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Trump Voters. Again.

[ 99 ] March 19, 2017 |


I imagine some day someone will paint a picture of Trump voters that will not be infuriating. Maybe it’s something that will have to come with time and distance. Maybe when Trump is out of office I’ll be able to read about Trump voters without  feeling a seething rage. Maybe I’ll even get my snark back. It seems to be depleted these days. Some day I may be able to read about Trump voters without wanting to throttle everyone in the MSM or the Bernie-or-Busters. But today is not that day.


After the election, I decided to talk to 100 Trump voters from around the country. I went to the middle of the country, the middle of the state, and talked to many online.

The TL;DR quote is this:

“You all can defeat Trump next time, but not if you keep mocking us, refusing to listen to us, and cutting us out. It’s Republicans, not Democrats, who will take Trump down.”

In other words, “we’ll vote for someone we dislike and even find unfit for office out of spite.” INCREDIBLE.


“He is anti-abortion.” Note: This sentiment came up a lot. A number of people I spoke to said they didn’t care about anything else he did and would always vote for whichever candidate was more anti-abortion.

You buried the lede. You buried it bigtime. This is a huge admission. An admission that Trump voters are–fundamentally–conservative Republicans and they–surprise surprise!–vote like conservative Republicans. It’s also a tacit admission that many Trump supporters are avid misogynists.

“He is anti-immigration.” Note: This sentiment came up a lot. The most surprising takeaway for me how little it seemed to be driven by economic concerns, and how much it was driven by fears about “losing our culture,” “safety,” “community,” and a general Us-vs.-Them mentality.

Yeah. They’re racists and xenophobes. This isn’t news.

“I am socially very liberal. I am fiscally very conservative. I don’t feel I have a party — never have. I grew up in a more socially conservative time and picked the “lesser of two evils” during elections. Now, the more socially liberal side supports bigger governments, more aid and support, and that money has to come from somewhere. I see what’s deducted from my check each week. I’m OK with never being rich, but I’d like more security, and that doesn’t come from more government spending.”

Actually, that’s exactly where it comes from and now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go bash my head against the wall until I lose consciousness.

“I’m willing to postpone some further social justice progress, which doesn’t really result in loss of life, in favor of less foreign policy involvement, the opposite of which does.”

Well, betting on a toddler with personality disorder who surrounds himself with white supremacists seems like a poor way to achieve this result. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go bash my head against the wall until I lose consciousness.

“Brown people are always the out-crowd. I think subconsciously, part of the reason I supported him was a way to be in the in-crowd for once.”

Translation: “I was willing to shit on other marginalized people so I could feel like part of the cool crowd.” Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go bash my head against the wall until I lose consciousness.


“The way he talks about women is despicable.”

“Everything about his style. We only voted for him because this election was too important to worry about style.”

“I don’t like most things about him. The way it worked is we got to choose one of two terrible options.”

“I think our nation needs Trumpism to survive long-term, and to me, that supersedes almost every other reservation I have. My issue is with Trump himself — I think he’s the wrong vessel for his movement, but he’s all we’ve got, so I’m behind him.”

“I think the rollout of the immigration executive order is emblematic of a clusterf—, to be completely frank.”

“I now believe the Muslim ban actually makes us less safe.”

“Isolationism and protectionism at this point is insane. We’ve done that before.”

“I, too, worry about the dishonesty. His relationship with Russia, his relationship with women. His relationship with questionable financial matters. These all worry me, and were they to continue, I would lose all respect.”

“He continually plays into a character that he has created to rile his fan base. Accepting anti-Semitism, white nationalism, or hate emanating unnecessarily creates a vacuum of fear on social media, on television, and around the dinner table. Even though the policies may be similar to that of any recent Republican president, the behavior to act so immaturely sets a bad example for children and undercuts many cultural norms, which more than anything causes disruption to our sociological foundations.”

“I hate that he discredits the press all the time. That seems to forebode great evil.”

I just want to thank every media outlet, every activist and every pundit who made sure to hammer home how flawed Hillary was. How there was a “cloud” over her. Who implied that she was hugely corrupt. Who implied that her flaws were in any way commensurate to Donald’s. You did a great job.


Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 75

[ 17 ] March 19, 2017 |

This is the grave of Thomas Catron.


