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Visual synecdoche for the past thirty years of political reporting

600 million years ago.  In a fetid swamp of decay – the opaque water a slurry of rotten vegetation, air bulging with the upper bands of UV radiation, brown brown everything brown – a lungfish heaves itself up onto densely-packed shitmud.  It can’t tell.  Its senses cannot distinguish water from air, or light from dark.

Immediately the poison blanket of radiation falling from the sun starts to break its DNA.  Enough slams into its cells that, in the few seconds before it collapses back to the stinking darkness of its sludge, the seeds of bulbous tumors are planted in every organ.

Everything bulges.  Everything hurts.  Suddenly it bumps into something in the blind muck.  Maybe the diaphanous remains of a corpse.  It robotically fucks whatever the thing is.  The mindless twisting is weak and languid but still tears its cancer-ridden body down the length of its spine.  The now inert, ragged, floating mass of carcinoma does not bob to the surface.  The water is too thick for that.

The pre-fatal intercourse happened to have been with another (living) lungfish.  And by a billion-to-one odds, the tangle of broken DNA in its malignant come twisted into place to produce offspring with the first photosensitive cells in vertebrates.  

We are able to see because a tumorous shitfish blindly fucked itself to death in fowl brown filth.  

There’s a silver lining to every situation, no matter how objectively disgusting.

Which brings us to Trump, and the media, and centrism.  What are the silver linings, what are we able to see, now that it’s obvious to all what Republicans are as a party?

(skip down to The Prestige to get the summary answer)

The Supporters

They didn’t come from nowhere, these Trump supporters.  They are Republicans.  They were Republicans.  Ten years ago, Republicans were people who, ten years later, would vote for Trump.  (And let’s not forget the majority of the rest wanted Ted Cruz, who is more horrifying than Trump but, thankfully, butt-ugly as a shitfish.)

Here’s how the NY Times characterized the largest blocks of Republicans in 2005:

TRADITIONAL VALUES BLOC Primarily interested in the general decline of morals in society and the breakup of the family rather than abortion and gay marriage. Education is their top issue. VOTERS: Working and middle classes, suburban and exurban

ANTI-WASHINGTON BLOC The largest group. Dislikes regulation, government waste and pork-barrel politics; would move power to the states. VOTERS: Red-state voters who hate blue-state voters

BIBLICAL BLOC Religion drives politics. Allegiance is to causes, not to party unity. For this group, President Bush did not do enough to save Terri Schiavo.  VOTERS: Conservative Christians

This was after 20 years of Rush Limbaugh, who was months away from “Barack the Magic Negro”.  This was after the second-most-popular Republican reason for voting in 2004 was to “keep the faggots from gettin’ marital tax breaks and visitation privileges, as Jesus intended”.  After torture became a plank of the Republican platform, after Katrina and the “shoot the niggers looters yeahhh shoot ’em all good ‘n dead” rhetoric.

This was shortly before Bill O’Reilly busted a vein over immigration like he lost his favorite loofah, with Geraldo Rivera (one not widely known for being able to pick up subtle nuances of sociological trends) warning “You want your viewers to go door to door, ‘You’re an Illegal, I’m going to take you outside and do something to you.’ ” 

To say nothing of Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Jim DeMint, and the rest of the unending parade of lazy authoritarians in the Web 2.0 era.  

I wouldn’t use “disliking pork barrel politics” as a descriptor for these people, myself.  

So, Trump’s Silver Lining Lesson Number 1: Pay attention to what’s happening, because the media won’t do it for you.  Clear as day, and in real time, it was obvious that the Republican party was becoming the incompetent clowning fascism Trump and Cruz are championing.  

Why wasn’t this a prominent theme in the media?  

And why didn’t you realize it?

The Media

Clara Jeffery is Editor-in-Chief of Mother Jones.  Broadly pro-union, anti-incarceral state, anti-middle class wealth stagnation, and all the other things you’d expect out of a publication that does actual journalism.  And yet, the above.

Meanwhile, Krugman can’t figure out why the media are “objectively pro-Trump”:

It’s not even false equivalence: compare the amount of attention given to the Clinton Foundation despite absence of any evidence of wrongdoing, and attention given to Trump Foundation, which engaged in more or less open bribery — but barely made a dent in news coverage. 

