A little-known device called a "bump stock" is attached to a semi-automatic rifle at the Gun Vault store and shooting range Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017, in South Jordan, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

My post yesterday on data journalism and gun control touched off quite a stir and storm. I think there was some legitimate criticism of my broad brush criticism of data journalism, or at least the way my headline could be read that way. There’s a lot of great data journalism out there. My former colleague Al Shaw flagged just one example here.

It’s not all data journalism – which I stated explicitly. The problems I noted are not intrinsic to data journalism. But they are what I would call a natural and not uncommon shortcoming: When you have a hammer, everything seems to be a nail. This is as much a problem with more conventional narrative journalistic methods as with data journalism. When you have extreme confidence in the power of (and success with) data to clarify questions and reveal patterns, you can lose track of or give too little attention to whether the questions you’re asking are even the right ones to ask.
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You might have thought ex-Rep. Michael Grimm’s political career was over or had at least hit a serious setback after he  did time in federal prison for tax fraud. But Grimm, who has threatened reporters with physical violence, is pointing to his rap sheet as a selling point for the Trump Era as he campaigns to win back his old house seat. “In Washington, nice guys finish last” he’s been telling supporters. Meet certified member of the criminal element, former No. 83479-53 Michael Grimm.

We’re familiar with the still substantial number of Republican politicians from the Deep South who have various ties to ‘Neo-Confederate’ political groups. Trent Lott, who got booted from the Senate leadership fifteen years ago, was the iconic recent example. In the aftermath of Charleston and Charlottesville, the GOP has been trying to get at least visual distance from these types even as Trump and the MAGA crowd has often tried to bear hug them more aggressively. But Alabama GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore is in a very different category. He not only has all the Trent Lott style connections. His longtime backer and top financial supporter is a white supremacist who is pushing for the South to secede AGAIN and form a white, Christian Republic. Again, this isn’t just nostalgia for the first secession and Jim Crow. His group wants to secede again. Cam Joseph brings us the whole story.

At 6:10 PM this evening President Trump began a meeting with top military leaders and gave a short prepared statement to pool reporters at the White House. It was quite an aggressive statement but not terribly different from other things we’ve heard from the President. The White House then announced that press appearances were done for the day.  Then roughly an hour later, a pool reporter was again called in for another by the President and the military leaders. As the pool reporter put it, “White House staff hastily assembled the pool to cover a photo spray with military leaders and their spouses before a dinner with POTUS and FLOTUS.”

Here’s the key passage, with ominous and cryptic statements from the President.


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We’ll never know how close we came to President Trump assaulting innocent Puerto Rican storm victims with flying cans of chicken.

“Trump passed out yellow bags of rice and then started tossing rolls of towels into the crowd as if he were shooting free throws. The crowd laughed and cheered him on. When he contemplated doing the same with the cans of chicken, the crowd gently told him no.”

President Trump’s decision to make a finding that the Iran nuclear deal is not in the national interest is profoundly unwise. Even those who opposed it at the outset mostly seem to get that pulling out of it now would be profoundly ill-advised, not least because the President already has one nuclear proliferation crisis on his hands. But what is especially notable here is that he has again essentially punted the question to Congress, much as he did with DACA. He’s been decisive on optics while putting the real decision in the hands of Congress. For some Presidents this might be a principled decision in favor of a non-imperial theory of the presidency. But here it’s some mix of an unwillingness to own his actions and a decision to grab the optics at the expense of or indifferent to the true substance.

A reader shared a thought with me about the gun control article below which sharpened and for me clarified one of the arguments I was trying to make, one which I put under the too general rubric of ‘culture’.
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Hearing that Mueller has now taken over the probe into the Trump/Russia ‘dossier’ doesn’t terribly surprise me. Not long ago a lawyer familiar with the probe told me that the dossier is Mueller’s map for the Trump/Russia case, the framework he’s pursuing.

As it should be.

But that last part’s just my opinion.

Two days ago The Washington Post published an OpEd by a former 538 journalist named Leah Libresco. She explains that she was a staunch advocate of gun control until she did a deep study of proposed reforms and data and determined that there was little to no statistical backing for her beliefs. As she puts it in her essay’s central sentence, “As my co-workers and I kept looking at the data, it seemed less and less clear that one broad gun-control restriction could make a big difference.” Libresco addresses specific reforms and various technical issues and tosses out a number of strawmen or disingenuously rhetorical points: “I can’t endorse policies whose only selling point is that gun owners hate them.” But what her article really shows is both the poverty of so-called “data journalism” as well as certain realities about gun restriction that too few of us are willing to truly contemplate or grapple with.
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WaPo: “And as Tillerson has traveled the globe, Trump believes his top diplomat often seems more concerned with what the world thinks of the United States than with tending to the president’s personal image.” 

We’ve first started looking into this when we saw claims that the NFL only really started pushing players standing for the anthem because the DOD was paying them to. That turns out not to be true. Or at least we see no evidence for it. The dates don’t line up. But between 2011 and 2015, the Pentagon did pay the NFL millions of dollars for flag displays, military family reuinitings and various military and patriotic displays. The changes in the anthem ceremony came in 2009, two years before the contract started. So it seems clear that it could not be tied – at least based on the evidence we have – to the DOD contract. But the other stuff is real. When I first heard about this I was a little surprised because I wouldn’t think it would be necessary for the DOD to pay. I would think NFL crowds would eat these displays up and be a kind of brand association – to use a painful marketing phrase – the NFL would want for its own reasons. But it was big business. Here’s our report from Allegra Kirkland.