Born in Missouri in 1840, Catron graduated from the University of Missouri in 1860 and joined the treasonous Confederate army in his home state. He fought throughout the war, rising to the rank of 1st Lieutenant after having fought at such battles as Mission Creek and Pea Ridge. After the war, Catron moved to New Mexico Territory and studied law, settling in Mesilla, near Las Cruces. He learned Spanish, became a Republican, and rose quickly in the territory’s white political elite.

Catron quickly learned what it took to succeed in the Gilded Age: a complete lack of scruples in stealing resources from the poor. What learning Spanish and the law did for him was to allow him to become incredibly wealthy by stealing land grants from the territory’s Hispano population. The Spanish and Mexican governments had sought to settle their northern boundaries by offering settlers large land grants. This was communally-held property that could not be sold by a particular individual. This of course was counter to the individualistic property rights regime of the British-descended United States. When the U.S. stole the northern half of Mexico in a war of conquest to defend slavery, the Mexican government tried to protect the land heritage of its citizens now forced to live in a foreign land. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican War in 1848 guaranteed the land grants. But after that, once whites began moving to New Mexico in relatively large numbers after the Civil War, the courts treated the Hispano New Mexicans about the same as they treated African-Americans and Native Americans during these years: as lesser beings with no rights.

This is the world Thomas Catron stepped into and helped to create. Admitted to the bar in 1867, he was appointed district attorney for the territory’s Third Judicial District in 1868 and 1869 became Attorney General. He became law partners with another of the territory’s white elites, Stephen Elkins. When Elkins was elected to Congress as the territory’s representative in 1872, Catron took his job as U.S. Attorney, which he held until 1878. He moved to Santa Fe and ran for various offices, sometimes winning, sometimes losing.

What made Catron exceptional though is not his political career, but rather his role as a member of the Santa Fe Ring. While historians have debated whether this actually existed in concrete form, it doesn’t really matter. It was a group of white elites looking to cash in on the territory’s wealth. The real wealth was in the land. But it had to be separated from the land grant descendants who relied on it for their grazing, logging, and gathering needs. These were huge chunks of land with very few people on them. But the people had developed long-held traditions of collective use of that land. For whites, this was a waste of land, just as the sparsely populated Indian reservations were. So they sought to grab it. Because Republicans controlled the patronage in the territory for most of the territorial period, these local Republicans had a free hand to act and in an era where even wealth and power were for those who anyone who could ruthlessly acquire it, no one in Washington was going to care about what happened to Spanish-speaking non-whites in distant New Mexico.

The Ring (or its various members if it never quite existed as a concrete matter) were involved in any number of sketchy actions, leading for instance to the huge ranches in central and southern New Mexico that led to the Lincoln County War and other periods of violence in territorial New Mexico. Catron’s biggest play in this was setting himself up as the lawyer for the land grant holders, getting them to sign documents that they did not understand and that stripped them of the vast majority of their holdings, and then acquiring that land for himself. As one of the few lawyers who really understood the land grand system, he became New Mexico’s largest landholder by far. He took over the vast majority of 34 land grants for himself and his friends, holding at least a partial interest in over 3 million acres of land. Much of this land eventually became the national forests and wilderness areas of northern New Mexico that you may enjoy today. For awhile, he was the largest landholder in the United States.

This happened when individuals involved in the grant, usually wealthier people, sought to confirm that the grant was privately-held, not communally. The courts were happy to confirm this. And then those people, looking to cash in and often in debt, sought to sell. Catron was there to buy. Here’s a good discussion of the Tierra Amarilla Grant.

Sale of interests and speculation on the grant began almost immediately after it was confirmed by Congress. By 1880, Thomas B. Catron had purchased sufficient interests in the grant from Martinez heirs so that in February 1881, when the United States Congress issued a patent for the grant to Francisco Martinez, Catron himself signed the receipt. By 1883, Catron filed suit to quiet title to the grant, exempting only a few “informal conveyances of some very small pieces of land.” These parcels, which have become known as the “Catron exclusions,” were the donaciones, or allotments, made by Francisco Martinez to more than one hundred settlers of the grant. These were the same individuals to whom Martinez gave hijuelas, or deeds, which stipulated their rights to free use of the grant’s common lands.

Even before Catron received quiet title to the grant, he had begun developing its vast natural resources. He leased right of way to the Denver and Rio Grande Railway, sold rights to the region’s coal mines and massive pine forests, and leased its lush pastures to large cattle companies. During this period, however, there is little evidence Catron aggressively curtailed Tierra Amarilla’s settlers from grazing their personal livestock on the traditional common lands of the grant. Introduction of the railroad and extensive lumbering operations in the region apparently brought prosperity to Tierra Amarilla during the 1880’s and 1890’s. As long as local residents had access to grazing for their small herds and flocks, the nuances of who retained legal ownership of common lands did not seem to be an important issue.

