Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘We Teach These Things to Each Other’ (Part 8 of 9)

This is the eighth in a series of posts considering Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

Cramer claims in Chapter 8 that

Beyond garnering the insight that people use social identities to think about politics, this book also shows how social group divides can operate as the central narrative by which people understand the political landscape and by which they structure their ideas about which candidates to support. In this politics of resentment, when we tell ourselves and others about the reasons behind how events have unfolded, the stories hinge on blaming our fellow citizens. What I am calling the politics of resentment is a political culture in which political divides are rooted in our most basic understandings of ourselves, infuse our everyday relationships, and are used for electoral advantage….

When has this not been true? Evening setting aside her earlier & false claim that small government advocacy stems from resentment against economic in interests (and only as Cramer defines those interests), have not large-scale political movements almost always involved ‘social group divides’ and accusations of blame (including toward the blameworthy)?

There’s nothing new on display here; Cramer esteems her work too highly.

Previously: Parts 1, 23, 456, and 7.

Tomorrow: Considering The Politics of Resentment, Concluding Thoughts (Part 9 of 9).

Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘Reactions to the Ruckus’ (Part 7 of 9)

This is the seventh in a series of posts considering Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

In Chapter 7, Cramer describes the conditions immediately before, during, & immediately after the Great Recession, with consideration of Obama and Walker’s candidacies. With regard to Barack Obama, there’s much here that shifts, if not contradicts, Cramer’s earlier insistence that race isn’t a primary motivation in sentiment among rural voters.

In Chapter 3 Cramer contended on both sides of this issue (that race was and wasn’t important):

So yes, it is highly likely that when people refer to “those people in Milwaukee” they are often referring to racial minorities. But notice how complex this is. The urbanites that rural folks were referring to were not predominantly racial minorities. When white outstaters (i.e., those living outside the major metropolitan areas) complained of the laziness in the cities in these conversations, their comments were almost always directed at white people: government bureaucrats and faculty members at the flagship public university.

In that way, antiurban resentment is not simply resentment against people of color. At the same time, given the way arguments against government redistribution in the United States have historically been made by equating deservingness with whiteness, these conversations are about race even when race is not mentioned.

Cramer frames this so that she can insist race isn’t involved (“antiurban resentment is not simply resentment against people of color”) except that it always is (“these conversations are about race even when race is not mentioned”). She knows this not specifically about the residents with whom she converses, by the way, but because “historically [arguments] been made by equating deservingness with whiteness.” Even if Cramer should be right about this general historical truth, she imputes the generality to particular people and conversations. If others can’t see what she sees, well, it’s because she’s more discerning, and knows “these conversations are about race even when race is not mentioned.”

Now consider in Chapter 7 how Cramer describes reactions to Barack Obama:

In general, white people across all types of communities seemed uncomfortable talking about the fact that Obama is African American….At the same time that people seemed uncomfortable with Obama’s race and race as a concept in general, Obama’s theme of change and unity resonated with people—or at least they believed it resonated with others. The professionals in central Wisconsin might have found it necessary to qualify his appeal as a certain “kind” of African American, but they also nodded as one man said, “He is the one with the best truth out there.” I heard glimmers of hope that he was a different kind of politician, one not entrenched in Washington, and one who, especially compared to Hillary, was closer to the people.

When Cramer writes that “white people across all types of communities seemed uncomfortable talking about the fact that Obama is African American” she cannot possibly mean all communities in Wisconsin. It’s simply absurd to contend that whites in Dane County, for example, were uncomfortable with Obama. Here, she must mean rural whites (and perhaps suburban ones).

If this should be so, in her estimation, what does it say about her earlier contention that “antiurban resentment is not simply resentment against people of color”? Of course it’s not simply that, as though the supposed resentment were of one kind only. Yet, if her work should be social science, and not mere political commentary, how much of the resentment she sees is racial in motivation?

Cramer is evasive, but assures us (almost like Justice Potter Stewart’s observation about obscenity, ‘I know it when I see it’) that she’ll let us know when she spots something racist.

A more interesting inquiry for Cramer would have been to consider how views on gender affected the Obama-Clinton primary in 2008. Cramer observes that she, herself, met with sexual harassment from rural residents, but leaves aside a more thorough consideration of gender when describing views of Hillary Clinton.

(Cramer also implies that rural harassment was worse than what a woman might have encountered at university; sexual harassment and assault on college campuses is too often downplayed, and federal Clery statistics do not reflect the extent of actual campus harassment & violence.)

Previously: Parts 1, 23, 45, and 6.

Tomorrow: Considering The Politics of Resentment, ”We Teach These Things to Each Other” (Part 8 of 9).

Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘Support for Small Government’ (Part 6 of 9)

This is the sixth in a series of posts considering Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

In Chapter 6, Cramer declares that

In this chapter, I am going to make the bold claim that support for small government is more about identity than principle.

Cramer explains to readers why she calls this claim ‘bold’:

Why is this a bold claim? We can look back on “Obamacare” or the “Affordable Care Act” and note that which side people took is related to partisanship. And we can say that whether people side with Republicans or Democrats in general is related to their attitudes about the appropriate role of government (e.g., Green, Palmquist, and Schickler 2002; Goren 2005; Carsey and Layman 2006). But those correlations do not help us understand why someone without teeth would not support government- funded dental care. Is it really the case that such a person is thinking to himself, “In principle I believe the less government the better; therefore, I am going to vote for the Republican Party and against single-payer health care, even though I need health care myself”? I don’t think so.

There are three components to these assertions: (1) primarily that one’s support for small government is identity-motivated, not principled, (2) that professions of support for small government among rural voters are false, although perhaps unknowingly so, and (3) that the alternative in health care to the market is single-payer.

Her first assertion is profoundly ignorant, so much so that one would think – and from her work might assume – that there had never been principled arguments against government intervention. It’s hard to get a full grasp of how unknowing Cramer must be: it’s as though she’s never read even a small part of classical or neoclassical economic theory, and its philosophical derivatives. Centuries of economic and philosophical literature: just identity politics in disguise, you see.

It’s astounding that Cramer ignores a vast literature – one that has in contemporary times produced over a dozen market-supporting Nobel laureatures in economics & other fields – and reduces this to a Republicans versus Democrats debate. (Most of these laureates where from neither major American political party.)

An omission like this is so great that the entire work begins to look like a political tract masquerading as ethnography. 

Because, you see, all these economists and philosophers weren’t advocating principles, they were either in the grip of identity politics, or committed to ensnaring others in that grip.

Under Cramer’s reading, rural voters – if not urban sophisticates – support small government for irrational reasons, contrary to their economic interests, interests they are too resentful to see clearly.

Finally, and almost as absurdly, Cramer particularly implies that economic interests are a choice between markets and single-payer healthcare (‘I am going to vote for the Republican Party and against single-payer health care’). Single-payer? Senator Sanders might have wanted as much, but neither Pres. Obama nor Sec. Clinton nor most Democrats in Congress pushed for single-payer, the alternative Cramer posits was before rural voters.

Previously: Parts 1, 23, 4, and 5.

Tomorrow: Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘Reactions to the Ruckus’ (Part 7 of 9).

Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘Attitudes toward Public Institutions and Public Employees’ (Part 5 of 9)

This is the fifth in a series of posts considering Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

In Chapter 5, Cramer describes conversations she had with rural residents. In the early part of the chapter, she recounts discussions about the university system. Some rural residents tell her they don’t like Madison (and UW-Madison) because they see it as politically liberal:

Glenn: UW is the only place where you can be a hippie for forty years and not be out of place. [chuckles]
Dan: Sometimes you can’t tell them from the professors, either. [laughs]
Tim: Well that’s true, too.
KJC: Right, right.
Glenn: UW and San Francisco got about the same initials. [chuckles]
KJC: So what do you think the UW–Madison should be doing here in [this town]? And I mean that very broadly, like from students to ordinary folks who live here, you know beyond student age, are there things they should be doing?
Tim: I don’t know what they could do—I guess I’m like Glenn and the rest of ’em as far as the liberal—I’m not a Madison person. There’s a reason that I don’t live in Madison, I like [this town]. I don’t like Madison at all. It’s big, it’s . . . to me, I don’t like to drive in the city—
Glenn: Best part about Madison is the fifty-five miles that it is away.

But that’s not their primary objection, it turns out:

KJC: Why don’t [students from here] go to Madison? I mean I have all kinds of guesses why, but why do you think?
Tim: Cost is the biggest thing.
Dan: Tuition is higher in Madison than it is in La Crosse or Platteville [cities with other UW System schools] for one thing.

In any event, the university is a topic (but of uncertain priority) because Cramer’s made it one:

My presence alone, though, brought the university into the conversations. The first thing I usually said to these groups, especially during my first visits in 2007 and 2008, was, “Hi! I’m Kathy. I’m from the UW–Madison.” So I want to acknowledge up front that it is likely that these groups would not have talked about the university and higher education as much if I hadn’t inserted myself into their conversations. But my focus was not how much they talked about the university or other aspects of government, but how they made sense of it when they did so. Their conversations about UW–Madison provide a window to their attitudes about government and public employees more generally.

Here, Cramer’s claim about negative views of the university is tenuous, because she can’t show what priority the university has in residents’ minds. (In fact, she guesses they “would not have talked about the university and higher education as much if [she] hadn’t inserted [herself] into their conversations.”)

Oh my: Cramer wants to define a rural consciousness, but by her own admission the role of UW-Madison within that consciousness depends not on residents’ priorities but her own questioning. This is simply flimsy. (It’s for lack of a solid prioritization, presumably, that Cramer offers unquantifiably and nebulously that their responses are a “window to their attitudes.” How big and how clear a window neither Cramer nor we know, as she can’t reliably say.)

Cramer exhibits guilt about her role as an academic:

To be honest, I felt sheepish explaining to people during my first year of fieldwork that I wasn’t teaching any classes. In the midst of conversations about the wear and tear of common rural occupations on one’s body, I had a difficult time thinking of my job driving around the state, inviting myself into coffee klatches as hard work.

An honest admission, but nonetheless an admission of a bias (one that could be both more pronounced in focus-group questioning & less susceptible of review than it would be in data-released opinion polling).

Indeed, Cramer acknowledges that scientific opinion polling reveals that suspicion about education’s value extends far beyond a rural demographic:

Let me end this chapter by acknowledging that people of many walks of life feel distant from institutions of higher education and also public employees. First, consider that public opinion surveys suggest that many people feel a sense of disconnection from institutions of higher education. For example, a December 9–13, 2009, Public Agenda poll of 1,031 U.S. adults found that 60 percent of the public perceives that “colleges today are like most businesses and mainly care about the bottom line,” as opposed to “colleges today mainly care about education and making sure students have a good educational experience.”16 Also, that same poll found that 33 percent “agree strongly” and 27 percent “agree somewhat” that “colleges could take a lot more students without lowering quality or raising prices.”

If so many feel this way (however regrettable those views may be), we can be certain that this skepticism is not unique to a supposed rural consciousness. And as it is not unique, and even appears in rural residents’ conversations at Cramer’s admitted instigation, identifying anti-educational views with rural residents seems truly uncompelling to anyone other than those who would expect to find such views primarily in rural communities.

Previously: Parts 1, 23, and 4.

Tomorrow: Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘Support for Small Government’ (Part 6 of 9).

Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘The Context of Rural Consciousness’ (Part 4 of 9)

This is the fourth in a series of posts considering Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

If in Chapter 3 Cramer sought to provide the contours (outlines) of a rural consciousness,  in Chapter 4 she attempts to describe the context (the circumstances around it) of it all.

Cramer sees the obvious challenge to her work:

I know many readers will be wondering whether this thing I am calling rural consciousness is justified—that is, whether it reflects real or simply perceived disparities in government resources, concern, and attention.

(She doesn’t concede so plainly other challenges to her work, however: that a small government preference is not necessarily a rural product, any more than a socialist one might not be a rural product, that the divide in large areas is more than rural and urban, indeed more than economic, and that ample work across centuries in market theory sits outside her urban-rural framework but has nonetheless shaped life across this continent and planet.)

And yet, and yet, here’s Cramer’s answer to this question, as she frames it:

I know this because when I describe complaints of injustice among small-town residents to urban audiences, I am almost always asked whether it is actually the case, for example, that rural areas get fewer public dollars than urban areas do. In the conversations I observed in rural Wisconsin, many people thought they were getting the short end of the stick with respect to taxpayer dollars. But was that really the case?

The evidence is mixed.

That’s quite the concession. Imagine someone asking about the effectiveness of a medication, or of a parachute, and receiving that reply: the evidence is mixed.

Here’s how Cramer describes basic fiscal policy for rural and urban Wisconsinites:

In Wisconsin, rural counties do receive fewer public dollars than urban counties. In the aggregate, measures of both state and federal government expenditures at the county level in fiscal year 2010 show that more than 75 percent of this money went to counties with urban metropolitan communities (fig. 4.1)

However, there are far fewer people living in rural counties than urban ones, so a more apt comparison might be one that uses a per capita basis for comparison. Figures 4.2 and 4.3 show two correlation plots, with each dot representing a single county in Wisconsin. This pair of figures shows almost no relationship between how rural a county is and the dollars it receives in expenditures per capita from the state and federal government.1 Excluding outliers, a slight upward trend is evident, with more rural counties receiving slightly more dollars per person; however, the relationship is weak.2 But the evidence certainly does not support the notion that urban counties receive far more than their share of tax dollars per resident.

(Emphasis mine.)

Seeing this, that in fact rural residents aren’t short-changed in the amounts that they receive, Cramer must – if she believes that a rural consciousness depends on rural residents accurately and correctly observing a disparity with urban areas – find another economic explanation.

She does:

While this evidence does not back up the perceptions I heard among many rural residents that there is vastly disproporationate spending in urban counties and higher tax burdens falling on rural communities, many would also be quick to point out that what these numbers do not reveal is how effectively the money was spent. Even if the spending were proportionate across type of place, if the spending failed to meet the needs of people living there, it really would not matter. Some services simply cost less per capita in cities because of economies of scale.4

Where, though, does this economies of scale endnote (#4) lead? Here: “I am sincerely indebted to Ben Toff for these analyses and to Sarah Niebler for a similar set of analyses in the early stages of this project.” That is, Cramer’s presumably thanking Toff and Niebler for their data collection for the preceding Figures 4.1 to 4.9, not to an economies of scale analysis. She offers no such analysis here.

