Saturday, September 17, 2016

Commentariat Central: Exploding Heads Edition

As per reader request, here's another in my semi-regular series of New York Times comment dumps (my published responses follow synopses/quotes from each op-ed).

Charles Blow, Donald Trump, Grand Wizard of Birtherism, 9/17>

Charles easily surpasses the smarmy born-again indignados of the corporate media's anti-Trump brigade of Profiles in Courage who've become brave in great numbers only because there is great protection in crowds.
This man is so low that he’s subterranean.
Donald Trump said Friday: “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy.”
That was a lie. There is no evidence Hillary Clinton and her campaign either started or took part in the efforts to question the location of Barack Obama’s birth.
He continued: “I finished it.”
My published response:
 Yes, Trump's birther campaign was and is based upon a lie. But to say that nobody in Clinton World ever took part in any efforts to question the president's birthplace is also less than truthful.

An editor of McClatchy Newspapers, a well-respected mainstream service, reports that one "rogue" Clinton volunteer was fired in the 2008 for spreading the rumor. The machinations of Clinton friend Sidney Blumenthal are even more problematic, since he allegedly suggested to the McClatchy editor that Obama had been born in Kenya. The newspaper duly investigated and found the allegation to be false. More here:

The Obama administration was so well-aware of Blumenthal's methods that they banned him from the White House and State Dept. job after the 2008 election:
The Blumenthal connection is obviously the basis for Trump's mendacious claim that Hillary Clinton "started" the birther movement. Trump took a short-lived whispering campaign and turned it into a full-fledged crusade. He co-opted racism and the Tea Party movement as subsidiaries of his corporate media empire brand. It made him even more fabulously rich and famous than he ever could have gotten by being just another run-of-the mill grifter.

And the media conglomerate of which he is an integral part is only too happy to help and to profit right along with him.
I might have guessed that this fairly bland reality check for the Clinton-supporting Charles Blow would elicit the usual responses from the usual suspects, including the accusation that I am doing the nasty work of the "alt-right" as well as ignoring the fact that I'd credited McClatchy both for doing its journalistic duty of accurately writing history and for debunking Trump.

So I wrote this generic follow-up comment addressed to no one troll in particular: 
 Based upon the comments to my comment thus far, it is painfully apparent that any fact-based criticism of Clinton is undesirable and must be avoided at all costs lest righteous heads explode. Last time I checked, neither McClatchy nor the Times are "alt-right" outfits. Just because right-wing sites pick up and run with certain facts about Clinton doesn't mean these facts should be delegitimized on their face. Nothing I wrote is a distortion of the truth.

Believe it or not, it is possible, even desirable, to both expose and deride Trump and to examine and critique Clinton. Nuance, unfortunately, is one of the casualties of this crazy-time election. Pick a side, close your eyes and ears, and stay blissfully ignorant.

I posted links as a courtesy because we are only allowed 1500 characters in comments. If you don't choose to click them, that's your prerogative.
This in turn elicited another response which took issue with my rhetoric, by mansplaining:
 Karen Garcia -- "it is painfully apparent that any fact-based criticism of Clinton is undesirable and must be avoided at all costs lest righteous heads explode"

Yes, and that is counter-productive. It is really just Trump's method. It undermines an attack on Trump's method.
My counter-response:
 Perhaps I'm misinterpreting your comment, but you seem to imply that colorful metaphors and sarcasm from the Left should be off the table because Trump himself is often sarcastic. Wow.

By the way, "Exploding Head Syndrome" (EHS) is a bona fide medical condition. According to neurologist John Pearce, symptoms include “a sense of explosion in the head, confined to the hours of sleep, which is harmless but very frightening for the sufferer.... Some people also see flashes of light, feel hot, experience chest pains and palpitations, or feel an electrical sensation rising from the lower torso to the head."

Of course, their heads are not actually exploding.

I'd hazard a guess that this syndrome is probably becoming even more prevalent during our fraught election season, given the nightmare that is Donald Trump.

Paul Krugman, A Lie Too Far? (blogpost), 9/17:

Krugman is right pleased that the press is following his profiles-in-courage advice and finally calling Trump a big fat loathsome liar in lying about both birtherism and Hillary's nonexistent direct role in its inception:
The Matt Lauer debacle may have helped bring things into focus. And tightening polls probably matter too, not because journalists are being partisan, but because they are now faced with the enormity of what their fact-free jeering of HRC and fawning over DJT might produce.
There are now two questions: will this last, and if it does, has the turn come soon enough? In both cases, nobody knows. But just imagine how different this election would look if we’d had this kind of simple, factual, truly balanced (as opposed to both-sides-do-it) reporting all along.
My response (comparatively well-received by the readership because it contained no tastelessly explosive Clinton criticism):
 I may be wrong, but I suspect that the newfound journalism in the public interest being displayed by the corporate media is a one-off. Some of them seem to be more miffed about being "played" by Trump in the big lead-up to the big non-apology than they are willing to admit that they themselves are complicit supporting players on the big stage of dirty politics.

