Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Lest We Forget (End of the American Century Update)

July 28, 2017

One thing’s for sure: whatever fresh hell the Trump White House offers up each day, one community in our great society has to be unbelievably grateful.  Scaramucci is just the latest gift to surpass understanding delivered w. a sMooch* by an administration whose signature accomplishment seems to be The Late Night Comedian Full Employment Act of 2017.

See, e.g., exhibit A, Stephen Colbert:


Here’s the thing, though.  For all our (my) attempts to remember what actual ordinary politics were like, it’s hard to keep up with the massive fail that lies behind so much wonderfully immolating wit.

The Mooch isn’t just a Master of the Universe about to discover that presidential-level politics is not the same as the rigged casino from which he came.  He is the communications director, ultimately the outward facing representative of executive power in the United States.  In Beijing news studios last night, some poor folks had to figure out how to express the essence of Scaramucci’s autofellatio image to a Chinese public trying to make sense of the state of affairs across the Pacific.  In Berlin, government officials are (I’ll bet) as I type attempting to figure out who remains in DC to talk to, when a one week administration veteran seeks to bring down the FBI on the President’s chief of staff.

All of which is to say that this is so far from normal you couldn’t see ordinary DC politics from where we now find ourselves with a fully functional James Webb Space Telescope.  Scaramucci’s hilarious, awful, unspeakably revealing rant is indeed funny as hell.  It’s also the mark of an American government that cannot represent American interests in the world.  We’ve traded actual engagement with the day to day business of running the most powerful country in the world for an extended Game of Thrones cosplay fantasy.

This is how empires fall:  a surface wave of bathos obscuring the deep, ongoing, and never normal tide of malice, incompetence and chaos.

On the upside, my son and I have tickets to see Colbert live next month.  That should be fun.

*See what I did there?

It’s Baaaaacccckkkk (Sort Of, Maybe)

July 20, 2017

It is impossible to overstate the Republican commitment to ripping health care from millions, while taking a chainsaw to our medical system.

Rand Paul has just announced that he will vote “Yes” on the Trumpcare motion to proceed as long as he is given a clean vote on his amendment, which would simply repeal the ACA (which, given the CBO evaluation of a similar proposal, would lead to something on the order of 17 million without health care next year, and 32 million Americans left in the cold by 2026).

That’s still not enough to get Trumpcare to the floor if the other declared “Noes” hold out, but each senator McConnell can peel away significantly increases the pressure on those who remain opposed.  And certainly, Paul’s cave reminds us that counting on any Republican to maintain a party-base-unpopular position as a matter of principle is a mug’s game.

This won’t be over until the GOP loses its majority in one house or the other.

Image: Workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder, Massacre of the Innocents, c. 1515

A Modest Proposal

July 20, 2017

Most people know of Senator John McCain’s diagnosis with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer.  I have just a couple of thoughts I’d like to add.

First, obviously, best wishes to Senator McCain and his family. This is a very tough diagnosis, as we all know.  The next several months and years will demand an enormous amount of McCain and all those close to him, and I wish them well in that fight.

Second:  John McCain is receiving the best of care, as he should, and as I would wish anyone in his position could expect.  That health care comes to him through his job as an employee of the federal government.

The immediate context, of course, is that this particular federal employee is one of those Republican senators who was, by all accounts prepared to vote yes on a bill that would have pulled federally mandated and supported health care from tens of millions of his fellow citizens.

The larger context is that John McCain has throughout his life relied on the United States government for his medical care — from birth to now.  He was the son of a serving naval officer, then a cadet at the Naval Academy, then a serving officer himself, then briefly a veteran in private life.

Then, within a year of his retiring from the armed forces, elected as a member of the House of Representatives.  Four years later he won his Senate seat, to which he has been re-elected five times, which brings us to the present day.

A whole life, all 80+ years of it, and John McCain has never for a moment had to wonder what he would do if he became sick, or if his wife or his kids fell ill.  For the first half of his life, he had access to a single-payer system; as a member of Congress, he received his health benefits through the same benefit package available to federal workers; since the passage of the ACA, members and their staffs have access to on-exchange subsidized plans.

