Open Thread: Angry Rubes & the Media Courtiers Who Love Them

For anyone young or naive enough to think this is a new low for the Republicans, fresh historical note, via RawStory, in the NYTimes:

Richard M. Nixon always denied it: to David Frost, to historians and to Lyndon B. Johnson, who had the strongest suspicions and the most cause for outrage at his successor’s rumored treachery. To them all, Nixon insisted that he had not sabotaged Johnson’s 1968 peace initiative to bring the war in Vietnam to an early conclusion. “My God. I would never do anything to encourage” South Vietnam “not to come to the table,” Nixon told Johnson, in a conversation captured on the White House taping system.

Now we know Nixon lied. A newfound cache of notes left by H. R. Haldeman, his closest aide, shows that Nixon directed his campaign’s efforts to scuttle the peace talks, which he feared could give his opponent, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, an edge in the 1968 election. On Oct. 22, 1968, he ordered Haldeman to “monkey wrench” the initiative
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You’re So Vain

This is a pretty good place to start off a discussion:

In an extraordinary development Thursday, the Obama administration announced a series of sanctions against Russia.

Thirty-five Russian nationals will be expelled from the country. President Obama issued a terse statement seeming to blame Russia for the hack of the Democratic National Committee emails.

“These data theft and disclosure activities could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government,” he wrote.

Russia at first pledged, darkly, to retaliate, then backed off. The Russian press today is even reporting that Vladimir Putin is inviting “the children of American diplomats” to “visit the Christmas tree in the Kremlin,” as characteristically loathsome/menacing/sarcastic a Putin response as you’ll find.

This dramatic story puts the news media in a jackpot. Absent independent verification, reporters will have to rely upon the secret assessments of intelligence agencies to cover the story at all.

Many reporters I know are quietly freaking out about having to go through that again. We all remember the WMD fiasco.

“It’s déjà vu all over again” is how one friend put it.

Apparently, our media is so desperate to learn a lesson from the way they were played in the Iraq WMD debacle (as always, the excellent Operation Desert Snipe from 2003 sets the standard) that what they have chosen to learn is nihilism and nothingness with a dash of learned helplessness.

There simply is no comparison between the WMD story and the Russian hacking. The Obama administration has no Office of Special Plans ginning up fake bullshit about the Russian hacking, feeding it directly to the media through backchannels, all in direct contradiction to what the intelligence services are actually saying. There is no Doug Feith, Ahmad Chalabi, Paul Wolfowitz or Judy Miller. John Kerry isn’t standing before the UN lying about what the Russians have done like Colin Powell and his fucking aluminum tubes.

But that is where many in the media are today, pretending it’s the same thing, and it’s all so shadowy, and we can’t know anything, and who knows what Obama’s motives are, and we can’t trust anything the intelligence services say (and these are the same people who will turn around and cite Bush as culpable for not paying ample attention to the infamous August 6th, 2001 briefing on Osama bin Laden’s intent and act appalled that Trump is not attending intelligence briefings). That’s the benefit of nihilism- you can believe in everything and nothing at the same time, and push both as capital T Truth simultaneously.

So that is where we find ourselves now- in an asymmetric warfare in which we believe nothing that the intelligence services say (and trust me, I think healthy skepticism is good and I don’t trust those fuckers as far as I can throw them and with my bad shoulder, blah blah Ferris Bueller), but everything leaked by the Russian hackers. We demand proof, but then dismiss anything that is offered- “It’s not enough! We need more,” knowing full well that publicly offering more would jeopardize data collection methods, reveal what we know and how we know it, reveal sources, and burn agents. It’s almost like in a rush to learn things, they forgot about Valerie Plame.

It’s fertile ground, this nihilism. You get to say that Obama’s actions are both too much and not enough. You can say it was too late, and that it was unnecessary anyway. When you believe in nothing, you are never wrong and always right. You can pretend someone making a mistake is the same as intentionally lying or hysterical (all the while giving fodder for those who want it to ignore everything). You’re always the smartest kid in the class when you shout out the answers after the test have been graded.

And to maintain this, you have to really work to believe nothing. You have to thoroughly dismiss Trump’s long record of fellating Putin. You have to ignore Paul Manafort’s Russian connections. You have to pretend Rex Tillerson doesn’t exist. Or Carter Page. And Roger Stone never said this. And that Julian Assange does not have an agenda.

You must also feign concern about pointing out Russian hacking might lead to nuclear escalation. Now it’s been decades since my foreign policy courses in poly sci. and seminars named things like Superpowers of the Nuclear Age, but I don’t recall the mutual masturbation society that is the current Trump/Putin relationship being discussed in the MAD sections. The only real danger we have right now is friction burns as Trump and Putin dryhump each other on twitter.

