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The Good Doctor Prescribes.

“There are a lot of ways to practice the art of journalism, and one of them is to use your art like a hammer to destroy the right people — who are almost always your enemies, for one reason or another, and who usually deserve to be crippled, because they are wrong. This is a dangerous notion, and very few professional journalists will endorse it — calling it ‘vengeful’ and ‘primitive’ and ‘perverse’ regardless of how often they might do the same thing themselves. ‘That kind of stuff is opinion,’ they say, ‘and the reader is cheated if it’s not labeled as opinion.’

“Well, maybe so. Maybe Tom Paine cheated his readers and Mark Twain was a devious fraud with no morals at all who used journalism for his own foul ends. And maybe H. L. Mencken should have been locked up for trying to pass off his opinions on gullible readers and normal ‘objective journalism.’ Mencken understood that politics – as used in journalism – was the art of controlling his environment, and he made no apologies for it.”

Via Brain Pickings, the late and missed Hunter S. Thompson (RIP) makes the case for advocacy journalism. “With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.” (HST pic via here.)

New York Strongman’s Demise.

“In just a few weeks, the 12-year rule of the powerful oligarch Michael Bloomberg over this bustling city of 8 million people will come to an end. Though much of the population enjoyed relative prosperity and social stability during his years in power, critics questioned his authoritarian and increasingly eccentric leadership style.”

In its second installment, Slate’s new must-read series If It Happened There — which covers US events like our media covers other countries — chronicles the end of Michael Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor. “Bloomberg has made no secret of his ambitions for higher office, though experts believe he has limited appeal in America’s less-developed but politically influential agricultural regions, where powerful armed groups have bristled at his suggestions for limiting their access to advanced weaponry and munitions.”

Manning Down.

“The ‘aiding the enemy; charge was so preposterous on its face, and so evil in its intent, that it tended to obscure how contrary to acceptable American jurisprudence the entire situation — from his detention to his trial — regarding Bradley Manning was. But it was in that charge that this administration — this Democratic administration, headed by a former professor of constitutional law — demonstrated its willingness, if not its eagerness — to elevate information into a tin god to whom we are all suppliants, and against whom we have no civil rights worthy of the name.”

As the Bradley Manning trial moves to sentencing — I wrote about the case here in March — Esquire’s Charlie Pierce wonders again how we got so far down the rabbit hole. Honestly, we should have a pretty good sense, at this late date, that prosecuting anyone under the godforsaken Espionage Act is generally a terrible idea.

Referring to the most venomous of the charges, which Manning thankfully escaped — that he was willfully “aiding the Enemy” by blowing the whistle on Army misdeeds — Pierce writes: “That anyone in this government thought this is a good idea is something worth studying. Manning’s going to go to jail from now until Christ alone knows when. The people who thought this up are still going to have good government jobs. Something’s not right with that.” Amen.

Scholar, Journalist, Cop, Hoopster.

“‘I would say that my ideal of writing history is to give the reader vicarious experience,’ Professor Morgan told The William and Mary Quarterly. ‘You’re born in one particular century at a particular time, and the only experience you can have directly is of the place you live and the time you live in. History is a way of giving you experience that you would otherwise be cut off from.’ Edmund Morgan, 1916-2013.

“Well I never knew it was a man’s world! I never accepted that. I thought I had an education just as good as a man’s. I deserve to have the same opportunities and advantages. So I antagonized a lot of people, but I fought for women’s rights and blacks’ rights and civil rights. Discrimination against women was very bad. There was no reason to accept discrimination. No reason.” Helen Thomas, 1920-2013.

“‘My personality was formed by Chicago,’ he told Cigar Aficionado magazine in 1999. ‘It’s very American, very straightforward. If you can’t find it, or make it there, you won’t make it anywhere. It’s a very honest place.’” Dennis Farina. 1944-2013.

“I was the Knicks’ third-leading scorer [8.1 ppg], I also finished third in the league in assist average [2.0], and my salary was 60 dollars per game. Ha! These days, the players make about sixty dollars a minute. Don’t get me wrong, though. I have no jealousy or resentment over how much money these guys make today. I think they’re the best athletes in the world, and they’re worth every red cent. I’m just proud to have been one of the NBA’s pioneers.” Ossie Schectman, 1919-2013.

Our Criminal Surveillance State.

“Leave aside the Patriot Act and FISA Amendments Act for a moment, and turn to the Constitution. The Fourth Amendment obliges the government to demonstrate probable cause before conducting invasive surveillance. There is simply no precedent under the Constitution for the government’s seizing such vast amounts of revealing data on innocent Americans’ communications.”

As scholars Jennifer Stisa Granick and Christopher Jon Sprigman remind us in the NYT, make no mistake: the NSA’s current surveillance regime is entirely illegal. “We may never know all the details of the mass surveillance programs, but we know this: The administration has justified them through abuse of language, intentional evasion of statutory protections, secret, unreviewable investigative procedures and constitutional arguments that make a mockery of the government’s professed concern with protecting Americans’ privacy. It’s time to call the N.S.A.’s mass surveillance programs what they are: criminal.”

As I said last time, this shouldn’t even be in dispute. But far too many ostensible Democrats seem to assume this culture of lawlessness is ok now that Obama’s at the helm. Once again, we have lost our way.

“If convicted on all three counts, the former N.S.A. contract-systems administrator could face thirty years in jail. On the Sunday-morning talk shows I watched, there weren’t many voices saying that would be an excessive punishment for someone who has performed an invaluable public service.” In related news, The New Yorker‘s John Cassidy laments the cowardice of today’s media with regards to the fate of Edward Snowden: “The Obama Administration doesn’t want him to come home and contribute to the national-security-versus-liberty debate that the President says is necessary. It wants to lock him up for a long time”

The mantra of good journalism should be to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, but, here again, our broken, trivia-obsessed, lapdog-riddled fourth estate has it exactly backward. It is infuriating to behold.

