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Jussie Journalism


Unless you live under a rock, you know that actor Jussie Smollett is in the center of a firestorm of his own making. To wit: in January, he claimed he was attacked at 2am by two masked men wearing “MAGA” hats, a noose was placed around his neck and he was doused with bleach while they screamed racial and anti-gay epithets at him, finishing with “This MAGA country!”.

Now, anyone with more than two active brain cells immediately noticed some oddities with his story. First, it seemed rather strange that two whack jobs of this type would just be hanging out at 2am on any January night in Chicago, never mind the coldest one in 30 years, looking for a B list actor. It also seemed weird that despite the violence of that attack, the actor’s sandwich remained undisturbed. It was equally odd that he still had that noose around his neck, even while at the hospital. Finally, the attack happened to take place in one of the most liberal neighborhoods in Chicago, an area that favorably compares to Greenwich Village or Haight-Ashbury in terms of gay acceptance, one that is peppered with surveillance cameras – yet, the attackers knew exactly where a camera was turned the wrong way to catch them in the act.

None of what’s written above is in dispute. The possibility that the entire thing was staged was there from the beginning. There were enough red flags in the initial story that nobody should have assumed the actor was not acting. Yet – and this is the most disturbing part of the story – the media jumped to accept it as gospel truth.

Indeed, even at this late date, when the Chicago PD no longer considers Smollett a victim, when a grand jury is being convened, when the “attackers” (a pair of Nigerian brothers) have admitted to being paid by Smollett and rehearsing the “attack”, there are still those in mass media who refuse to admit the entire story is a hoax. Why would these “reporters” still have blinders on regarding the story?

The reason is simple: journalism is no longer about reporting facts and letting the reader decide for themselves the import of a story. It is about advocacy, almost always in favor of the most extreme liberal positions. This change in journalistic standards is what has led to the rise of what we deride as “fake news” but perhaps should actually call “false advocacy.” The merging of the long-standing liberal op-ed sections with the reporting division of a news organization means that Americans no longer get straight news, but a very slanted, often inaccurate, version of the news.

Look, it isn’t like the Smollett story happened in a vacuum. Since the 2016 campaign, there has been a concerted effort by the media to define the typical Trump supporter as a racist, homophobic, misogynist with a propensity of violence towards minorities. The Daily Caller has published a list of reported “hate crimes” that turned out to be hoaxes, so has Hot Air. The only thing that should be surprising at this point is if we go a month without one of these hoaxes being perpetrated on us.

Yet the media continues to push these hoaxes as if they were actual newsworthy events. It’s as if they intentionally want to beclown themselves. 2019 is not even 7 weeks old and already the national media has fallen prey to two massive hoaxes: Smollett, and the Covington Catholic students. In each instance, the national media whipped a frenzy of outrage against the supposed perpetrators and natures of the “crimes,” but then was forced to eat crow when the truth came out. The alleged victims have been thoroughly disgraced, largely because the media attention lavished on them led to a backlash once their complicity in the hoaxes became apparent.

The media loves to lament how Americans no longer trust the news that is being reported. But they fail to recognize how their own actions in creating false narratives around the stories they’re reporting led to that distrust. Their insistence on editorializing, rather than reporting, created a climate in which everything that is reported has to be taken with a grain of salt.

If the media wants to regain the public’s trust, the answer is staring them in the face. Instead of following in the footsteps of Dan Rather and Brian Williams, they need to return to the journalistic practices of Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow. Instead of Brian Stelter defending the lack of integrity in journalism, they need Brian Stelter to call out the journalistic malpractice that leads to stories like the Smollett hoax being given credibility.

Will they? Probably not anytime soon. The pronouncements of media malfeasance from Lara Logan and Cheryl Atkinsson are so much shouting into the wind at this point, The vast majority of media types are focused on their advocacy to the point that they no longer care about accurate reporting, only ensuring the stories they report fit their preferred narrative.

In the meantime, learn from the Smollett story. Do not believe the media narrative. Dig deeper, find the facts (which means multisourcing every story of interest) and come to your own conclusions – and hold those opinions to yourself until you’re certain all the facts are available.

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Reality Check: Trump Derangement Syndrome


President Donald J. Trump

I found the following on Facebook. The original author seems to be lost in the mists of the internet, so sadly I cannot give proper attribution. But while I may not know the person who wrote this, I cannot help but think this is exactly what the leftists that think they run things still fail to comprehend. Read on if you dare. The words may not be mine, but the sentiment certainly is.

“After 2 years no collusion! To all the people who let this election break up families and friends let this sink in I think the last civil conversations we had occurred just days before November 8, 2016. You were supremely confident Hillary Clinton would win the presidential election; you voted for her with glee.

As a lifelong Republican, I bit down hard and cast my vote for Donald Trump. Then the unimaginable happened. He won.

And you lost your freaking minds.

I knew you would take the loss hard—and personally—since all of you were super jacked-up to elect the first woman president. But I did not imagine you would become totally deranged, attacking anyone who voted for Trump or supported his presidency as a racist, sexist, misogynistic, homophobic Nazi-sympathizer.

The weirdness started on social media late on Election Night, as it became clear Hillary was going to lose. A few of you actually admitted that you were cradling your sleeping children, weeping, wondering what to tell your kindergartner the next morning about Trump’s victory. It continued over the next several days. Some of you seriously expressed fear about modern-day concentration camps. Despite living a privileged lifestyle, you were suddenly a casualty of the white patriarchy. Your daughters were future victims; your sons were predators-in-waiting. You threatened to leave Facebook because you could no longer enjoy the family photos or vacation posts from people who, once friends, became Literal Hitlers to you on November 8 because they voted for Donald Trump.

I admit I was a little hurt at first. The attacks by the media and you against us Trump voters were so personal and so vicious that I did not think it could be sustained. I thought maybe you would regain your sanity after some turkey and egg nog.

But you did not. You got worse. And I went from sad to angry to where I am today: Amused.

As the whole charade you have been suckered into over the last 24 months starts to fall apart—that Trump would not survive his presidency; he would be betrayed by his own staff, family, and/or political party; he would destroy the Republican Party; he would be declared mentally ill and removed from office; he would be handcuffed and dragged out of the White House by Robert Mueller for “colluding” with Russia—let me remind you what complete fools you have made of yourselves! Not to mention how you’ve been fooled by the media, and the Democratic Party.

