Archive for the ‘words mattter’ category

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

Dear Washington Post

September 6, 2016

Here’s another slightly edited dispatch from my ongoing off-social-media conversation with some political reporters on the obvious implicit bias I see in coverage of Clinton vs. Trump.  The reporters I’ve engaged publicly and privately don’t see it that way — and they are, I firmly believe, sincere and honest in that belief.  So the task, as I see it, is to build the argument story by story and (as possible) in analysis of the sum of coverage, that they’re wrong, and to do so in a way that honest and expert reporters can read, analyze, and, I hope, become persuaded by.

What caught my eye today was this article in the Washington Post, “Inside Bill Clinton’s nearly $18 million job as ‘Honorary Chancellor’ of a for-profit university,” by Rosalind S. Hellerman and Michelle Ye Hee Lee.  That story has received professional praise as a well reported deep dive — and it is!  Really.

School of athents

By that I mean:  it is definitely a long (2604 words) and detailed dissection of Bill Clinton’s involvement with Laureate University, a major international for profit higher-ed company.  The reporters play fair by the rules of the craft:  they show their work, and a reader can see where each individual fact comes from.

But does that make it a good story, an honest one, or one that within the larger story — that of the 2016 presidential election — meets basic standards of journalism as it serves readers interests?

Not at all.

That’s what I argued below in my note to one of my correspondents.  Here, the point is that the elite political press — like any group of people working on the same stuff in substantial isolation from the outside world — has its own professional criteria for excellence.  They’ve got a value system and an expectation or understanding of what represents good work or bad.  They’re not all wrong in that.

But as far as I can see from the outside, theirs is a bunker-dwelling, mostly technical standard: well reported = good, for example.  I don’t think that there is a conspiracy at the Times  or the Post, or CNN or what have you simply to shiv the Clintons.

But what I think outside the bunker (and please do recall:  a presidential campaign is a mind-and-body deranging experience; these folks really are working without access to a lot of the reality checks that could help) those of us who are looking at the coverage both closely and synoptically see the problem not as one of reporting, but of coverage.

That is, what matters is the way stories are assigned, framed, their narratives interpreted within each piece, how they’re edited and placed (2604 words!) affects the overall message readers and the electorate as a whole receive.

Thus, the ongoing and increasingly inexplicable failure of The New York Times to engage what should be a burgeoning Trump bribery scandal with state attorneys general and Trump U.  Thus all the stories on the Clinton foundation which (a) failed to show what was implied and (b) omitted crucial context, like the Bush Foundation headed by a Powell.  And thus today’s story, in which two good reporters distill what had to have been a substantial amount of work that taken all-in-all demonstrates that Bill Clinton made a lot of money while there was, in the words of the story itself, “no evidence that Laureate received special favors from the State Department in direct exchange for hiring Bill Clinton…”

What there was, instead, was a reason to ask whether or not such special favors might have taken place.  The answer was no.

There the story should have ended.  But because this was the Clintons, and this is the elite political press, it was impossible to accept that answer.  Hence what is a type specimen for how the press is getting this election wrong — with potentially disastrous consequences.

With that as prologue (I know…logorrhea…), my breakdown of the piece for my journalist-contact.  We began by marveling at the size of Bill’s fee — which truly is pretty astonishing:

__________________

I agree with you on the sum, though from where I sit, with my full time job in higher education (and a professor’s kid, and w. two professor-siblings and, and, and…) what bothers me most about that clearly outsize wage is that it is less of an outlier than it should be.  As I’m sure you know, top academic positions at a lot of places are now paid at seven figure levels.  A million or so/year as a college president  is different from $3.6 million/year as an honorary chairman, certainly.  But it’s also true (and a scandal) that higher ed, both non and for profit has headed down the same path for CEO and senior management compensation that large businesses have.  That’s troubling.

But what got me about the story was the contrast between the reporting craft you rightly recognize: meticulous, detailed pursuit of both individual incidents and the financial details…and the lack of any substance to the clear thrust of the story: that this was another example of soft corruption in the Clinton family.  You look at the lede and it clearly asserts a pay-off.  Clinton invites someone to a working dinner who is an FOB, who later hires Bill for lots of money.   (more…)

My Gob is Smacked Past All Smackeration. Thanks, Rudy

August 15, 2016

Just a quicky here, as I can’t resist this:

Speaking in Youngstown, Ohio ahead of Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, who was the mayor of New York City on 9/11, declared that Islamic extremists hadn’t carried out any terror attacks on American soil before Barack Obama’s presidency.