Still, at the very least, Frank Rich has ably summed up all you need to know about NBC’s David Gregory, who recently queried on-air whether Glenn Greenwald should be jailed for breaking the Snowden story:

“Is David Gregory a journalist? As a thought experiment, name one piece of news he has broken, one beat he’s covered with distinction, and any memorable interviews he’s conducted that were not with John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Dick Durbin, or Chuck Schumer…In any case, his charge is preposterous…I propose that Gregory be full-time on Today, where he can speak truth to power by grilling Paula Deen.”

Newt for our Sins.

“There is no more singularly ridiculous figure in American politics. Nobody is close. He squandered an epic congressional victory by waking up on the morning with a Napoleonic complex that made Napoleon look like a Carthusian. He had a comely aide problem that would have embarrassed the Borgias. He ran for president as a kind of elaborate marketing scheme and book tour. And he’s still seen as a political man of ideas. And his ideas still pretty much blow goats.”

Another reason I’ve been stepping away from the politics posts – the estimable Charlie Pierce has this beat covered. Here he eviscerates the Politico-Industrial complex’s continued infatuation with gasbag Newt Gingrich. “Not to stick up for Karl Rove but, Jesus H. Christ on a special episode of Blossom, there is no serious comparison to be made.” Naturally, CNN — home of Serious People™ like David Gergen — has recently picked him up as a political correspondent.

The Clown has a Point.


Hey all. Apologies yet again for the lack of updates around here. As I said a couple of times last year, I’m still figuring out where the old Ghost fits in the scheme of life these days. There’s a negative feedback loop happening where I don’t post at GitM that often, so fewer people swing by here, so there are no comments or feedback on the posts that I do spend some time on, which makes me even less inclined to post, so thus even fewer people swing by here…you get the point.

I was thinking of starting up the movie reviews around here again for 2013, but having just spent a looong time on another giant project that few if any will ever peruse, I’m not really seeing the point of dedicating myself to spending even more hours of my day writing long-winded reviews that nobody ever reads. It’s just a lot of work with very little gain. I’ve been writing this blog for over 13 years and the reviews for over ten — If either were ever going to gain an audience, they would have done so by now.

As for politics…eh. On the domestic front, all reasonable and common-sense attempts at achieving forward progress have been stymied for years now, mainly because of bipartisan infatuation with a totally fake problem. Sure, Obama (finally) talked a good game last night about climate change, voting rights, infrastructure, equal pay, housing, the minimum wage — things we expected from a progressive president four years ago, and that would undeniably make a profound difference for a lot of American families. But this is year five of this presidency — We know the score by now. When push comes to shove, he’ll be promoting Simpson-Bowles nonsense, extolling the Grand Bargain again, and advocating a chained CPI, all because, presumably, those evil, evil Republicans made him. Good cop, bad cop.

Over on foreign policy, our Hope-and-Change president has accorded himself the power to kill anyone he so desires by executive fiat. And the response? Ostensible progressives back this ridiculous play, and a full 83% of America is totally cool with Death from Above without due process. Awesome.

Speaking of due process, it is flat-out-ridiculous that we live in a world where Aaron Swartz was hounded to suicide by a DoJ-enabled Javert for freeing up JSTOR articles, of all things, and Bradley Manning is kept in a tiny box as Public Enemy #1 for exposing bad behavior by the military. And yet, our national torture experiment has still gone unpunished (because, hey, it worked!), and not a single bankster of note has been prosecuted, despite the massive levels of fraud that have been exposed and that brought the American economy to its knees. To the contrary, the president can’t stop asking self-serving and patently corrupt assholes like Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein how we can better structure our public policy to cater to their whims.

Admittedly, I partake in it myself semi-often, but I’m just tired of a Twitter-driven political-journalism culture that seems to think that the lulz of Marco Rubio being really thirsty is a more pressing issue to cover than the myriad holes in his obviously stupid, self-serving, and faith-based ideas. Or that Jack Lew having a funny signature is a more vital point to discuss about the probable next Treasury Secretary than whatever the hell he was doing at Citigroup when the goddamned house was burning down.

I hate on the hipster Twitter kids, but establishment journalism is even worse. We live in a world where the totally inane Politico rules the roost and “wins the day”. Where our papers of record will keep warrantless wiretaps and drone bases quiet for years because the powers-that-be asked them to. Where idiot right-leaning “centrists” like David Brooks, David Gergen, Gloria Borger, and Cokie Roberts are queried for their inane views constantly, even though they don’t know anything and have never done anything with their lives but constantly mouth Beltway platitudes as if they were Holy Scripture. Where “journalists” like Chuck Todd, John King, and Jake Tapper — the latter of whom, let’s remember, made it big by kissing-and-telling on his Big Date with Monica Lewinsky — are taken seriously because they tsk-tsk about deficits like Serious People™ and passively nod along whenever obvious liars are lying. This isn’t journalism. It’s Court Stenography, Versailles-on-the-Potomac.

Ain’t no use jiving. Ain’t no use joking. Everything is broken. So, no, I don’t feel particularly inclined to talk about politics these days either, because there’s only so many times you can bellow in rage about it all, especially when nobody swings by this little corner of the Internet anyway. I’m not officially quitting GitM or anything, but let’s be honest. I’m not really what sure when, if ever, it’ll get its groove back. I’m not sure I see the point. And besides, as Richard said, a withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy.

