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Category: news

Comey note: what matters and what very definitely does not.

Comey was ‘the bad guy’ when the entire Democratic Party turned on him and is ‘the good guy’ now that the entire Republican Party has turned on him, from my/our perspective, but the local lesson is that he was always just a man in a job, and the global lesson is that only Power benefits when we get wrapped up in the dumb psychodrama of modern media-politics.

The question of whether Comey is a partisan jerk wasn’t really ours to worry about, since there was nothing we could do about it one way or the other. (And anyway he doesn’t actually seem to be.) This is one of the deep problems with today’s news media: they can’t pose the questions that matter, because those questions can’t be answered or even substantively addressed in the context of the 24-hr ‘news cycle.’ This is about instant satisfaction beating deep fulfillment, ‘free’ beating ‘cheap,’ frictionless beating meaningful: the only thing that matters on TV news (and in Internet punditry) is the soundbite — moreso now than ever, in our era of ‘viral’ video clips substituting for actual journalism. TV (synecdoche for sensation-journalism) can’t ask, ‘What could Comey’s motivations for the Clinton revelations have been? What do we not know about the situation?’ So instead it asks: ‘Is Comey a partisan jerk?’ Or: ‘Do you think Trump did something wrong?!’

We hear these questions precisely because nothing at all is at stake in addressing them. A highly classified investigation of the White House inner circle is going on; there’s every chance it will find that the president obstructed justice and colluded with a foreign power. Your opinion of all this doesn’t matter; it’s being handled by actual experts, in appropriate secrecy and silence.

Meanwhile the Senate Republicans are steps away from gutting our healthcare system for short-term political gain. This matters, and more to the point, they can be stopped by the application of political pressure. Something is at stake.

It is too important to be left up to the people.

Which is why you’re not hearing about it on the news.

Trump’s confusion and ignorance are not puzzling or surprising.

The President of the USA is mentally unwell — that has been apparent for years, actual literal years, and should now be obvious for all to see — and when rational people pointed out all through 2016 that Trump was ‘unfit for the presidency’ they meant that literally and straightforwardly. (Everyone who thought he was some canny operator playing n-dimensional chess should be ashamed.)

Those journalists, politicians, and DC parasites who feign surprise at the man’s extensively documented incompetence, ignorance, and viciousness are implicated in the trouble we’re in, and the trouble to come.

Where are the Dems?

Congressional Republicans imploded this week, which is cute, but where are the Dems? Why aren’t they pushing an alternative bill right now? Why didn’t they have such a bill ready to go, something limited in scope, with fixes to Obamacare which appeal to GOP reps and will actually do good for American citizens?

I understand the desire to play the Party of No — it worked wonders for unprincipled cowards like Mitch McConnell, and only cost everyone else in the country — but why not press their current tactical advantage to actually do some good? Find some conservative reps, pick a half-dozen cost-cutting measures, offer to share credit for the bill, and start working hard to restore Americans’ faith in Congress. Trump himself doesn’t seem to care one way or the other about the actual content of healthcare legislation — why not take a crack at getting a bipartisan modification to the ACA to his desk? Call it ‘repair and redesign’ or something to palliate the fundies, but try something, or this cycle of ideological turtling and self-segregation will continue to deepen.

I know ‘Medicare for all’ is too much to ask for, but surely someone in Washington is capable of thinking beyond the Sunday chat shows…

Cognitive dissonance on Trump’s ‘dealmaking’ persona.

Quoth Politico:

Donald Trump had heard enough about policy and process. It was Thursday afternoon and members of the House Freedom Caucus were peppering the president with wonkish concerns about the American Health Care Act—the language that would leave Obamacare’s “essential health benefits” in place, the community rating provision that limited what insurers could charge certain patients, and whether the next two steps of Speaker Paul Ryan’s master plan were even feasible—when Trump decided to cut them off.

“Forget about the little shit,” Trump said, according to multiple sources in the room. “Let’s focus on the big picture here.”