Interestingly, in northeast New Mexico at the time, the gorras blancas, or white caps, were waging a campaign of political activism and violence to protest the fencing of traditional grazing lands. The tranquility of Tierra Amarilla prompted pioneering archaeologist and historian, Adolph Bandelier, to comment about it. In 1891, Bandelier traveled through northern New Mexico and recorded the Tierra Amarilla grant’s resources for Thomas Catron, who was desperately seeking a buyer for the heavily mortgaged property. Bandelier was clearly impressed by “Catron’s grant” and in his journal he describes it as “a most valuable piece of property, a little kingdom of its own.” Then he added a statement clearly designed to assuage the concerns of potential buyers about whether the influence of the gorras blancas extended to Rio Arriba. “There is no trouble to be apprehended from the people [of Tierra Amarilla],” Bandelier noted, “unless there should be a leader.”

However, this began to change after 1909, when Catron finally succeeded in selling the grant. When the Arlington Land Company obtained ownership, it continued the practice of selling timber and mineral rights to various companies. The company also sold large tracts of land to corporations and individual buyers, many of whom further subdivided the land. When these new owners began to fence off large portions of the grant, they initiated a process which began to severely restrict the access to pasture on which the settlers of the grant depended for their livelihood.

The residents’ ability to access pasture for their livestock appears to be the principal reason why there is little documented evidence of resistance or protest to Catron’s purchase and ownership of the Tierra Amarilla grant. In 1889, several residents of the grant filed a suit against Catron but did not ask for return of the grant or make access to land an issue. Instead, the plaintiffs cited the stipulations of the original grant and the hijuelas, which were issued to individuals by Francisco Martinez in the early 1860’s, and sought a share of the proceeds Catron was receiving from leases and sale of timber and mineral rights. The few extant records of this case tell little beyond the fact of its dismissal in April 1892.

Although there is little evidence that Catron moved aggressively against grant settlers who grazed their livestock, he occasionally took action to counteract perceived threats to his ownership. In 1892, he filed suit against Miguel Chavez and Pablo Rivas for allegedly pasturing their sheep on his property and sought a restraining order to prevent their further use of the land. Chavez and Rivas responded that while Catron may have been given patent to the Tierra Amarilla Grant, they were grazing their sheep by right of the grant made to Manuel Martinez by the Mexican government and the deeds, which allowed them “free and common” use of water, pasture, and other resources of the grant. They claimed to be doing nothing illegal and asked the court to force Catron to produce proof of his ownership. The suit lingered in District Court for nearly ten years and was finally dropped from the docket in 1902. The record shows Catron paid the court costs, which amounted to less than ten dollars for various filing fees.

The land grant thefts continued to make many people seethe and eventually led to the rise of Reies Lopez Tijerina and his Alianza Federal de Mercedes in the 1960s, culminating in the attack on the courthouse in Tierra Amarilla.

When New Mexico became a state in 1912, Catron was one of the two first senators. Typically, whites worked together to make sure that the Spanish-speaking New Mexicans would hold no power. Specifically, Catron and Albert Fall, a man who would later be no stranger to scandal himself, coordinated the election of each to the Senate. He lost his re-election bid in 1916. He died in Santa Fe in 1921.

Thomas Catron is buried in Fairview Cemetery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The CIO, Race, and Liberalism

[ 15 ] March 18, 2017 |


Yeselson has an excellent long-form review of two new books on the CIO, race, and New Deal liberalism that look flawed but necessary anyway. You will want to read the whole thing if you care about the issues of the working-class, race, and the government in these perilous times. Here’s the conclusion:

But this isn’t true. Unions and black workers are closer than they have ever been. And unions are, if anything, less ambivalent bulwarks against racism than they were in the immediate postwar period. The AFL-CIO and African-American organizations and politicians work together and, for better or for worse, agree on pretty much every policy issue. Even the building trades, pushed for years by the courts and civil rights activists, have responded by opening up their apprenticeship and training programs to women and minorities. Today, there is a higher percentage of black workers who are union members than there are white workers. Ask any organizer of any color and they will tell you that they stand a better chance of organizing non-white workers, blacks especially, than white workers. And the most successful labor campaign in recent years, the SEIU-led Fight for $15, seeks to organize fast-food workers who are disproportionately non-white. Like the CIO when seeking to organize the industrial sector during the thirties and forties, SEIU today has both pragmatic and ideological reasons to organize workers of color in the growing low-wage service sector. Similarly, service-sector unions have built powerful alliances in California and Nevada with Latinos. As for white unionized workers, despite all of the stories about how pissed off they are at neoliberal Democrats and how they were attracted to Donald Trump’s trade message, the fact remains that white men in unions have still voted for Democrats at a rate of about 20 percent higher than their non-union counterparts. (This pattern likely did not hold this year. Exit polls from the 2016 election indicate that Clinton carried the union vote by 51–43, the lowest margin for a Democrat since 1984.)

So, while Schiller’s expertly depicted legal conflict seems ineluctable, in fact there is more solidarity between unions and African Americans today than there was a half century ago. He insists that the “weak and unstable foundation” of postwar liberalism provided little to “fleeing working-class whites in a time of economic crisis.” But how could a labor movement, grounded in industrial pluralism, win against management as its numbers declined? Conversely, how could this same declining movement succeed in petitioning the state for compensatory protections precisely at the moment when its political impact, along with its membership, grew smaller?

The dueling visions of the law—majoritarian, anti-statist industrial pluralism versus state-assisted redress of individual claims of racial discrimination—as Schiller demonstrates, generated a lot of conflict between unions and civil rights activists. But this conflict didn’t end the labor liberalism driven by the CIO and a few of the AFL unions. The collapse of employment in the key postwar industries and the subsequent decline in union membership is what badly wounded this iteration of labor liberalism. This undermined the Democratic Party’s desire to promulgate full employment and a redistributive economic policy, which meant that the party had an ascendant and growing African-American voting bloc, which simultaneously alarmed white workers at precisely the moment when their economic clout and the unions that provided it were waning.

So the new labor liberalism, built with the support of proportionally more non-white workers (and women), is more progressive than the old pre–civil rights era labor liberalism. If it achieves its powerful new vision, it will be a more humane, cosmopolitan, and egalitarian movement than its predecessor. But as of now, it is a significantly smaller movement and lacks economic and political leverage in key sectors of the political economy. The Fight for $15, however innovative and promising, doesn’t remotely compare to the great CIO victories of the late 1930s and ’40s in terms of its impact on workers, both white and non-white. The unique conditions that engendered labor’s massive growth during this period, barely commented upon by either author, does not necessarily provide a template for contemporary organizing.

As these two sharply argued books demonstrate, postwar liberalism hinged upon how and whether unions maximized and used their power. The books together form an odd complementarity: even as a powerful union movement promoted the cause of equality for African Americans (Schickler), union and civil rights activists began splitting apart from each other (Schiller). Meanwhile, modern conservatism merged its opposition to both worker empowerment and cosmopolitan racial equality, embodied in the figure of Barry Goldwater, the opponent of the 1964 Civil Rights Act who (as neither book notes) also despised and sought to curtail the embodiment of CIO power, Walter Reuther, and the flagship institution of American liberalism that he led, the UAW.

Today, multiracial political activism has returned to the left, but without the support of anything like the economically and politically weighty labor movement of the postwar era. The New Deal order cannot be resurrected. The working class is split along racial, regional, and cultural lines and, by most measures, a significant part of it (even slightly more non-white workers than expected) voted for an authoritarian, racist, misogynist grifter in the last election. Schickler, on the last page of his book, with more hope than evidence, asserts that demographic changes to a “majority-minority” population may in themselves put pressure on Democratic Party elites in the way that the labor and civil rights movements once did. More valuable is his concluding remark regarding the necessity for progressive groups to see themselves not as “isolated claimants on the party system but instead as part of a broader ideological coalition with common aims and shared enemies.” The only good news that resulted from this election is that the need for “shared enemies” has been filled.

RIP Chuck Berry

[ 94 ] March 18, 2017 |

Chuck Berry has died.  It’s difficult to overstate the role Berry played in the early development of rock & roll, as it was known back in the day.  On his 90th birthday last October, it was announced that he would be releasing his first album since the 1970s, although I gather similar announcements had been made in recent years.

This might be my favorite live Rolling Stones performance.