And that’s great!  John McCain should have had secure, guaranteed and persistent care.  The injuries he suffered in Vietnam and during his imprisonment there should never have been eligible to be pre-existing conditions. He should have been, as he was, free of the choice-crippling necessity of working a secure gig to ensure access to insurance, thus enabling him to pursue his life of military and public service.

The kicker though: so should we all.  The health-care life John McCain has led is the one that’s right not just for him and his family, but for all Americans.  I won’t rehash here the moral and the practical reasons why — we’ve done that before, David can do it better, and we will be back at that by nightfall at the latest.  All I want to do here is to make a modest proposal.

The Democrats should come to the next round of manouvering on health care legislation with a plan that repairs ACA’s current weak points and lays out a path to full coverage.  And they should name it after one of the great exemplars of the power of guaranteed health care to liberate Americans into lives of daring and service.

Here’s to the John Sidney McCain III Universal Health Care Act of 2017!

Image: Doris Zinkelson,  No 115 British General Hospital, Ostend – Unloading Wounded, 1945

Village Idiot: Somewhere, A Pig Wants Its Skin Back

July 8, 2017

Sometimes you get the greatest insight into folks when they think the pressure is off.

What follows has exactly no political import, and, truly, says nothing about the writer in question’s journalistic chops or beat-acumen, at least not directly.

But, perhaps unsurprisingly, given my Bayesian prior holding that anything that comes out of Chuck Todd’s mouth or pen is surpassingly likely to be…well…crap, I find his gig over at Peter King’s joint as a summer replacement for the Monday Morning Quarterback column to be a thing of perverse beauty and utterly revealing.  If you take Todd as the type specimen of a Village idiot, then you can read in his attempt to display both football cred and knowledge a free-of-partisan-blinkers way to assess his actual skills, quality, and personality.

It ain’t pretty.

I’m not going to bother with an extended fisking — after all, it’s both Todd and a game — but a couple of things stand out.

First, it’s always about Todd.  Taking Todd as an archetype of Village perspective, I’m suggesting this confirms the many hints that much of what drives elite DC media is how whatever is being covered fits in with and or confirms a collective world view and sense of status.

Which is what makes a simple word count so telling.  Todd’ s column is just over 3,500 words long.  1,400 of those words — crucially the first words in the piece — dive deep into his claim to be a Green Bay Packers fan.

A couple of things on that. First, obviously, the man can root for whoever he wants. But that’s kind of the problem: there’s nothing inherently interesting about anyone’s choice sports-laundry connection.  To go on for 1400 words — nearly twice as long as a conventional newspaper column, well into short feature length already — implies that the writer has something more to say than “I was born in the midwest and my dad liked the Packers.” Not our Todd

No, what was really going on here, was a defensive crouch:  Todd has never been to Lambeau, feels this is a s problem to be explained, and goes on at great length to tell his readers that he really is an authentic football fan and a man of the Green Bay people.  Alas, the man has a tin ear. Check this out:

The most die-hard Packers fans believe you can’t claim fanatic status unless you’ve been to the holiest of football sights [sic–does SI no longer employ copy-editors?] (sorry, Canton). Honestly, I don’t blame them. If I were in their shoes, I might use that piece of information to lodge my own skeptical inquiry. But I swear, my Packers allegiance is real.

Don’t believe me? Just ask my good friend, Steve Hayes, the editor-in-chief of The Weekly Standard and a frequent FOX News analyst. Steve is also a part of the D.C. Packers mafia; of course, he came about his love for the Green and Gold the normal way—he was born and raised in the Land of Cheeseheads. I first met Steve, in 2000, when he was applying for a job at a publication I was running called, The Hotline. I noticed his Wisconsin roots on his résumé and, naturally, asked him if he was a Packers fan. He said he was, but I wanted to know if he was truly a diehard. I have a standard question for anyone around my age who claims to be a Packers fan: Who was Green Bay’s starting quarterback before Lynn Dickey? Well, Steve not only answered correctly, he noted that David Whitehurst also punted for the team. Steve got the job offer and he accepted. So thank you, David Whitehurst, for being just obscure enough to help me prove true Packer fandom and, more importantly, thanks for being the link to one of my better friendships in D.C.