If Cramer cannot provide compelling data for her claim that a supposed rural consciousness rests significantly on an actual mis- or under-allocation of government funds to the detriment of rural residents, then she’s left either with (1) her own misperception of a rural consciousness, (2) rural residents’ misperception of their own condition, or (3) both.

By her own account, she cannot offer, so to speak, unmixed economic data.

That’s quite a predicament for her thesis.

Previously: Parts 1, 2, and 3.

Tomorrow: Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘Attitudes toward Public Institutions and Public Employees’ (Part 5 of 9).

Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘The Contours of Rural Consciousness’ (Part 3 of 9)

This is the third in a series of posts considering Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

The simplest way to think about Cramer’s work, by analogy, is to think of it not as a scientific poll of attitudes and preferences, but as a series of considered focus groups. Considered, to be sure, because Cramer ponders at length about how she should interact with rural residents, and has read well of academic literature on interactions like the kind she undertakes.

And yet, for it all, her work is truly the focus group work of a Wisconsinite who (at seemingly every turn) exhibits her own class consciousness, all the while insisting, in effect, that she’s suitably tamed that consciousness.

Consider how Cramer describes her role (effectually as a focus group moderator):

My obvious status as an urbanite very likely made the out-group of urbanites more salient (Turner et al. 1994). But rural consciousness was not an artifact of my presence. I say this for a variety of reasons. Rural consciousness was not just about rural versus city folks. It contained perceptions of the distribution of power, values, and resources that could not have been constructed suddenly in my presence. Second, the people I listened to revealed the perspective of rural consciousness quickly, suggesting that they used this perspective quite a bit, not suddenly when meeting me. Third, for the people who used this perspective, it was so fundamental to the way they talked about politics that when I asked about it directly they were often downright astonished that I found it necessary to do so.4

Cramer’s sure that her rural interlocutors lack awareness of their own perspective, but that her own role as an ‘urbanite’ is obvious. Perhaps so obvious to her, in fact, that she lacks an understanding of how quickly she assumes others’ imperception.

As for one rural coffee klatch she describes in Chapter 3 (jokingly named by its members as the ‘The Downtown Athletic Club’), their composition is hardly representative of must rural residents:

I quickly learned that all four of those men were former public school teachers. One had been a principal. Right away, they voiced concerns about state legislators raiding tax dollars out of the highway fund (they wanted that to stop), the liquor tax (they wanted that higher), the price of gas (they wanted that lower), and the cost of health care (they wanted someone to do something about it).

Most rural Wisconsinites aren’t teachers; many are not college educated. A focus group of retired rural teachers is not simply a focus group of rural residents.

There’s nothing unscientific about this methodology; the point is, rather, that there’s nothing exclusive (and so nothing conclusive) to it, either.

Cramer defines her terms:

“Rural consciousness” is the term I am using to describe a strong sense of identity as a rural person combined with a strong sense that rural areas are the victims of injustice: the sense that rural areas do not get their fair share of power, respect, or resources and that rural folks prefer lifestyles that differ fundamentally from those of city people….First, rural consciousness was about perceptions of power, or who makes decisions and who decides what to even discuss. Second, it showed up with respect to perceptions of values and lifestyles. Third and finally, it involved perceptions of resources or who gets what.

How is this different from other possible perspectives? A sense of oneself as a rural person, to be sure, but otherwise? One can be confident that residents of Staten Island and Los Angeles are concerned about ‘perceptions of power,’ ‘perceptions of values and lifestyles,’ and ‘perceptions of resources or who gets what.’

Cramer learns that rural residents don’t like high gas prices:

Few people like rising gas prices, but to people in rural communities—who typically drive long distances to everything—they are a major source of concern. By the time I met this group, I had come to realize that there was something important about the way many people in small communities thought about their towns in relation to more urban places.

Wouldn’t commuting – with gas or rail transit costs – be a concern just as much of suburban commuters near Washington, D.C. or Chicago? This simply isn’t exclusively or primarily a rural concern. For commuters in these areas, one might as easily come to realize that there was something important about the way many people in suburban communities thought about their housing developments in relation to more urban places. Wouldn’t transportation costs matter as much to poor urban residents without cars, without money for auto insurance, and the daily managing of public transit fares and schedules?

Cramer’s not sure how racial views play in all this:

So yes, it is highly likely that when people refer to “those people in Milwaukee” they are often referring to racial minorities. But notice how complex this is. The urbanites that rural folks were referring to were not predominantly racial minorities. When white outstaters (i.e., those living outside the major metropolitan areas) complained of the laziness in the cities in these conversations, their comments were almost always directed at white people: government bureaucrats and faculty members at the flagship public university.

In that way, antiurban resentment is not simply resentment against people of color. At the same time, given the way arguments against government redistribution in the United States have historically been made by equating deservingness with whiteness, these conversations are about race even when race is not mentioned.

Cramer believes that ‘arguments against government redistribution in the United States have historically been made by equating deservingness with whiteness,’ a claim that shows only how shallow her understanding of neoclassical economic and libertarian theory truly is. For Cramer anti-distributionist arguments rest – using the qualifier historically – on ‘equating deservingness with whiteness.’ Friedman, Hayek, et al., are here either ignored or misunderstood (likely both).

Worse, I think, is that this view of racism – that anti-urbanism is the general problem – dilutes particular racial injuries into a larger anti-urban potion. It’s an exoneration to say that people don’t dislike, let’s say blacks,  because they actually dislike urban residents. Those being subjected to stop-and-frisk in New York, for example, aren’t just urbanites; they’re disproportionately black or Latino.

(For a different assessment from Cramer’s of Wisconsin-specific views on race, consider Alex Macgillis’s 2014 essay on Wisconsin politics.)

In this way, Cramer’s concern about race is both too broad and too narrow.

That’s a bigger concern than how a group of retired, rural teachers perceives a woman in a VW Jetta.

Previously: Parts 1 and 2.

Tomorrow: Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘The Context of Rural Consciousness’ (Part 4 of 9).

Gazette Editorial Begs Paul Ryan: Call Me Maybe?

 

There’s an editorial at the Janesville Gazette, hometown of Paul Ryan, complaining that Ryan won’t hold a town hall:

 

Paul Ryan, your constituents have waited long enough.

It’s time for a town hall, even if it’s only the telephone kind. Something. Anything to show your constituents that you—not only your staff—are hearing their concerns.

See, Our Views: Detached from his district @ Janesville Gazette (subscription req’d).

Ryan has ignored the Gazette more than once:

Your spokesman, Ian Martorana, told us you planned to hold a telephone town hall in March, but that never happened. Now he says you’re looking to schedule one in the “next three to four weeks but potentially sooner.”

Desperate for a reply, the Gazette – a paper that not long ago counted itself among community ‘movers and shakers‘, is now begging for anything, even a telephone town hall that the paper admits would be a dodge:

If the town hall isn’t for you, the telephone version works well because you can control who’s talking and when. Sure, it’s a dodge, it’s not as good as hearing from your constituents face-to-face, but it’s better than nothing.

Ryan’s in the presidential line of succession immediately after the vice president, but he won’t show up in person in his own district, and the Gazette is so lacking in influence with him that he simply ignores the paper.

They’re down to a bit of pleading:

Call Me, Maybe?

Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘A Method of Listening’ (Part 2 of 9)

This is the second in a series of posts considering Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

One might think that Cramer’s second chapter, ‘A Method of Listening,’ would be a dry (but useful & necessary) description of her methodology. It’s far from merely that: it’s an oddly personal description of her own class consciousness. So much so, in fact, that I’m not sure whether it’s a confessional of sorts, or an attempt to reach out-of-Wisconsin urbanites through tales of adventures among rural natives.

Cramer describes her thoughts when presenting herself to rural Wisconsinites:

My identity as an urbanite matters for how I perceive things. But it also matters for the way I presented myself. My training, like that of political scientists in general, was predominantly positivist. In other words, much of what I learned in school was how to analyze causation. I learned that the goal of a good social scientist is to approximate the scientific method as closely as possible. In such an approach, one aims to have little or no effect on the research setting.

Reasonable enough, of course.

Yet, indeed, she goes on at some length about visiting towns in the state, despite having lived in Wisconsin for most of her life:

When I first started my fieldwork for this study, I tried to wear the same outfit to every research site in a given round, or set of visits. My purpose was to try to interact with each group in precisely the same way, to act as a scientific instrument as much as possible. But as my work went on, it seemed that it did not matter that I dressed the same across groups. Blue-collar groups in low-income communities knew I was wealthier by virtue of my job. They knew I was different because I rolled up to their diner or gas station in a Volkswagen Jetta wagon, and parked it next to a bunch of Made-in-USA pickup trucks. I learned that, rather than obscure who I am, I had to be a human being in order to be welcomed into their conversations.

When would Cramer, dressed in whatever fashion, not been a human being to her fellow residents, or thought of herself as such?

To have a certain class consciousness is, itself, no impediment to understanding. Indeed, to acknowledge as much is mere self-understanding.

(It’s fair to say that I have a sense of this, coming from a pre-Revolutionary family. Yet, it’s never been so pronounced that I thought this simple truth made my fellow residents alien to me. I’ll readily acknowledge that listening to a white resident insist that his family’s three or four generations here entitles him to something more than others is both laughable and contemptible to me: the obvious truth is that he didn’t earn his family’s arrival, and many non-white families were brought here in bondage far earlier than a few generations ago. The past is a burden, not an entitlement, but burden in ways far different from being merely a socioeconomic bugbear.)

Cramer also ascribes to her rural visits a common gender bias from men in those communities:

In my daily life, I do not experience a lot of overt ogling. But I got ogled on these visits. People asked me out on dates, despite the wedding ring on my hand at the time. On my first round, when I traveled with a visibly pregnant belly, several groups of men joked with each other about which member was the father of my child-to-be. Walking in the door to a men’s group with one of the men resulted in a pretty embarrassing barrage of comments assuming we had just had sex….”

I don’t doubt Cramer’s accounts, nor do I condone any of these remarks directed to her; on the contrary, these comments made to her or about her are wrong in part and full. I’ve no desire to excuse any of them.

It does seem to me, however, that to imply that these conditions are worse in rural areas is to understate the subtle-yet-as-destructive harassment that women experience in urban and supposedly cosmopolitan places areas.

There are countless women at university, for example, who would not describe harassment as a primarily rural problem…

Postscript:

Yesterday, in Part 1, I expressed surprise that Cramer had a narrow, distributionist outlook that ignored the complexity of economic and philosophical critiques of state power (“Cramer gives not the slightest hint that there might be a vast body of liberty-oriented theory (including a libertarianism of the left as well as the right) stretching back centuries in America and thousands of years across civilizations earlier”).

A remark from Chris Hayes, the progressive author of A Colony in A Nation, Twilight of the Elites, and MSNBC host (published just after I posted yesterday) nicely summarizes the importance neoclassical economics (an understanding absent from Cramer’s first-chapter):

The entirety of the corpus of Hayek, Friedman, and neoclassical economics. I think it’s an incredibly powerful intellectual tradition and a really important one to understand, these basic frameworks of neoclassical economics, the sort of ideas about market clearing prices, about the functioning of supply and demand, about thinking in marginal terms.

I think the tradition of economic thinking has been really influential. I think it’s actually a thing that people on the left really should do — take the time to understand all of that. There is a tremendous amount of incredible insight into some of the things we’re talking about, like non-zero-sum settings, and the way in which human exchange can be generative in this sort of amazing way. Understanding how capitalism works has been really, really important for me, and has been something that I feel like I’m a better thinker and an analyst because of the time and reading I put into a lot of conservative authors on that topic.

I wouldn’t describe these ideas as conservative, but Hayes assesses them soundly. There’s not the slightest evidence Cramer sees that they might offer insight into Americans’ economic conditions before or after the Great Recession.

Previously: Part 1.

Tomorrow: Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘The Contours of Rural Consciousness’ (Part 3 of 9).

Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘Making Sense of Politics Through Resentment’ (Part 1 of 9)

In a series of posts over the next week or so, I’ll consider Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker. Cramer’s a native Wisconsinite teaching at UW-Madison.

Today, I’ll summarize her thesis, as she presents it in the first chapter of PoR,  ‘Making Sense of Politics Through Resentment.’

Cramer makes five principal contentions in the chapter:

1. That there is a partisan divisiveness in Wisconsin that “reflects broader trends in the United States. The country as a whole has seen increasing partisan polarization since the mid 1970s. (Layman, Carson, and Horowitz 2006; McCarthy, Poole, and Rosenthal 2008; Barber and McCarty 2013.)”

2. Cramer asserts that these divides are, in her words, more than ‘ideology’:

Some argue that the public is not actually polarized, that people are just better sorted ideologically into partisan camps than in the past (Hetherington 2009; Fiorina, Abrams, and Pope 2010). But others observe that there is more at stake here than ideology. Divides between identifiers with the two parties in terms of religious preferences, attitudes toward race, and racial demographics themselves are deeper than ever (Abramowitz 2013, 2014). The divides are not just about politics but about who we are as people.

3. This observation leads Cramer back to another one, that is in fact political and philosophical:

These divides are also reflective of the central debate in American politics today: What is the proper role of government in society and who should pay for it (Stonecash 2014)? There are those who believe government ought to be expanded in order to deal with the challenges we face, and there are those who feel that government itself is a major obstacle that should be shrunk.

4. Cramer contends that “another key feature of the times we live in is economic inequality (Piketty and Saez 2003)” and it puzzles her that

[t]here seems to be less support for redistribution here than in other countries with similar levels of economic inequality (Kenworthy and Pontusson 2005). Why? Why is it that most voters continue to elect officials who apparently do not represent the vast There seems to be less support for redistribution here than in other countries with similar levels of economic inequality (Kenworthy and Pontusson 2005). Why? Why is it that most voters continue to elect officials who apparently do not represent the vast majority of us?6 Or if one does not believe that interpretation, why is it that many low-income voters who might benefit from more government redistribution continue to vote against it? Why, in times of increasing economic inequality, have the preferences of the lowest-income voters moved in a conservative, rather than liberal, direction?

