Monday, January 15, 2018

MONDAY 'ROUND-THE-HORN.


(No, I'm not off for the holiday, but I did want to tell you good people the Voice column will be delayed till tomorrow because of it, and to file in recompense some short bits as time permits.)

•  Saw The Post. It’s a big old parfait of received opinion — but good, as the old joke goes. Many of the complaints I’ve heard about it have to do with the characters, such as they are, announcing the nature of their conflicts and the messages of their scenes, baldly and without shame; it’s only a little cheap when editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), half a movie after publisher Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep) chides him for keeping the Kennedys' secrets, comes back tell her “those days have to be over”; but when the first injunction against the New York Times is greeted by a little Greek chorus of Postmen talking about the First Amendment In Peril, it’s a big pot of fondue, and when Meg Greenfield (Carrie Coon), phone pressed to her ear, sings out to the hushed newsroom Hugo Black’s “press was to serve the governed, not the governors” line, it’s the whole fromagerie. But good! I loved it like I love Oliver Stone’s hallucinogenic JFK, and the old “message pictures” that I think are Spielberg’s real inspiration here; he has intuited that when a message pic gets off on being righteous, if you do it right it won’t turn audiences off — it will rather invite them to join in, and let the righteousness lift them up too. In such an exercise underdeveloped characters and aw-c’mon exposition fall far beside the point. I won’t go as far as Gandhi on that, but I’ll go pretty far and The Post is within my limit; if you too thrill to the scene in Sam Fuller's Park Row when Gene Evans drags a malefactor to the statue of Ben Franklin and smashes his head repeatedly against its base, it may be within yours, too. I will add that while Hanks, hard as he works on his gruffness, does little to disturb the shade of the great Robards, Meryl Streep, whom I never really liked, finally made a believer out of me. She usually strikes me as fussy, but her small, almost furtive emotional turns as she struggles against, then awakens to the full meaning of her duty struck me as completely appropriate to a great lady who is unafraid to be embarrassed but terrified to be wrong.

•  Department of Who's "We," Buddy: "We’re Becoming Like Him," reads the National Review headline over a picture of Trump, but no, it's not the erstwhile NeverTrumpers finally admitting the obvious, it's Michael Brendan Dougherty, as is his passive-aggressive wont, using "we" to mean liberals; instead of lamenting that top Republicans are currently trying to cover for Trump's obviously racist remarks, he tells us, "Kirsten Gillibrand now tentatively tries on a potty-mouth'; instead of criticizing Trump for using his cat's-paws to indulge his Clinton fetish with endless investigations, Dougherty tells us "loads of Russia-related stories blew up in reporters’ faces." The nadir is his implication that a federal judge restraining Trump's DACA directive was also "becoming like" Trump: "There is little chance a justice would have ventured to look so ridiculous, until Trump became our president." Judges blocked Obama sometimes, of course, but that was just Constitutional, see -- when you do it to Trump, you're becoming just like him!  I swear, if these people didn't have double standards they'd have no standards at all.

Friday, January 12, 2018

FRIDAY 'ROUND-THE-HORN.



For obvious reasons.

•   You want to know why they're hopeless? At National Review David French is upset because America has seen its life expectancy decline yet again. The Washington Post reports:
The data a year ago set off alarms when they showed that in 2015 the United States experienced its first decline in life expectancy since that 1993 dip. Experts pointed then to the “diseases of despair” — drug overdoses, suicides and alcoholism — as well as small increases in deaths from heart disease, strokes and diabetes. 
The 2016 data shows that just three major causes of death are responsible: unintentional injuries, Alzheimer’s disease and suicides, with the bulk of the difference attributable to the 63,632 people who died of overdoses. That total was an increase of more than 11,000 over the 52,404 who died of the same cause in 2015.
Many of those "unintentional injuries" are drug overdoes. Now, you and I might look at this and think: Let's work harder on a cure for Alzheimer's, and on getting people more care for all those other diseases; above all let's make a society where everyone feels like valuable and cared for instead of just suckers whose only value is as prey in a vicious, winner-take-all society, because that's the kind of society from which people are inclined to seek an early exit. But French looks at this and thinks:
Government and the media are simply not up to the task. Think, for example, of the intensity of last month’s debate over the size of the child tax credit in the Republican tax bill. I shared the disappointment of a number of conservatives that the tax benefits for families weren’t larger, but I was under no illusion that even hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks would make a material difference in family outcomes. Yes, people respond to incentives, and positive tax changes help more than they hurt, but no reasonable person thinks that any single policy or series of policies in Washington will put the fractured family back together again.
French is a evangelical Christian (although -- and you'll love this -- he's talked about renouncing the term because his fellow holy rollers have gotten so depraved they're making him look bad). So it's a cinch that when he says government can't do anything for the vulnerable -- even though, in terms of child care policy, government has been effectively doing plenty for millions of children -- he expects Jesus to fill the gap, possibly through the reintroduction of the faith-based grifts of yore. In other words: pie in the sky and pass the collection plate. So I'm telling you: If you want a more just society, you can't just freeze out the obvious Trumpian crooks, you also have to get rid of the God-botherers who would tell you helping is futile and that the Lord will provide. In fact maybe get rid of them first.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

THE GLORY THAT WAS GIPPER, THE GRANDEUR THAT WAS COOTER FROM THE DUKES OF HAZZARD.