This undated photo provided by Eric Paddock shows him at left with his brother, Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock at right. Stephen Paddock opened fire on the Route 91 Harvest Festival on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, killing dozens and wounding hundreds. (Courtesy of Eric Paddock via AP)

On Tuesday, over the course of the day, President Trump called both the Las Vegas massacre and the Hurricane Maria aftermath in Puerto Rico a ‘miracle’. Some of this is simply President Trump’s ingrained weirdness, an uncanny awkwardness rooted in narcissism and a profound failure of empathy. But there’s something more than that. Trump, in his own unique and torrid awfulness, seems more like an intensification of something that predates him. We respond to unimaginable tragedies by deeper and deeper evocations of our own unique bonds of community and sacrifice which should shine through as a point of pride.
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Republican US Senate candidate, Ed Gillespie, speaks during a rally in Ashland, Va., Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

“MS-13 turns young girls into sex slaves…yet Ralph Northam supports sanctuary cities…” That’s the text from a radio ad from Virginia GOP Governor candidate Ed Gillespie, as tweeted by Fenit Nirappil, a Virginia politics reporter from The Washington Post. That comes on the heels of a series of TV ads with a similar topic and theme “Kill, Rape, Control.”
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Will there be more of this?

At a panel event at the Heritage Foundation, former Ted Cruz presidential campaign spokesman Ron Nehring said that during the primaries he got a very different response when he criticized Donald Trump than any other candidate. The pattern he noted was about what you’d expect: When he was critical of Donald Trump he was inundated with hostile responses on Twitter and from accounts which followed a particular pattern.
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In my post this morning about Wilbur Ross’s role in the Puerto Rican debt crisis, I suggested that President Trump’s overnight suggestion that Puerto Rico’s public debt would need to be wiped clean might just be a throwaway line.

Well, yes, it was just a throwaway line. Or that’s what the evidence now suggests. Trump’s OMB Director Mick Mulvaney advised that we not take what Trump said “word for word.” He also suggested that he spoke at length to Trump on the flight back after the interview. So Trump agrees.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, President Donald Trump, and White House chief of staff John Kelly listen as Trump is introduced during a luncheon with African leaders at the Palace Hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

A remarkable press conference by Rex Tillerson just now to, how else can you say it?, save his job. He didn’t deny calling the President a “moron” over the summer, as NBC reported this morning, but he didn’t address it directly, dismissing it as part of DC’s tendency toward the “petty” and divisive.


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Yesterday we were beguiled and aghast at President Trump’s awful and ridiculous comments in Puerto Rico. Soon enough though we’ll come back to what seems to be his major fixation: Puerto Rico’s public debt. Does President Trump own any of that debt? What about his family and associates? It’s not a crazy idea. We know very little about the President’s finances and assets. But I was curious about why it was such a focus of his even if he doesn’t stand to gain personally.

Then last night, he seemed to shift gears entirely, telling Geraldo Rivera that the government would “have to wipe that [debt] out” entirely. “You can say goodbye” to the existing debt no matter who takes a loss. He focused on “Goldman Sachs.” Was someone else talking to him? Was he just affected by what he saw? Was it all a show? Or will he just go back to his debt-punitive approach once he’s back? To this end, I was surprised to hear from TPM Reader RM that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a close associate and advisor of the President’s, was until quite recently the biggest shareholder and a board member of the company that is one of the biggest and most aggressive holders of the risk tied to Puerto Rico’s public debt.
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Just out from CNN: Russia Facebook campaign specifically targeted Michigan and Wisconsin and key demographic groups within those states.

From CNN …

A number of Russian-linked Facebook ads specifically targeted Michigan and Wisconsin, two states crucial to Donald Trump’s victory last November, according to four sources with direct knowledge of the situation.


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It’s probably just a detail in a horrific story, rather than something that will be critical to understanding it. But I wanted to flag one aspect of the story. What did Stephen Paddock do for a living? And where did he get his money?

There have been reports, though not really confirmed, that he was actually a wealthy man, perhaps a real investor. He wired his girlfriend $100,000 a week ago. He also reportedly rented a series of condos over another outdoor concert that he had apparently considered attacking before choosing this country music concert. Those certainly suggest a decent amount of liquid assets, though if you knew you were about to end your life a middle-class person could likely sell things and come up with that amount of cash.
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If you were a wildly cynical Democrat and were hoping that President Trump would go to Puerto Rico and say a bunch of things that make him sound awful and racist, you really couldn’t top today. President Trump has already complained that Puerto Rican truck drivers aren’t doing enough to help. Later he chided Puerto Ricans for throwing the national budget out of whack with their hurricane catastrophe. And there’s more to come.

Budget Director Mick Mulvaney speaks to reporters during a daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, Feb. 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Mick Mulvaney was one of the hardest core Tea Partiers and Freedom Caucusers during his time in the House. Part of that was a demand for fiscal austerity and budget cutting during the thinnest years coming out of the Great Recession. Now he’s decided deficits aren’t just okay. They’re positively necessary.
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Jelani Cobb has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 2015. He writes frequently about race, politics, history, and culture. His most recent book is “The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress.” He’s a professor of journalism at Columbia University. He won the 2015 Sidney Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism, for his columns on race, the police, and injustice.

Jelani will be in the Hive to discuss race relations in America, including the NFL and Trump’s verbal war with its protesters. Post your questions and join us this Friday! If you’d like to participate but don’t have TPM Prime, sign up here.