Furthermore, they are calling Trump a liar based upon a libel committed against President Obama, not for his libel of and his continuing attacks on Hillary Clinton. Unless they now start reporting in the vein of "Trump falsely claimed that Mrs. Clinton robbed a bank...." rather than the usual "Trump asserted that Mrs. Clinton robbed a bank," then I am taking their born-again ethics with a huge grain of salt.

Let's hope that now that they've finally uttered the "lie" word and their careerist worlds didn't come crashing down on top of them, they'll develop more of a taste for it - much as they did when they finally admitted that enhanced interrogation is actually torture.

David Brooks, The Uses of Patriotism, 9/16

I've largely abandoned my old hobby of messing with boring old Brooks, but this one was particularly loathsome, not to mention borderline racist. It seems that those young black folk are not giving the American Flag the proper religious reverence:
Recently, the civic religion has been under assault. Many schools no longer teach American history, so students never learn the facts and tenets of their creed. A globalist mentality teaches students they are citizens of the world rather than citizens of America.
Critics like Ta-Nehisi Coates have arisen, arguing that the American reality is so far from the American creed as to negate the value of the whole thing. The multiculturalist mind-set values racial, gender and ethnic identities and regards national identities as reactionary and exclusive.
He gives no evidence that American history is no longer being taught in "many schools." More likely, he's miffed that history isn't taught as a religion the way that science is sometimes taught as creationist "intelligent" design. My published response:
 Other commenters have aptly pointed out the racist roots of our national anthem. The Founding Fathers stood up for their own freedom, to own other human beings and to expand their territory without regard for the rights of aboriginal populations. Why should Black athletes, or any one else for that matter, stand up to celebrate such an ignominious history?

There are plenty of other ways to display patriotism than singing a song or reciting a pledge. Protest is as all-American as democracy itself. We need a lot more of it.

If David Brooks is scared that "critics like Ta-Nehisi Coates have arisen" to democratically and patriotically criticize the country we live in, that actually gives me hope. The protests and rhetoric of the left are becoming strong enough to drown out and vanquish both neoliberalism and Trumpism.
 Brooks's real squeamishness seems to be that the rising solidarity among people of different backgrounds and ethnicities against economic, social and racial oppression is not of the bland, submissive kind of which the oligarchs running this place would approve.

People are refusing to be co-opted by the stentorian sermons and anti-democratic platitudes that "critics like Brooks" keep dishing out like rancid stew.
He's been preaching Spencerian "every man for himself" drivel since forever, and now he wants to impose solidarity from on high? Give me a break.
Paul Krugman, Obama's Trickle-Up Economics, 9/16:

More Obama legacy-burnishing and Clinton-boosting and statistical cherry-picking. The big tell is that Krugman's link to "Census Bureau report" goes not to the report itself, but to a New York Times "Upshot" interpretation of it. Krugman pontificates:
What happened instead after Mr. Obama was re-elected was the best job growth since the 1990s. But family incomes, at least as estimated by the Census, continued to lag. So there was still some statistical basis for the right’s Obama-bashing. Now that statistical basis is gone.
You might ask whether these numbers reflect reality. It’s often claimed that Americans aren’t feeling any economic recovery — and if anyone were to ask Mr. Trump, he would no doubt claim that the Census numbers, like every number he doesn’t like, are cooked.
But be wary of polling on this issue. When Americans are asked how the economy is doing, many of them just repeat what they think they heard on Fox News: By large margins, Republicans say that unemployment is up and the stock market is down under Mr. Obama, the opposite of the truth. On the other hand, when you ask people how well they personally are doing, the Obama years have been marked by large improvements — a sharp increase in the percentage of Americans who see themselves as thriving.
My published response (trigger warning: sarcasm ahead!)
 Happy days are here again. So if you insist on feeling blue as you peer into your empty wallet, you've probably been watching too much Fox News.

Yes, median incomes are up and poverty is down. But look closely at the Census figures and you see that although people might be working longer hours, they certainly haven't gotten a raise. Most of the new jobs created have been of the low-wage, service sector variety.