Score One for O’Brien.

Given how often I complain about lazy and terrible media practices here at GitM, I should also give credit where due: Interviewing longtime GOP hack John Sununu yesterday, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien did exactly what a good journalist is meant to do — respond to obviously false talking points with an appeal to the facts. (To see how these things usually go at CNN, see this classic Candy Crowley riff.) More of this, please.

Mitt’s Serious Man™ is Clownshoes.

Unfortunately, Mitt choosing Paul Ryan this morning means we’re probably going to be stuck with the media treating the Congressman from Wisconsin like he’s a Very Serious Person™ for at least the next three election cycles. But on the bright side, I’ve already said everything I need to say about this clownshoes, so I’ll just direct you to my post on Ryan from last year. And if you don’t particularly feel like clicking through, here’s the meat of what I said, below.

For months, as you all know, the Serious People in the media have been banging the drum of the deficit witchhunt even though, from an economic perspective, austerity at this hour makes about as much sense as Birtherism. And, in the past few weeks, they have doubled down on this idiocy by trying to elevate the most recent flavor of the month, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, as a Serious Man, come to tell us hard truths about the need for sacrifice.

In fact, Congressman Ryan is scarcely any less of a huckster than the Donald. This is a guy who laments the intrusions of the welfare state at every turn, but only made it to college thanks to Social Security benefits received upon the passing of his father. (To be fair: Ryan is only emulating his hero with this sort of hypocrisy.) This is also a guy who, when confronted with the Clinton budget surpluses of a decade ago, then lamented that the debt was too small.

And this is a guy whose budget proposal — which he was quick to deem not a budget, but a cause — is basically the same vile, stale concoction of malice and magical thinking that the right has been peddling for decades. It uses made-up numbers to argue that privatizing Medicare (and leaving seniors with the bills), slashing the social safety net, and lowering taxes on the rich will somehow end deficits and save America. (Short answer: It won’t.)

By any reasonable standard, the Ryan budget should have been laughed out of the room as soon as it dropped. But, no, the press needed A Serious Man™ on the right for its lazy he-said, she-said approach to any political story. And, so Ryan got the Trump treatment and the rest is history. Ostensibly liberal pundits fell over themselves praising Ryan’s budget. In response, the president eventually drew progressive kudos for pitching his own deficit reduction plan. (More on that in a sec.) With both sides established, the press can now continue to happily indulge in the usual medley of content-free, he-said, she-said inanities that, to them, constitutes political journalism. And everyone in Washington can continue to ignore the fact that, actually, more spending, not cutting the deficit, is what is needed to fix the economy right now. Win-win!

Regarding President Obama’s deficit proposals, he delivered an eloquent speech on the subject last month, to be sure — one of his best as president. But, even if we hadn’t already been burned far too many times by his rhetoric not matching up to his policies, it’s hard for me to take his remarks as some great moment of the left just because he finally articulated what should be pretty basic principles of American government. Particularly when you consider that the Obama plan is, of course, center-right-leaning, and yet it has nevertheless become the left pole in an exceedingly narrow economic debate.

(By the way, if you’re really worried about the long-term deficit, the answer isn’t rocket science. Try raising taxes on the rich. Or passing real health care cost controls. Or going where the money’s at. Or growing the economy and putting people back to work. Or, y’know, doing nothing — that would work too.)

In sum, the Trump boomlet of last month was not the exception. It was a clear and distilled expression of the rule, a sideshow to a sideshow. And because the Village press is so terrible, our entire politics is distorted — We are living out the consequences of this disaster yet again in the deficit debate. Only the sheer amount of money flooding the system right now is a bigger political problem than the broken state of the newsmedia.

Bowlesed over.


For the Obama administration, Bowles has a number of qualifications. For one thing, Republicans adore him. Ryan has called him ‘my favorite Democrat.’ Appointing Bowles to be Treasury Secretary would ensure a smooth confirmation, and it would be interpreted as a sign of goodwill and ‘seriousness’ both by Republicans and by the media.

Er…Not a single one of those are pluses. And neither the Republicans nor the media are in any way serious anymore, and they haven’t been for close to two decades. So why cater to them? In any case, Ezra Klein starts floating Erskine Bowles, one of the high priests of the deficit witchhunt, as the second term Treasury Secretary. Actually, Ezra, that’s a fucking terrible idea, because guess what? The deficit is not and has never been a real problem, and you should know that. Nonetheless, folks, start girding yourself for the Grand Bargain…Our president has made it patently clear that that’s the direction he plans to head should he be granted a second term. And this is pretty much why I won’t be posting about Election 2012 here all that often.

That Sinking Feeling.


I’m just a symptom of the moral decay that’s gnawing at the heart of the country…George Clooney’s The Ides of March (which I finally caught several weeks after Drive — hopefully I’m a little faster with the back-half of this year’s Clooney double feature) is easier to admire than it is to recommend. Attempting to dramatize the dark corners of American politics where careerism strangles idealism, it’s a film with a serious purpose and admirable ambitions. It’s well-made, and definitely well suited to the deflated, cynical “change we no longer believe in” zeitgeist of this political moment. And it’s generous to its bevy of talented actors, even if they don’t interact as much on-screen as I might have liked.

At the same time, I found Ides‘ depiction of contemporary politics to be totally theatrical and unrealistic, and its messaging rather muddled. (For a Phillip Seymour Hoffman movie that does get politics right, despite its occasional Sorkinisms, check out Charlie Wilson’s War.) The basic conceit here is All the King’s Men, basically (or, if you’re new-school, Primary Colors) — No man is a hero to his valet and all that, especially in politics. But by having the feet of clay of Clooney’s Obama-esque candidate, Governor Mike Morris of Pennsylvania, here be (yawn…oh, and major spoiler, I guess), in the parlance of politics, a “bimbo eruption,” Ides not only makes itself seem relentlessly dated. It seems to flinch from the problems in contemporary politics that people are actually and justifiably cynical about.