5. Cramer offers her answer, one that is the eponymous thesis of Politics of Resentment:

Listening closely to people revealed two things to me: a significant rural-versus-urban divide and the powerful role of resentment. This book shows that what can look like disagreements about basic political principles can be rooted in something even more fundamental: ideas about who gets what, who has power, what people are like, and who is to blame. What might seem to be a central debate about the appropriate role of government might at base be something else: resentment toward our fellow citizens. This book shows people making sense of politics in a way that places resentment toward other citizens at the center….I want to know what it looks like when people use social categories to understand the political world, and how they connect resentment toward particular groups to the broader stance of wanting less, not more, government redistribution.

Cramer’s work addresses a supposed rural consciousness she discerns among many Wisconsinites, and it rests on her assumption that they approach economic concerns in a particular way, one that flows from this rural consciousness.

Candidly, an aside Cramer offers about driving a VW Jetta in Wisconsin leaves me puzzled. She writes that

As a female social scientist driving my Volkswagen Jetta out from Madison, the state capitol and the second largest city in the state, I heard a lot of criticism of cities from people in small-town Wisconsin.

Throughout my career, I’ve worked with professional female colleagues who have enjoyed driving different makes and models of foreign cars, to places across Wisconsin, without rural residents looking askance at them for doing so. Indeed, many southern Wisconsin (and Illinois) families have properties in the sparsely-populated northern part of the state, and the sight of a VW, Audi, BMW, Lexus, etc. would not be unfamiliar to local residents.

It’s a significant exaggeration to say a woman driving a Jetta would get the sort of stares from rural residents that one might properly expect for a person riding a unicorn.

Cramer may be right about a rural consciousness, at least about Wisconsin, but her analysis – one that she confidently grounds in political science – omits any consideration of political theory (what was once called political philosophy). (Indeed, for a work about political claims, it’s telling that neither the terms liberty nor libertarian appear anywhere in the book.)

In her opening chapter, Cramer gives not the slightest hint that there might be a vast body of liberty-oriented theory (including a libertarianism of the left as well as the right) stretching back centuries in America and thousands of years across civilizations earlier.

This libertarian tradition (long before the term libertarian first came into use) does not rely on redistributive goals, but then it doesn’t suppose a theory of a rural consciousness of resentment, either.

A presentation that begins with a particular economic notion (that redistribution necessarily benefits many) and presents a perspective on rural consciousness as a social identity (one that has economic views within it) seems, at first blush, too much like a survey of world religions that considers only the relationship between Buddhism and Hinduism.

Tomorrow: Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘A Method of Listening’ (Part 2 of 9).

Margaret Sullivan on Great Local Reporting

Margaret Sullivan, the Washington Post’s media columnist observes that Great local reporting stands between you and wrongdoing. (Sullivan was formerly The New York Times public editor, and the chief editor of her hometown paper, The Buffalo News.)

Sullivan explains what great local reporting means:

“In only 15 years, American newspaper companies slashed their workforces by more than half — from 412,000 employees in 2001 to 174,000 last year.

But that troubling trend wasn’t on the minds of journalists at the Charleston Gazette-Mail last year as they dug deep into the prescription-drug epidemic that was inflicting mortal wounds on their community.

No, what motivated them was the West Virginia paper’s unofficial motto: “Sustained outrage.”

That phrase, coined by former publisher Ned Chilton, “means a lot to people here,” executive editor Robert Byers told me last week, shortly after the 37,000-circulation paper won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. The family-owned paper (Chilton’s daughter is the publisher now) has a newsroom staff of about 50.

“You can do a hundred stories” on the opioid crisis, Byers said, “but we wanted to know where all these drugs were coming from, and how could so many pills be diverted onto the street.”

Needless to say, not all communities have newspapers like this. On the contrary, in the Whitewater area, we have papers so weak that they’d never come close to a serious journalistic nomination, let alone a real award. Many of them give each other prizes at local press gatherings, for third-tier work, on a participation-trophy theory of life. Indeed, the local climate is so weak that a small-town politician can brand his own website a news source, cover for years the political projects in which he’s been directly involved, and expect to be taken seriously for it.

If  one can say of the admirable Charleston Gazette-Mail that its unofficial motto is sustained outrage, one can say as easily of the Gazette, Daily Union, Register, and Banner that they might as well have a common, unofficial motto of sustained boosterism.

This local problem has been part of That Which Paved the Way to the weaker economic, fiscal, and social conditions that plague nearby communities. The way out will not come neither from more of the same ideas nor the same people pushing the same ideas.

Reading and Reviewing

There are two books I’m eager to review here at FW: Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker (2016) and Amy Goldstein’s Janesville: An American Story (4.18.17).  Like many others, I’ve been awaiting Goldstein’s book for some time, knowing that significant works take time.

For both books, I’ll proceed with a chapter-by-chapter assessment. I’ve the luxury of taking my time, for two principal reasons: first, blogging allows a self-chosen pace; second and more significantly, both books are worthy of detailed reviews.

There is a third reason, too, and particular to Whitewater:  this city’s local policymakers have a position so weak that their particular maneuverings are of little value. For them, unfortunately, it’s the fate of a grinding attrition for the near future. These political few, and those who have been part of this small group over the last generation, will have little part in whatever successful short-term events Whitewater sees.

A sensible, productive person would stay as far away as possible.  This class is, with a few exceptions, composed of individually capable people who’ve collectively thrown away capability. See, Whitewater’s Major Public Institutions Produce a Net Loss (And Why It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way). A political critique of Whitewater is now less a matter of advocacy as it is a recollection and narration of cumulative political errors.

The better approach for the city is a true private charity and a true private industry, unconnected to political policy. See, An Oasis Strategy.

Of Whitewater’s local politics, what once seemed to me primarily a matter of advocacy grew to seem more like a diagnosis, and now seems like epidemiology.

There’s a history to be written about all of this, incorporating particular projects into a bigger work, but for now it’s a greater pleasure to consider what others have written.

I’ll start Wednesday, and continue chapter by chapter, taking time with it all.

Less is Often More

Whitewater’s Common Council had a several items of interest on its agenda for last night’s meeting (among them A Hotel, a Party Plan, and a Dog).

The hotel and the dog (a police canine) were dropped from the agenda, and the item about a party plan (to address larger-scale social events) was discussed only in part. There was discussion of a mailing, with the latest proposal being a revision of an earlier mailing; the best practice will be to wait and see what a final product (if any) looks like.

As for dropping items from the agenda, as long as the items aren’t emergency needs (and neither a dog nor a hotel fits that category), I’ll suggest that less is more. As a procedural and as a legal matter under our Open Meetings Law, Wis. Stats. §§ 19.81-19.98, it’s true that ordinarily the concern is adding items, not omitting them.)

On a hotel in particular, there’s no reason concern oneself too much with it, as for the near-term it’s always been a longshot.

There’s something amusing in this matter from the Banner, whose publisher has flacked countless ineffectual capital-spending programs for years, showing apparent concern over a tax-credit-chasing hotel project for the center of town that’s unlikely to break ground there. In the improbable event that this should be a later-in-life conversion to a more prudent outlook, one should welcome it.

Media on the Right

Dylan Byers, writing in the latest the daily CNN Reliable Sources email (3.27.17 @ 10:32 PM) while Brian Stelter is away, describes the Three Faces of Right-Wing Media:

We throw around terms like “right-wing media” and “conservative media” all the time (see above), but as in the Republican party, there are multiple factions. Broadly speaking, these can be broken down into three groups…

1. THE POPULIST WING: Sites like Breitbart and Lifezette that were enthusiastic passengers on the Trump train but now appear willing, at least at times, to prioritize their principles over strict allegiance to the president.