On November 9, you awoke from a self-induced, eight-year-long political coma to find that White House press secretaries shade the truth and top presidential advisors run political cover for their boss. You were shocked to discover that presidents exaggerate, even lie, on occasion. You became interested for the first time about the travel accommodations, office expenses, and lobbyist pals of administration officials. You started counting how many rounds of golf the president played. You suddenly thought it was fine to disrespected women and mock the first lady now that she wasn’t Michelle Obama.
Once you removed your pussy hat after attending the Women’s March, you made fun of Kellyanne Conway’s hair, Sarah Sanders’ weight, Melania Trump’s shoes, Hope Hicks’ death stare; you helped fuel a rumor started by a bottom-feeding author that U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley slept with Donald Trump.
You thought it was A-OK that Betsy DeVos was nearly physically assaulted and routinely heckled. You glorified a woman who was a stripper and who has sex on camera for a paycheck.

You have learned all kinds of new things that those of us who didn’t willfully ignore politics for the past eight years already knew. For example, we already knew that illegal immigrants for years were being deported and families were being separated.

Some of your behavior has been kinda cute. It was endearing to watch you become experts on the Logan Act, the Hatch Act, the Second Amendment, the 25th Amendment, and the Emoluments Clause. You developed a new crush on Mitt Romney after calling him a “sexist” for having “binders full of women.”
You longed for a redux of the presidency of George W. Bush, a man you once wanted imprisoned for war crimes. Ditto for John McCain. You embraced people like Bill Kristol and David Frum without knowing anything about their histories of shotgunning the Iraq War.

Classified emails shared by Hillary Clinton? Who cares! Devin Nunes wanting to declassify crucial information of the public interest? Traitor!

But your newfound admiration and fealty to law enforcement really has been a fascinating transformation. Wasn’t it just last fall that I saw you loudly supporting professional athletes who were protesting police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem? Remember how you fanboyed a mediocre quarterback for wearing socks that depicted cops as pigs?

But now you sound like paid spokesmen for the Fraternal Order of Police. You insist that any legitimate criticism of the misconduct and possible criminality that occurred at the Justice Department and FBI is an “attack on law enforcement.” While you once opposed the Patriot Act because it might have allowed the federal government to spy on terrorists who were using the local library to learn how to make suitcase bombs, you now fully support the unchecked power of a secret court to look into the phone calls, text messages and emails of an American citizen because he volunteered for the Trump campaign for a few months.

Spying on terrorists, circa 2002: Bad. Spying on Carter Page, circa 2017: The highest form of patriotism.

And that white, male patriarchy that you were convinced would strip away basic rights and silence any opposition after Trump won? That fear has apparently been washed away as you hang on every word uttered by white male James Comey, John Brennan, and James Clapper. This triumvirate is exhibit “A” of the old-boy network, and represents how the insularity, arrogance, and cover-your-tracks mentality of the white-male power structure still prevails. Yet, instead of rising up against it, you are buying their books, retweeting their Twitter rants and blasting anyone who dares to question their testicular authority. Your pussy hat must be very sad.

But your daily meltdowns about Trump-Russia election collusion have been the most entertaining to observe. After Robert Mueller was appointed as Special Counsel, you were absolutely convinced it would result in Trump’s arrest and/or impeachment. Some of you insisted that Trump wouldn’t last beyond 2017. You quickly swallowed any chum tossed at you by the Trump-hating media on MSNBC, the New York Times and the Washington Post about who was going down next, or who would flip on the president.

For the past 2 years, I have watched you obsess over a rotating cast of characters: Paul Manafort, Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, Carter Page, Reince Priebus, Jeff Sessions, Michael Flynn, Steve Bannon, Sam Nunberg, and Hope Hicks are just a few of the people you thought would turn on Trump or hasten his political demise. But when those fantasies didn’t come true, you turned to Michael Avenatti and Stormy Daniels for hope and inspiration. It will always be your low point.

Well, I think it will be. Each time I believe you’ve hit bottom, you come up with a new baseline. Perhaps defending the unprecedented use of federal power to spy on political foes then lie about it will the next nail in your credibility coffin.

The next several weeks will be tough for you. I think Americans will learn some very hard truths about what happened in the previous administration and how we purposely have been misled by powerful leaders and the news media. I wish I could see you as a victim here, but you are not. I know you chose to support this insurgency blindly, following anything the democrat propaganda agents (media) lies about, with your eyes closed.”

The Great Cave In


Yay! The government shutdown is over. So what was gained by the political games over the past five weeks?

Well, nothing if you’re a fan of the President. Even less if you’re a small government conservative. To wit: the President shut down the government for better than a month in order to secure funding for a wall on the southern border. Then he changed that to steel slats. Then he changed it again to a down payment on steel slats. Finally, he agreed to a continuing resolution in exchange for revisiting the entire thing on February 15. However, the Democrat’s leader has already made clear she will not allow any funding for a wall, or steel slats, or any other sort of border barrier.

In other words, Donald Trump got rolled like a drunk in Hell’s Kitchen.

Now he can try to go around Congress come February 15 and declare an emergency on the border in order to build his wall (or steel slats, or… you get the idea). By midnight on the 16th, the courts will enjoin him from carrying out that order. It will make its way through the court system, eventually winding up before SCOTUS. The likely result? SCOTUS will affirm the lower court order, as there is nothing in the Constitution that allows the President to bypass Congress.

The shame of all this is, the shutdown could have been much more instructive if handled better. The President could have moved to privatize both the ATC and TSA. He could have pushed for funding the IRS and Border Patrol separately. (To their credit, some House Republicans did offer bills to do just those things). He could have activated the Coast Guard into the Navy, thereby funding them. The shutdown could have been used to showcase how little the federal government does that positively affects the everyday lives of ordinary Americans.

But since Trump is, at heart, a big government guy, such a tactic never even occurred to him. Think about it: a Republican president shut down the government because a Democrat-controlled House wouldn’t give him more money. I can’t recall any other time in our history such a thing has happened. He can’t be said to have abandoned the most fundamental policy of conservatism since he never embraced it. But it was that lack of understanding that ultimately led to his defeat.