The group of roughly 30 House conservatives, gathered around a mammoth, oval-shaped conference table in the Cabinet Room of the White House, exchanged disapproving looks. Trump wanted to emphasize the political ramifications of the bill’s defeat; specifically, he said, it would derail his first-term agenda and imperil his prospects for reelection in 2020. The lawmakers nodded and said they understood. And yet they were disturbed by his dismissiveness. For many of the members, the “little shit” meant the policy details that could make or break their support for the bill—and have far-reaching implications for their constituents and the country.

“We’re talking about one-fifth of our economy,” a member told me afterward.

Filled with hope once again, Freedom Caucus members were once again promptly disappointed. This meeting was yet another “take one for the team” seminar. The atmosphere was friendly, and the president had the group laughing with irrelevant riffs and stories of negotiations past, but it became clear, as soon as he made the “little shit” comment, that no serious changes were going to be made, because the president didn’t have sufficient command of the policy details to negotiate what would or would not be realistic for Ryan to shepherd through the House.

Trump has never shown any particular abilities as a businessman — he’s a TV/tabloid performer whose job is to act the part of the dealmaking shark, and he’s paid handsomely to propagate that lie. Everyone knows that, right? Everyone I know is up on the salient bits of his life story: the repeated bankruptcies, the tax evasions, the Russian bailouts, the banks’ refusal to do business with him, ‘the only guy in history who went broke running a casino,’ etc. He’s a poseur who’d be broke in a ditch if it weren’t for Dad’s money, and later Putin’s.

Doesn’t everyone know all this? Why do gossip rags like Politico keep giving us Trump stories whose frame is ‘famed dealmaker finds Washington is more complicated than he thought,’ when he’s not famed for making deals, he’s famed for being rich?

But of course, my own cognitive dissonance isn’t as widely shared as I think/hope. A surprising chunk of the American population persists in its belief that the man knows what he’s doing: the folks who watched The Apprentice (I never have, alas) and believed it, who bought into the election-year narrative of Trump as outsider ‘swamp drainer,’ who seriously think of Trump as a master businessman, who voted for the man out of the belief that he’d bring some good ol’ capitalist efficiency to a dysfunctional federal government. I have to keep reminding myself that millions of people continue to think — against all evidence, all sense — that Trump’s doing a hell of a job.

They’re wrong, they’ve been suckered, and for years it’s been easy to see through the con and know how it would end. (And never ever forget that the Republican Party profited handsomely in the short term from the gulling of so many millions of media-addicted marks, at enormous long-term cost to all involved. This isn’t just about Trump; the Democrats are an unprincipled disaster but this particular cluster of lies only works in today’s Republican Party.) But you can’t tell anyone anything. We have to see and hear for ourselves; ask Thomas. With any luck, this first bout of cowardice and stupidity will enlighten a few hundred thousand voters, a couple million, and the inevitable selloff will begin sooner than anticipated.

I got the election outcome wrong (having denied the evidence of my own eyes), but I stand by this prediction: the GOP will turn on Trump the instant it’s politically expedient. Last year I figured that was 2019, but as the reptilian Mr Manafort offers to testify before Nunes and Schiff, I wonder if I wasn’t insufficiently optimistic (pessimistic?) to the tune of roughly two years…


The funniest part of the AHCA debacle, for me — the only funny part really — is that I agree 100% with Trump’s impatient dismissal of the House GOP caucus. The man’s never had a real job; he’s been his own boss all his life, in a flat organization which has allowed him to involve himself in whatever aspects of the business he wishes, to whatever degree he likes, solely according to his whims. He’s contemptible, alright? Yugely so. But he didn’t write a bill that would kick 20ish million people off the insurance rolls, and he didn’t insist on making the bill worse, deadlier, as a condition of his backing it. Trump doesn’t have principles or basic intelligence, but the House GOP is full of genuinely hateful guys. When Trump’s gone, our pseudoconservative ‘permanent opposition’ party will still be around. Trump is, in a sense, the easier problem to solve.