Arrrgh! Village idiocy in one verbose package.  I’ll leave it to my fellow jackals to draw out every tin-eared wrong note there, and just point out that the whole thing is steeped in unctuous self-congratulation:  Todd’s the boss; he’s steeped in the kind of minutiae that helps folks pretend they actually know a subject such facts don’t illuminate (sound familiar in the context of elite political “journalism”?); and hiring is a boys-club adventure.

Most of all though, as I read through this endless preamble, I kept asking myself why Todd thinks I care? Peter King rubs some football fans the wrong way, I know — he is clearly one of the NFL’s inner circle reporters, and can be seen as an insufficiently critical booster of the Borg that is Roger Goodell’s plantation, but there’s no doubt he’s done the work and made the calls and knows the game and its people very well.  You can read his weekly column and get a lot of content.

Here, by the time you get to spitting distance of the half way mark, you know only that Chuck Todd is aware that he doesn’t have a lot of cred in this beat, and he protests — waaaaaay too much — that seeing him as a dilettante out of his depth is unfair.  “I do so love football! I know the names of some now obscure players!  I’m rich/influential enough to go to football games w. famous people in various cities! ‘The journalist in me’ [his words] is good enough to make me check a box score!”  It’s a plea both pathetic and, to me, confirming of my prior beliefs about Chuck: he’s a poseur and a light weight.

I’m just having some fun here over my second coffee of a weekend morning, so I won’t go on much longer.  (You’ve heard that before.)  Just one more thought.  That embarrassingly long and weak lede is a tell to Todd’s personality: he knows he’s out of his depth as a football columnist, and tries to hard to persuade himself as much as his readers that this is not so; how that might dovetail with his political commentary is, again, an exercise for the reader.

What follows, though, is more directly damning to Todd’s reputation as an analyst of just about anything.  He doesn’t do the work. He goes as far as a first impression and stops.  From the very start of the “substantive” part of the piece:

1) I think the best teenage athletes seem to be gravitating to other sports, not football.

Admittedly, this is only an observational view. But my eyes tell me that both baseball and basketball are seeing a surge in big athletic kids—that is, a bunch of young men that traditionally look more like football players than baseball or basketball players. More and more, I find myself seeing someone such as Aaron Judge or Boogie Cousins and thinking, They would be a great defensive end, tight end, wide receiver or even quarterback. I’m convinced that even just 10 years ago they would have been putting on helmets.

Look:  I don’t disagree with the point Todd goes on to make — that the NFL is likely underestimating the long term risk it faces as the cumulative risks of football become clearer and clearer.  But there is exactly nothing in what Todd says above that supports a conclusion that premier youth atheletes are choosing other sports over football.  Nada. Zip, zero, nuthin’.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last decade or so of politics, it is that the gut feelings, the “observational view,” the assumptions-not-in-evidence held (often unconsiously) by the elite commentariat are really dreadful guides to both process and (especially) the substance of politics and policy.  Here Todd confirms that such half-assed, privileged, deeply lazy approaches to complicated subjects is the default.  It’s what he does; it may be who he is.

Now one crappy column on a subject off his beat, likely written in the nooks and crannies of a busy (if not fruitful) working life is a thin reed on which to build an indictment of one person, much less his whole guild.  But hell. It’s Saturday; I’m off to do my real work in a moment; and why should the Village have all the license and all the fun.  Chuck Todd’s risible SI scribblings are at least a measure of the man, if not the full spec.  Todd himself is a member in very good standing of a guild of commentators who hold the most influential ground in American political media…

Would it be wrong to speculate that the flaws evident in this bit of off-topic fishwrap do in fact reveal the awful truth of the Village in all its infamy?