The question is what Trump does next. The main thing those die-hard Trump supporters believe in is his infallibility in negotiations and his ability to turn losses into wins. However, unlike his failures in the private sector, there is no Deutsche Bank ready to ride in with loans to save his businesses. There is no Carl Icahn showing up with a bailout. There is no Jeffrey Zucker willing to be complicit in an identity makeover. He is on his own, against a foe who’s implacable in her opposition and much better versed at holding a political party together.

This isn’t to say some sort of compromise isn’t available. They can fudge on the wording allowing everyone to declare a victory. The President has already demonstrated that he’s willing to call a bunch of steel slats shoved into the desert sand “a big, powerful wall”, even though nobody with a functioning brain cell thinks it is. But in order to get that, he’ll need to be gracious enough to allow the Democrats to say they aren’t funding a border wall. It’s a trait that is not part of Donald Trump’s character.

Is Nathan Phillips Guilty of Stolen Valor?


So I’m doing some reading on Nathan Phillips, the Indian guy who claims to have been harassed by the teenagers from Coventry High over the weekend and I can’t help but think there is a serious case of stolen valor here. He claims to be a Marine Corps Vietnam veteran, but too much of his story doesn’t add up. This is a guy who has been in the news off and on for the past 20 years, but nobody seems to have checked out his background. His first interview, way back in November 2000, listed his age as 45. His most recent interview, from this past weekend, he is 64. That is consistent with someone born in early January 1955. By his own account (again, nobody has seen his DD214), he joined the Marines at age 17, but this was after a period of time working as a lumberjack.

Here’s where his story starts to fall apart. Let’s be generous and say he stepped on the yellow footprints in February 1972, graduating after 13 weeks. Let’s be even more generous and say he did not have leave after basic and reported straight to ITR. So, the earliest he could have been deployed to Vietnam as a 0311 would have been late July or early August 1972.

The last major USMC combat element, III MAF, left Vietnam in April 1971. The last USMC combat unit, 3rd MAB, left in June 1971.
You can see the problem here. Those dates mean either Nathan Phillips was the only combat Marine in Vietnam, he was assigned to the Embassy or he was one of the 60 or so advisors the Marine Corps left with the ARVN forces. The last option is least likely (a boot private without any combat experience isn’t going to advise anyone on tactics). If he were assigned to the embassy, he would likely have clarified this by stating his MOS was an 8151.

Now for where things REALLY get interesting. Phillips also claims to be a Force Recon Marine. In his own words in a Vogue interview in 2018, he actually says “I’m what they call a recon ranger.” Well, knock me over with a feather, but if I had a nickel for every recon ranger I’ve met who never even wore a uniform, I’d be a millionaire. To my knowledge, I’ve never met a Force Recon Marine in the First Civ Div. Do you know why? Because most special forces guys don’t go around advertising their training. They don’t need to.

But let’s suspend all reason and say that Phillips isn’t laying it on thicker than molasses in January. The absolute minimum training time for a Force Recon Marine is 4 months. Let’s also suppose he was selected for Force Recon out of ITR. That puts his earliest arrival in Vietnam as January 1973.

That’s still 4 months after the last US combat unit, the Army’s 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, 196th Brigade left Vietnam in August 1972.
I suppose it’s possible Phillips forgot some dates. It’s possible he can’t recall his MOS. Anything is possible, after all, even though I’ve never met a Marine who can’t remember what his job was, the dates of his service and every time he was deployed (and where).

I hate to call him out as a fraud if he isn’t. But considering he has spent the past few years putting himself in the news and is now muckraking to the point of driving hate mobs towards teenagers, it’s time to put his veracity to the test. If you served with Nathan Phillips, let me know. If he is a Force Recon Marine, I’ll gladly retract every word of this, buy him a beer and thank him for his service. But if he isn’t, he is deserving of every bit of scorn and derision we can heap upon him.

Update: On January 23, the Marine Corps released the following statement:
Nathan Phillips, 64, spent four years in the Marine Corps Reserve and left in 1976 with the rank of private, or E-1. Previously identified as Nathaniel R. Stanard, Phillips never deployed, but served as a refrigerator technician and anti-tank missileman.”

Restoring Trust in Our Elections


Vote!

It seems you can’t pick up a newspaper (ok, I’m being quaint, but some of us do still read newspapers) or turn on your television without hearing about how our elections are under assault. If the Russians aren’t rotting our minds with memes of Hillary Clinton drunkenly gazing at balloons, the Chinese are hacking into our voter rolls. When the Chinese aren’t hacking into voter rolls, the Iranians are hacking the voting machines themselves. When the Iranians aren’t playing centrifuge subterfuge with the voting machines, the North Koreans are actually changing vote totals.

It’s a wonder a beloved TV sitcom character hasn’t been elected to Congress with all this electronic doo-dah. Oh, wait…

Okay, the security of our electronic voting systems are important. I don’t mean to belittle them. But that insecurity highlights a much bigger problem our nation faces: in a representative republic, the integrity of the electoral process cannot be open to interpretation. When it is, then the legitimacy of the election outcomes that select our representatives comes into question. No government without said legitimacy can stand for long.

It seems to me that I’m not the only one thinking the way we vote has become an absolute mess over the last twenty years. You would have thought that after the disaster of the 2000 election, the one in which “Hanging Chad” came to mean something other than executing a yuppie horse thief, we would have gotten our act together. But as the most recent election demonstrated, if anything we got worse at both voting and counting the vote. Of course, much of the coverage centered on our favorite county (Broward) in our favorite state (Florida) for electoral shenanigans. This overlooks that there were nearly four dozen House races that still weren’t called a full week after the election. It overlooks serious charges of vote tampering and fraud in California, New Jersey, Illinois, Georgia, Alaska, North Carolina, and Utah.

Since we didn’t learn from the disaster that was 2000, allow me to propose some simple changes that would be relatively simple to implement that would go a long way to ending the nonsense. Will it end voting irregularities forever? No, of course not. They are a feature of any voting system since man-made systems are imperfectible. But we can do much better than we have to date.