‘Pitch me, baby!’ or: David Pogue’s ego blocks our view of a much deeper, much scarier cultural problem.

From the archives: July 2011. The last of today’s batch. My contempt for gadgetbloggers (also ‘Apple pundits’) is limitless, as you can guess. I used to love venting my spleen like this. Now I tend to feel bad about it, though obviously not bad enough to keep this to myself. –wa.

David Pogue, a freelance gadget columnist best known for his work at the NYTimes, recently spoke (for pay) to an audience of PR professionals. The talk was entitled ‘Pitch Me, Baby.’ Last week the NYTimes ombudsman described Pogue exhorting the publicity men to suggest column material to him:

In the presentation, Pogue jumps out of the gate with a Power Point page inviting the audience to “Pitch me, Baby!”” The presentation goes on to offer do’s and don’ts and emphasizes his own close reliance on pitches that come his way from professional public relations people.

On a later slide, he displays eight recent New York Times columns and identifies five as having come from public relations people. Pogue explains that, as a reviewer of new gadgets, there is no comprehensive database he can rely on to learn about new stuff. Hence he relies on companies and their hired pitchmen to tell him about new products.

Pogue’s basic advice boils down to two imperatives: 1) “Save me time,” and 2) “Don’t be a robot.” This means that public relations people should tailor the pitch to its audience (avoid spamming, in particular) and avoid jargon and other extraneous matter.

This strikes me as a violation of journalistic ethics, not to mention good taste. The NYT agreed; Pogue has been forced to curb his appearances at such little get-togethers. But I don’t care at all about that aspect of the article; my disgust at Pogue’s behaviour isn’t new, nor is it unique; nor is he different in that regard from, say, Judith Miller pawning off Cheney/Rove PR as reportage. We don’t use the term ‘corporate media’ for nothing.

The deeper issue, which doesn’t seem to be getting talked about this week, is this:

Pogue’s job consists of advocating for the business interests of large corporations. That’s it. Like so many other ‘tech columnists,’ he masquerades as an advocate for better living with/through technology, but it’s easy to see that he’s always been a paid shill, nothing more: he’s only capable of talking about technology on a corporate PR timeline, within a logic of consumption rather than creation. He’s an advertiser for The New (and Expensive).

If Pogue mattered, he’d be writing about amazing! new! corporate! technology! with an eye toward an actual alternative: i.e. instead of saying ‘Should we buy the new iPhone or the new “iPhone-killer?”‘ a serious critic would ask, ‘Should we buy this new tech at all?’

A simple thought experiment: if you’ve bought a new computer in the last five years, why did you do so? If you’re a grownup, chances are you didn’t do it in order to play the latest video games. So ask yourself: what does your new computer enable you to do that your last computer didn’t? If your last computer was less than four years old, the answer is probably nothing.

My first iPhone altered the way I traveled (thank you location-aware computing) and used email (thank you 3G data service). My new one lets me shoot video, take better pictures, and run the old apps faster. I can imagine needing to replace it when it breaks, but what in the world could I possibly want from a ‘better’ phone?

Pogue and his fellow tech writers would answer by listing the features of next-gen phones. But ‘Why should I buy this phone?’ isn’t a question about a phone, it’s a question about me; and Pogue and his ilk should know it. Their defense is always the same: Well, you don’t have to buy what we recommend. And that’s true, of course. But these idiots then turn around and write about ‘tech’ from the perspective of collectors, ‘early adopters,’ fetishists. And they orient the culture toward these perverse logics.

Pogue isn’t a commentator on the ‘gadget industry,’ he’s part of it. He’s a servant of his corporate masters, who provide him with free shit in exchange for free publicity. But in his capacity as an NYTimes columnist, he’s presented as something else: a servant of his readers.

The only thing he creates in this world is a misperception of the need to buy new things.