It would be wrong not to.

Annnnnnd….that was much ado about precious little. The blog will happily refund your full cost of admission.

Image: Jan Roos, Narcissus at the Spring, 1638 or earlier.

 

 

The Tree of Liberty…

June 22, 2017

…is a f**king vampire:

Nearly 1300 children die and 5790 are treated for gunshot wounds each year. Boys, older children, and minorities are disproportionately affected. Although unintentional firearm deaths among children declined from 2002 to 2014 and firearm homicides declined from 2007 to 2014, firearm suicides decreased between 2002 and 2007 and then showed a significant upward trend from 2007 to 2014. Rates of firearm homicide among children are higher in many Southern states and parts of the Midwest relative to other parts of the country. Firearm suicides are more dispersed across the United States with some of the highest rates occurring in Western states. Firearm homicides of younger children often occurred in multivictim events and involved intimate partner or family conflict; older children more often died in the context of crime and violence. Firearm suicides were often precipitated by situational and relationship problems. The shooter playing with a gun was the most common circumstance surrounding unintentional firearm deaths of both younger and older children.

Guns kill kids. That baseline number, almost 1300 kids every twelve months, is more than a 9/11 every three years.

 

Guns don’t just kill kids; they are a leading cause of death for children and teenagers.  The data in the chart below don’t perfectly line up, as it doesn’t break out gun homicides and suicides from the overall rates by all methods, but still here are ball park figures.

(To weight those numbers, the FBI reports that as of 2014, roughly two thirds of all murders were committed with a gun, and the CDC reports that guns are involved in about half of all suicides.  Childhood figures may weight more towards firearms for a couple of reasons, but I haven’t dived into the data and I’m not a domain expert, so value that opinion as you will.)

In any event, it doesn’t take much to see this as a peculiarly American evil.  In the discussion section of the paper quoted above:

International studies indicate that 91% of firearm deaths of children aged 0 to 14 years among all high-income countries worldwide occur in the United States, making firearm injuries a serious pediatric and public health problem in the United States.14

The net:

Approximately 19 children a day die or are medically treated in an ED for a gunshot wound in the United States. The majority of these children are boys 13 to 17 years old, African American in the case of firearm homicide, and white and American Indian in the case of firearm suicide.

Nineteen kids a day, killed and wounded, and the Republican Party is completely on board with that.

We all knew that of course; now we’ve got numbers.  What will this nation do with this newly quantified knowledge?

Nothing: the slaughter of American children will continue until the tree of liberty swallows us whole.

ETA: On a moment’s reflection, that’s too damn depressing even for me.  Eventually this country will get sick of self-murder. I hope that day comes sooner than I’m thinking now.

Image: Nicholas Poussin, The Massacre of the Innocents, (drawing for this painting) c. 1628-9

David Brooks Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

June 20, 2017

One sentence from today’s column that captures the pure, distilled essence of the alt-hack that is our BoBo:

And yet it has to be confessed that, at least so far, the Whitewater scandal was far more substantive than the Russia-collusion scandal now gripping Washington.

It’s all there.

The disembodied passive voice to give pulled-from-the-ass opinion the aura of ex-cathedra authority:  “it has to be confessed…” Oh yeah? Says who?

The careful weasel phrase, a scurrying for plausible deniability when this infallible dictum falls prey to fact:  “at least so far…”

The statement, presented as general consensus, that is, in fact, false:  “Whitewater…was far more substantial than…’ anything at all is simply false, and Brooks himself was both a driver of that falsehood and was and is perfectly positioned to know better than what he writes here.

The Whitewater “scandal,” as just about every non-interested party now knows, was a steaming heap of bullshit, ginned up by Republican operatives (Ted Olson!) in an attempt to damage the Clintons and the Democratic Party.