Step 1: Implement a national Voter ID system

Look, forget all the nonsense about poor people, or black people, or Hispanic people, not being able to get a valid state ID. It’s the 21st century, for chrissakes. There is absolutely no reason an adult should not have a valid ID. I challenge you to find me a state where you can buy a beer or pack of cigarettes without a valid ID. If we demand you have a valid ID for something as mundane as getting a cold brew at a restaurant, any argument against having one for something as important as voting is ridiculous on its face. Remember this sob story? The only reason he was prevented from breaking the law was due to Tennessee’s voter ID law.

Yeah, Voter ID laws work exactly as intended. Which may be why the same crowd that is all for open borders and illegal immigrants voting in our elections are so against them.

Step 2: Get rid of early voting

It seems many of the problems we run into with counting the vote (and where some of the greatest opportunities for general screwing with the ballots) comes from the fact that in some jurisdictions, people can actually begin voting up to a month before election day. There are other reasons to get rid of early voting (seriously, who but the most partisan hack is 100% certain of who they’re going to cast their ballot for a month before election day?), but that’s another post for another day. Anyway, the nonsense we witnessed around the country last November, with ballots mysteriously materializing from car trunks and classroom closets, would immediately end simply by getting rid of early voting. I understand voting in the middle of the week is inconvenient for a great many people, but that brings me to my next suggestion, which is…

Step 3: Make all national elections a national holiday

See, now nobody has the excuse they can’t get off work to go vote. Yes, the lines might be long. But if voting becomes a holiday, think about this: how long will it be before the nation’s retailer’s start offering discounts when you present that “I voted” sticker? I bet Friendly’s even starts offering a free scoop of ice cream!

Step 4: End “ballot harvesting”

Look, I don’t know who came up with this piece of insanity. I’m ambivalent about absentee ballots, to begin with (I can’t get around particularly well these days, but I still show up to vote in person), but if your state is going to allow them, shouldn’t the very least expectation be that you put the doggone thing in the mailbox yourself? I don’t know who thought the idea of letting party operatives handle them was a brilliant idea, but they need to be taken out back and put out of their misery the same way we do horses with broken legs. Heck, we’re ten weeks past the election and one district in North Carolina got so fouled up with ballot tampering as a result of this idiocy that they likely need to call a special election. Stories have come from California of voters just signing a blank ballot and handing it over to a party apparatchik. I’m 100% certain no tampering happened in those instances whatsoever, right?

Step 5: Get rid of electronic voting machines

I don’t know if the Russians or Iranians or little green men from Mars are trying to break into the electronic voting systems in use around the US. What I do know is there is enough distrust that those systems can be secured against sophisticated hacks (or even hacks from 300 pound couch potatoes) that we should have already stopped using them.

Step 6 : JIT ballot verification

This is little more technical, but every bit as important as anything else. During the latest Broward “Whose Vote is It Anyway” episode, we were once again treated to election workers trying to decipher illegible ballots. Just because that wasn’t enough fun, then we heard that poll workers could, in the even a ballot was indecipherable, just fill out an alternate one. Just fill out an alternate one? Are you kidding me?

In software engineering, we use “Just-In-Time” testing to validate that our code at least has the correct syntax and spelling to not cause a digital rejection of our work when trying to make it do something. It isn’t that hard to do something similar with a paper ballot. Optical scanners, which have been around for longer than most of you who read this blog, can detect if too many circles on a line (or a row) are filled in, and if they’re filled in correctly – and check this out, they CAN EVEN COUNT THE VOTE IN REAL TIME. If your ballot is illegible, for whatever reason, the poll worker can hand you another blank, destroy the bad one and scan the corrected ballot all before you leave the voting booth! Amazing!

This won’t completely end the questions about voting. Some states will complain vociferously about Congress passing any further restrictions. I can already hear the Chamber of Commerce harping on yet another paid holiday. Democrats will kvetch about Voter ID and the loss of early voting, Republicans about JIT verification. Both will scream bloody murder over ending harvesting.

But these six steps will make our elections more secure and provide for quicker vote tabulation. They address some of the biggest questions the nation has about our elections. It puts what is the most vital process in republic back into the sunlight, restoring the trust that the process isn’t corrupted. In short, it is the first step in injecting some sanity back into our politics.

What Is A Conservative?


There seems to be much confusion these days over political labels. What do these terms even mean any more? What is a centrist? A liberal? A libertarian? A conservatarian? A classical liberal? A neo-liberal? A neocon?

What is a conservative, in today’s world?

To begin answering that question, it is helpful to understand where modern conservative thought in America comes from, and how it evolved. 

There were two dominant themes of conservative thought in the middle of the 20th century. One was what we refer to as Buckley Conservatism. This strain of conservatism emphasized the role of traditions and established hierarchical organizations in promoting social order; preferred limited government, recognized the roles of religion and shared culture in social cohesiveness, distrusted rationalizations and promoted the view that people are, at our core, emotional beings. Buckley conservatives accept that private ownership of property, capitalism and free trade economics are the surest path to economic prosperity for everyone.

The other predominant view of conservatism was Coolidge Conservatism, which traced its roots back to the mid-19th century. This version of conservatism differed from Bucklian conservatism in that it viewed the corporation as the principle driver of both economic and social policy. It eventually merged with Objectivist theory to form the modern Libertarian party.

During the 1970s, a third strain of conservatism arose. We came to call this version of conservative thought neoconservatism, although it might also be called Bush or Kristol Conservatism after the men who exemplified its ideas. This version arose from disaffected liberals, although it hews close to the pre-existing Northeastern Republican thought of the day. Neocons espouse that military adventurism in replacing totalitarian regimes with democratic ones is a laudable use of military power, that government intervention in society to promote social change is not only acceptable but necessary, and a general belief in capitalism, but not free markets (Irving Kristol referred to this as “bourgeois capitalism”). While they agree with their forebears that people are not rational beings, they accept the idea that rationally developed plans, implemented by people who were educated and trained to ignore their emotional impulses, could improve the lives of everyone. This includes a belief that a strong welfare state is a requirement for a modern society.

Buckley conservatives were represented by Barry Goldwater’s quixotic presidential run in 1964 and reached its zenith with the Reagan presidency of the 1980s. But the GOP soon shifted from Buckleyism to Neoconservatism under the leadership of George HW Bush. Interventionist foreign policy and regime change became the order of the day, along with increased taxes and government intrusion into some of the social ramparts, such as local schools and civic organizations.