According to the report, the median pay of single women without children jumped 8.7%. This sounds fantastic until you realize that their actual median salary increased to $29,022 from $26,022 in 2014. That's nowhere close to a living wage, especially if most of it has to go toward skyrocketing rent. So if you don't think you've come a long way, baby, by getting 5-10 more hours at Walmart thanks to the beneficence of the clan that owns nearly as much wealth as the bottom half of the population, then you've probably been watching too much Fox News.
Under "Total Income Dispersion", the report shows that the poorest, lowest quintile received only 3.1% of total income, while the top 20% raked in more than half of it. The top 5% grabbed more than a fifth of the entire pie. Income inequality is not improving, not at all.
Another report out this week found that only 16% of the jobs available to new college grads give them enough purchasing power to buy a home and start a family.

So turn off Fox, all you pessimists, and raise a glass to Dr. Pangloss.


Meredith NYC said...

Why did Clinton use the word basket? Sounds odd. And deplorables? They are, but ....Is this original with her?

any reaction to this letter to editor?

The Opinion Pages | Letter

Less Than Transparent: Journalists Fault Obama

SEPT. 16, 2016

To the Editor:

This week 40 journalism and open-government groups sent a letter to the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, in response to his Aug. 31 letter to the editor calling for journalists to give President Obama credit for improvements in government transparency.

Mr. Earnest highlighted some of the ways the Obama administration has improved transparency in the White House. Yet, over nearly the past eight years, the Society of Professional Journalists and other groups have repeatedly outlined to the administration various ways in which transparency has gotten worse, including:

■ Officials’ blocking requests by reporters to talk to specific staff people.

■ Excessive delays in answering interview requests that stretch past reporters’ deadlines.

■ Conveying information “on background,” and refusing to give reporters what should be public information unless they agree not to say who is speaking.

■ Federal agencies’ blackballing of reporters who write critically of them.

■ Lack of meaningful visual access to the president by an independent press pool.

Last December, a delegation representing 50-plus organizations met with Mr. Earnest at the White House to urge greater openness and transparency. Despite promises that the White House would follow up with us, to date we have heard nothing.

We were hoping we could point to this White House as a shining example of how it should be done. Unfortunately, we can’t do that and will have to start over with the next administration.

We vow to the American people to keep fighting to protect their right to know what their elected officials are doing.



Society of Professional Journalists

Karen Garcia said...


Don't know where Hillary dreamed up her basket of deplorables. A disappointing Easter from her traumatic childhood? Maybe she got a basket full of deplorable off-brand jelly beans instead of the solid chocolate Hershey egg and she's never recovered.

Complaints on lack of Obama transparency are nothing new. I remember the year he got a transparency award (purely aspirational) from the Sunlight Foundation and then barred the press from attending. James Risen has called this White House the greatest enemy of press freedoms in a generation.

On the other hand I have little sympathy for the White House press corps' whiney complaints about lack of "access" and then they turn around and schmooze with the same officials they cover at their annual week-long correspondents' dinner.

Jay–Ottawa said...

Yes, about your rhetoric, Karen.... Mind your manners.

The New York Times is a venerable institution, and all the reporters therein deserve a little respect. Just because you happen to have the facts, a long memory and a sharp pen, doesn't mean you have the right to deploy all that wickedness like a bully against journalists who are merely defending one of our smallest minorities, the superrich.

The masses have Marx; allow the privileged their Brooks and their Krugman. Sarcasm, irony, mockery and flat-out contradiction are hurtful, as you should have learned in kindergarten; so play nice. Practice patience with the tiny cabal squeezing life out of the world the rest of us need to survive.

Meredith NYC said...

Have you seen the public editors’columns responding to angry readers on media coverage of Trump/Clinton? Many readers are disgusted and complaining to NYT and W. Post’s public editors, ---now it’s Margaret Sullivan at the Post, and over 2000 the papers and also cable TV.

Matt Taibbi’s column blames the public for the coverage –always an easy out—he says they’re too dumbed down---if I understood his overly complicated column.

These 2 candidates are perfect for media seeking profits above all, with sensationalism and personality politics. Our politicians and media have abandoned public service. Has the internet made that worse? Don’t know. NYT exec Mark Thompson was just on cspan re his book about our debased political discourse—interviewed by Arianna Huffington. He’s overly complicated too. He thinks the Times coverage has improved this summer.

Op ed columnists, who have time to think, unlike live TV, still follow cable news patterns, to stay trendy. Thus the whole media ends up teaching much of the public to accept garbage.....constant live coverage of every Trump noise, no matter how stupid and irrational, then op ed follow ups. Hardly any coverage of candidates’ policies, thus voters lack understanding of issues, thus candidates manipulate fear, anger, outrage.

Clinton or almost anyone would look good vs Trump. And her supporters are overly emotional, don’t care about reality, and sound as irrational as they accused the Sanders supporters of being. (per the example of Krugman). In this atmosphere, our politicians can get away with plenty.
The public editors have plenty to deal with ahead.