Monday, June 20, 2016

Commentariat Central

Readers, while I struggle to get my columnizing act together for the week, I thought I'd share a few of my recent New York Times missives with you. As always, you are invited to contribute your own comments in the usual space below. No topic is off-limits. Vent, grouse, and be merry.


Brad Evans and Henry A. Giroux, The Violence of Forgetting, 6/20

I'm starting out with one of those insightful op-eds that still get published by the Gray Lady from time to time. Actually, the entire "Stone" philosophy series stands head and shoulders above the punditory likes of David Brooks, Tom Friedman and Paul Krugman. They're essays written in conversational form, with a new guest philosopher or academic featured every week.

In the latest edition, Evans interviews Henry Giroux, who writes:
What I have called the violence of organized forgetting signals how contemporary politics are those in which emotion triumphs over reason, and spectacle over truth, thereby erasing history by producing an endless flow of fragmented and disingenuous knowledge. At a time in which figures like Donald Trump are able to gain a platform by promoting values of “greatness” that serve to cleanse the memory of social and political progress achieved in the name of equality and basic human decency, history and thought itself are under attack.
Once ignorance is weaponized, violence seems to be a tragic inevitability. The mass shooting in Orlando is yet another example of an emerging global political and cultural climate of violence fed by hate and mass hysteria. Such violence legitimates not only a kind of inflammatory rhetoric and ideological fundamentalism that views violence as the only solution to addressing social issues, it also provokes further irrational acts of violence against others. Spurrned on by a complete disrespect for those who affirm different ways of living, this massacre points to a growing climate of hate and bigotry that is unapologetic in its political nihilism.
My published comment:
 If only every opinion piece in the Times were of this high calibre, what a wonderful world it would be. What hope there might still be for democracy.

Henry Giroux is right that the crux of the matter is education (or lack thereof.) No matter that Donald Trump can't read or speak, when most of his audience, on average, only reads one book per year. (And that book was probably "written" by Trump.)

To the extent that our neoliberal political system is still investing in public schools, it is concentrating on the STEM curricula in order to prepare the wage slaves of the future. History, philosophy and literature are going by the wayside, because the last thing the oligarchy wants is citizens who can actually think. As Henry Giroux says, everything is regimented for optimal human control. It's brutal, and it's violent. And Trump is only the latest symptom of the fascism (or corporatism) that has been an integral part of this country for a very long time.

 Even though it's gotten almost to the point of environmental annihilation, capitalism is incapable of knowing or caring that as an obscene cancerous growth, it too is doomed to die, right along with its host: the body politic.

America is in dire need of a huge -- y-u-u-uge! - dose of intellectual and moral therapy.

Thanks again for a stimulating discussion. It should be part of the American curriculum, the Congressional Record and maybe even stealthily inserted into the telepromptered speeches of Trump and Clinton.

Trigger warning: it's mostly downhill from here. So let's get the most odious entry out of the way first: 

Paul Krugman, Is Our Economists Learning? (6/18)

The Conscience of a Liberal starts off with a whimper:
 Bernie is doing his long — very, very, very long — goodbye; Trump appears to be flaming out. So, time to revisit some macroeconomics.

And then Krugman returns to doing what he does best: denouncing those god-awful, dishonest, paid-for austerian economists from the GOP side of the duopoly. Without a hint of self-reflection as he comes off his own marathon of hippie-punching at the Bernie Sanders threat to the Clintonian succession, Krugman bemoans
"...the bad behavior of quite a few professional economists, who invented new doctrines on the fly to justify their opposition to stimulus and desire for austerity even in the face of a depression and zero interest rates."
This, from the same eminence grise who slammed Bernie's ideas for single payer health care and free public college tuition, because he deemed them to be unrealistic pipe dreams in the current austerian political climate, and also because numbers adding up and crunching are more stimulating to experts like him than the idea of bettering people's lives.

My response:
It must be such a relief to revisit one's area of expertise after having spent the last many months leading the elite charge against Sanders and his progressive supporters, those annoying Bernie Bros. The creation of straw men out of thin air must have been absolutely exhausting.