It is the neoconservative view that most Americans came to associate with being a conservative by the time of Barack Obama’s reelection campaign of 2012. While a great many conservative thinkers, politicians and writers paid lip service to the Bucklian concept of limited government and free markets, they only took that so far as limited taxation on businesses. Beyond that, they still practiced government regulation like a Rockefeller, practiced foreign interventionism like a Bush, and railed for government solutions to social problems like a liberal. Buckley Conservatism seemed an outdated anachronism by this point.

The funny thing about that is neoconservatism was actually the least conservative of the three dominant conservative philosophies that came to be in the 20th century. It owes its existence to liberals who were repulsed by the leftward lurch of mainstream liberal thought during the late 1960s. Neoconservatism shares many views with its liberal roots, although in attenuated form. As Irving Kristol once remarked, “A neoconservative is a liberal who got hit in the face by reality.”

That being said, neoconservatives also adopted Bucklian language in deference to the last truly successful Republican president, in Ronald Reagan. So, we have neoconservatives praising free markets when in reality they haven’t actually practiced free market economics. We have neoconservatives pledging fealty to fiscal responsibility, but refusing to actually do anything about it. We have neoconservatives decrying the welfare state, but refusing to do anything about the two biggest social welfare programs managed by the federal government.

Indeed, it is this aspect of the neoconservative takeover of the Republican party that has led many voters to think of it as nothing more than the flip side of the Democratic party coin. Is it any wonder the average person has no idea what a conservative is?

Into this vacuum stepped one Donald Trump. While almost nobody would consider Trump a died-in-the-wool conservative, he was able to capture the nomination of the Republican party by espousing many conservative views on issues, such as fealty to the letter of the Constitution, lower taxes, less regulation, an end to foreign adventurism, etc. At the same time, he promoted ideas that should have been anathema to any conservative: trade barriers, managed economies and a personal moral code that could be best described as immoral.

Some have described Trump, and his policy goals as a form of right-wing populism. It may well be, but I suspect that Trump has so completely rebranded the moniker of conservative (abetted by a very liberal press that wants nothing more than to permanently discredit conservatism, in all forms) that conservatives will need to re-examine their ideals to see which can be modified, and which of the new ideas can be absorbed, into a 21st century conservatism.

For instance, many conservatives are loathe to accept the idea of nationalism as being a conservative goal. At the same time, one of the core tenets of conservatism – irregardless of the particular flavor of 20th century conservative thought to which one might subscribe – is the notion of a cohesive society, built around a shared history and culture. That is the very essence of nationalism. To some, this smacks of the jingoism and xenophobia associated with the extreme nationalism that punctuated the 1930s. But it need not be. Acceptance of the United States as unique among nations extends back throughout our history, there’s no reason we should deviate from that today. 

The best way to judge whether conservatism, as both a political and societal philosophy, is at all compatible with elements of Trumpism is to see if the general tenets of conservatism are compatible with them. Perhaps no finer mind than that of Russell Kirk laid out those general principles 25 years ago in a terrific essay (you can find it here). So, if we do that comparison, which are – and which are not?

  1.  Human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent. – NO
    • Trumpism doesn’t address human nature at all, nor does it consider it as a guiding principle in any policy decision. Morality is paid lip service, but in practice ignored, both by Trump and most of those in his inner circle.
  2. The conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity. – MAYBE?
    • Trumpism has a dichotic relationship with this idea. On one hand, Trump was elected precisely to upend conventional politics and institutions. On the other, many of his supporters want a return to the customs and conventions they recall from their youth.
  3. Conservatives believe in the principle of prescription. – NO
    • This is one area in which Trump’s liberal roots come shining through. Rather than base his decisions on what worked in the past, he very much is out to completely remake the world order in his own image.
  4. Conservatives are guided by prudence. – NO
    • Not unlike most other politicians of the current era, this principle does not apply to Trump. Every decision he makes is weighed against immediate impact, not the effect on the nation or world five or ten years hence.
  5. Conservatives pay attention to variety. – YES
    • Kirk wrote, “The only true forms of equality are equality at the Last Judgment and equality before a just court of law…” This is a principle that is upheld under Trumpism, much to the chagrin of liberals – who are determined to end the inequality of outcomes.
  6. Conservatives understand that humans are not perfect, and cannot be made to be perfect. – NO
    • This is another area in which Trump demonstrates his liberal leanings. By action, he shows he believes himself to be perfected. He believes he can also bring perfection to any number of situations. Such self-confidence is a key part of his appeal, even if it is misguided. 
  7. Freedom and property are closely linked. – NO
    • The Trump administration has fought efforts to end the abysmal practice of civil forfeiture, and followed Trump’s long history of supporting using eminent domain to seize property. That speaks for how strongly this principle is detested by Trumpism.
  8. Conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism. – NO
    • Trumpism is all about big, beautiful, federally driven solutions to problems that certainly would be better left to states and localities. Repealing Obamacare would be great, replacing it with another monster federal program not so much. A $1 trillion infrastructure program, with funds doled out by bureaucrats in Washington, will be as much a boondoggle as the “shovel ready jobs” Obama stimulus program.
  9. Government and government officials need restraints on power and human passions. – NO
    • One glance at the headlines or Twitter on any given day tells you all you need to know how Trump (and due to their slavish devotion, most of his supporters) feel about this principle. That Trump came into the Oval Office thinking he had near kingly powers is pretty obvious, and the fact he doesn’t chafes at him probably more than anything else about the job.
  10. Permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society. – NO
    • Kirk meant this in terms of the tension between a normal society’s natural desire towards social progress versus its foundational aspects. As noted previously, Trump is in many ways out to obliterate many of those foundations, without regard to what may replace them. Yet at the same time, his supporters look to return many established norms of prior eras while removing some of the progressive aspects of modern society. 

So based on Kirk’s criteria, Trumpism is not particularly conservative, although there are parts of his agenda that will certainly appeal to conservatives – particularly conservatives who have been able to divorce their societal impulses from their views of governance and morality. Still, we can safely say that most who subscribe to Trumpism are NOT conservatives.