It’s also not surprising that many of the people who are outright dismissing the Russian hacking were some of Clinton’s biggest critics. A part of me thinks that dismissing the Russian hacking is part of their unwillingness to cede any of her loss to Trump to anything other than her being the absolute worst person in the world and an even worse candidate. Now let’s be clear, because I know I will be misquoted. I don’t think that the leaks were THE reason she lost. But they were a reason. To deny this is absurd. The leaks were taken out of context, pushed on every front page of every newspaper, and elevated everyday campaign talk into something sinister. Hell, I have listened to people around here conflate the Clinton email server with the DNC email hacks as proof that Clinton violated the law and was unsafe with her emails, all of which ignores the fact that Clinton was never sending action items or top secret stuff through her emails to begin with, because there is a whole separate system for that kind of communication. I still don’t think most journalists fucking understand THAT, which is in and of itself another reason for my current disgusted viewpoint on our failed media experiment.

Clinton lost for a number of reasons. She had high negatives (Clinton fatigue) due to a 30 year campaign by the GOP. She had a media relentlessly flog minutae over substance. She could have visited a few battleground states more. She had Bern or Busters and Jill Stein idiots sapping the vote. She had voter suppression killing the vote in several key states. She had the media flogging a ridiculous fucking email story. She had the unprecedented and unconscionable behavior of James Comey. And she had the Russian hacking and DNC emails.

Let me put it this way. In medical care, there is a phrase/condition called multiple morbities. What it basically means is that a number of conditions can co-occur and ultimately lead to a patient’s demise. When people die, more often than not, there were a number of things going on, each of which could be fatal in its own right. You can suffer from diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension, liver failure, etc. When a patient dies, the doctors don’t sit around saying things like “ONE THING IS FOR SURE, THE OBESITY HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS.” The hacking isn’t what killed the patient, but it sure contributed. But that’s what the deniers want you to believe.

The absolute worst thing about this nihilistic behavior is that they think they are masquerading as heroes speaking truth to power, lauding themselves for their skepticism. Except they aren’t. They’re getting in some parting shots at Obama (who was never good enough for them anyway- HE KILLED SINGLE PAYER- THE 60 VOTES WERE THERE! JUST ASK ANYONE AT THE NOW DEFUNCT FIREDOGLAKES COMMENT SECTION!) and enabling the real power, which is the unified Republican House, Senate, and White House, and soon to be Supreme Court, as well as the several dozen Republican statehouses, who, as we saw during the Bush years, are more than willing to destroy anything and everything, including intelligence agencies, if it means they can starve poor people, start wars at will, keep women and minorities in line, and cut taxes in the rich.

So thanks guys for your fucking service to the nation, you dickheads.

*** Update ***

The fact that people think the Russians hacked the election is not proof of Democratic or intelligence services or WH perfidy, it’s just more evidence that the American people are really fucking stupid and partially because you are so fucking bad at your job. Here’s example fucking A:

Talk about disappointments. The US government’s much-anticipated analysis of Russian-sponsored hacking operations provides almost none of the promised evidence linking them to breaches that the Obama administration claims were orchestrated in an attempt to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.

Interfering with the election is NOT fucking hacking the vote totals, and no one has claimed the latter, you fucking pinhead.



“C” is for “Corruption”

There’s an interesting op-ed in the Washington Post today by Hungarian author and human rights advocate Miklos Haraszti. It’s entitled, “I watched a populist leader rise in my country. That’s why I’m genuinely worried for America.” In the piece, Haraszti discusses the parallels between Trump and Viktor Orbán, president of Hungary and pal of Putin. This part struck me as true:

Call me a typical Hungarian pessimist, but I think hope can be damaging when dealing with populists. For instance, hoping that unprincipled populism is unable to govern. Hoping that Trumpism is self-deceiving, or self-revealing, or self-defeating. Hoping to find out if the president-elect will have a line or a core, or if he is driven by beliefs or by interests. Or there’s the Kremlinology-type hope that Trump’s party, swept to out-and-out power by his charms, could turn against him. Or hope extracted, oddly, from the very fact that he often disavows his previous commitments.

Those of us who watched Trump roll over every institutional barrier like a monster truck over speed bumps made of packing peanuts might well wonder what can stop the bastard. But Haraszti points out that would-be autocrats can be undone by their own greed:

I have plenty of gloomy don’t-dos, but few proven trump cards. There is perhaps one mighty exception, the issue of corruption, which the polite American media like to describe as “conflicts of interest.”

It is the public’s moral indignation over nepotism that has proved to be the nemesis of illiberal regimes. Personal and family greed, cronyism, thievery combined with hypocrisy are in the genes of illiberal autocracy; and in many countries betrayed expectations of a selfless strongman have led to a civic awakening.

Of course, that requires media outlets to investigate and publicize the massive grift in which Trump, Inc. is now gearing up to engage. In the morning thread comments, Kay isn’t optimistic about that. And she’s right to note the general lack of MSM coverage of Trump’s unprecedented and poorly understood conflicts of interests — it’s worrying as hell to see so many media outlets treat this absurdity as the new normal.