[…] Brian Beutler argues that it’s about protecting the media’s own concerns, namely access. But I don’t think that works. It doesn’t explain why the Clinton emails were a never-ending story but the disappearance of millions of George W. Bush emails wasn’t […] [or] the revelation that Colin Powell did, indeed, offer HRC advice on how to have private email the way he did […]

And I don’t see how the huffing and puffing about the foundation — which “raised questions”, but where the media were completely unwilling to accept the answers they found — fits into this at all.

No, it’s something special about Clinton Rules. I don’t really understand it. But it has the feeling of a high school clique bullying a nerdy classmate because it’s the cool thing to do.

These are related.

Think of your workplace (you know, the place you’re sitting right now).  The industry it’s in.  There are all sorts of weird idiosyncratic ways of doing things, of seeing the business, that are essentially irrational, right?  That were created out of an organic process which no single person or entity is directing?  Maybe sales have to be conducted in a certain way.  Or a concept has to be explained like this and not like that in order to avoid looking like a rube.  

The equivalents in journalism: 

  • Boomers are right and the kids today are wrong
  • Republicans are serious
  • Anything bipartisan is good 

These are all ubiquitous enough to be cliches.  The editor-in-chief of a lefty magazine can be confidently illiterate when bashing the young’uns; Erik Erikson can go on CNN for years; I can offer $100 for a pejorative use of “bipartisan” confident that it can’t be claimed. (Unless, of course, it’s pork-barrel spending, which is an example of why “Republicans are serious” for “opposing” it.)

For other examples, see Charlie Pierce, now and always.  

The media’s treatment of Trump isn’t anything more than “Republicans are serious”.  Trump is a Republican.  He’s serious.  

Like other Republicans before him, he’s serious when he says he has a “secret plan” to end the war; when he says tax cut incontinence will create a bazillion jobs; when he advocates immigration policy from 1933 Weimar Germany.

Hell, even Trump’s obvious and clumsy grifts have a rich history within his party.

Trump’s Silver Lining Lesson Number 2: Political journalism has its own dynamics that have nothing to do with the truth.

It’s clear as day now that the media doesn’t cover Trump objectively, but slots him into their typical political coverage: that is to say, it will treat any objectively insane policy proposal of his in a sober and serious manner.  

But . . . why?  

And why didn’t you notice it before?

The Centrist Ideology

“I’m not an ideologue.”  “Both sides go too far.”  “I don’t slavishly follow a party, I make up my own mind.” “I’m a moderate.” “I’m a fiscal conservative and a social liberal.” “I just care about what works.”

These are the siren calls of centrism, the ideology that marinates political coverage.  The truth lies somewhere in the middle of the extremes of left and right, and partisan cheerleading for unbendable ideas blinds people from seeing what needs to be done.  What could be more reasonable, more obvious, than that?

What’s missing is that the “extremes of left and right” do not exist out there in the world. They have to be built rhetorically.  Picking a middle from the extremes involves picking extremes.  What is the opposite of $4 trillion of tax cuts: infrastructure spending, or preventing the Federal Reserve from crushing wage increases?

Besides extending a spatial metaphor into uselessness, picking a middle from the extremes requires two extremes.  If one set of ideas is generally plausible and sane, and the other set the equivalent of slapping a hornets nest with your hand to kill all the stingy things inside, there’s no need to bother with the second set, is there.  

Finally, locating a political philosophy “in the middle” requires a large set of assumptions.  A small sample:

  • that political institutions are taken for granted the way they are
  • that the norms of political behavior are taken for granted
  • that the political economy framework within which policy is enacted is taken for granted
  • that the goals of the policies “in the middle” have already been determined 

Centrism is thus inherently an ideology of the status quo; it is inherently Establishment.

That the media should adopt centrism as their implicit frame for political coverage could be due to a lot of reasons: not wishing to upset access with their sources; subconsciously defaulting to the ideas that benefit the class and social strata most journalists come from; adapting to the political framework set out by their corporate owners. 

But whatever the reason, notice that the centrist framing of political coverage drives the three trends discussed above.

  • Boomers are the Establishment, run the institutions, and are tremendously invested in the status quo
  • Republicans need to be Serious so that there can be “two sides” to be “in the middle” of
  • Bipartisanship is “meeting in the middle”; in other words, of the status-quo institutions continuing to run as they have been run

Trump’s Silver Lining Lesson Number 3: The media’s coverage of Trump is not due to Trump, but due to the way they cover political events.  The centrist ideology which frames political coverage necessitates covering Trump in a certain way.  It necessitates covering Republicans a certain way.  It necessitates covering issues a certain way.  