Likewise, we can safely say that those who subscribe to neoconservatism are not conservative, either. The entire philosophy of neoconservatism disagrees with Kirk on points 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 10. Think of the headlong rush to impose a Pax Americana by force of arms, to alter the nature of education and force federal intrusion into the same, and so forth. None of those policies nor the reasoning behind them were conservative in nature.

Thus, the confusion for us in determining what conservatism is and who in our country actually is a conservative. Our media, for 30 years – two generations – has conflated “conservative” with Republican. In no small measure, Buckley is responsible for this. He once wrote, “National Review will support the rightwardmost viable candidate.” This led the publication that Buckley founded, over the years, to support all four Bush candidacies, along with the McCain candidacy in 2008 and Romney candidacy in 2012. That sort of cover is precisely what the media (which has been unabashedly liberal for at least 40 years) has needed to paint the neoconservative movement as actually conservative. Likewise, the principle espoused (despite NR’s vociferous objections to Trump during the 2016 election) by Buckley has allowed them to paint Trump as a conservative. 

So the answer to the question “what is a conservative” is the same as it has always been. If the question is, “who is a conservative,” though, and you refer to national leaders and politicians, then there is no obvious answer these days. 

Shut It Down


If the government isn’t going to defend the border, then it isn’t much of a government and has no business being in business.

Shut it down.

If our government refuses to provide for the common defense, it has no business calling itself our government.

Shut it down.

If Congress can spend over $4 trillion a year on things like seeing how fast a shrimp can run on a treadmill, but refuses to fund border defense, defund Congress.

Shut it down.

If our government can find $5 billion to help Iraq secure its border, but refuses to spend $5 billion to secure OUR border, whose government is it?

It isn’t ours.

Shut it down.

And leave it shut down.

A Refugee’s Tale


There’s been a lot talk about refugees in the news the past month. If you listen to your betters on CNN, Central Americans massing at our southern border are refugees.

They’re not. A refugee is someone fleeing their home country because of their religious or political views, or their ethnicity, leave them in imminent danger of death, both from the populace and the government. Solzhenitsyn was a refugee. My mother was a refugee. There may be a legitimate refugee or two tucked into those hundreds now, and soon to be thousands, in Tijuana but the odds are against it.

Those people are not fleeing anything except the fact their home countries are among the most lawless and destitute on the planet. This is despite the fact they have some of the most abundant natural resources on the planet. It makes you wonder about the character of these folks. If they’re not willing to do the heavy lifting needed to bring their governments to account and put forth the effort to create a viable economy in their home countries, why would living here suddenly infuse them with those abilities?

This may come as a shock to you, but even the homeless guy sleeping on a park bench is wealthier than 98% of the world’s population. Stop to ponder that for a moment. Even our most destitute have it better than some 6 billion other human beings. If we accept living somewhere with a bad economic situation as a condition for refugee status, are we to accept responsibility for some 6 billion people? Only the most pie-eyed fool accepts that premise.

It is easy to cite for you people who are true refugees around the world. The Yazidi in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. The Uighers in China. The Copts in Egypt. The Rohingya in Myanmar. All are facing actual, government-sponsored extermination for no reason other than their ethnicity and/or religion.

“Never Again,” indeed.

Yesterday we celebrated a holiday dedicated to giving thanks that we live in a country that, no matter what else, is dedicated to the idea that no person should ever be forced by their government to worship in a particular religion, belong to a particular political sect, or face extermination because of their ethnicity. We’ve sometimes fallen a bit short of those ideals, but we never stop striving to perfect them. Beyond all else, those basic freedoms – of religion, of thought, of speech – and the willingness to fight for them are essential to what defines us.

But even if we would rather abandon first principles and ignore the genocides we swore would end after the Holocaust, in order to favor a bunch of folks who have yet to demonstrate any need other than financial want, we should still find and help targeted cases, those people who have become flashpoints in their home countries because their convictions leave them in extreme danger.

Photo of Asia Bibi

Asia Bibi

People like Asia Bibi. If you’re unfamiliar with her, she’s the young woman in Pakistan who’s professed Catholic faith led to her near execution. After the Pakistani government relented under international pressure and released her from death row, she’s had to go into hiding. The typical Pakistani would as soon as kill her by stoning as plunge a knife into her ribs. Her lawyer was forced to flee the country for the same reason. If anyone matches the definition of a refugee, Miss Bibi does.

President Trump could, with the executive powers he has available to him, order DHS to issue Asia Bibi both a travel visa and refugee status. He could demand Pakistan make her available, and order our embassy staff to arrange her safe passage to the US. After all, Pakistan is nominally an ally. Politically, it would be a win, both domestically and internationally.

And it might – just might – force the cable news talking heads to look in the mirror and confront their own hypocrisy.

Out of Left Field…


I haven’t written a baseball post in a while, so I figured it was time to get one out there. Today’s submission is for a trade that would definitely take baseball by surprise, although if you stop to think about it, it shouldn’t. 

So far, the media and fans have been concentrating on the top of the free agent market: Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, Patrick Corbin, etc. Or they’re focused on the big-name pitchers that have found themselves on the trade block: Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, James Paxton, and Zack Greinke. It’s understandable. Those are some of the biggest stars in the game and the chance that any of them will change uniforms before Spring Training is bound to get attention.

But the best trades are the ones that make sense for both teams, but still seemingly come from nowhere. Then everyone sits back and says, yeah, why didn’t I think of that. It’s rare that both teams come out of a trade where you’re forced to admit everyone wins. The one I’m about to propose fits that bill.

New York Yankees get Carlos Santana, Philadelphia Phillies get Sonny Gray

Now, here’s why this works out for both teams.

From the Yankees perspective, first base has been a black hole ever since Mark Teixeira retired, and to be honest, Teixeira’s last couple of seasons weren’t why he has an outside shot at the Hall of Fame. Here’s a list of everyone who has started at first over the past two seasons:

  • Chris Carter
  • Greg Bird
  • Chase Headley
  • Garrett Cooper
  • Austin Romine
  • Tyler Austin
  • Matt Holliday
  • Ji-Man Choi
  • Rob Refsnyder
  • Gary Sanchez
  • Neil Walker
  • Luke Voit
  • Brandon Drury

As the saying goes, if you have 13 first basemen, you don’t have any first baseman. I know the Yankees are still saying that Voit is getting first crack at cementing himself as the everyday guy, and that they still think Bird has a high ceiling. But when your goal is surpassing the Red Sox, can you really afford to go into the season with a major question mark at one of the premier offensive positions on any team? Especially given the unsettled nature of the middle infield?