“Under those 8 years, before Obama came along, we didn’t have any successful radical Islamic terrorist attack in the US,” Giuliani told the crowd. “They all started when Clinton and Obama came into office.”

Video here.

Just as a reminder.  That would be Rudy “Noun, Verb, 9/11” Giuliani.

The_Rage_of_Achilles_by_Giovanni_Battista_Tiepolo

This is beyond hateful.  This is, as Charles Pierce has often said, yet more evidence that the GOP has been consumed by prion disease.  Really, it’s  just…pitiable…

Wretched…

Terrifying…

Absurd…

…Aw, hell.  I got nuthin’.  You?

Image: Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, The Rage of Achilles1757.

Compare and Contrast

August 10, 2016

Hillary, today in the Church of Latter-Day Saints owned Deseret News:

Trump’s Muslim ban would undo centuries of American tradition and values. To this day, I wonder if he even understands the implications of his proposal. This policy would literally undo what made America great in the first place.

But you don’t have to take it from me. Listen to Mitt Romney, who said Trump “fired before aiming” when he decided a blanket religious ban was a solution to the threat of terrorism.

Listen to former Sen. Larry Pressler, who said Trump’s plan reminded him of when Missouri Gov. Lilburn Boggs singled out Mormons in his infamous extermination order of 1838.

Or listen to your governor, who saw Trump’s statement as a reminder of President Rutherford B. Hayes’ attempt to limit Mormon immigration to America in 1879.

Instead of giving into demagoguery, Gov. Gary Herbert is setting a compassionate example and welcoming Syrian refugees fleeing religious persecution and terrorism. Once they’ve gone through a rigorous screening process, he is opening your state’s doors to some of the most vulnerable people in the world.

Americans don’t have to agree on everything. We never have. But when it comes to religion, we strive to be accepting of everyone around us. That’s because we need each other. And we know that it so often takes a village — or a ward — working together to build the change we hope to see.

The Polyester Cockwomble, uttering word-like strings of sound in the Old Dominion State:

Trump himself made a veiled reference to the flap during a rally Wednesday in Abingdon, Va., protesting media coverage and drawing loud applause by telling the crowd that “the Second Amendment is under siege” from Clinton and other politicians.

738px-Paul_Cézanne_-_The_Murder_-_Google_Art_Project

Thomas Friedman in today’s The New York Times (sic! I know):

During the Republican convention, with its repeated chants about Clinton of “lock her up,” a U.S.-based columnist for Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, Chemi Shalev, wrote: “Like the extreme right in Israel, many Republicans conveniently ignore the fact that words can kill. There are enough people with a tendency for violence that cannot distinguish between political stagecraft and practical exhortations to rescue the country by any available means. If anyone has doubts, they could use a short session with Yigal Amir, Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin, who was inspired by the rabid rhetoric hurled at the Israeli prime minister in the wake of the Oslo accords.”

People are playing with fire here, and there is no bigger flamethrower than Donald Trump. Forget politics; he is a disgusting human being. His children should be ashamed of him. I only pray that he is not simply defeated, but that he loses all 50 states so that the message goes out across the land — unambiguously, loud and clear: The likes of you should never come this way again.

Me, on the subject of  the “inarticulate” excuse for Trump’s “Who will rid me…” meditation on political assassination:

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 4.55.26 PM

The first Tuesday in November can’t come too soon.

Image:  Paul Cezanne, The Murder, 1867-70.

Verbum Sat Sapienti Est…Or Maybe Not

June 6, 2016

Try as I might, I cannot for the life of me figure out this from Gauleiter Drumpf:

I am getting bad marks from certain pundits because I have a small campaign staff. But small is good, flexible, save money and number one!

“Save money and number one!”  So his number lines begin at two?  He and his staff promise to pee less?  He’s running for a job as the Count’s assistant?

I read that tweet in light of this analysis of Trump’s purported advantage over Clinton, made by a once and (at least so he hopes so) future Republican candidate-whisperer:

“She is fighting a conventional war and he is fighting an asymmetrical war, and I don’t think that bodes well for her,” said Terry Sullivan, a Republican strategist. Mr. Sullivan has a unique perspective on the question, as the former manager of Senator Marco Rubio’s vanquished presidential campaign.