Now it's time to pretend that the orchestrated smear job against people who support progressive ideas like Medicare for All never even happened. Let Bernie tilt at his windmills -- he's no longer a danger to the established order of things. Hillary "clinched" it, we can finally relax.

It's time for "unity", which in corporate Dem-land includes tearing down the usual suspects of supply-side economics and "expansionary" austerity. This is as easy as pie, compared to the difficulty of tearing down Bernie's New Dealish pie-in-the-sky ideas -- like massive government stimulus spending.

I wouldn't even have bothered commenting on this piece, were it not for Krugman's lingering and petulant penchant for leading off with a gratuitous Bernie Sanders dig (his "long - very,very, very long - goodbye") even when the man is already down, out, and squashed flat by the neoliberal bus.

"The Long Goodbye" is also the title of a Raymond Chandler novel, described as "a study of a moral and decent man cast adrift in a selfish, self-obsessed society where lives can be thrown away without a backward glance."
So whether he meant to or not, Krugman has basically reminded us that Bernie Sanders is a mensch for the ages.


Maureen Dowd, Trump in the Dumps, 6/18.

After months of just letting Trump be Trump in a series of columns in the fun, "style-section" genre, Dowd is finally distancing herself from the GOP presumptive nominee, even going so far as to muse that "now, Trump's own behavior is casting serious doubt on whether he's qualified to be president."

Ya think?

Dowd admits that knowing Trump for 20 years might have blinded her to the danger. You see, she writes, 
Trump told me he could act like the toniest member of high society when he wanted, and he would as soon as he dispatched his G.O.P. rivals. He said his narcissism would not hinder him as he morphed into a leader. But he can’t stop lashing out and doesn’t get why that turns people against him. Everything is filtered through his ego. He reacted to Orlando not as a tragedy so much as a chance to brag about “the congrats” he got for “being right on radical Islamic terrorism.”
My published response:
 So, you've finally seen the Trumpian light. Or should I say darkness.

Better late than never, escaping right in the nick of time from the slimy clutches of a man who deigned to absolve you from his misogyny, at least to your face. That glow from all those exclusive interviews and intimate dinners at Trump Towers in full view of hundreds of envious gawkers has paled, apparently. Was it the 70% public disapproval rating that finally got to you, or did your moral compass finally stop spinning in besotted confusion? Was it the gut-wrenching televised spectacle of Donald's rapprochement with Megyn Kelly that caused the epiphany? Or, maybe the last straw was when he banned the elite Washington Post from his entourage.

That must have been too close for comfort.

 Better to be the instigator of the big breakup than find yourself on the receiving end of it, right?

Besides, it has become a "thing" with the recovering elite press corps to see who can blast Donald with the cleverest Tweeted Trump putdowns in any news cycle.

It's telling that you were even momentarily swayed by Trump's bland assurances that he really didn't mean it when he demonized Muslims, Mexicans and disabled people. The pseudo-populism was like the bouquet of roses all abusers give their victims. As long as he's against NAFTA and GOP corruption, he can't be a total psychopath, right?

 And now that he's gone from cool billionaire to the Biggest Loser, Ms. Dowd bolts.

Cue Amy Poehler: Really, Maureen? Really?

Maureen Dowd, Girl Squad, 6/11.

I actually thought that this column, published the week before, was pretty damned funny. Dowd imagines the recent creepy veepy-vetting visit paid by Elizabeth Warren to Hillary Clinton. Bitchiness and hilarity ensue. A sample:
Warren sighs. “True, my faithful are peeved at me for not running and for endorsing you instead of Bernie.”
Hillary pours herself some coffee. “I know you’re intrigued by the idea of being my vice president,” she says. “I heard you tell our gal Rachel Maddow that you’re prepared to be commander in chief. But you know I can’t put you on the ticket, don’t you?”
"Because the country isn’t ready for two wonky women for the price of one?” Warren asks dryly.
“No,” Hillary says, biting her biscotti, “I’m not ready. You, the so-called Sheriff of Wall Street, attacked me as the Shill of Wall Street. Why should you get the glass slipper when you were foot-dragging on my glass-shattering moment?”
My response:
Good one, Maureen. But I doubt that the Empress-in-Waiting would actually have poured her own cup of coffee. She has "people" to do that for her.