Santana is not a guy who is spectacular. He is, however, as steady a player as they come. You know what to expect from him: somewhere in the neighborhood of a .250 average, 25-25 homers, 80 RBI, 100 walks, an OPS+ of around 110, somewhere around 2.5bWAR. Right now, a steady and slightly better than league average switch-hitting bat sounds pretty good. Add in that Santana has postseason experience, and this begins to look even better.

The Phillies rolled the dice by signing Santana to a 3 year, $60 million contract last offseason and came up snake eyes. It’s not a knock on Santana. He did what he always does. But the fanbase was thinking more Joey Votto for that kind of money. To make matters worse, the signing forced up-and-coming slugger Rhys Hoskins to left field, where he proved to be the league’s worst defensive outfielder. It took at-bats away from young outfielders Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr (particularly from Altherr), setting their development back.

Simply unloading the remaining 2 years and $40 million owed Santana makes this a win for the Phils, who’ve made no secret they want out from that contract. 

Unloading the contract for the much maligned Yankee starter also shores up a need for the Phillies: a reliable starting pitcher. Yes, Gray stunk when he took the bump at Yankee Stadium. But he still managed a 3.17 ERA away from the Bronx. He still has the tools that made him an All-Star in Oakland, but like many before him (Hello Ed Whitson? Carl Pavano?) he could not get past Yankee Stadium. The change of scenery might be all needs to turn his career back around. If not, then the Phils are only on the hook for one more year.

See? Everyone wins this trade!

Is Suburbia Lost to the GOP?


It’s been 10 days since the midterms, and the narrative seems to be centering on a theme: Republicans have lost the suburbs. Certainly, if you just look at the top line data, where it looks as though Democrats managed to flip somewhere around 40 suburban congressional districts, it looks grim for the GOP’s prospects. As they say, results matter and the GOP did pretty badly in the results department.

But when you dig into the reasons why the GOP had such poor results, you might be more surprised to discover that the weakness in the suburbs being panned by any number of talking heads isn’t as terrible as they want you to believe. For starters, let’s examine the overall turnout numbers in those suburbs.

Map of 2018 turnout by county, compiled by the Wall Street Journal

Map of turnout by county, published by the Wall Street Journal

The above turnout “heat map” is pretty simple to read. It compares voter turnout from 2018 to 2016. The closer the number of total votes cast, the darker the shade of blue, the more vote totals came to be the same. Yellows mean there were more votes cast in 2018 than in 2016. So, when you look at this, two things that jump out at you: first, turnout in the Rust Belt and Mid-Atlantic states, along with California, was much lower than in the rest of the country. Second, turnout was exceptional in the Northern Plains, the Desert Southwest, Georgia, and Florida. 

This seems to go against the idea that we’re being spoon fed by the pundits: that Democrats mobilized new midterm voters to turn out, and those new voters chose Democrat representation. It might be a good idea to build a list of seats that actually flipped. Or maybe even a map.

Thankfully, Axios has both. Here is the list of seats that flipped from “red” to “blue”:

  1. Arizona’s 2nd
  2. Iowa’s 1st & 3rd
  3. California’s 10th, 25th, 45th, 48th, 49th
  4. Colorado’s 6th
  5. Florida’s 26th & 27th
  6. Georgia’s 6th
  7. Illinois’ 14th & 6th
  8. Iowa’s 1st & 3rd
  9. Kansas’ 3rd
  10. Maine’s 2nd
  11. Michigan’s 8th & 11th
  12. Minnesota’s 2nd & 3rd. Republicans flipped the 1st & 8th
  13. New Jersey’s 11th,  7th, 2nd & 3rd
  14. New York’s 11th & 19th
  15. New Mexico’s 2nd
  16. Oklahoma’s 5th
  17. Pennsylvania’s 5th, 6th, 7th & 17th. The GOP flipped one blue seat red, the 14th district.
  18. Texas’ 32nd
  19. Virginia’s 2nd,  7th & 10th
  20. Washington’s 8th

Of the 39 seats flipped by Democrats, 28 happened in districts with lower than usual turnout. That hardly indicates that Democrats motivated voters to turn out in droves to crush the Republicans. Rather, it shows that Democrats turned out in comparable numbers to past elections but Republicans stayed home. Is there any way to test this theory?

Turns out we can sample the districts. Since I once lived in New Jersey, I decided to check on the districts that flipped there. I compared the vote totals each candidate received in 2018 against the vote totals for each party’s candidate in 2016. Additionally, my current district is Pennsylvania’s 1st (it used to be PA 8), which even after the State Supreme Court redrew it is largely the same as it was, so I included it. It was the rare Republican hold in the Northeast and seems a good test case of my theory. This is what I came up with:

District                           

NJ 2

NJ 3

NJ 7

NJ 11

PA 1

2016 GOP    Vote

176,338

194,596

185,850

194,299

207,263

2018 GOP    Vote

111,021

147,036

144,802

123,156

168,841

2016 Dem Vote

110,838

127,526

148,088

130,162

173,155

2018 Dem Vote

126,457

150,510

158,892

162,264

160,098

What you see in race after race is that the Democrats didn’t fire up their base to get out to the polls and vote. Their vote totals remained within historical normals, with the exception of NJ 11. The reason three of those four districts flipped is Republican voters stayed home: GOP turnout was down by 20% across those districts. New Jersey 11 is something of an outlier. Democrats ran an exceptionally strong candidate for a seat with a retiring member, whose family has held it in one form or another since the nation was founded. It doesn’t take much to see how voters would opt for a change.

Our test case, PA 1, is directly across the Delaware River from New Jersey’s capital in Trenton. What you see happened there is that while once again, Republican turnout was down about 20%, Democrat turnout was also down and the GOP was able to hold the seat. The reason Democrat turnout was down in this particular district is again likely candidate driven. Scott Wallace was largely viewed as a carpetbagging socialist around here.

Of course, this begs the question: why was the GOP able to turn out voters in other parts of the country, but not in these older suburbs? What was it about their messaging that failed to get their voters off their couches and into a voting booth?