Trump’s secret weapon according to Sullivan:  feed the beast.  Constantly.

The primary lesson: “The solution is always more content, not less,” Mr. Sullivan said.

Partly, this is just grift.  Here’s how the reporter, James Rutenberg acquired that earth-shattering insight:

Mr. Sullivan; the former Rubio communications adviser Alex Conant; and a lawyer for Mr. Rubio, Will Holley, had reached out to me to discuss their new consulting firm, Firehouse Strategies. It’s based on the premise that Mr. Trump has rewritten the rules of modern communications strategy, and candidates and corporations need to take heed.

But what strikes me in this Firehoser’s argument is his apparent ignorance of everything that’s happened in media beyond politics over the last decade.  “Always more content” turns all content into noise soon enough.

Trump may have a bit of a first mover advantage in his dominance of the sclerotic political mediascape, but I think (a) that’s wearing thin, and one of the shocks of last week for the Trump camp was the degree to which their former lapdogs in the media have turned on them.

Frans_Snyders_-_Hounds_Bringing_down_a_Boar_-_WGA21530

And more important, (b):   as a number of people have pointed out Trump’s got a long haul problem: when the brand is escalation, at some point you’re promising to build a wall to bar the Red Lectroids from Planet Ten — paid for by the takings from Vogon poetry readings.

Which is to say, There’s much to be done to stomp his campaign into utter oblivion, but if texts like the Drumpf-tweet up top represent the current state of his content stream, I’m OK with that.

Image:  Frans Snyders, Hounds Bringing Down A Boar (couldn’t resist), before 1650.

They Are Who We Thought They Were

May 16, 2016

Exhibit A, from Trump’s “butler”*

Anthony Senecal told West Virginia newspaper The Martinsburg Journal on Friday—one day after a Secret Service agent called Senecal regarding online comments he made calling for Obama’s death—that he believes the President is a “traitor” who deserves to be killed.

…“I think they (Secret Service) wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to go there with a rifle,” Senecal told the newspaper. “I told them it was too far to drive…

The 84-year-old…told the newspaper that he stands by the comments he made in his Facebook posts.

*I swear that has to be code for some other function. Pharmaceutical grade toad purveyor, perhaps?

And then, there’s this guy, who is actually (attempting) to stake a claim on Washington:

“Unfortunately, for seven and a half years this animal we call President, because he’s an animal, OK — seven and a half years, has surgically and with thought and very smart, intelligent manner, destroyed this country…

Joseph_Mallord_William_Turner_-_The_Shipwreck_-_Google_Art_Project

It’s hard to pick where to start.  Should it be with the backwards-jacket level delusions concerning Obama-the-Destroyer (damn that doubling of the stock market; damn that cut in unemployment by half; how will we survive millions of our fellow Americans gaining access to health care; how wretched it is for our troops not to be on their fourth or fifth deployment and so on).

No: it is with the raw racism — enabled since 2009 (and really, since 1968) by the more “genteel” members of the Republican Party, who have made the fact of a black President such a horror to those who know in their bones that such a event cannot be permitted to happen in any well-behaved universe.

So yeah, while it’s easy to point and laugh at an aging crazy who perhaps sipped too much of whatever it was he brought The Donald, or to slap down Beruff’s vile manners, never forget the story behind the story:  these folks feel empowered to speak of the best president of a generation (or more) as if he were disqualified from the human race by those who trained ’em up.

There are lots of reasons the Republican Party must not merely be defeated this fall, but wrecked, utterly.

This is one.

Image:  J. W. M. Turner, The Shipwreck1805

Point And Laugh

April 14, 2016

Yes, the Democratic primary has entered its manic and ugly phase.  Yes, I’d dearly love to see Bernie show some sign he truly cares about getting either Democrat into the White House before any other ambition.  And damn-straight I’m ready to just make it all stop.

But it could be worse.  We could have to face this from one of our own candidates:

“It’s a wonderful, wonderful holiday for our friends in the Jewish community – the Passover,” Kasich told reporters after emerging from the matzah bakery, a box of the fresh-baked stuff in hand.

Yes, Jews are known to love The Passover, almost as much they love The Pre-Election Drop-By from vote-seeking politicians.

…Kasich then launched into a brief appraisal of the links between Passover and, um, the blood of Jesus Christ.