2. THE MODERATE WING: Moderate Republicans and Never-Trumpers like The Wall Street Journal editorial board and The Weekly Standard who adhere to traditional Republican values and realpolitik, and who opposed Trump vigorously long before he took office.

3. THE TRUMP DEVOTEE WING: Unabashedly pro-Trump conservatives like Sean Hannity and other Fox News pundits who seem set to defend and promote the president no matter what. Outlets like these have provided Americans — including the president himself — with news sources that ignore developments that may be inconvenient for the president while highlighting stories that support his anti-terror and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

HERE’S THE RUB: While Fox News may provide safe harbor for the president for now, the growing restlessness of right-wing populists and enduring criticism of moderate Republicans are both likely to encroach on his safe space.

This is what Laura Ingraham, the founder of Lifezette, told me via email: “LifeZette is a populist media platform that has its own independent voice, even as it wants the president to be successful. Steve Bannon at CPAC told conservatives to keep the administration true to its promises. That’s what I had always planned to do.”

And this is what Stephen F. Hayes, the editor-in-chief of The Weekly Standard, told the magazine’s owner when he got promoted to the top of the masthead (via NYT): “Let’s add more resources and make sure that we’re basing our arguments on facts, logic and reason.”

I’d say these broad categories are generally accurate, with two exceptions. First, Breitbart and Lifezette are both populist, but not in the same way. Breitbart is a race-bating site just shy of Vdare. Lifezette’s not that far gone.

Second, including the Wall Street Journal‘s editorial page in the moderate wing is a mistake. That editorial page hasn’t been truly moderate on Trump in months. (The Journal‘s recent editorial, So Much for Donald Mussolini, both distorts Dartmouth professor Brendan Nyhan’s work and whitewashes Trump’s authoritarian tendencies. It’s possible the board simply doesn’t understand Nyhan’s work, but it’s more likely they’re battening on the unfamiliarity of readers with Nyhan’s real, carefully expressed views.)

That’s not a moderate position – that’s evidence of shilling for Trump.

Wings 1 and 3 aren’t worth a damn, by the way: it’s low-quality work whether shilling for Trump or advocating worse policies. The gap between all these publications and The New Criterion or Commentary of a generation ago (or even now) is astounding: there’s a lack of rigor today that’s evident. (There’s no reason to think that Hannity, for example, would be able to get through a single article of Commentary or The New Criterion on his own. He’d need a CliffsNotes® version.)

Still, Byers offers a useful grouping as a starting point.

Marquette Law Poll, March 2017 (First Marquette Poll Since 2016 Election)

Selected results below, from among Wisconsin registered voters; full results are available online.


Trump Approval


Trump Disappproval


Trump’s Judgment


Trump’s Concern


Congressional Health Care Legislation


How Description of Law Influences Respondents’ Views


Undocumented Immigrants


Mexican Border Wall


The Upcoming Spring Election in Whitewater

One, but only one, of Whitewater’s Common Council races is contested. Some readers have asked me, variously, if I would comment on the candidates in the contested race, and where one might find the candidate statements submitted to the local League of Women Voters chapter.

I’ll leave residents to consider the candidates (including the contested race between incumbent Patrick Wellnitz and challenger Carol McCormick in District 1) without comment.

For those who would like to see the statements that some candidates have submitted, they may be found at http://www.lwvwhitewater.org/elections.html.

It’s fair to say that I have conflicting views on the League of Women Voters: the national organization has done much good work, but the local chapter betrays some shopworn biases (probably without grasping that they’re biases at all).  The local chapter also has a skewed-old problem that leads to, and exacerbates, their declining influence. For a discussion of the local chapter’s unfounded assumptions, see On the Whitewater League of Women Voters Questionnaire (Spring 2017).

The best approach for any candidate will always be to prepare his or her own statement, apart from any organization, and have it at the ready for distribution to residents.

Rep. Adam Schiff’s Opening Statement Outlining Basis of Russia Investigation

Prepared text of the statement that Rep. Schiff delivered in the video embedded above:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I want to thank Director Comey and Admiral Rogers for appearing before us today as the committee holds this first open hearing into the interference campaign waged against our 2016 Presidential election.

Last summer, at the height of a bitterly contested and hugely consequential Presidential campaign, a foreign, adversarial power intervened in an effort to weaken our democracy, and to influence the outcome for one candidate and against the other. That foreign adversary was, of course, Russia, and it acted through its intelligence agencies and upon the direct instructions of its autocratic ruler, Vladimir Putin, in order to help Donald J. Trump become the 45th President of the United States.

The Russian “active measures” campaign may have begun as early as 2015, when Russian intelligence services launched a series of spearphishing attacks designed to penetrate the computers of a broad array of Washington-based Democratic and Republican party organizations, think tanks and other entities. This continued at least through winter of 2016.

While at first, the hacking may have been intended solely for the collection of foreign intelligence, in mid-2016, the Russians “weaponized” the stolen data and used platforms established by their intel services, such as DC Leaks and existing third party channels like Wikileaks, to dump the documents.

The stolen documents were almost uniformly damaging to the candidate Putin despised, Hillary Clinton and, by forcing her campaign to constantly respond to the daily drip of disclosures, the releases greatly benefited Donald Trump’s campaign.

None of these facts is seriously in question and they are reflected in the consensus conclusions of all our intelligence agencies.

We will never know whether the Russian intervention was determinative in such a close election. Indeed, it is unknowable in a campaign in which so many small changes could have dictated a different result. More importantly, and for the purposes of our investigation, it simply does not matter. What does matter is this: the Russians successfully meddled in our democracy, and our intelligence agencies have concluded that they will do so again.

Ours is not the first democracy to be attacked by the Russians in this way. Russian intelligence has been similarly interfering in the internal and political affairs of our European and other allies for decades. What is striking here is the degree to which the Russians were willing to undertake such an audacious and risky action against the most powerful nation on earth. That ought to be a warning to us, that if we thought that the Russians would not dare to so blatantly interfere in our affairs, we were wrong. And if we do not do our very best to understand how the Russians accomplished this unprecedented attack on our democracy and what we need to do to protect ourselves in the future, we will have only ourselves to blame.

We know a lot about the Russian operation, about the way they amplified the damage their hacking and dumping of stolen documents was causing through the use of slick propaganda like RT, the Kremlin’s media arm. But there is also a lot we do not know.

Most important, we do not yet know whether the Russians had the help of U.S. citizens, including people associated with the Trump campaign. Many of Trump’s campaign personnel, including the President himself, have ties to Russia and Russian interests. This is, of course, no crime. On the other hand, if the Trump campaign, or anybody associated with it, aided or abetted the Russians, it would not only be a serious crime, it would also represent one of the most shocking betrayals of our democracy in history.

In Europe, where the Russians have a much longer history of political interference, they have used a variety of techniques to undermine democracy. They have employed the hacking and dumping of documents and slick propaganda as they clearly did here, but they have also used bribery, blackmail, compromising material, and financial entanglement to secure needed cooperation from individual citizens of targeted countries.