So, now that I’ve spoiled one of the major “twists,” let me roll it back for a moment. It’s the final days of the Ohio Democratic primary, and Governor Morris is in a neck-and-neck race with Senator Ted Pullman of Arkansas (Michael Mantell, not a factor here.) Running the respective campaigns are Hoffman and Paul Giamatti — although, don’t get your hopes up, they have maybe 30 seconds of time together.The kingmaker of the entire race could well be Senator Thompson of North Carolina (Jeffrey Wright), who has recently dropped out and has delegates to spare — although, again, don’t get your hopes up, Wright is here for maybe five minutes tops. And the ace in the hole is Morris’ wunderkind campaign aide, Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling). He does…messaging? Voter outreach? It’s totally unclear, and we never see him do anything important. But the film depends on him being considered an amazing and indispensable political genius, so let’s presume he is. (Yes, yes, more Gosling haterade. He’s actually fine here, FWIW.)

In any case, Meyers is apparently such an earth-shattering asset that, one day, the opposition (Giamatti) asks to do lunch in a possible bid to get him to switch sides. But when word of this (totally innocuous) barroom meet leaks to an enterprising NYT reporter (Marisa Tomei), the story threatens to tank Meyers’ relationship with his boss (ok, maybe) and develop into a full-blown, campaign-sinking media sensation (Really? Why? They’re both Dems. And are all Ohio voters meant to be such political junkies that they would devote extreme import to an aide on one campaign having lunch with another? This is an inside-the-Beltway, Lloyd Grove tidbit at best.) And then there’s the complicating matter of Meyers’ new fling, a young and exceedingly friendly campaign intern (Evan Rachel Wood). What was it Chekhov said about comely interns in the first act of a political play…?

So you can basically tell where The Ides of March is going from relatively early on. (If not, every Obama-esque utterance by Morris, who’s a pro-gay-marriage, secular humanist liberal dream candidate, also gives the game away. There’s gotta be something up the man’s sleeve or there’s no movie.) Still, I admired some of Ides‘ visual conceits — for example, having the climactic, idealism-deflating tete-a-tete occur in a hotel kitchen. (In US politics, really horrible idealism-deflating things have happened in hotel kitchens.) And, thanks to its actors and crisp direction, the film mostly sustains an impressive dramatic heft even when the story seems more than a little implausible.

But here’s the trick [back to the big spoiler, if you want out]: So Governor Mike Morris, as its happens, has a failing for the interns. To which I say…Honestly, who cares? This is the sort of thing that destroys your political idealism? We had an impeachment crisis over exactly this issue, and 60% of America shrugged and backed the president at the time. And, ten years after the Bill Clinton era, the sin of his administration that rankles isn’t his dalliances with Monica Lewinsky — It was the final removal of Glass-Steagal, which helped pave the way for the (unpunished) economy-imploding blowout of our times. Similarly,the thousands hitting the bricks for #OWS in various cities right now don’t particularly care who Obama, or anyone else in Washington, is screwing at any given time. They care who they’re screwing over.

And, in the end, the intern problem here is only the icing on the cake. The Ides of March is a film that’s almost entirely about the process of politics — scoops and polls and leaks, campaign managers and endorsements. It has almost nothing to say about the actual content of politics — jobs and schools and taxes. I don’t even remember, other than the aforementioned litany of hot-button cultural issues, any actual, honest-to-goodness questions of political import coming up. One of the main reasons, I’d argue, why the American people are sick-to-death of politics and politicians today, is all the useless, inside-baseball, endless-horse-race media coverage, when all folks really want is a good, well-paying job and a decent school in the neighborhood. In this respect and despite its good intentions, Ides is less a diagnosis of the disease afflicting the body politic and more just another manifestation of the symptoms.

Lithwick: It’s Not Us. It’s You.


For the past several years, while the mainstream media was dutifully reporting on all things Kardashian or (more recently) a wholly manufactured debt-ceiling crisis, ordinary people were losing their health care, their homes, their jobs, and their savings.

For the benefit of the willfully dense — i.e. all the telegenic denizens of the Village — Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick explains the basic meaning behind Occupy Wall Street: “They are holding up signs that are perfectly and intrinsically clear: They want accountability for the banks that took their money, they want to end corporate control of government. They want their jobs back. They would like to feed their children. They want–wait, no, we want– to be heard by a media that has devoted four mind-numbing years to channeling and interpreting every word uttered by a member of the Palin family while ignoring the voices of everyone else.

Why does #OWS hate the kittehs?

Everything you need to know about today’s Washington Post. Here is what happened in Oakland yesterday and today at the Occupy Wall Street protests:


The protests in the evening were characterized by increasingly violent encounters between protesters and law enforcement officers. Police officers launched canisters of tear gas into crowds of protesters on Broadway at 14th Street in front of Frank Ogawa Plaza at least four times Tuesday night, sending hundreds of people scattering down Broadway.

And here, via Shani O’Hilton of City Paper, is how the WP covered the #OccupyOakland clash:


Awww, a peace officer patting a kitteh! A kitteh left behind by evil protestors! And note the headline below-the-pic: “Protestors Wearing Out Their Welcome Nationwide.” Fair and balanced. (To be fair, the online coverage is better.)

Update: In the wake of the head injury that has put Iraq War vet Scott Olsen in critical condition, the WP‘s photo editor explains the kitteh decision.