Big Scary Socialism

[ 109 ] March 18, 2017 |


If fascism wasn’t haunting our lives, I’d laugh more at this NRO freakout about rising socialism that evidently I am causing as a professor because apparently I can’t get my students to do the reading, but I can convert them to revolutionary ideology. But I’m laughing anyway.

Today in the Criminal Injustice System

[ 86 ] March 18, 2017 |


Another day, more police officers getting off scot free after the wanton murder of African-Americans.

On June 23, 2012, Darren Rainey, a schizophrenic man serving time for cocaine possession, was thrown into a prison shower at the Dade Correctional Institution. The water was turned up top 180 degrees — hot enough to steep tea or cook Ramen noodles.

As punishment, four corrections officers — John Fan Fan, Cornelius Thompson, Ronald Clarke and Edwina Williams — kept Rainey in that shower for two full hours. Rainey was heard screaming “Please take me out! I can’t take it anymore!” and kicking the shower door. Inmates said prison guards laughed at Rainey and shouted “Is it hot enough?”

Rainey died inside that shower. He was found crumpled on the floor. When his body was pulled out, nurses said there were burns on 90 percent of his body. A nurse said his body temperature was too high to register with a thermometer. And his skin fell off at the touch.

But in an unconscionable decision, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle’s office announced Friday that the four guards who oversaw what amounted to a medieval-era boiling will not be charged with a crime.

“The shower was itself neither dangerous nor unsafe,’’ the report says. “The evidence does not show that Rainey’s well-being was grossly disregarded by the correctional staff.’’

What is there even to say at this point?

Today’s Desecration of Parody’s Corpse

[ 17 ] March 18, 2017 |


It’s hard to make fun of people who are too stupid to insult and/or too lazy to read:

There are two possible explanations for why the White House daily newsletter included my piece about the budget, a piece composed almost entirely of onomatopoeic noises (PEW PEW! GRRRRRRRR!) typed out in all caps. Either they read it and loved it, especially the part where I wrote that all schoolchildren will be taught by an F-35 in a Make America Great Again hat, or they … did not read it, but liked the headline, “Trump’s budget makes perfect sense and will fix America, and I will tell you why“!

I’m fine with either, honestly. I agree that my articles are much worse if you click on them.

This reminds me of those movie trailers that manage to cite only a single word from a review (“Extreme” LA Times) in such a way that you wonder how the word was used in context.

Good Policy Does Not Guarantee Good Political Outcomes

[ 356 ] March 18, 2017 |


As Jason Furman observes, that’s one obvious lesson of this story:

Soon after Charla McComic’s son lost his job, his health-insurance premium dropped from $567 per month to just $88, a “blessing from God” that she believes was made possible by President Trump.

“I think it was just because of the tax credit,” said McComic, 52, a former first-grade teacher who traveled to Trump’s Wednesday night rally in Nashville from Lexington, Tenn., with her daughter, mother, aunt and cousin.

The price change was actually thanks to a subsidy made possible by former president Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which is still in place, not by the tax credits proposed by Republicans as part of the health-care bill still being considered by Congress.


Ware hopes that Trump can change this, although she says she won’t fault him if he can’t. She doesn’t believe news reports saying that 24 million people could lose their coverage under his plan.

“Nothing is in concrete yet. Give the man a chance,” she said. “Until you hear it from Donald J. Trump himself — and not the news media — then don’t even worry about it. Wait until you hear the man say it, because he will tweet it, he will Facebook it or he will go onto national television and tell everybody at the same time.”

As the story also makes clear, it would be better in policy terms if the subsidies in the ACA had been more generous, but there’s little reason to believe that this would have transformed any significant number of Republican voters into Democratic ones.

Speaking of which, a lot of people in comments have brought up Jack Meserve’s riff on an amusing rant by one of the Chapo Trap House guys about the needless complexity of the ACA exchanges. Leaving aside the flimsiness of some of the anecdotal evidence (signs touting New Deal programs good, signs touting ARRA programs bad), there’s an obvious problem with the core argument. This is from the Christman argument he quotes:

And as Rick Perlstein has talked about a lot, that’s one of the reasons that Democrats end up fucking themselves over. The reason they held Congress for 40 years after enacting Social Security is because Social Security was right in your fucking face. They could say to you, “you didn’t used to have money when you were old, now you do. Thank Democrats.” And they fucking did.