I was a bit taken aback when Liz gushed that she'd fight her heart out to elect Hillary. Because in her memoir "A Fighting Chance" she was pretty adamant about fighting her heart out for the little guy. So maybe she's as terrified of the Trump monster as everybody else. Or maybe she just took the advice of economic adviser Larry Summers, who once warned her over dinner that if she wanted to be a Washington insider, the cardinal rule is that you never, ever criticize other insiders.

Maybe she's been overcome and assimilated by the Beltway Borg. It happens.

But being an optimist, I like to imagine that the meeting with Madame Secretary went something like this:

"You want me to keep Tweeting The Donald for you, Hillary? Then you swear on a stack of Bibles that you'll loudly condemn corporate trade deals during every public appearance, even when Obama is standing right next to you. You'll shriek out support of my bill restoring Glass-Steagall. You'll completely shut down your 'charity.' Bill will not, I repeat not, be in charge of revitalizing the economy or anything else, and he'll stop giving paid speeches. You won't stuff your cabinet with neocons and plutocrats. And take the vice gig and stuff it. And those are only my opening offers."

I like to imagine that Hillary then kowtowed to Elizabeth, instead of the other way around.


Nicholas Kristof, Why I Was Wrong About Welfare Reform, 6/18.

This was an apology for so ignorantly supporting the Clintons' wanton destruction of the cash aid safety net for poor mothers back in those bubble-icious deregulated Roaring 90s:
I was sympathetic to that goal at the time, but I’ve decided that I was wrong. What I’ve found in my reporting over the years is that welfare “reform” is a misnomer and that cash welfare is essentially dead, leaving some families with children utterly destitute.
He sets the empathetic but still tacitly judgmental tone in a profile of a Tulsa grandmother raising her drug-addicted daughter's toddler even as she herself recovers from drug addiction and a criminal history.  Fortunate enough to live in a home she inherited from her own grandmother, she survives on food stamps and church donations of clothing.

So, Kristof unctuously declares, the last thing Grandma needs is some actual cash in her pocket. What she needs is some good old-fashioned Clintonian neoliberalism:
So here’s where I come down. Welfare reform has failed, but the solution is not a reversion to the old program. Rather, let’s build new programs targeting children in particular and drawing from the growing base of evidence of what works.
That starts with free long-acting birth control for young women who want it (70 percent of pregnancies among young single women are unplanned). Follow that with high-quality early-childhood programs and prekindergarten, drug treatment, parenting coaching and financial literacy training, and a much greater emphasis on jobs programs to usher the poor into the labor force and bring them income.
My comment:
 Kristof describes the plight of the poor most eloquently. And then he offers feeble solutions to what can only be described as a humanitarian catastrophe in the most unequal country on earth.

Funny that he never mentions that it was the Clintons who spearheaded "ending welfare as we know it," and that his band-aids for the resulting doubling of the extreme poverty rate come straight from Hillary's campaign playbook.

What's wrong, exactly, with direct cash aid to the poor? Do Kristof and Clinton have that much mistrust in poor mothers' and grandmothers' ability to handle money? Why further demean them by denying them agency and control?
 Hillary's program has Jeremy Bentham-like "control of the poor" written all over it. Instead of getting even an extra $2 a day to spend as they see fit, poor mothers are instead offered parenting skills lessons under the elitist notion that poverty equals ignorance.

And when mothers of infants are forced to go from welfare to low-wage work under threat of losing benefits, Hillary's solution to the psychic damage from lack of maternal bonding in the home is to offer "empathy curricula" in schools.

Women are cut off from aid, such as rental assistance, for failure to appear at any given state-mandated appointment. If they didn't get the notice in the mail because of homelessness, too bad.