And that’s why it took Trump waving his tiny hands around for you to notice how the media covers politics with a centrist frame: it took someone so obviously unfit and hateful, so cartoonish, so small-handed to demonstrate the framework the media uses to cover politics.  

The Prestige

Here, then, in three sentences, is the point:

The media’s centrist framing of political coverage over the past thirty years helped create the conditions for Donald Jay Trump.  Pay attention to that centrist framing.  It’s insane and brings evil into the world.  

That’s the reason for this blog.  

h/t LGM for the image

 

 

So this gets very deep in the weeds of a completely diaphanous article that only got written because the NYT has to fill slots in their political coverage.  But I think going through it serves a purpose by demonstrating just how much centrist pap is mixed into the foundation of political reporting, even when that reporting is very far away from anything anyone can call “important”.  This centrist stuff isn’t just  for the movers and the shakers.  Everyone’s got to do it to prove they can be trusted.  It’s like prison tattoos.  Onward:

I understand that the craft of political ads can be a legitimate news topic.  Like when there is subliminal or not so subliminal religious imagery or questionable skin tones.

I get that unusual techniques in campaign ad production can be a legitimate news story.

But the story Jeremy W. Peters, Professional Political Reporter, filed with the NYT wasn’t about those things.  It breathlessly reported that a new ad created a fictional story to highlight problems with the current administration. That it used actors to do so.  That it spent some money to do so.

Independent of the ways in which the piece tries to conceal just the laziest fucking hackwork: what the fucking balls was going through Jeremy W. Peters head when he wrote this article?  Why did he want to write what he wrote?  To what purpose? There is absolutely nothing fucking remarkable or newsworthy about the ad he’s writing about. Production values have always kept pace with the rest of television.  Actors have been used since motherfucking Eisenhower.  The Reagan “Morning in America” ad that the application for a centrist card requires you to present physical evidence that it moved you to tears was a montage of images of a young man’s life from riding a bike as a kid to helping around the house as a teenager to getting married to growing old.  Sounds kinda similar.  Plus you’d think a piece of journalism that breathlessly reports a political ad is using a fictional story would at least mention the Obama “Julia” ad released a few weeks ago which does the same thing, but then you’d remember this was a piece which gestated in the nourishing fluid of centrism, and you would put such silly thoughts aside.

And there are lots of centrist tropes in here. And they all come, like the origami fetishist, after the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

I mean it's not surprising but I wish there was just one out there who didn't do kneejerk bullshit like this

I mean it’s not surprising but I wish there was just one out there who didn’t do kneejerk bullshit like this

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So Cory Booker did on Meet The Press what politicians do on Sunday shows: distort the media to benefit his political donors.

Then he made a youtube response to criticism where he distorted what he said to benefit his political donors.

I mean this isn’t really the discovery of the Higgs Boson.  This is what the media is for.  But the smug self-righteousness of preening about money in politics and superPACs in the middle of DECLARING CRITICISM OF YOUR DONORS OFF-LIMITS just pisses me off.  Plus there are some people who seem not to notice what is going on.

One of those people happens to have a national cable news show who interviewed Cory Booker the day after he did all this shit.  Guess who it is!  And guess which bodily function the interview resembles!

Maddow’s interview is here I ain’t embedding it because both times I loaded it there were commercials for a Fuck Public Education Company and Boeing. I’m not having that on my conscience.

Suffice to say the vast majority of the interview is “You’re now a political football on both sides” and “How do you feel about your role in the Obama campaign at this point” and all that bullshit.  The one question which could possibly be construed to be in the public interest comes about 3/4s of the way through the interview and is “What would you say the limits are to criticism of the private equity investment industry.” Which isn’t exactly “Did you order the Code Red” but it’s not out of place in an interview which doesn’t actively try to mislead the public.

Of course, Booker responds to that question with the same line of bullshit he slung in his youtube response: he’s tired of “negative advertising” and “the money in politics” and “the flood of SuperPAC money” and “the negative campaigning that is turning Americans away from politics”.  And of course Maddow follows it up with an unrelated question about how the Obama campaign is using him at this point.

Fuck Rachel Maddow.  If you want to prance about as a serious journalist who gives a shit from a progressive perspective the absolute fucking minimum requirement for that is to point the fuck out when politicians are running interference for their political donors in the name of “objectivity” and “caring about the political process”.  Especially when it’s on the platform of a Sunday morning show.  And especially when the politician issues a response video that slings the same obfuscatory bullshit.  And especially when you’re doing the first interview after all this shit drops.