This is superficially persuasive. But there’s an obvious problem here. It’s true that Democrats mostly controlled Congress and the White House for decades after the New Deal. But this is very misleading: FDR failed in his war on the Dixiecrats in 1938, and Congress during the vast majority of this period was effectively controlled by a coalition of conservative Democrats and Republicans. The signature legislation of passed by Congress between 1940-1963 wasn’t a major liberal benefit — it was Taft-Hartley, which passed with veto-proof majorities and has more to do with Republicans controlling Congress than any tactical choices made by Democratic politicians in 2016. I mean, Democrats could still have an enduring congressional majority if southern conservatives were a major part of the coalition. Nobody wants that, but the fact that people who now vote for conservative Republicans used to vote for conservative Democrats isn’t going to make it easy to get moderate (let alone liberal or left-of-liberal) Democrats elected in those jurisdictions.

And there’s an even bigger problem here — the Great Society. Medicare is the ultimate simple in-your-face social benefit, and it was more generous than the initial iterations of Social Security and didn’t come at a horrible price in racial exclusion. And yet the result was Republican control of the White House for 28 of the next 40 years (and of the two Democratic outliers, the first accomplished very little with a Democratic Congress, and the second had better-than-Carter but disappointing results in two years of unified government and more conservative policy outcomes than liberal ones in 6 years of divided government.) Intuitively, the popularity of Medicare and Social Security shouldn’t be consistent with control of the federal government by increasingly conservative Republicans, but while it was concealed by much of the 20th century by weak partisan coalitions it’s an enduring paradox of American politics the left needs to face head-on.

To be clear, I agree entirely with Meserve and Christman that simple is better than complex in policy terms, and at the margin the clearer the benefits the easier it is to preserve the programs politically. Simplicity is often easier said than done when dealing with James Madison’s sausage-making machine, but it’s always worth keeping in mind. The story that good policy is always good politics, though, is a nice story but there’s not a lot of evidence that it’s true. The reason to do the right thing is that it’s the right thing, not because it’s guarantee of political success in a system that’s structured in many ways to favor reactionary interests.

Sinking Carriers!

[ 52 ] March 18, 2017 |
Japanese aircraft carrier Shinano.jpg

HIJMS Shinano on trials, 1944. By Marine engineer Hiroshi Arakawa, Ishikawajima Shipyard.


I have a short piece on how to sink aircraft carriers up at the National Interest. Preview of a longer article by the end of the week…

Maybe China and Russia don’t need to kill a carrier to drive the species to extinction. All of the factors above—the weapon systems that can kill carriers, and the costs associated with the ships themselves—come together to create caution about how to use the ships. In the event of a conflict, U.S. Navy admirals and the U.S. president may grow so concerned about the vulnerability of carriers that they don’t use them assertively and effectively. The extraordinary value of the carriers may become their greatest weakness; too valuable to lose, the carriers could remain effectively on the sidelines in case of high-intensity, peer-competitor conflict.

And if aircraft carriers can’t contribute in the most critical conflicts that face the United States, it will become impossible to justify to the resources necessary to their construction and protection. That, more than anything else, will lead to obsolescence, and the end of the aircraft carrier as the currency of national power.

I am So So Very Done with Sebastian v. Gorka’s Dissertation

[ 83 ] March 17, 2017 |

I promised a Part IV, but Foreign Policy asked me to do a piece for them… so I’m pointing you all there. You’ve seen some of the arguments before, but not all of them. For example, it turns out Gorka played a fast one with the—already extremely weak—evidence he uses in his efforts to show a trend toward terrapocolypse.

As he writes in his dissertation, “For the years 1998 until 2003, the average number of terrorist victims per attack jumped to 13.71. In 1992 the number of victims per attack was 2. In 2003, the number was 20.5 victims per terrorist attack.”

When we zoom in on this claim, we can see the sloppiness of Gorka’s methods. Not only is this an unacceptably truncated period, but the aggregate, descriptive statistics he gives just aren’t remotely good enough. The period from 2001 to 2003 covers not only the 9/11 attacks but also the first years of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. He does not even bother attempting to identify the proportion of such attacks carried out by groups — including in the Middle East and Central Asia — that would qualify as “irrational, transcendental” terrorists rather than, say, secessionists or guerrilla movements. In other words, this is an exercise without any evidentiary value.

Just to expand on this for a minute. If we were to use Gorka’s ‘method’ in 2004, we’d include the Beslan school siege, which killed around 330 people in North Ossetia. That’s a lot of deaths for a terror attack. But it wasn’t carried out by Gorka’s irrational-transcendental terrorists. The culprits were Chechen separatists. Many of the deaths were likely avoidable as well.

