funding for the state’s beleaguered public transit system. But to pay for all this, Mr. Murphy is counting on initiatives that so far have been coolly received by some leaders in the Democratic-controlled Legislature — notably $1.7 billion in new taxes, including a levy on the wealthy, and the legalization of recreational marijuana, which would also add to the state’s coffers.
New Jersey has more millionaires per capita than any state in the union apart from Maryland, but, sorry, there's more will than wallet, according to the "liberal" New York Times.

And that's what we're going to hear from the Times in 2020: Yes, Trump is awful, but all those government programs being proposed by Gillibrand (or Sanders or Harris or Booker or Warren) -- we simply can't afford them! Why won't the Democratic presidential aspirants acknowledge our very real budgetary woes?

The "liberal" media will find the 2020 Democrats too liberal. Mark my words.

NOT DAMNED IF YOU DON'T, NOT DAMNED IF YOU DO

There's an implausible passage in yesterday's big New York Times story about the origins of the FBI's Trump-Russia investigation:
The facts, had they surfaced, might have devastated the Trump campaign: Mr. Trump’s future national security adviser was under investigation, as was his campaign chairman. One adviser appeared to have Russian intelligence contacts. Another was suspected of being a Russian agent himself.
Do you believe that? Do you believe there's a chance that this information "might have devastated the Trump campaign"?

I don't. I realize it's 20/20 hindsight, but we now know that there was nothing anyone could say that was going to reduce the Trump vote in November 2016. His fan club thought he could do no wrong. Apart from a handful of professional pundits who occupied the #NeverTrump market niche, the rest of the GOP decided to sink or swim with Trump, and nothing that was revealed during the campaign, or has been revealed since, has made any of those Republicans waver in their support. The Russia revelations we have now haven't alienated his backers. Why would things have been different two years ago?

More plausible are these passages from the Times story:
[FBI a]gents ... worried that any overt actions against Mr. Trump’s campaign would only reinforce his claims that the election was being rigged against him.

****

But officials have told the inspector general something quite different. They said [FBI agent Lisa] Page and others advocated a slower, circumspect pace [for the investigation], especially because polls predicted Mr. Trump’s defeat. They said that anything the F.B.I. did publicly would only give fodder to Mr. Trump’s claims on the campaign trail that the election was rigged.
It angers me that The New York Times ran a story eight days before the election titled "Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia" -- but in retrospect it's clear that Trump had a successful strategy in place whether he seemed to be under a cloud or not. If he appeared to be in the clear, as this Times story suggested he was, he could sell himself as much cleaner than Crooked Hillary. On the other hand, if the public had been told what the FBI was learning, Trump would have begun shouting "Witch hunt!" even earlier, and we'd have probably had the same electoral outcome, because his voters would have wanted to stick it to the FBI. It was win-win for Trump.

Hillary Clinton had the opposite problem. When she was cleared, Trump -- and anti-Clinton progressives, and Russian propaganda -- said she'd been let off easy. The same thing probably would have been said if she'd been cleared without a James Comey lecture. And when her case was reopened shortly before the election, that was a sign that she was guilty too (even though, of course, it wasn't). Much of the public concluded that she was guilty if she was declared innocent and she was guilty if she was accused of being guilty. For her it was lose-lose.

The "liberal media" didn't close ranks around Clinton, nor did the loudest progressives. The most influential segments of the conservative media did close ranks around Trump, as did nearly every Republican politician.

Clinton didn't know how to turn bad news to her advantage. For Trump, all bad news was part of the elitist plot against him.

So, yes, there was a double standard: We were told a lot about the investigation of Hillary Clinton and next to nothing about the Trump investigation. The treatment of them by the FBI and the media should have been more equitable.

But, electorally, it wouldn't have made a difference. Trump thrived on bad news as well as good news. Clinton couldn't benefit from either.