And again this isn’t the biggest thing in the world but I’m tired of being intellectually insulted.  Especially by someone who promises not to do that.

Don't be tellin' me about foot massages. I'm the foot fuckin' master.

Don’t be tellin’ me about foot massages. I’m the foot fuckin’ master.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Norm Ornstein has been a curious media figure.  He’s been ensconced at the heart of darkness, the American Enterprise Institute, for some time, and has been a regular fixture on the TV pundit circuit for as long as there’s been a TV pundit circuit.  But for all that, he is usually fairy honest and straightforward.  Fer instance, he’s been very plain and outspoken in the fact that the reason he’s on TV is that he can offer a pithy eight second soundbite on the issue of the day in a way that doesn’t challenge the story the media is trying to push.

Something got into his Special K because for the last year he’s been doing something different.

Last July he wrote in article in Foreign Policy called “Worst. Congress. Ever.” continuing the work he had published since 2006 documenting the institutional failures of the legislative branch.  But in that article he named names.  Unprecedented use of the filibuster, unfaithful negotiation, “Our first priority is defeating Barack Obama”, all that shit.  The Republicans were to blame.

A month or two ago he and his writing/research partner, Thomas Mann, released a book about the institutional failures of Congress as they had twice in the past six years.  Except this time it contained passages like “The Republican party is . . . an insurgent outlier — ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition”.

Of course, whereas their earlier work got them toasted across the spectrum on Sundays, now they’ve gone on one NPR show and one PBS show to promote their book.

And now, via Balloon Juice, comes this article (in of all things, the Washington Post) in which various solutions to Republican intransigence are discarded and some advocated.  Everything they say makes sense, and is intellectually honest, and what the fuck is it doing in Fred Hiatt’s house of lies is my question.

But. Norm Ornstein.  You are trying to wipe off the shit you had been rolling around in for the majority of your career, and the stench and the stain of it will likely take the rest of your life to undo.  Because I can not recommend this Doghouse Riley post enough.

When Reagan was fucking shit up beyond all recognition, the fuck were you?  When you were a nationally-recognized pundit in the fucking Carter Administration, where was your documentation about the worming of the Nixonian dark arts into the length and breadth of the Republican party?  When the President of the United States was attacked with the most powerful legal mechanism possible for the most bullshit reasons possible, why weren’t you writing about how extreme and dismissive the Republican party was?

It’s great that you’ve had what alcoholics refer to as a moment of clarity, that you’re giving up the life of a say-nothing suit occupying a studio chair, and that in all likelihood you will now have to walk the earth like Kung Fu because the media-corporate complex isn’t going to be forthcoming with the pundit teat.

But you’ve got sins to atone for.  And I wish you luck.

He's like that ooze from Ghostbusters 2: distilled hate for everything not him

He’s like that ooze from Ghostbusters 2: distilled hate for everything not him

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet again, everything in the picture is in the article.

When reviewing Jonah Goldberg’s most recent effluvia (because of course Jonah fucking Myparentscoattailsaremadeofgoldberg needs to be reviewed in the Times) Joe Klein makes arguments that are not only more stupid than the ones he quotes Goldberg as making, but ones that are more socially pernicious.  He uses cultural tropes that are more damaging than the ones he quotes his reviewed author making (again, this is Jonah Goldberg).

Read the rest of this entry »

Fuck this guy.  For real, son

Fuck this guy. For real, son

Imma list the institutions Ian Bremmer is a part of.  He is founder and president of the Eurasia Group, a risk management and consulting firm with New York, DC and London offices as well as consulting and research contracts on every continent.  Their role is to asses the risk of instability due to capital flows, domestic and international governmental policies, energy markets, etc. and provide a strategy for firms hoping to operate and thrive in an unstable environment.

He created an index to judge that type of risk as part of a joint venture w/ Citigroup in 2001.

Bremmer serves on the Board the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, was named as a ‘Young Global Leader’ of the World Economic Forum, and in 2010 was appointed Chair of the Forum’s Global Agenda Council for Geopolitical Risk.  He fills similar roles in think tanks that work with private firms and public departments to identify market opportunities, and are called the EastWest InstituteLawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and the World Policy Institute.  Oh he’s also a member of the Council of Foreign Relations, because of course he is.

Bremmer is listed as an adjunct professor at the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs on multiple bios at Amazon and his various firms and organizations, but he isn’t listed as a faculty member anywhere at Columbia itself, because he doesn’t teach classes or conduct research.  But that’s more like a little tidbit complementing the main course above.