“The great link between the blood that was put above the lampposts” – er, you mean doorposts, governor — “the blood of the lamb, because Jesus Christ is known as the lamb of God. It’s his blood, we believe …” [forwarded by a valued reader]

Putz doesn’t even begin to describe the schmendrick who would say such a thing.  Putz is too grand a word, to expansive.  Kasich is a schmeckel, a schtickl, a petseleh, someone of so little use as to be barely worth noticing.

'A_Fool's_Fool'_by_Thomas_Shields_Clarke

But oy gevalt is this dumb.  I got two words for Kasich’s advance team:  blood libel.  There’s no bottom to the evil that comes from associating Jewish rituals with the blood of Jesus — and no limit to the stupid it takes to wander into such a thicket.  Ignorance is a pathetic excuse — to the point of being disqualifying (at least for any Jewish voter I know) in a would-be president.

It gets better, which is to say not so much worse as more bathetic.  Before hitting the matzoh bakery, Kasich tried to hang with some yeshiva bochers at a bookstore who told him that they were studying Talmud, specifically, the laws of the Sabbath.  Kasich’s comeback?

“You know who I like?” Kasich finally said. “Joseph. You guys like Joseph?”

Yeah, John.  Just like we enjoy the top ten commandments.

It is to laugh.  And to mutter a little blessing:

Thank the FSM this guy is their problem, not ours.

Image:  Thomas Shields, A Fool’s Foolc. 1887.

Glad That’s Clear

August 28, 2015

Sargent_MadameX

Ben Carson on the real battleground for the Republican War On Something To Do With Women:

“They tell you that there’s a war on women,” he said. “There is no war on women. There may be a war on what’s inside of women, but there is no war on women in this country.” [via Raw Story, w. a h/t to TPM]

I’m so glad that’s clear.  Ladies: you’re alright.  Your ladybits, not so much.

Carson, I may remind you, is running second in recent GOP presidential primary polling.

(another, perhaps apposite image comes below the fold as it is NSFW in a fine art kind of way.) (more…)

“These New Assets”

August 19, 2015

You would think that if anything were beyond the pale, even for today’s GOP and its conservative base, it would be chattel slavery.

Seriously.  If there were any thought that ought to be simply unthinkable in twenty first century, America, it would be that it is not simply illegal but actually evil to turn another human being into property.  I seem to recall there was something of a disturbance that ended 150 years ago on this matter, and it did not end well for those who lived on stolen labor.

But it turns out that my failure to imagine a comeback for slavery merely reveals my inability to keep up with an American right that seems determined to abandon the last thread of sanity.  From Media Matters via Charles Johnson at LGF, meet actual Iowa conservative talk radio host Jan Michelson:

I would just say this: … ’30 to 60 days from now anyone who is in the state of Iowa that who is not here legally and who cannot demonstrate their legal status to the satisfaction of the local and state authorities here in the State of Iowa, become property of the State of Iowa.’ So if you are here without our permission, and we have given you two months to leave, and you’re still here, and we find that you’re still here after we we’ve given you the deadline to leave, then you become property of the State of Iowa. And we have a job for you. And we start using compelled labor, the people who are here illegally would therefore be owned by the state and become an asset of the state rather than a liability and we start inventing jobs for them to do.

Damiano_Mascagni_Joseph_Sold_Into_Slavery_by_His_Brothers

This was not a slip of the tongue:

CALLER: Well I think everybody would believe it sounds like slavery?

MICKELSON: Well, what’s wrong with slavery?

MICKELSON: No this is pretty simple, actually this is very simple, what my solution is moral and it’s legal. And I can’t think – and it’s also politically doable.

CALLER: So are you going to house all these people who have chosen to be indentured?

MICKELSON: Yes, yes, absolutely in a minimal fashion. We would take a lesson from Sheriff [Joe] Arpaio down in Arizona. Put up a tent village, we feed and water these new assets, we give them minimal shelter, minimal nutrition, and offer them the opportunity to work for the benefit of the taxpayers of the state of Iowa. All they have to do to avoid servitude is to leave.

….

MICKELSON: You think I’m just pulling your leg. I am not….

Ladles and Jellyspoons:  your modern Republican party.  Somewhere, Abraham Lincoln is weeping.

Image: Damiano Mascagni, Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers1602.

A Couple Of Things To Talk About When You Pick Up The Damn Phone

August 12, 2015

I promise I won’t post on this every day — but I’m going to come back to this pretty often until we get through the votes on the Iran deal.