The issue of U.S. person involvement is only one of the important matters that the Chairman and I have agreed to investigate and which is memorialized in the detailed and bipartisan scope of investigation we have signed. We will also examine whether the intelligence community’s public assessment of the Russian operation is supported by the raw intelligence, whether the U.S. Government responded properly or missed the opportunity to stop this Russian attack much earlier, and whether the leak of information about Michael Flynn or others is indicative of a systemic problem. We have also reviewed whether there was any evidence to support President Trump’s claim that he was wiretapped by President Obama in Trump Tower – and found no evidence whatsoever to support that slanderous accusation – and we hope that Director Comey can now put that matter permanently to rest.

Today, most of my Democratic colleagues will be exploring with you the potential involvement of U.S. persons in the Russian attack on our democracy. It is not that we feel the other issues are not important – they are very important – but rather because this issue is least understood by the public. We realize, of course, that you may not be able to answer many of our questions in open session. You may or may not be willing to disclose even whether there is any investigation. But we hope to present to you and the public why we believe this matter is of such gravity that it demands a thorough investigation, not only by us, as we intend to do, but by the FBI as well.

Let me give you a little preview of what I expect you will be asked by our members.

Whether the Russian active measures campaign began as nothing more than an attempt to gather intelligence, or was always intended to be more than that, we do not know, and is one of the questions we hope to answer. But we do know this: the months of July and August 2016 appear to have been pivotal. It was at this time that the Russians began using the information they had stolen to help Donald Trump and harm Hillary Clinton. And so the question is why? What was happening in July/August of last year? And were U.S. persons involved?

Here are some of the matters, drawn from public sources alone, since that is all we can discuss in this setting, that concern us and should concern all Americans.

In early July, Carter Page, someone candidate Trump identified as one of his national security advisors, travels to Moscow on a trip approved by the Trump campaign. While in Moscow, he gives a speech critical of the United States and other western countries for what he believes is a hypocritical focus on democratization and efforts to fight corruption.

According to Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer who is reportedly held in high regard by U.S. Intelligence, Russian sources tell him that Page has also had a secret meeting with Igor Sechin (SEH-CHIN), CEO of Russian gas giant Rosneft. Sechin is reported to be a former KGB agent and close friend of Putin’s. According to Steele’s Russian sources, Page is offered brokerage fees by Sechin on a deal involving a 19 percent share of the company. According to Reuters, the sale of a 19.5 percent share in Rosneft later takes place, with unknown purchasers and unknown brokerage fees.

Also, according to Steele’s Russian sources, the Trump campaign is offered documents damaging to Hillary Clinton, which the Russians would publish through an outlet that gives them deniability, like Wikileaks. The hacked documents would be in exchange for a Trump Administration policy that de-emphasizes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and instead focuses on criticizing NATO countries for not paying their fare share – policies which, even as recently as the President’s meeting last week with Angela Merkel, have now presciently come to pass.

In the middle of July, Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign manager and someone who was long on the payroll of Pro-Russian Ukrainian interests, attends the Republican Party convention. Carter Page, back from Moscow, also attends the convention. According to Steele, it was Manafort who chose Page to serve as a go-between for the Trump campaign and Russian interests. Ambassador Kislyak, who presides over a Russian embassy in which diplomatic personnel would later be expelled as likely spies, also attends the Republican Party convention and meets with Carter Page and additional Trump Advisors JD Gordon and Walid Phares. It was JD Gordon who approved Page’s trip to Moscow. Ambassador Kislyak also meets with Trump campaign national security chair and now Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions would later deny meeting with Russian officials during his Senate confirmation hearing.

Just prior to the convention, the Republican Party platform is changed, removing a section that supports the provision of “lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine, an action that would be contrary to Russian interests. Manafort categorically denies involvement by the Trump campaign in altering the platform. But the Republican Party delegate who offered the language in support of providing defensive weapons to Ukraine states that it was removed at the insistence of the Trump campaign. Later, JD Gordon admits opposing the inclusion of the provision at the time it was being debated and prior to its being removed.

Later in July, and after the convention, the first stolen emails detrimental to Hillary Clinton appear on Wikileaks. A hacker who goes by the moniker Guccifer 2.0 claims responsibility for hacking the DNC and giving the documents to Wikileaks. But leading private cyber security firms including CrowdStrike, Mandiant, and ThreatConnect review the evidence of the hack and conclude with high certainty that it was the work of APT28 and APT29, who were known to be Russian intelligence services. The U.S. Intelligence community also later confirms that the documents were in fact stolen by Russian intelligence and Guccifer 2.0 acted as a front. Also in late July, candidate Trump praises Wikileaks, says he loves them, and openly appeals to the Russians to hack his opponents’ emails, telling them that they will be richly rewarded by the press.

On August 8th, Roger Stone, a longtime Trump political advisor and self-proclaimed political dirty trickster, boasts in a speech that he “has communicated with Assange,” and that more documents would be coming, including an “October surprise.” In the middle of August, he also communicates with the Russian cutout Guccifer 2.0, and authors a Breitbart piece denying Guccifer’s links to Russian intelligence. Then, later in August, Stone does something truly remarkable, when he predicts that John Podesta’s personal emails will soon be published. “Trust me, it will soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel. #Crooked Hillary.”

In the weeks that follow, Stone shows a remarkable prescience: “I have total confidence that @wikileaks and my hero Julian Assange will educate the American people soon. #Lockherup. “Payload coming,” he predicts, and two days later, it does. Wikileaks releases its first batch of Podesta emails. The release of John Podesta’s emails would then continue on a daily basis up to election day.

On Election Day in November, Donald Trump wins. Donald Trump appoints one of his high profile surrogates, Michael Flynn, to be his national security advisor. Michael Flynn has been paid by the Kremlin’s propaganda outfit, RT, and other Russian entities in the past. In December, Michael Flynn has a secret conversation with Ambassador Kislyak about sanctions imposed by President Obama on Russia over its hacking designed to help the Trump campaign. Michael Flynn lies about this secret conversation. The Vice President, unknowingly, then assures the country that no such conversation ever happened. The President is informed Flynn has lied, and Pence has misled the country. The President does nothing. Two weeks later, the press reveals that Flynn has lied and the President is forced to fire Mr. Flynn. The President then praises the man who lied, Flynn, and castigates the press for exposing the lie.

Now, is it possible that the removal of the Ukraine provision from the GOP platform was a coincidence? Is it a coincidence that Jeff Sessions failed to tell the Senate about his meetings with the Russian Ambassador, not only at the convention, but a more private meeting in his office and at a time when the U.S. election was under attack by the Russians? Is it a coincidence that Michael Flynn would lie about a conversation he had with the same Russian Ambassador Kislyak about the most pressing issue facing both countries at the time they spoke – the U.S. imposition of sanctions over Russian hacking of our election designed to help Donald Trump? Is it a coincidence that the Russian gas company Rosneft sold a 19 percent share after former British Intelligence Officer Steele was told by Russian sources that Carter Page was offered fees on a deal of just that size? Is it a coincidence that Steele’s Russian sources also affirmed that Russia had stolen documents hurtful to Secretary Clinton that it would utilize in exchange for pro-Russian policies that would later come to pass? Is it a coincidence that Roger Stone predicted that John Podesta would be the victim of a Russian hack and have his private emails published, and did so even before Mr. Podesta himself was fully aware that his private emails would be exposed?