Wikileaks on Empty.


Calling the blockade a ‘dangerous, oppressive and undemocratic’ attack led by the United States, Mr. Assange said at a news conference here that it had deprived his organization of ‘tens of millions of dollars,’ and warned, ‘If WikiLeaks does not find a way to remove this blockade, we will not be able to continue by the turn of the new year.’

Another scalp for the War on Whistleblowers: Strapped for cash thanks to Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, and Western Union blocking transactions, Julian Assange warns that Wikileaks may have to close its doors soon. That would be a shame: In this day and age, we need something approaching real and undomesticated journalism. (Pic above via, ironically, Facebook.)

Tricksters on the Borderlands, on the Throne.

A few days ago I was watching Touch of Evil, Orson Welles’ fevered monument to America’s fear of and fascination with the Border, which opens with that famous three-minute tracking shot…It hit me (weirdly, I guess, but I spent way too much time thinking about sports) that this shot contained everything you needed to know about the U.S.-Mexico soccer rivalry.

In Grantland, Brian Phillips looks to the border for insights into the US and Mexico soccer teams. To be honest, I’m not really sold on ESPN’s Grantland experiment just yet. Too much of the site exudes the terrible taste and fratgeek sexism of its editor-in-chief, “Sportsguy” Bill Simmons. Frequent contributor Chuck Klosterman is another red flag to me, for the same reasons. Both consider themselves pop culture arbiters and both are compulsively readable but – Simmons on the NBA notwithstanding — they’re also usually irritating and often wrong.

Still, Grantland does publish worthwhile culture pieces now and again — Hua Hsu on Watch the Throne today is another good one. And, speaking of good Watch the Throne commentary, Matt at Fluxblog has a particularly keen observation on it: “Kanye can’t help but project his intense insecurities – he’s emotionally transparent at all times, and it’s part of what makes him such a fascinating and magnetic pop star. Jay-Z, however, is the radical opposite – his every word and movement is focused on controlling your impression of him…In this way, Kanye is analogous to the Marvel Comics model of whiny, introspective, persecuted superheroes [Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Hulk] and Jay-Z is more like DC Comics’ Superman and Batman, who thrive when creators trade on their stoic, iconic qualities.

Enabling the Hucksters.

‘Trump’s presidential run is no longer being treated as serious by the easily distracted and resolutely frivolous political press that covered it so thoroughly just a few short weeks ago. While it was always an unamusing joke…we had what felt like a lifetime of New Hampshire trip coverage and Piers Morgan interviews and ‘President Trump? It might be more likely than you think!’

With last month’s embarrassing Trump boomlet seemingly run its course in the Village, Salon‘s Alex Pareene comes to bury, not praise, the Donald. “[T]ransparent idiocy didn’t cause the press to take Trump less seriously, but it did lead people to gradually grow to hate Trump, which made his ratings suffer, and the exposure of the artifice of the Trump persona was decidedly damaging to his ‘brand.’ Once your ‘brand’ has been damaged, say goodbye to credulous political press coverage!

To be honest, I couldn’t care less about Trump, and mostly avoided all of his Birther shenanigans as they were unfolding two weeks ago for the same reason I try to avoid any political coverage — from right or left — of the “You won’t believe what Sarah Palin just posted on Facebook!” variety. It’s lazy, it’s boring, and it’s actively pernicious given all the real problems we face right now. (But at the very least, both Trump and Palin are noteworthy indicators of how far the GOP done fell.)

I’m only posting on this now to point out that the Trump boomlet was by no means a one-time-thing. When the President of the United States actually had to come on TV two weeks ago to prove he was an American citizen, there was much pearl-clutching by the Village press about what a travesty this had all become. “What a sad day in American political history,” lamented MSNBC’s Chuck Todd. Meanwhile, the Washington Post opined that the release “says something embarrassing — actually, make that disturbing — about the state of American politics” — soon after that newspaper of record invited Trump to the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. (An evening, by the way, that’s as good as reflection as any of how desiccated and domesticated today’s establishment press has become.)

For his part, ABC’s Jake Tapper — a fellow who, let’s remember, got his big break as a hard-hitting journalist by kissing-and-telling on Monica Lewinsky back in the day — tried to defend the press by pointing to a Pew study which found that the deficit debate was actually the most-covered news story of the week. The problem with this line of argument is that conducting lousy journalism in one arena does not absolve you of conducting lousy journalism in another. And in fact, Village criers have been just as incompetent and/or duplicitous on the deficit.

For months, as you all know, the Serious People in the media have been banging the drum of the deficit witchhunt even though, from an economic perspective, austerity at this hour makes about as much sense as Birtherism. And, in the past few weeks, they have doubled down on this idiocy by trying to elevate the most recent flavor of the month, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, as a Serious Man, come to tell us hard truths about the need for sacrifice.

In fact, Congressman Ryan is scarcely any less of a huckster than the Donald. This is a guy who laments the intrusions of the welfare state at every turn, but only made it to college thanks to Social Security benefits received upon the passing of his father. (To be fair: Ryan is only emulating his hero with this sort of hypocrisy.) This is also a guy who, when confronted with the Clinton budget surpluses of a decade ago, then lamented that the debt was too small.

And this is a guy whose budget proposal — which he was quick to deem not a budget, but a cause — is basically the same vile, stale concoction of malice and magical thinking that the right has been peddling for decades. It uses made-up numbers to argue that privatizing Medicare (and leaving seniors with the bills), slashing the social safety net, and lowering taxes on the rich will somehow end deficits and save America. (Short answer: It won’t.)