So, basically, the evidentiary value of his measure is approximately zero.


Figure 1: Average number of fatalities per terrorist attack, per the Global Terrorism Database. Prepared by Peter Henne.

It gets worse. The data Gorka relies on does not extend beyond 2012, so I asked former students to run the same measure using counts from the Global Terrorism Database (for some of the limitations of this data, see, for example). The lethality of attacks — that is Gorka’s own measure — while consistently rising, remains consistently lower than Gorka reports. It does not, to be blunt, seem like evidence of growing “hyper-terrorism” that would require a total paradigm shift in how Western states secure themselves against threats.

As I discuss there, the differences in these numbers aren’t a consequence of different datasets.

I also discovered, in a different work, this gem of a quotation from 2010: “[w]e need not prepare in the short or even medium terms for conventional warfare between nation‐states, using tanks and aircraft carriers. For the foreseeable future our enemies will be non‐state actors — with or without state sponsorship — using irregular means against us.” This is how much he hypes the terrorism threat—and on so little evidence.

Anyway, I conclude a more serious note than kicking someone who likes to kick other people for lacking his supreme gravitas.

It is precisely attention to the significance of inconvenient facts that distinguishes good scholars and true experts from pretenders. Pretenders present themselves as scholars and experts. They adopt the language, get the credentials, and perform as they — or, at least, their audience — imagine scholars and experts sound. Rather than speak truth to power, they peddle what their ideological compatriots want to hear, wrapped up in the trappings of intellectual authority.

The more that political movements, politicians, and leaders move into a universe of alternative facts, the more they render themselves vulnerable to these intellectual grifters. And the more these fake experts influence actual policy, the more damage that they can do. I do not believe that a doctorate, let alone an academic background, is a prerequisite for good policymaking. But the president of the United States is best served by advisors who place facts before ideology, who care about the substance more than the credential, and who would never make sweeping judgments about millions of people grounded on essentially no evidence at all. This is particularly the case for a new president who has repeatedly demonstrated that when ideology — or even vanity — runs into inconvenient facts, he expects the facts to bend. In this sense, Gorka seems a perfect fit for the worst impulses of this administration.

If tRump were a pair of jeans

[ 75 ] March 17, 2017 |

If $95 Urkel jeans with plastic windows at the knees aren’t a metaphor for our times, they should be.

He’d be jeans that look like a hopelessly boring person’s idea of cool and he’d describe himself as follows

Slick plastic panels bare your knees for a futuristic feel in tapered and cropped high-waist jeans.

Wear them with with the $1,190 debutante’s degloved feet in red heels by Buffalo Bill & a MAGA hat.

For fashion aficionados who can’t resist the allure of knee peeps on their high waters, but don’t have a spare $100 lying around, Slate has some DIY solutions that are just as silly super.

  • Trash Peplum Top
  • Aluminum Foil–Elbow Patch Sweater
  • Ankle-Peek Tights
  • Sandwich Bag–Pocket Pants
  • Wax-Paper Cheerleader Skirt

Paul Ryan, a Serious Policy Wonk Who Cares Deeply About the Poor

[ 112 ] March 17, 2017 |

ryan is a working man

It’s just not very much fun living in an Aaron Sorkin script:

Oh, college! It’s a time when young adults discover their professional interests, when they live alone for the first time, when many people come into their sexuality, and when youth get to explore other adult pleasures.

And, if you were House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), it was a time to dream about how, someday, you would take health care away from millions of poor people.

In a conversation with the National Review’s Rich Lowry on Friday, Ryan bragged about how conservatives now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take health coverage away from the most vulnerable Americans.

“So Medicaid,” Ryan told Lowry, “sending it back to the states, capping its growth rate. We’ve been dreaming of this since I’ve been around — since you and I were drinking at a keg. . . . I’ve been thinking about this stuff for a long time. We’re on the cusp of doing something we’ve long believed in.”

Ryan is 47 years old, which means that, if he started “drinking at a keg” early in his college career, he’s fantasized about all the poor people who could be stripped of health care for nearly three decades.

Our political media has failed in a lot of ways, but the fawning coverage this utterly repellent know-nothing has received (particularly when compared to knowledgeable, competent moderate liberals like Gore and Clinton) ranks near the very top.

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