Now.  If you were to create the absolute best economic environment for the personal economic and professional career interests of Ian Bremmer, I don’t think I’m telling tales out of school when I say it would be covered by dozens if not hundreds of overlapping bilateral trade agreements, feature large and unstable coalitions of public, private, and quasi-public institutions operating from regional to global levels, and operate within complex resource constraints whose legal titles are not only unsettled but are easily able to be unsettled if resolved.

Now.  Bremmer has written a slew of books under the aegis of academic objectivity while brandishing his Stanford PhD.  Just sober conclusions following from the established facts.  What’s his new book about?  Read the rest of this entry »

via LGM

I am the Cameron Frye to Rebecca Elliott’s Ferris Bueller: she’s my hero.

She compiled a nice little list of pundits making grandiose claims about the centrist equivalent of seasteading, Americans Elect, which after delaying their schedule of implementation by several planting seasons features a front-runner who is a mere 9,700 votes shy of getting the 10,000 votes needed to become the Americans Elect candidate.  Frye did little summarizing of the pundits’ views toward Americans Elect and just let the their words speak for themselves beneath tasteful photos.

Several of those characteristics will be kept in this post and several will not.

Dammit! Works every time

I love the way they use that word “if.
It’s like the centrist catechism: repeat it enough times and all your sins will be wiped clean.

As the sailor said to the native girl, there’s much more below:  Read the rest of this entry »

Lizza was actually an original member of the Wu Tang Clan.  That's where he got the name.  But he left when he didn't want to take sides in feuds.  Of course he kept the name.

Lizza was actually an original member of the Wu Tang Clan. That’s where he got the name “the Lizza.” But he left when he didn’t want to take sides in feuds. Of course he kept the name.

Ryan Lizza has an eye for detail.  His massive reporting pieces on political figures in the New Yorker usually tell stories no-one else has.  But the spry young pup can sling centrist bullshit further and longer than all but the most seasoned veterans.  I don’t know why you’d want recent proof, but here you go:

Lizza’s post describing Marco Rubio’s recent foreign policy speech couldn’t past a plagiarization test with Michael Gerson’s column describing the same speech.  Who is Michael Gerson?  Why,

Like, srsly, as we used to say in late 2002 and early 2003

Like, srsly, as we used to say in late 2002 and early 2003

The post, as the Scotsman said to the comely lass, grows below the fold.  Read the rest of this entry »

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#RomneyShambles Andrea Mitchell Another reason why J R is the greatest satire of our age As an academic you're supposed to be a fucking officer class thinker why are you saying this bullshit CBS Centrism: still damaging even when it comes from nobodies Centrist jizzum is the medium through which corporate political discourse propagates Charles Murray Charles Pierce: fucking awesome Clint Eastwood Clive Crook Cory Booker crazy-eyed centrist David Brooks: fucking awful David Gregory David Petraeus Doris Kearns Goodwin Ed Rendell Evan Bayh Feeeeeeeeed Fox News Glenn Kessler Harold Ford Jr. Hey you know what would be awesome war in the Middle East Ian Bremmer I can't think of a tag that can adequately capture the dickassness of Ryan Lizza I wish they would at least hide it a little Jeremy Peters Joe Klein John Heilemann Josh Kraushaar just take the middle of two arbitrary points Just wake me when it ends Lanny Davis Lawrence Lessig I don't envy you your trials LGM Mainly for me to get down in writing what's been screaming in my head Matt Apuzzo Matt Bai Matt Miller Michael Crowley Michael Gerson Newspapers Norm Ornstein Objectively defending awful policies in the name of objectivity Obscene depictions of obscene political and economic processes Old white guys be acting old and white Oprah Probably too long Rachel Maddow Romney Science is pretty alright but damn dude it ain't the only thang Science motherfucker do you speak it Stephen Colbert The fall of Americans Elect is the Centrist 9/11 The goddamn AP The Guardian These are the jokes The worst thing about 30 Rock is when they treat Brian Williams without contempt This made me laugh so hard that I was rolling on the floor Tommy Friedman Tony Blair Too angry to swear much this time Van Jones Vox Washington Post We will refrain from making Mickey Kaus goat jokes. For now. What happened Nate Silver I had such high hopes for you what is a centrist I don't even Who? Whoever coined the term "Bri Wi" should be forced to take massive quantities of Ex-Lax and Loperamide at the same time
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