By any reasonable standard, the Ryan budget should have been laughed out of the room as soon as it dropped. But, no, the press needed A Serious Man™ on the right for its lazy he-said, she-said approach to any political story. And, so Ryan got the Trump treatment and the rest is history. Ostensibly liberal pundits fell over themselves praising Ryan’s budget. In response, the president eventually drew progressive kudos for pitching his own deficit reduction plan. (More on that in a sec.) With both sides established, the press can now continue to happily indulge in the usual medley of content-free, he-said, she-said inanities that, to them, constitutes political journalism. And everyone in Washington can continue to ignore the fact that, actually, more spending, not cutting the deficit, is what is needed to fix the economy right now. Win-win!

Regarding President Obama’s deficit proposals, he delivered an eloquent speech on the subject last month, to be sure — one of his best as president. But, even if we hadn’t already been burned far too many times by his rhetoric not matching up to his policies, it’s hard for me to take his remarks as some great moment of the left just because he finally articulated what should be pretty basic principles of American government. Particularly when you consider that the Obama plan is, of course, center-right-leaning, and yet it has nevertheless become the left pole in an exceedingly narrow economic debate.

(By the way, if you’re really worried about the long-term deficit, the answer isn’t rocket science. Try raising taxes on the rich. Or passing real health care cost controls. Or going where the money’s at. Or growing the economy and putting people back to work. Or, y’know, doing nothing — that would work too.)

In sum, the Trump boomlet of last month was not the exception. It was a clear and distilled expression of the rule, a sideshow to a sideshow. And because the Village press is so terrible, our entire politics is distorted — We are living out the consequences of this disaster yet again in the deficit debate. Only the sheer amount of money flooding the system right now is a bigger political problem than the broken state of the newsmedia.

If it ain’t broke…

You can practically break a search engine if you start looking around the Internet for those words. They’re used repeatedly with reference to our local, state and federal governments, almost always to make a case for slashing programs — and, lately, to go after public-employee unions. The phrase is designed to create a sense of crisis that justifies rapid and radical actions before citizens have a chance to debate the consequences. Just one problem: We’re not broke.

Swimming upstream against a tide of misleading soundbites and outright idiocy — from Republicans and Democrats both — E.J. Dionne tries to explain the obvious: America has plenty of money right now. “A phony metaphor is being used to hijack the nation’s political conversation and skew public policies to benefit better-off Americans and hurt most others.

The Village Plays Hathorne.


Even worse than that is the common assertion by these millionaire pundits that ‘we all’ must sacrifice for the greater good and allow Social Security to be slashed. This is usually spoken with such a tone of lugubrious forbearance that one imagines they would like us to believe that while they might be forced to become Wal-Mart greeters in their elder years, patriotic duty demands we all pitch in. They seem to have no idea that the median wage in this country in 2009 was $26,261 — sadly, lower than it was in the year 2000.

In very related news: In The Hill, Heather D. Parton of Digby fame rails against establishment media’s complicity in the deficit witchhunt. “It’s very easy to prescribe ‘shared sacrifice’ when you will not personally sacrifice anything at all.

What the Words Obscured.


There is nothing the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences loves more than movies about people with physical or mental disabilities (or addictions)…If the afflicted protagonist also happens to be royal — as in The Madness of King George (1994) — so much the better, for a suffering crowned head bestows an extra touch of class on Hollywood’s uplifting formula of brave triumph over cruel adversity.

So, apparently, a stammer was the least of King George VI’s worries. As the Oscar field is announced with The King’s Speech at the head of the pack, Martin Filler muckrakes the rest of the King George story in The New York Review of Books, and Christopher Hitchens piles on over at Slate: “The King’s Speech is an extremely well-made film with a seductive human interest plot, very prettily calculated to appeal to the smarter filmgoer and the latent Anglophile. But it perpetrates a gross falsification of history.

Enemy of the State.


“‘To the extent there are gaps in our laws,’ Holder continued, ‘we will move to close those gaps, which is not to say…that anybody at this point, because of their citizenship or their residence, is not a target or a subject of an investigation that’s ongoing.

After another embarrassing document dump by Wikileaksthis time diplomatic cables, next time Bank of America? — Attorney General Holder threatens the prosecution of Julian Assange, an Australian citizen — most likely under the Espionage Act, the same catch-all 1917 law used to lock up Eugene Debs back in the day.

First of all, Gawker‘s John Cook has already explained why this attempted line of prosecution doesn’t work. However docile the “nation’s watchdogs” remain on any other given day, the newspapers that published these leaks would have to be considered co-conspirators in any Espionage Act-related indictment. “We think its fairly obvious that the Department of Justice won’t go after the Times or any of the other papers involved in the story. But if it doesn’t, that’s just evidence that its attempt to use the Espionage Act to go after Assange isn’t about enforcing laws: It’s about retribution, harassment, and rattling sabers.

Secondly, if Assange wants to avoid federal prosecution, perhaps he should just…I dunno…torture somebody? Or maybe rip off the American people for trillions of dollars? Or how ’bout just spying on Americans via warrantless wiretap? Apparently, disclosing those kinds of secrets is one of those look-forward-not-backward kinda things.

Let’s get real here. There’s no threat to our troops in these leaks — Even the Pentagon admits that. (A more overlooked problem, as a friend pointed out, is what this leak might mean for human rights workers.) Wikleaks’ methods are of the blunderbuss variety, yes. (That probably speaks in their favor: They don’t seem to tailor their leaks to suit a predetermined spin. They just dump data. And, hey, somebody should be doing the media’s job.) And, sure, Assange comes off as more than a bit pretentious, but what of it? If being a jackass were a crime, our prison system in this country would be completely broken…oh wait, it already is.

