Saturday, March 21, 2009

Never bring crap to a fact fight.

Un-American : Columbia Journalism Review: "In the weeks following the election, the debate over the issue of media bias, and of whether the press was overly kind to Barack Obama, has continued to swirl. Much less attention has been paid to another, more troubling aspect of the coverage, and that’s the relentless and malevolent campaign that the right-wing media waged against the Democratic candidate. Few people who did not regularly tune in to the vast, churning combine of bellowing radio hosts, yapping bloggers, obnoxious Web sites, malicious columnists, and the slashingly partisan Fox News have any idea of just how vile and venomous were the attacks leveled at Obama. Day after day, week after week, these outlets worked determinedly to discredit and degrade Obama, accusing him of being a Muslim, a Marxist, a radical, a revolutionary, a socialist, a communist, a thug, a mobster, a racist, an agent of voter fraud, a black-power advocate, a madrasah graduate, an anti-Semite, an enemy of Israel, an associate of terrorists—even the Antichrist. Supplemented by a flood of viral e-mails, slanderous robocalls, and Internet-based smear campaigns, these media outlets worked to stoke firestorms of manufactured rage against Obama and the Democrats in what was perhaps the most concerted campaign of vilification ever directed at an American politician."

I leave the refutations of stupidity to others, for the most part. I simply hit the next key or change the channel when hatred and stupidity engage in my presence. My freedom to stop listening is as fundamental as the right to free speech.

However, it is worth thinking on the stupefaction of media and vox populi for just a few moments; who benefits from this shitstorm of stupidity and pays the Pundocracy Of Poo.

They are all Terribly Serious and Rather Well Paid, unlike the other side of the blogosphere, who oft make do with ramen noodles and hot dog casseroles. Why is that?

Well, I think Glenn Greenwald (one of our proud exceptions) may have an answer. It goes to Quo Bono. The hatemongers manage to take up huge amounts of bandwidth and energy away from dealing with real issues of critical importance that sane people really SHOULD be pissed off about. Incandescently so. To stave off that fate, Rush is worth every dollar he gets - from a certain point of view.

Aside from the distraction, it makes reasonable sounding people seem - reasonable. Glenn reminds us that this is far from being a safe assumption.

These endless lectures from sober, rational pundits about the relative quantitative insignificance of the AIG bonuses are condescending straw men. Nobody thinks that $165 million in bonuses for the people who destroyed AIG is what has caused the financial crisis. Nobody thinks that recouping those bonuses or having prevented them in the first place would solve or even mitigate systemic collapse. The amounts are miniscule in the context of the broader economic issues. Everyone is aware of that; nobody needs to have that pointed out. As Armando astutely observed, the attempt now to dismiss the anger over the AIG bonuses as the by-product of simple-minded ignorance and/or ideological rigidity (class warfare! crass populism!) is quite similar to how anti-war arguments were stigmatized before the attack on Iraq : ignore the screeching pacifists and let the sober Experts make the decisions, for they know best.

The AIG scandal is significant and has resonated so powerfully because it is a microscope that enables the public to see what and who has wreaked the destruction that threatens their security and future and, most important of all, to realize that these practices haven't ended and the perpetrators haven't been punished. The opposite is true: those who caused the crisis continue to exert control over what happens and continue to have huge amounts of public money transferred in order to enrich them.

Eliot Spitzer is absolutely right that, even at AIG, there are far larger scandals than the bonuses, such as the undiscounted compensation of AIG's counter-parties such as Goldman Sachs (and just by the way: it is indescribably symbolic that Spitzer has been punished and disgraced for his acts of consensual adult sex while the targets of his prescient Wall St. investigations, who basically destroyed the world economy, remain protected and empowered). But the bonus scandal is illustrative of why the crisis happened, who caused it to happen, and the ongoing political dominance of the perpetrators. It is, as Robert Reich put it, "a nightmarish metaphor for the Obama Administration's problems administering the bailout of Wall Street."

The financial crisis has merely unmasked the corruption and rot in our establishment institutions that are staggering in magnitude and reach. Just as the Iraq War was not the by-product of wrongdoing by a few stray bad political and media actors but instead was reflective of our broken institutions generally, the financial crisis is a fundamental indictment on the way the country functions and of its ruling class. What would be unhealthy is if there weren't substantial amounts of public rage in the face of these revelations.

It's politically impossible for the Obama administration to force any substantial revision of the way things are without the impetus of public outrage - whatever they may secretly wish to do or avoid doing. This is the sort of situation in which the reforms that are currently possible are clearly insufficient. It is not a time for "politics as usual," for in fact, the system has been so suborned and the dialogue so cheapened that nothing less that visceral fear will improve matters.

So, it's time to fan those flames in the right direction. And remember, folks; the average US citizen will muddle through. The people who have most to fear are those who built their success on lies, fear, manipulation, greed and violence.