So no, David Pogue’s recent bout of new-money tackiness isn’t a ‘journalism story.’ It’s not a ‘tech industry story.’ A paid advertiser got spanked by his bosses, who rely on paid advertising for their livelihoods. So what.

The actual story is that at this point, we can’t imagine ‘modern life’ without people like David Pogue. We are fucked.

Trump is a trailing indicator.

The first thing to point out about Trump, at this point, is that his support, like his sales pitch, isn’t essentially ideological. As usual, Matt Taibbi gets this exactly right. Trump’s dangerously consistent 30%+ support cuts across all demographic and ideological lines within the pool of GOP primary voters, and as a late-February poll shows, a surprising number of Trump supporters actually take mainstream candidates like Jeb Bush as their second choice.

Trump weds populist rhetoric with strongman appeal: the problem with America is out-of-touch elites, corporate predators, and a willingness to sell ‘real’ Americans downriver for profit — and the solution is, of course, to give Trump absolute authority and hope that fixes everything. That he is himself a hopelessly corrupt plutocrat, a trust-fund narcissist who’s worked hard to have nothing whatsoever to do with the ‘common man’ who is his campaign’s primary target…well, that doesn’t bother his voters.

Because the second thing to point out about Trump is that he’s not asking the American people for money. He plans to take it, of course — he’s a grifter, which the party of Sarah Palin is evidently comfortable with — but all he’s asking of voters right now are their votes. The Trump circus is ‘free-to-play,’ as the Farmville assholes put it.

And over the last few decades, our votes have come to be worthless to us.

Which is the third thing to say about Trump right now, and the scariest. He’s not going to win the general election. He’s not creating a toxic stew of nativism, denialism, and ignorance on the right wing — that goes back a half-century and more. And when this campaign is over, few people will take him seriously ever again. But the Trump Moment is scary because it shows just how little regard Americans have for their votes.

For millions, voting for Trump is the same thing as ‘liking’ Trump — in the ‘social’ media sense. It’s so easy. You hardly feel a thing.

That’s what we should be scared of: not the brief rise to prominence of a vicious delusional moron, but the utter devaluation of the once-sacred process by which we choose our leaders and hold them accountable. It’s too aesthetically neat that the major background issues of this election are ongoing climate disaster and the Senate GOP’s unprecedented refusal even to hold courtesy meetings with Obama’s SCOTUS nominee. A Congress with even the vaguest sense of its responsibility to the American people — to the human species! — would see to it that the SCOTUS vacancy is filled ASAP, and would be working hard right this instant to make sure that the US government can respond effectively to its unusually large number of serious ongoing crises. One big reason Trump plays so well right now with Average Joe and Jane is that Congress is bought and paid for, Supreme Court appointments and approvals are now almost entirely ideological, corporate predators do pull the government’s strings on so many major issues…and Trump’s happy to say so. Trump might be a congenital liar, but a big part of his campaign pitch is that he can be candid about terminal government dysfunction.

Of course, he’d probably nominate Howdy Doody to the fucking Supreme Court. But that’s only to say, again, that Trump himself is the least interesting thing about Trump’s candidacy.

(Sidenote: It’s stupid to keep calling the next Supreme Court Justice ‘Scalia’s replacement’ — the seat was occupied long before Scalia was born, you know. Pundits are well paid to play into the GOP’s hands, of course.)

If he makes it to the general election — which isn’t certain, if you believe the recently popular ‘Party Chooses’ thesis — Trump will get stomped. He’ll embarrass Clinton in the debates, as she’s a corporate sellout and entitled habitual panderer and he’ll rightly call her on those things, but Clinton will ‘win’ the debates by being a sane, experienced, competent adult every bit as ruthless as he is. But it won’t matter. An extremely well funded decades-long campaign to convince Americans that ‘government is the problem’ has (surprise!) quite effectively done its job, and now several generations of Americans sincerely believe that the Feds not only aren’t effective and trustworthy leaders but can’t ever be. That’s deranged, of course, and it comes of willful ignorance. But the damage is done: in a time of deep despair and dashed hopes, there’s always an audience of folks (who think they’re) at the end of their rope — and they’re ready to cheer for the villain and convince themselves he’s the truth-talking antihero.