In the end, as Glenn Greenwald well put it, “our government and political culture is so far toward the extreme pole of excessive, improper secrecy that that is clearly the far more significant threat.” You’d think an administration that ran on unparalleled transparency in government might feel the same way. But, sadly, like its predecessor, the only crime this administration really seems to hate is whistleblowing.

Pundits, Heal Thyselves.

The War Room Hack Thirty is a list of our least favorite political commentators, newspaper columnists and constant cable news presences, ranked roughly (but only roughly) in order of awfulness and then described rudely. Criteria for inclusion included writing the same column every week for 30 years, war-mongering, joyless repetition of conventional wisdom, and making bad puns.

Another enjoyable and illuminating recent list: Salon‘s Alex Pareene chooses America’s thirty most hackadocious pundits. The sad thing is, not only is every entrant on this list more than deserving of the scorn they receive here, but Pareene could easily have knocked the list up to fifty pundits with absolutely no diminution in lack-of-quality.

The Plot Against America.


These records show that while the chamber boasts of representing more than three million “businesses, and having approximately 300,000 members, nearly half of its $140 million in contributions in 2008 came from just 45 donors. Many of those large donations coincided with lobbying or political campaigns that potentially affected the donors.

The republic stands upon the edge of a knife, people. Stray but a little, and it will fall. While the NYT belatedly figures out the Chamber is up to no good in its overwhelming campaign spending — thank you, Citizens United — the Center for American Progress discovers that the vast right-wing conspiracy actually holds meetings(!):

While the Koch brothers — each worth over $21.5 billion — have certainly underwritten much of the right, their hidden coordination with other big business money has gone largely unnoticed…The memo, along with an attendee list of about 210 people, shows the titans of industry — from health insurance companies, oil executives, Wall Street investors, and real estate tycoons — working together with conservative journalists and Republican operatives to plan the 2010 election, as well as ongoing conservative efforts through 2012.

Not Gonna Take It Anymore.

When you can read an entire column by the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz and never once feel the urge to cut out your own heart with a dull knife, you know that you no longer have the sense of outrage that is essential to reporting from our nation’s capital.” In related news, and via Glenn Greenwald, Harper’s editor Ken Silverstein bids a pithy farewell to his DC beat.

A Mole in the Movement.


Responding to the newspaper’s requests, the government instead released 369 pages related to a 1970s public corruption probe that targeted Withers — by then a state employee who was taking payoffs — carefully redacting references to informants — with one notable exception. Censors overlooked a single reference to Withers’ informant number.

Thanks to one small clerical error, the Memphis Commerical Appeal uncovers the hidden life of famed civil rights photographer Ernest Withers, who apparently doubled as an FBI informant. [Reaction.] “‘He was the perfect source for them. He could go everywhere with a perfect, obvious professional purpose,’ said Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Garrow, who, along with retired Marquette University professor Athan Theoharis, reviewed the newspaper’s findings.” Shady.

WH to Bloggers: Drop Dead (Again).

[T]o the extent that the ‘liberal left’ is upset at the President, it’s because they are seeing a great opportunity slip away in real time. The only one that told the base that they could change America from the bottom up and bring forth a transformative new era of leadership is Barack Obama. If he didn’t want one, he shouldn’t have said anything.

In response to the most recent disparaging of liberal and progressive blogs by “senior administrative official” to his or her media lap dog of choice, FDL’s Dave Dayen gets to the heart of progressive consternation with Team Obama: “Nobody had a bigger challenge coming into office than Barack Obama but nobody had a bigger opportunity. And liberals like myself are generally peeved that the opportunity has been squandered. Yes, squandered.” Yep, sounds about right.

In very related news, with the passage of financial reform in the Senate today, The Prospect‘s Kevin Drum gets off a zinger about Obama’s legislative accomplishments thus far. I think, overall, this president could have accomplished much more than Drum’s biting joke suggests — most obviously on executive power issues like torture and indefinite detention. (Or, put another way, I just get irritated with people who throw up their hands and say the problem with our politics is entirely structural when you have an ostensibly-lefty president saying patently dumb things like this. Choices matter, and this administration makes terrible ones.) All that being said, Drum’s comment was still worth a (rueful) laugh regardless.

The Press in the Tank.

From the early 1930s until the modern story broke in 2004, the newspapers that covered waterboarding almost uniformly called the practice torture or implied it was torture: The New York Times characterized it thus in 81.5% (44 of 54) of articles on the subject and The Los Angeles Times did so in 96.3% of articles (26 of 27). By contrast, from 2002-2008…The New York Times called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture in just 2 of 143 articles (1.4%). The Los Angeles Times did so in 4.8% of articles (3 of 63).

By way of Greenwald and Sullivan, a Harvard study documents exactly how absurdly our national media carried water for the Dubya-era torture regime. “In addition, the newspapers are much more likely to call waterboarding torture if a country other than the United States is the perpetrator.

This story, along with Politico’s gaffetastic reaction to Rolling Stone‘s Michael Hastings doing real journalism on the McChrystal story — (“Hastings would be considered a bigger risk to be given unfettered access, compared with a beat reporter, who would not risk burning bridges by publishing many of McChrystal’s remarks” — See also Lara Logan) and Joke Line deeming Glenn Greenwald a traitor because he dared to call unrepentant Iraq war evidence-falsifier Jeff Goldberg a horrible journalist (“Greenwald…so far as I can tell, only regards the United States as a force for evil in the world.“) pretty much tells you everything you need to know about our broken and corrupt Village media. And this is all just in the past week. Rinse and repeat, over and over and over again. (Pic via here.)

Code Orange.