It's time to get down to it, Chicago Style. If they fling crap, intended to discredit someone or some good idea, fling back ten sharp facts that proves the poo-flinger is a lying scumbag in the pay of even worse people.

If they try to start a sex scandal regarding a liberal - investigate ten conservatives and publish the results. And I'm not meaning that "The DNCC should do this."

I say unto you, the DNCC is the LAST group likely to do this. Ok, maybe the second last.

No, YOU should do this. It's amazing what electronic research tools - your computer and telephone - can reveal. Particularly if you collaborate via social media.

There is no fatter target in all the world than a known and famous liar, for they lie about everything. And once the lies start to unravel, well, it becomes quite the public entertainment, the perfect yarn to braid a line sturdy enough to hang a target out to dry.

Don't bother with rush, though. Look at where the money comes from. Don't go after Fox's spokesmuffins - go after the executives. Don't go after the people the people paid to lie, go after those who pay for lies.

Same principle for politicians. For instance - Jim Gibbons, Nevada Governor. I'm sure it would be fun to look into who sponsored this useful idiot. In Nevada, there are only two guesses - Mining and Gambling.

Oh, and by the by, it's not like it's an even playing field. In many ways, our financial overlords have a significant home court disadvantage. Here's a chunk from "The idiots who rule America."

Andrew Lahde, the Santa Monica, Calif., hedge fund manager who made an 870 percent gain last year by betting on the subprime mortgage collapse, has abruptly shut down his fund, citing the risk of trading with faltering banks. In his farewell letter to his investors he excoriated the elites who run our investment houses, banks and government.

“The low-hanging fruit, i.e. idiots whose parents paid for prep school, Yale, and then the Harvard MBA, was there for the taking,” he said of our oligarchic class. “These people who were (often) truly not worthy of the education they received (or supposedly received) rose to the top of companies such as AIG, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and all levels of our government. All of this behavior supporting the Aristocracy only ended up making it easier for me to find people stupid enough to take the other side of my trades. God bless America.”

“On the issue of the U.S. Government, I would like to make a modest proposal,” he went on. “First, I point out the obvious flaws, whereby legislation was repeatedly brought forth to Congress over the past eight years, which would have [reined] in the predatory lending practices of now mostly defunct institutions. These institutions regularly filled the coffers of both parties in return for voting down all of this legislation designed to protect the common citizen. This is an outrage, yet no one seems to know or care about it. Since Thomas Jefferson and Adam Smith passed, I would argue that there has been a dearth of worthy philosophers in this country, at least ones focused on improving government.”

There are two important things to realize that are revealed in that last, insightful citation. First, the very wealthy are not smarter than the general run by any stretch of the imagination. Nor are they wiser. Worst of all, they are blinded by their circumstances, their exclusive circles, their exclusionary behaviors. If All The People That Matter believe the same things, surely those things must be true, no?

No. And if you wish an historical reference to where that sort of willful ignorance can lead, well, stuty a bit about the beginnings of the French Revolution, or the Bolshevik Revolution or, indeed, consider the genesis of the United States itself.

In each case, various oligarchs used the machenery of government to squeeze citizens until there was nothing left to gain - and nothing much at all for those being squeezed to lose. This is the sort of situation we are facing now in the US in particular. Further, if such a large economic domino is to fall - we all fall with it. So each of us need to look at our own leaders and decide what pressure may be brought to compel them to stick their heads out of the window, to gauge the mood of the mob.

John Ralston Saul, quoted in the truthdig article cited above, says something about what I believe to be the core issue that we are not actually seeing, nor discussing.

“I’ve talked to several Supreme Court justices, several times in several countries,” Saul told me, “and I say, look, in your rulings, can you differentiate easily in cases between the social contract and the commercial contract, and to which the answer is, we can no longer differentiate. And that lies at the heart of the problem. You don’t have the concept of the other, and of obligation of the individual leading to individualism. You can’t have that if the whole legal system has slipped over the last, really, 50 years, increasingly, to a confusion between the social contract and the commercial contract. Because they are two completely different things. The social contract is about the public good, responsible individualism, imagining the other. The commercial contract is a commercial contract. They’re not supposed to be confused. They don’t actually fit together. The commercial contract only works properly when the social contract works in a democracy.”
Saul has a bleak vision as to what will happen if this is not dealt with, if government is not separated from commerce - and, as I often emphasise myself, religion. Collapse or revolt, and with little hope of replacing it with something sensible and workable - unless we become the solution ourselves. Saul points out that the current crop of people in government simply do not have the perspective, background or capablity to see the problem.

So, here's the solution. You. Get involved. Take the civil service exam. Become a sentator's aide and adviser - whether they like it or not.

Show up. Chicago style.

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