Which is why I’m not paying too much attention to Trump, but I’m increasingly worried about the landscape the day after the election. Clinton the boomer-dynast will win (c’mon guys, even I called that eight years ago), and a hell of a lot of people will have been carefully instructed for a decade or more to think of her as illegitimate solely because she’s…well, take your pick: a libtard, a dyke, a castrating bitch, BENGHAZI!!, whatever. (At least she’s white though, amirite?) This madness doesn’t just afflict the lost generation of Fox News-watching senior citizens, either. Contempt not only for our totally corrupt present-day Congress but for the idea of governance has trickled down to younger voters. This has gone on for a long, long time.

The Trump candidacy is a trailing indicator of some extremely dangerous low-level problems with our republic. You can treat the symptom, but not affect the cause…

Polite bigotry.

[Attention conservation note: here come a few hundred words about xenophobia-by-proxy and the fate of polite bigotry, in the form of a dollop of bile spat at the idiot Donald Trump, who’s not interesting in himself but who’s a useful example of something very interesting, not to mention horrible.]

Just now I saw, on CNN (at a restaurant; I’d never choose to watch CNN), a panel of three or four ‘political consultants’ including Paul Begala. The pretend-journalist Wolf Blitzer moderated; the topic was Donald Trump’s recent remarks about John McCain’s ‘heroism.’ (The content of the remarks doesn’t matter.) The question before the panel: is this curtains for Trump’s ‘run for president’?

Donald Trump’s ‘candidacy’ shouldn’t be referred to without scare quotes. He can’t win, but even if he could, he’s not interested in actually being president. This isn’t hard to infer.

Still, it bears repeating: Donald Trump is less qualified to be President of the United States of America than is, say, LOVE-22. (Whom I’ve met, by the way; he’s a swell guy.)

The CNN panelists all nodded and gesticulated and looked serious (or in Begala’s case, exasperated in a good-natured ‘Once I mattered as a human being but I’m getting paid mountains of money for this so fuck it’ sort of way) and mouthed variations on ‘This weekend marks a change for the Republican Party'(!!) and ‘Trump’s done, time for serious business.’

The panel was, of course, a stupid waste of time and energy, though none of the well-coiffed idiots involved deserve to get that time back.

Here are two better questions:

Why is Trump so popular right now?

Because he’s not really running for President, so he can say what he feels, or more to the point, what millions of other Americans also feel.

Trump speaks for a large number of people — your neighbours, coworkers, friends; your parents (not mine, I’m happy to say) — who feel confused and angry (resentful) at a moment of extreme reaction in a rapidly ‘liberalizing’ country.

The word’s out: some kinds of xenophobia will now be punished by public shaming, and because speech is now more public than it’s ever been, you’re likely to be sideswiped by criticism (mostly online, people are still cowards) for ‘saying what you really think’ — if what you really think includes (e.g.) the stuff Donald Trump says about immigrants.

This doesn’t stop, say, the Stormfront folks from telling each other what they think — quite the contrary. It’s ‘moderate’ speech that gets crowded out in moments of extreme cultural reaction. ‘Polite racism,’ for instance…because the polite thing is to keep it to yourself, and when the cost of saying awful things increases, politeness dictates that you hold your tongue. It’s less safe than it was a generation ago to speak up for Bernie Goetz or George Zimmerman, so only the extremists (of every stripe, including 2nd Amendment extremists and ‘free speech’ extremists and so forth) will do so.

In that environment, with fewer polite outlets for ‘inappropriate’ speech, the folks who fill the void are…you guessed it. The impolite.