‘They’re snuffing out the America that I grew up in,’ Boehner said. ‘Right now, we’ve got more Americans engaged in their government than at any time in our history. There’s a political rebellion brewing, and I don’t think we’ve seen anything like it since 1776.” In case you missed GOP leader John Boehner’s inadvisable, Barton-like unveiling of his true thoughts this morning, the Minority Leader gave an interview to the Scaife-owned Pittsburgh Tribune, and it’s actually an open question what the dumbest thing he said was. Was it:

1) Arguing that the avarice and fraud-fueled Wall Street meltdown that destroyed 8 million jobs was merely an “ant” Dems were trying to kill with a nuclear weapon? (Say what you will about this financial reform legislation, I wouldn’t call it nuclear-powered.)

2) Suggesting we should fund the highly-suspect-at-this-point war in Afghanistan by forcing Americans to work five more years? or…

3) The pathetic dabbling in Tea Party self-aggrandizement posted above? From what I remember of the history books, 1861 was a pretty banner year for political rebellion. Also, here’s a tip, Mr. Boehner: Read Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland. The Tea Party is not only not a new phenomenon, it’s not even a particularly special one. The only difference now is the media covers these John Birch Society wannabes like they’re actually a real political force in America. For shame.

And I’ve even skipped over stuff like the usual “repeal health care reform” inanities. Once again, the Majority Leader proves that one of the best assets Democrats have going into the fall midterms are the Republicans themselves. They’re just not ready for prime-time anymore, if in fact they ever were.

It’s Toxic, We’re Slipping Under.

Ever since 1987 and the end of the Fairness Doctrine, which freed station owners from having to provide any balance on the air, conservatives have dominated talk radio. To the point where today, according to a 2007 report of the Center for American Progress, there are at least 10 hours of right-wing talk for every one hour of progressive talk. And that’s a real problem. Not simply because this torrent of hate is unpleasant for most people to listen to. But because it also debases the level of political discourse in this country, at a time when we need it the most.

Personal plug: Bill Press’ Toxic Talk: How the Radical Right Has Poisoned America’s Airwaves, which I worked on in a research and editing capacity last year, is hitting bookstores today. (As longtime readers may remember, this is our fifth book together, along with Spin This (2001), Bush Must Go (2004), How the Republicans Stole Christmas (2005), and Trainwreck (2008).) In any case, I suspect regular readers here — all ten of you! — should be sympathetic to its central thesis: Right-wing talk radio is bad for our politics and for our country. (And hat-tip to Media Matters, a key resource for this book, for watchdogging these blustery carnival barkers on a full-time basis.)

Forward Unto Zion.

Particularly in the younger generations, fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals are Zionists; fewer and fewer American Jewish Zionists are liberal. One reason is that the leading institutions of American Jewry have refused to foster — indeed, have actively opposed — a Zionism that challenges Israel’s behavior in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and toward its own Arab citizens. For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.

Making the rounds this week, and making a break from his former boss Marty Peretz, former TNR editor Peter Beinart laments the “failure [re: conservatizing] of the American Jewish establishment.” (See also the follow-up interview.) An interesting piece, but Beinart — who, by the way, is wrong often — seems to have neglected to mention the very welcome formation of J Steet. They seem to be way ahead of him on this.

Change You Can Be Afraid Of.


“‘You’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank all that high on the truth meter,’ Obama said at Hampton University, Virginia. ‘With iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations, — none of which I know how to work — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation.

Sigh. We’ve come a long way from “Dirt Off Your Shoulder.” In a commencement speech at Hampton University over the weekend, President Obama channels his inner grumpy-old-man (Roger Ebert?) to warn new grads about the perils of gaming and gadgetry. First off, it’s a ludicrous statement on its face: iPods are not particularly hard to work — and, if they’re really insidious Weapons of Mental Distraction, why give one to the Queen (who, by the way and to her credit, has fully embraced the Wii?)

Speaking more broadly, misinformation has been around as long as the republic — go read up on the Jefferson v. Adams race of 1800. If anything, today’s information society allows people to more easily hear the news from multiple sources, which is a very good thing. In fact, the reason our political culture these days is constantly bombarded with irrelevant, distracting, and inane mistruths has nothing — none, zip, zero — to do with iPods, iPads, Xboxes, or Playstations. It has to do with ABC, CBS, WaPo, Politico, and the rest of the Village, i.e. the very same people the President was noshing with a few weeks ago at the ne plus ultra of “information becoming distracting entertainment“, the White House Correspondents’ DInner.

Finally, while the “multi-tasking is distracting” proposition does seem to hold water, scientifically speaking, the jury’s still out on the pernicious effects of Xbox’s and the like. In fact, there are plenty of studies suggesting that video games improve vision, improve reflexes, improve attention, improve cognition, improve memory, and improve “fluid intelligence,” a.k.a. problem-solving. So, let’s not get out the torches and pitchforks just yet. It could just be that the 21st-century interactive culture is making better, smarter, more informed citizens. (And, hey, let’s not forget Admongo.)

To get to the point, while it’s not as irritating as the concerned-centrist pearl-clutching over GTA in past years, it’s just a troubling dynamic to see not only a young, ostensibly Kennedyesque president but the most powerful man in the world tsk-tsking about all this new-fangled technology ruining the lives of the young people. Let’s try to stay ahead of the curve, please. And let’s keep focus on the many problems — lack of jobs, crushing student loan and/or credit card debts, etc. — that might be distracting new graduates right now more than their iPods and PS3s. (Also, try to pick up a copy of Stephen Duncombe’s Dream — Video game-style interactivity isn’t the enemy. It’s the future.)

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