Brooks reminds his reader that he was the op-ed editor of The Wall Street Journal at the time his page was running piece after piece about the scandal that he claims was substantive — and yet, in (again) classic BoBo self-protective weasel writing, now writes “I confess I couldn’t follow all the actual allegations made in those essays…”

In other words, don’t blame him if his paper and his page retailed great steaming heaps of bullshit that as he now writes, “in retrospect Whitewater seems overblown….” (Note again the tactical use of the grammar that evades responsibility, that subjunctive “seems.”  Translation: my paper on my watch spread bullshit for partisan ends, and but all that can be said (see what I did there) is that the outcome of our work “seems” … not so great.  Nice obfuscation if you can get (away with) it.) (Yes. I like parentheses. Sue me.)

Where was I?  Oh yeah:  don’t contemn Brooks for that overblown false scandal, but take his word for it that that steaming heap of bullshit was nonetheless more real than the Russian allegations.

Oh?

No.

I don’t think I have to go into detail for this crowd about the depth and range of the Trump-Russia nexus. It may be that Brooks is trying to be clever here, and define the scandal purely as a question of whether Trump himself (and or his campaign) directly conspired with agents of Putin’s government to affect the election.

That would make that sentence yet more carefully parsed to give him cover as things like money laundering and influence peddling details accumulate.  In that, we may be seeing a preview of the approach Republican opinion-framers will attempt later on: Trump’s corrupt, but not a traitor.  But even allowing for such fine dissection of the growing scandal, there’s plenty of confirmed evidence of interaction between Trump’s campaign and significant Russian folks (see, e.g., Sessions and Kislyak).  In other words: Whitewater ended as it began with no evidence of Clinton wrongdoing.  Trump-Russia already has on public record significant and troubling revelations.

There’s a pattern here. The New York Times has given prime opinion acreage to now two partisan hack/WSJ refugees in Brooks and Bret Stephens. Both employ a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger voice to construct in the language of rueful reason narratives that directly bolster Republican positions and personalities. Both use that seeming reasonableness, the above-the-fray tone of impartial and unchallenged judgment, to say things that are clearly not true.  Those lies directly undercut reporting happening within the Grey Lady’s newsroom put out.  Op-ed editor Bennett, executive editor Baquet and publisher Sulzberger are all OK with that, it seems.

David Brooks tells plausible falsehoods in defense of some of the worst people in the history of American politics. The Times lets him; more, it has done so for decades promoting a career hack/flack to a position of influence far beyond anything his lack of rigor and intellectual dishonesty should ever have earned.

This is a big problem.

Image: Frits van den Berghe, The Idiot By The Pond1926

Could He Spell “CAT” If You Spotted Him The “C” And The “A”?

May 23, 2017

As a follow up to Betty’s post below, I’d like to look at the other thing that bothered me about our Donald’s grotesque Yad Vashem/Mean Girls yearbook note.

Here’s Trump’s deathless prose:

It is a great honor to be here with all of my friends — so amazing and will never forget!

Now remember what else we’ve heard about Fearless Leeder’s work reading habits:

President Trump is getting ready to embark on his first international trip later this week and officials have encouraged him to stay on script, despite him having trouble doing so in the past, briefing him with single-page memos as well as maps, charts, graphs, photos and have purposely included his name in “as many paragraphs as we can because he keeps reading if he’s mentioned,”

And add to that the fact that there is virtually no hint anywhere that the Cheeto-faced, ferret-heedit shitgibbon has ever read a book for pleasure, or ever will:

His meetings now begin at 9 a.m., earlier than they used to, which significantly curtails his television time. Still, Mr. Trump, who does not read books, is able to end his evenings with plenty of television.

No go back and read that note, a written work he had to produce himself, on the spot, inscribed by hand.*

Diagnosing at a distance is always a mug’s game, and I’m not going to do it here.  I’m not going to say that Donald Trump is functionally illiterate.

But I am going to say that nothing on the record rules that conclusion out, and his Yad Vashem embarrassment is the latest straw in the wind to suggest that Houston, we have a problem.