Idiots like Trump serve two purposes:

  • They serve as an outlet, an outboard id, for folks who want to express anger about The Way They’ve Taken Over Our Country but don’t wanna risk it — so they take the much smaller risk of ‘Liking’ someone like Trump.
  • As a fun knock-on effect, they expose people to more extreme speech than they’d otherwise hear in public, polarizing not only their audiences’ affiliations but their actual beliefs.

Trump is popular because he’s a proxy xenophobe at a moment when owning your xenophobia is seen as socially costly.

So why is CNN covering him?

Because CNN’s job is the same as Trump’s, in the long run: to make sure America is a safe place for people like Trump (or Ted Turner, or Marc Andreessen, or Nick Denton, or Larry Page and Sergei Brin, or Tim and David Geithner) to do business.

Trump sells (whatever trash is for sale today) by the truckload. The idiot Wolf Blitzer isn’t a journalist, he’s a wooden TV actor who plays a journalist for the camera. The only reason they haven’t replaced him with a Teleprompter is that the generation of screen-addicted victims of alternating overparenting and ‘well-meaning neglect’ hasn’t yet aged into CNN’s audience. CNN’s ongoing project of corroding the national ‘political discourse’ for profit needs benign nonstories like ‘Donald Trump makes a dumb crack about John McCain’ in order to move product.

(Don’t pretend that a downed Malaysian airliner is ‘news’ the way, say, the fact that the Marshall Islands are going to disappear into the sea as the water levels rise is news. If CNN had mentioned that the plane had disappeared and then moved on, the only Americans who’d’ve cared would be the Forteans and the conspiracists; Chinese-American followers of the story would surely have been getting their information elsewhere, regardless…)

Why so angry?

Good question. Why aren’t you?

‘Human interest,’ I suppose.

A quick response, i.e., I haven’t thought too hard about what I’m about to say:

The Tsarnaev brother who isn’t dead is on trial for the marathon bombing. Since the defense team readily admits his guilt, the point of the trial from their perspective is to avoid the death penalty. Doubtless this will be good for their business — ‘successfully defended the teenager who terrorized a city’ isn’t a stigma in their line of work. But I can’t imagine what Tsarnaev is living for, at this point.

Nor do I understand the appeal of stuff like this, from @hilsarg:

Jessica Kensky: “I didn’t know how many people were hurt, but I knew my husband was critically wounded.” #Tsarnaev

Sargent, a Glob reporter, is ‘livetweeting’ a victim’s testimony (I assume she’s in the courtroom). For once I’m not objecting to the medium. I just don’t understand the mindset of a reader hungry for this kind of coverage. Are there people in this city (my son’s city) who need 140-character snippets of remembered horror — or remembered confusion, or annoyance — to, as they say, ‘put it behind them’ two years later? Is that the point anyway? Would it help to see a charcoal sketch of Tsarnaev himself, or hear a bit of low-fidelity courtroom audio? Would dramatic background music help?

Come to think of it, does anyone want to jump in as cofounder of my context-aware tweet-background-music startup? Equity stake, salary, generous benefits.

As with the OJ (‘Orenthal James,’ as I recall, and what a marvelous 19th-century name it is!) Simpson trial, I find the idea of random Bostonians following the hashtag-Tsarnaev trial everyday…ghoulish. Also boring. Tsarnaev has had enough of our time and attention, and please don’t pretend to be surprised by, or to care about, the Brave Victims who Overcome Adversity to Inspire Us. It’s unconvincing and you’ve seen this show before. Here’s a better idea: go out for a jog today and meet a stranger’s eye without flinching and maybe wave or say Hi. And another: write your mom a letter. She’ll probably die before you. Let’s hope for her sake that she does; she deserves that.

Plenty of people in this city live with the horror of the marathon bombing every day, and they should get what they need — we could help give it to them if we cared to figure out how — but no amount of pseudoconcern about ‘real life’ justifies our voyeurism. The state knows what he did, they know why, they know how. We know these things, or would if we wanted. Put him on the back page of the paper where he belongs; there are other, scarier things for us to pretend to be concerned about.