The media narrative is that the Democratic victory was propelled by legions of college educated white women exploding from their suburban homes in a rage against the President on Election Day. However, the media narrative fails to mention that on Election Day 2016, those same college educated white women voted overwhelmingly against the President, too. The media narrative is misleading because it fails to acknowledge that while college educated white women represent a substantial part of the suburban population, they are neither the dominant nor even most representative demographic group. This is hardly surprising, since the media hates acknowledging anything that might disturb their narrative.

While the preferred demographic characterization may be true for the suburbs around NYC or DC, it certainly doesn’t comport with the districts that flipped in 2018. Yes, there are white college educated women in them. But they are still in the minority of residents. Most denizens of these old suburbs are still blue collar workers with families, not unlike my neighborhood. In fact, an easier way to demonstrate this might be to introduce you to some of my neighbors (disclaimer: names changed to keep things civil!)

There are two relatively new, 20 something couple that moved in within the last 18 months. Across the street are John and Kate. John is an accountant, Kate a physician. Nice people, whose politics unsurprisingly run liberal – but the reality of home ownership has made them somewhat less liberal than when they moved in.  Next door to me are Hank and Jen. Hank is an electrician, Jen a LPN still working on her RN. True salt of the earth types, they’re pretty much apolitical.

As for my more established neighbors, there a retired husband and wife across the street. They’re in their 80’s, he is battling Parkinson’s and his wife is doing what she can to care for him and is very involved with her church. There is a widow on my other flank, whose children are constantly trying to get her to move because of her health. Also on this block are a mechanic and his wife, a bartender, an HVAC tech and his wife, who stays home with their children, a cable installer and his wife, a hairdresser and finally, a divorced salesman in the tech industry. This particular block is representative of the town overall. It remains a largely working-class community, with perhaps a third of the residents having at least a bachelor’s degree. Although not represented on my block, roughly 40% of the town’s residents would identify as something other than Caucasian. 

Hardly the picture the media has spent the past few months painting of suburban demographics and life.

So, if we accept that those opposed to the President (on whatever grounds) in these communities continued to turn out, while those who do support him failed to vote, what other factors drove those behaviors? After all, Mr. Trump’s approval and disapproval numbers haven’t moved very much since his election. Nor has the intensity of support or disapproval moved very much since then. If we accept the premise that the primary motivating factor for Democrats was opposition to the President, then why weren’t Trump voters in these older suburbs equally motivated to turn out in support? This is a particularly intriguing question when we see in the parts of the country where they were similarly motivated, Republicans were able to hold their seats and even make gains in the Senate.

Understanding these motivations is the key. Not to belabor the point, but Democrats didn’t offer the working class voters in suburbs anything new. They didn’t offer a governing vision that captured the imaginations of the working class, a slate of programs that motivated them to change their allegiance or convince them that a platform based on “resistance” was attractive. In other words, they didn’t win. Republicans lost, and they lost because they failed to connect.

Where Republicans failed to connect with the suburbanites who didn’t bother to vote is not hard to identify. President Trump (and by extension, the down ballot Republicans in those districts) won by emphasizing the wallet issues that have always motivated these voters. However, rather than campaign on those same issues this term, the GOP playbook was to emphasize the standard, Bushian corporatism while the President played to nativism. It’s likely the nativism played well in many districts, but it doesn’t hit the top 5 concerns of the typical suburban voter. As for corporatism, the suburban voter has as much distrust of that as they do anything the GOP could campaign on.

What the working-class, suburban voter wants to hear about is good jobs at decent wages, decent schools for their kids, secure retirements, lower costs around their health care and daily expenses, and to have a sense their children can live a better life than they. They want secure communities and a secure nation. And yes, most of them believe they’re being overtaxed and under-served by every level of government.

This is the “populist” message that won President Trump the White House, distilled. It is not Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Mitt Romney or any of the Bush brother’s message. It is something that seems separate from conservative orthodoxy, since for the better part of four decades conservative economic orthodoxy has been built around the concept of the trickle down, but in reality the entire purpose of trickle down economics is to deliver populist results. The problem is that mainstream Republicans have a hard time talking to this message, since it sounds remarkably like what was once the Democrat economic message.

Another problem Republicans have with the populist message is understanding that many government programs need to be be reconfigured for the 21st century. Their default position has been to end them for so long they’ve lost sight of  the fact that some actually do some good, and a few tweaks could greatly improve them. By all means, get rid of the ones that are wasteful but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. By the way, targeting actual government waste remains a winning message and one that gets buoyed by saving the programs the public has, in many ways, come to rely on.

We could begin with Social Security, as an example. My preference would be to phase the program out, but the reality is after 83 years, it isn’t going anywhere. While pretty much everyone recognizes the system is either in or nearing a fiscal crisis, nobody seems willing to do much of anything to ensure it will be there in 40 years, when John, Kate, Hank and Jen will be counting on it as a substantial part of their retirement income, much as the retirees in my neighborhood already do and the rest of us in our 40’s and 50’s are planning on it being there as part of ours shortly. The GOP continues to push the idea of replacing the current funding formula with what amounts to a collective 401(k) while increasing the age at which retirees can collect what amounts to reduced benefits. I hate to break it to them, but while this plan makes wonkish sense it is a losing message with suburbanites. 

One Republican who seems to grasp the reality that the GOP’s current economic message is lacking is Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. He has recently been pushing a plan he calls, “Home Economics.” Now the plan itself is more of a broad outline that is very light on specifics, but it does address the concerns of those voters that failed to turn out on Election Day. He emphasizes the ideas of upward mobility, wage growth, family stability and community. I am not saying it is a perfect outline, but it is a start towards recognizing the deficiencies in the current GOP message (also, given his performance in the 2016 primaries, Rubio probably isn’t the best messenger).

While Democrats are cheering their wins this term and congratulating themselves (as in 2008) on capturing “demographic superiority,” they are making the mistake of abandoning the populist economic message. At the same time, while vilifying corporate interests they have become even more reliant on them than the GOP. It is an opportunity where the Republicans, if they are smart and understand where their voters are today, should leap to take advantage. Doing so doesn’t mean abandoning the core values of Buckley conservatism; if anything, it means an actual return to those values. 

They have two years. The question is, will they step up to the plate?