Put the coddled rich under the microscope for a change. Stop their direct cash aid from taxpayers. Usher them into a brave, new, humane world.
And a follow-up comment in response to a reader who took umbrage at my critique of the Clintons:
 Kristof passive-aggressively glosses over the bit where President Clinton signed the bill. I used the word "spearheaded" to convey the fact that both Clintons actively lobbied to kick millions of poor people, mainly women, off the welfare rolls. It was on their neoliberal agenda from Day One. It was not something that they did under GOP duress. As a matter of fact, condemning millions of people to lifelong poverty never could have been accomplished by Republicans alone. Clintonian complicity was very much the main ingredient.
 This column smells like another concern-trolling whitewash to me. Ironically, although the bill was euphemized as the "Welfare Reform and Personal Responsibility Act," Hillary herself takes no personal  responsibility for it now that she is running for president as an alleged champion of women and children. In her second memoir, though, she actually boasted that by the time she and Bill left office, the welfare rolls had been trimmed by 60%.
No apologies, no regrets, no reform of the reform to reverse the sadism and to make things right for poor moms and kids, the main victims of the man-made economic "recession."
I'll be writing more about Hillary's moralistic 21st century ideas for poor people in future posts. They deserve more scrutiny.

 There's more than one way to control, even dispose of, excess humanity, just as there are infinite ways to euphemize the policies that bring about the results most beneficial to the plutocrats, for whom too much is just never quite enough.


Jay–Ottawa said...

Great post. The Record, the Record, the Record. Do the politicians' airy promises weigh more on the scales of justice than the record of what they said and what they did? Likewise with the journalists and wisdom figures like Paul Krugman. The record shames them, the one they themselves wrote today and the one they wrote yesterday.

I know how to improve government and the papers: create a new profession called the Performance Police. Something like the people who pat you down at the airport or at the border. With the Performance Police, if you turn out to be incompetent in political office or as a big time national journalist, then they hand you a pink slip and tell you to clear out your desk.

–– Oh Wait! That's what political journalists and their editors were supposed to be: The Performance Police. Edmund Burke had a fancier name for the scribblers sitting up in the gallery of Parliament: The Fourth Estate.

A hundred or so years later, Oscar Wilde looked more dimly on that conscience called the Fourth Estate:

"In old days men had the rack. Now they have the Press. That is an improvement certainly. But still it is very bad, and wrong, and demoralizing. Somebody — was it Burke? — called journalism the fourth estate. That was true at the time no doubt. But at the present moment it is the only estate. It has eaten up the other three. The Lords Temporal say nothing, the Lords Spiritual have nothing to say, and the House of Commons has nothing to say and says it. We are dominated by Journalism."

Actually, it was big money that ate up all four estates in the US, where the Fourth Estate was renamed The Fourth Branch, a telling shift in terminology. Here's what Wiki inserts in its article about The Fourth Branch, American style:

"The 'fourth estate' used to emphasize the independence of the press, while the 'fourth branch' suggests that the press is not independent of the government."

Doooo tell !!!

Cirze said...

Come election time, though, we'll help her take responsibility.

(In trumps.)


This column smells like another concern-trolling whitewash to me. Ironically, although the bill was euphemized as the "Welfare Reform and Personal Responsibility Act," Hillary herself takes no personal responsibility for it now that she is running for president as an alleged champion of women and children.

General Jinjur said...

Voting--"fail again, fail better.' Or something like that...

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

Gen Jinj,

Thanks for the rolling stone link in the last thread. I also read the naked capitalism article.

Interesting interview with Ron Reagan (Jr.). He was interviewed on Australian TV. Apparently a Bernie supporter who is going over to Hill because it would be "irresponsible" to vote any other way. I mean Donald Trump might get voted in!

My opinion is that a bunch of Republicans will cross over and vote for Hill, who is a Republican in all but name. Interesting isn't it? The old Southern Democrats who were racist crossed over and became Republicans after LBJ and now they will probably cross back over and become Democrats again.

Jay–Ottawa said...

Gen Jinj, you are doing the world a great disfavor by spreading around links like the one you just put up from nakedcapitalism. Angels pure just come down from above would molt their feathers before they got half way through that read. So imagine how it will land on the average American who finds out in this way (your link) about what's going on, I mean the extent of it. Even I, a fallen cynic, am shocked, shocked that those congress people are doing what they're doing in broad daylight on the streets of Washington, DC. Everybody knows most in Congress are crooked––but THAT crooked? And openly?

"No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up." - Lily Tomlin