To get a sense of what it means to say an adult is functionally illiterate, I took a fast look at a report from 2002 from the National Center for Educational Statistics.

Please note, again, I’m not a literacy expert; I haven’t studied up on this issue; I’m just reacting to the sense that something was more than egregious in Trump’s note — it was off.  So take this next quote as representative of some sort of recent informed thinking about literacy, and not as the distilled essence of a body of knowledge to which your humble blogger makes no claim.

The NCES report bills itself as a “first look” at the National Adult Literacy Survey of about 25,000 Americans conducted several years before this write up.  To contextualize its findings, the report’s authors described the definitions of the five levels of literacy across three domains — prose, documents [as in, parsing forms], and quantitative operations.

So how did this survey categorize the two lowest tiers of literacy in the prose category:

Level 1: Most of the tasks in this level require the reader to read relatively short text to locate a single piece of information which is identical to or synonymous with the information given in the question or directive. If plausible but incorrect information is present in the text, it tends not to be located near the correct information.

Level 2: Tasks in this level require readers to perform single, relatively simple arithmetic operations, such as addition. The numbers to be used are provided and the arithmetic operation to be performed is specified. Some tasks in this level require readers to locate a single piece of information in the text; however, several distractors or plausible but incorrect pieces of information may be present, or low level inferences may be required. Other tasks require the reader to integrate two or more pieces of information or to compare and contrast easily identifiable information based on a criterion provided in the question or directive.

Again, I’m not going to say that Trump’s demonstrated reading skills match these brief, rather formal descriptions.  But that Yad Vashem note leaves me little confidence in Trump’s ability to handle the written word, whether he’s consuming or producing prose.  There’s no reference to the place he’s in.  There’s no response to the content of any exhibit or display he may have encountered.  There’s not a single detail.  It’s a rote response to a prompt: write something about your visit in our visitor book (or some such).

Those surveyed with weak or almost non-functional literacy skills found themselves confined to a narrowed life, or worse — the NCES analysis notes that “Nearly half (41 to 44 percent) of all adults in the lowest level on each literacy scale were living in poverty, compared with only 4 to 8 percent of those in the two highest proficiency levels.”  If Donald Trump had fallen victim to that kind of constraint, it would be appropriate to feel pity, and even anger on his behalf; surely as a society we should do anything we can to ensure that as near as possible to everyone masters the basic skills needed to make it through the day in 21st century America.

But, of course, Trump has never suffered as a result of his inadequacies.  He is instead, as much as it pains me to type it, President of the United States.  That’s a job in which much better than functional literacy is, basically, a requirement.  POTUS, after all, has a kind of broad brief, a lot of issues to cover.  Most of the background information most presidents have used to guide their thinking across the range of their duties comes in written form.  Obama, a well-documented avid reader, still used hours of reading at night to keep up.

Trump isn’t doing that. It doesn’t appear he could do that if he wanted to.  His mind appears to be a reflection of that fact — or rather, reading is a habit that trains the mind. If you can’t or won’t tackle a text more complicated than a one pager of bullet points with your name in most of them…then you can’t think at the level events in the world demand.

In other words…Trump can’t do the job he’s got.  Because he’ll still act with the powers of that position, that’s not good.

TL:DR — WASF…and we need to get this malicious reboot of Chauncey Gardner out of power as soon as possible.

Oh.  One last thought.  If I’m right, and Trump is as he appears to be, not cognitively up to his responsibilities, there are lots of people in his own party who’ve known this for a long time.  And yet, come last summer, all but a very few lined up behind him.  If he’s not fit for power, they aren’t either, not because they’re not smart, but because they fail as patriots.

/rant over

*To add: I found Trump’s performance reading his Islam speech to be a similar signal of problems with the written word.  It seemed halting, almost frightened, as if at any turn the ‘prompter would put up one of those SAT words to gnarly for his brain to process in time for his mouth to catch up. YMMV

Image: Boris Grigoriev, Woman Reading, c. 1922.