Anyway — yesterday I asked everyone to call their Congressional representatives — Senators and Congresspeople alike — to thank them if they’ve already declared for the deal, to urge them to do so if they’re still (publicly) thinking about it, and, respectfully but very firmly, to give them grief if they’ve come down on the wrong side.

I’m asking again.  Here are the House and Senate directories.

Today I’ve got a couple of new developments you can talk about when you do call.

First up, meet Gary Samore:

“I think President Obama’s strategy succeeded,” said Mr. Samore, who left his post on Monday. “He has created economic leverage and traded it away for Iranian nuclear concessions.”

Samore quit his job as head of United Against Nuclear Iran — a pressure group that worked to deepen sanctions against Iraq and that now, under its new head, old friend Joe Lieberman (D then I, but really R-Likud) opposes the Iran deal.

Giuseppe_Arcimboldo_-_Winter_-_WGA00819

The key here is that Samore is not someone who just fell of the turnip truck, nor is he a squish about the sweetness and light that may follow an agreement:

Though he backs the accord as the most that can be achieved diplomatically, Mr. Samore is skeptical that the agreement will open a new chapter in American-Iranian relations.

“The best you can achieve with diplomacy is delay in the hope that at some point a new Iranian government emerges that is not committed to developing nuclear weapons,” he said.

And if that leadership does not materialize, Mr. Samore acknowledges that Iran might vastly expand its nuclear enrichment program after core elements of the agreement expire in 15 years.

He is also not convinced that Iran will continue to adhere to the accord once economic sanctions are lifted. Even so, he argues, the accord will put the United States in a stronger position to respond than a congressional rejection would.

“We will have bought a couple of years, and if Iran cheats or reneges we will be in an even better position to double down on sanctions or, if necessary, use military force,” Mr. Samore said. “If I knew for certain that in five years they would cheat or renege, I’d still take the deal.”

This is what “best available option” means:  not that Lieberman and his herd of neo-con ilk can fart pixie dust and will away Iran’s political establishment, its institutional memory, and the broadly available knowledge of nuclear weapons design, but that we put ourselves in the most advantageous position we can to shape events as they unfold.

And in other news, it turns out that Iran is not, in fact, a monolithic Borg committed to the destruction of the United States and Israel.  Who says so? None other than a reporter from that famously pro-Iran media organ, The Forward.*

Mr. Cohler-Esses’s reporting, coming as Congress prepares to vote on the nuclear agreement next month, presents a more nuanced view of Iran compared with the dark descriptions advanced by a number of Jewish-American advocacy groups that consider Iran a rogue enemy state…

“Ordinary Iranians with whom I spoke have no interest at all in attacking Israel,” Mr. Cohler-Esses wrote. “Their concern is with their own sense of isolation and economic struggle.”

Among some of Iran’s senior ayatollahs and prominent officials, he wrote, there is also dissent from the official line against Israel.

“No one had anything warm to say about the Jewish state,” he wrote. “But pressed as to whether it was Israel’s policies or its very existence to which they objected, several were adamant: It’s Israel’s policies.”

While he wrote that there was no freedom of the press in Iran, “freedom of the tongue has been set loose.”

“I was repeatedly struck by the willingness of Iranians to offer sharp, even withering criticisms of their government on the record, sometimes even to be videotaped doing so,” Mr. Cohler-Esses wrote.

There you have it, folks: the deal on the table — even if the Iranians break it — still works to the advantage of the US, according to one of the most expert and skeptical figures in this long-running debate.  And the Iranians have a polity that is not in fact a unified autocracy bent on rogue violence, but is instead a much more complicated web of interests, beliefs and aspirations — exactly the kind of situation that offers opportunity for those deft enough to seek it out.

Oh — one more thing.  Last night I got an email from someone I’ve never met, who thanked me for yesterday’s effort to get some calls into the Hill.  He identified himself as someone who works on the senate side, and this is what he wrote:

We all hear the report every week on the top issues being called/written about and the breakdown. That message isn’t lost.

Your five minutes makes a difference.  Go to it.  Call your representatives.  Let them know you’re paying attention.

Once more:  the House and Senate directories.

*Snark, friends, if you’re not familiar with this pillar of New York Jewish newspapering.

Image:  Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Wintersecond half of the sixteenth century.