Is it possible that all of these events and reports are completely unrelated, and nothing more than an entirely unhappy coincidence? Yes, it is possible. But it is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected and not unrelated, and that the Russians used the same techniques to corrupt U.S. persons that they have employed in Europe and elsewhere. We simply don’t know, not yet, and we owe it to the country to find out.

Director Comey, what you see on the dais in front of you, in the form of this small number of members and staff is all we have to commit to this investigation. This is it. We are not supported by hundreds or thousands of agents and investigators, with offices around the world. It is just us and our Senate counterparts. And in addition to this investigation, we still have our day job, which involves overseeing some of the largest and most important agencies in the country, agencies, which, by the way, are trained to keep secrets.

I point this out for two reasons: First, because we cannot do this work alone. Nor should we. We believe these issues are so important that the FBI must devote its resources to investigating each of them thoroughly; to do any less would be negligent in the protection of our country. We also need your full cooperation with our own investigation, so that we have the benefit of what you may know, and so that we may coordinate our efforts in the discharge of both our responsibilities. And second, I raise this because I believe that we would benefit from the work of an independent commission that can devote the staff and resources to this investigation that we do not have, and that can be completely removed from any political considerations. This should not be a substitute for the work that we, in the intelligence committees should and must do, but as an important complement to our efforts, just as was the case after 9/11.

The stakes are nothing less than the future of liberal democracy.

We are engaged in a new war of ideas, not communism versus capitalism, but authoritarianism versus democracy and representative government. And in this struggle, our adversary sees our political process as a legitimate field of battle.

Only by understanding what the Russians did can we inoculate ourselves from the further Russian interference we know is coming. Only then can we help protect our European allies who are, as we speak, enduring similar Russian interference in their own elections.

Finally, I want to say a word about our own committee investigation. You will undoubtedly observe in the questions and comments that our members make during today’s hearing, that the members of both parties share a common concern over the Russian attack on our democracy, but bring a different perspective on the significance of certain issues, or the quantum of evidence we have seen in the earliest stages of this investigation. That is to be expected. The question most people have is whether we can really conduct this investigation in the kind of thorough and nonpartisan manner that the seriousness of the issues merit, or whether the enormous political consequences of our work will make that impossible. The truth is, I don’t know the answer. But I do know this: If this committee can do its work properly, if we can pursue the facts wherever they lead, unafraid to compel witnesses to testify, to hear what they have to say, to learn what we will and, after exhaustive work, reach a common conclusion, it would be a tremendous public service and one that is very much in the national interest.

So let us try. Thank you Mr. Chairman, I yield back.

Via Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Schiff Opening Statement During Hearing on Russian Active Measures @ U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence website.

On the Whitewater League of Women Voters Questionnaire (Spring 2017)

At its website, the Whitewater Area League of Women Voters has posted a questionnaire for the upcoming local election. For all the good work that the League does (and the national organization does admirable work in many communities), the questionnaire reveals an unsupported, narrow view of Whitewater’s local economy.

Consider the 7th question in the survey (http://www.lwvwhitewater.org/elections.html):

Q7. As University students move into available housing rentals in Whitewater, there is a chilling effect on single-family housing. What can be done to encourage more development of single-family homes and therefore an increase in that population?

A few remarks:

1. An assumption of negative effects. The question simply assumes a “chilling effect,” without even the slightest proof of one. (One can leave aside the misplaced use of chilling effect, normally a legal term applied to actions that stifle speech or lawful exercise of one’s rights.) If there should be a deterring effect in this case, can anyone at the Whitewater Area League quantify that effect? If not, then what makes this supposed effect more than any number of unfounded claims (e.g., four-leaf clovers, laetrile, Carrot Top as actually funny).

2. Whitewater’s economy. The questionnaire assumes, necessarily, the demand for rental housing makes single-family housing scarce. That’s most certainly not true of all college towns, many of which have large, well-cared-for single family residences. In those communities, single-family homes are desirable near a university (and so more of them are built). If there is no necessary connection, then the League has claimed one without evidence, and neglected other causes for the lack (in their minds) of single-family housing.

This is the key issue for Whitewater: When will policymakers stop blaming student housing for a lack of single-family housing, and start considering other causes for a (in their minds) a weak single-family housing market? (One could include among those other causes weak community relations – a lack of real engagement before enforcement)

3. Why only a negative effects? The questionnaire states effects in only one direction: negative, from student residents to non-student single-family home buyers. Even if one assumes some negative effects (and there’s no quantification of this), is there anyone who thinks that effects run only one way (that is, anyone outside of the League representative who drafted this questionnaire)? If so, those others have a paltry grasp of economic effects.

4. Why pick sides? An organization’s self-focused membership might assume that what they want is what (1) all others want or (2) what the community should have. These are market decisions among freely selling and purchasing adults, and those voluntary transactions prove that this community – in whole – wants and needs a robust student rental market.

5. Poor formation. The League’s seventh question isn’t even formulated correctly:  “As University students move into available housing rentals in Whitewater, there is a chilling effect on single-family housing” (my emphasis). No, a properly-formulated claim would not be about students moving into available housing rentals, it would be about single-family homes being converted into rentals.

6. Not a politician’s job. Why is it the task – as the League questionnaire assumes – that Whitewater’s common council should intervene in the housing market to advance an outcome that some (but not most actual buyers & sellers) prefer?

If government feels the need to act, it would do better to improve community-based enforcement, make basic municipal repairs, or care for the neediest members of the community: all these projects would be better than trying to rig the local housing market.

The most unfortunate aspect of the League’s question is that, for too many among this town’s policymakers, the Question 7 actually seems reasonable, indeed, obvious.

It’s nothing of the kind.

Molly Ball: Is the Anti-Trump ‘Resistance’ the New Tea Party?

In The Atlantic, Molly Ball observes that “Today, a new movement—loosely dubbed “the resistance”—has suddenly arisen in visceral reaction to Donald Trump’s election as president, with thousands taking to the streets. For those who remember the Tea Party, it feels like deja vu. The parallels are striking: a massive grassroots movement, many of its members new to activism, that feeds primarily off fear and reaction. Misunderstood by the media and both parties, it wreaks havoc on its ostensible allies, even as it reenergizes their moribund political prospects; they can ride the wave, but they cannot control it, and they are often at the mercy of its most unreasonable fringe.”

Via Is the Anti-Trump ‘Resistance’ the New Tea Party? @ The Atlantic.

What Grant’s Overland Campaign Teaches for Grave Political Conflict

For matters far removed from warfare, including ones concerning severe political conflict, Grant’s Overland Campaign offers useful lessons. It’s typically a poor idea to describe political affairs in military terms, but grave threats to the political order sadly call for a different approach.

One fights in more than one way: sometimes using maneuver, at other times attrition.

One may maneuver many times, again and again, each at a time of one’s choosing, until at last an adversary is in a gravely disadvantageous position, after which attrition will prove effective.

A campaign should fit an overall strategy, often where one coordinates with those farther away to inflict losses from many directions.

One engagement will lead to other engagements, and even a campaign will lead to other campaigns. One must be patient.

One will experience losses, often severe, along the way. There are no easy victories over great matters. Push on.

An adversary is finished only when he will, or can, go on no longer. Particular successes along the way are insufficient; one drives until an adversary’s final, irrecuperable ruin.