But the WaPo was a bright spot during the campaign and may be again during the coming grift-binge. Just this morning, the paper published an editorial lauding Trump for shuttering his “foundation” (while recounting its dodgy nature) but pointing out that it is small potatoes in the scheme of things:

Mr. Trump now must tackle even bigger decisions. He has yet to detail how he will sever his ties with the business he built, but he should strive for a clean break, not only for propriety but also for his own credibility. If he hopes to be a productive leader, he will need all the political strength he can muster, and his capital could be badly sapped by questions about whether outsiders tried to buy influence through his family business. Mr. Trump long ago promised to make public his tax returns, as have other presidential candidates for years, but he has never done so.

It is hard to read Mr. Trump’s compass on these issues. On one hand, he has been outspoken in demanding a break from business as usual, including close ties between policymaking, lobbying and federal contracting. He promises to “drain the swamp” in Washington. However, he seems less eager to act when it involves his own business and family. Before the inauguration, Mr. Trump should declare a zero-tolerance policy toward conflicts of interest and impropriety — especially his own.

The Post is allegedly hiring “dozens of reporters,” perhaps sensing that they’ll need reinforcements to cover the world-historical scam operation that will be the Trump administration. If all the new hires are in the mold of David Fahrenthold, Trump may, ironically, have a hand in making journalism great again. Here’s hoping.

[Illustration is a photo I took in Budapest in the 1990s.]



Fact Free America, the Idiocracy

This is depressing as all hell:

This city exemplifies the economic recovery the country has experienced since the Great Recession ended. Elkhart’s unemployment rate, which had reached a high of 22 percent in March of 2009, is now at 3.9 percent. Hiring signs dot the doors of the Wal-Mart, the McDonald’s, and the Long John Silver’s. The RV industry makes 65 percent of its vehicles in Elkhart, and the industry is producing a record number of vehicles, which is creating a lot of jobs in this frosty town in northern Indiana.

“America’s economy is not just better than it was eight years ago–it is the strongest, most durable economy in the world,” President Obama said during a visit to Elkhart in June, in which he touted the economic recovery. (Elkhart was also the first place outside Washington he visited as president, in 2009.) “Elkhart would not have come this far–if we hadn’t made a series of smart decisions, my administration, a cooperative Congress–decisions we made together early on.”

But despite the decisions that the Obama administration made that might have helped Elkhart, many people here have a strong dislike of Obama, who presided over an economic recovery in which the unemployment rate fell nationally to 4.6 percent from a high of 10 percent in October 2009. They say it’s not Obama who is responsible for the city or the country’s economic progress, and furthermore, that the economy won’t truly start to improve until President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

“He didn’t help us here, but he took credit for what happened,” Chris Corbin, 47, who works for a dispatch company in Elkhart, told me. Corbin thinks it will be Trump who improves the economy. “It’s going to take two terms, but he’ll fix things,” he said.

This is priceless:

Andi Ermes, 39, offered a number of reasons for disliking Obama. She said Obama didn’t attend the Army-Navy football game, even though other presidents had. Obama has actually attended more Army-Navy games than George H.W. Bush. She said that he had taken too many vacations. He has taken fewer vacation days that George W. Bush. She also said that he refused to wear a flag pin on his lapel. While it is true that Obama did not wear a flag on his lapel at points during the 2007 campaign, it was back on his suit by 2008. Ermes told me the news sources she consumes most are Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and a local conservative radio show hosted by Casey Hendrickson.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ermes sees the biggest signs for hope in the economy in Carrier deal struck by Donald Trump, which will keep 1,000 jobs in the U.S. “He’s not even president yet and already he’s helping the economy,” she said.

I’m sure it was because he didn’t attend enough Army/Navy games and not because he’s BLACK.

How long do we have to keep pretending this is about economic anxiety?



Axios, bold as love

Jim VandeHei’s thoughtful piece advocating for a techno-military dictatorship was one of the highlights of 2016 political journalism, so I’ve been waiting with bated breath to see what he and Mike Allen were planning next. It seems to be a a high-priced subscription-based news service called Axios that promotes itself by tweeting out pictures of off-the-record events with Donald Trump.

I understand selling one’s soul for some nice food and high-class booze, but…what the fuck kind of buffet is this?

The student activity center called and they want their rolls and potato chips back.



Who’s bad?

Study after study (example) has shown that Hillary received unusually negative coverage from the media. Some of that is probably the effect of twenty-five years of slo-mo swiftboating.

But here’s a question: did Hillary receive such negative coverage in large part because Trump generated so much justifiably negative coverage? (The study I linked to showed 75% negative for Trump, 56% for Hillary but others show that Hillary’s percentage of negative coverage was as high or higher than Trump’s). Have we reached a point where both-sides-do-it is so strong that if one candidate is bat shit crazy, the other candidate most also be trashed constantly because balance? I think we have.



Make Sure to Save the Date!

Oy vey…