The President Oprah thing is already beginning to die down, but before the historic moment passes let us bring to Clio's attention one particular piece of related gibberish from Opus Dei conservative Michael Brendan Dougherty at National Review. It is, as one would expect, dismissive of Winfrey — “about how women are rising up to speak ‘their truth,’ telling ‘those men’ who have oppressed them that ‘their time is up’" is his sneer-quote-intensive description of her speech (Gad, isn’t it just like a woman to get pissy about rape and harassment!) -- and has a Big Idea about the Meaning Of It All, please God, but instead of sticking with the traditional mush about what celebrity culture hath wrought, Dougherty goes the extra mile to fix blame for celebrity culture on “wonks.” How ya figure, MBD?
The wonk’s role is well-fitted to the centrist political ideal in the post–Cold War West. For them, government is most highly admirable when it is totally denuded of questions of value or morality (these having obvious and uncontroversial answers), and reduced to a purely technical exercise. The politician working with the wonk finds that his job is reconciling the public with what’s good for them. 
Imagine — being so almighty arrogant that you want government to give people “what’s good for them” (like working bridges and highways, health care, etc.) instead of gifting them with your moral value decisions like “hmm, feeding these poor black people seems moral, but wouldn't it be more Christian to let their starvation and misery serve to spur others to thrift and industry?”
And this fits the machinery of the executive branch, which is filled with hundreds of thousands of civil servants, overseen by a much smaller retinue of political appointees almost all chosen from within the governing class of the country. 
He doesn’t mention private-sector government contractors, who soak the public fisc at least as well as any Gummint bureaucrat (no “what’s good for them” nonsense for those privateers — just good old-fashioned free-market self-enrichment!), because they are of Reagan, which is to say of the Lord.
Where this model of government is most advanced — in Europe — policy questions are routinely taken away from the passions of democratic peoples, and quarantined for expert management.
Dougherty is of the Dreher/Douthat school that wishes Eurocrats would stop thwarting the true will of white people and let neo-Nazis lead.

We could go on forever like this but ugh, let’s cut to the chase: according to Dougherty these silly “what’s good for them” government wonks are making a celebrity president like Oprah inevitable, while serious people like Dougherty prefer “the traditional politician, a person of judgment and charisma who represents the community from which he or she emerges, using his own wisdom in reconciling the diverse interests and needs of his nation and constituency” — you know, like Reagan and Trump. Or the have-a-beer-worthy George W., if you want to talk about genuinely manufactured celebrity -- for Bush Lite, who would have had neither business nor political cred without wealth and Republican handlers, was about as big a put-up job as Peter Lemonjello.

"Wonks are now the producers, behind the scenes," closes Dougherty. "The celebrities are just the talent, reading lines and leveraging their brand for the great project of governance." I don't know whether Dougherty saw Trump going off the reservation on DACA and being guided back to orthodoxy by Kevin McCarthy before he wrote that, but even if he didn't, he should know by now that you don't need good-government types to treat political leaders like the "talent"; simple goons and grifters are if anything even better at it.


Monday, January 08, 2018

NEW VILLAGE VOICE COLUMN UP...

...about The Filth and the Fury or whatever it's called but really about the pushback from wingnuts who don't see how people can talk about such a highly accomplished public servant as Donald Trump that way, which will never not be funny. I'm no one's idea of a goddamn ray of sunshine but I think Trump's going to have to get better cheerleaders than the freaks and feebs he's got -- the Sig Ruman impersonator Sebastian Gorka accusing Wolff of "treasonous goals" is not going to win the hearts of Mr. and Mrs. America, and they would probably react to the approach of Stephen Miller by remembering some old story their grandparents told them about a ghost that eats children and barring the door.

UPDATE. No matter how low your opinion of these people goes, they will always disappoint you. As longtime readers will know, I am against distance diagnoses of politicians' alleged illnesses, including the mental variety, including Trump's; so I was not in favor of the 25th Amendment reactions to Wolff's book, and was at first sympathetic to wingnut Peter Hasson at The Daily Caller, who defended Trump from charges of clinical abnormality. Then halfway through his column Hasson started defending wingnut citations of Hillary Clinton’s allegedly disqualifying health issues in the 2016 campaign — such as a “prolonged, public coughing fit” — and insisted “questions about Clinton’s health weren’t pure speculation." To say Trump's very public incapacity for sequential thought is meaningless, and then turn around and defend the idea that Hillary couldn't be President because of various serious illnesses that have not, as of this writing, killed her, is a level of hypocrisy I think would most of us would be too embarrassed to perform for far grander sums than whatever The Daily Caller pays.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

JUST SET THE BAR ON THE GROUND THERE.

Eddie Scarry at the Washington Examiner:
Why hasn't Michael Wolff's dementia-Trump ever been seen in public?
Dementia-Trump has been the only Trump I've seen, excepting those rare occasions when his handlers glue him to a teleprompter -- when he still sucks, but less crudely, causing the media dummies to swoon over him. Speaking of which, Scarry again:
But he's also delivered dozens of speeches off teleprompters, proving he can actually read...
Now that is one hell of a defense -- though it fails to account for the possibility that the cue-cards contain pictograms rather than words.

Then Scarry has the nerve to print a partial transcript of an interview in which Trump sounds like a mentally impaired geriatric, and commenting, "That doesn’t read like a mentally impaired geriatric’s interview," a maneuver I call the Hinderaker Fawn-and-Fleer.

Also, in answer to Wolff’s claim that “Trump is perpetually distracted,” Scarry said when he interviewed Trump, “Trump did stop the interview at certain points, interruptions you might call ‘distractions’” — for example, “he asked for me to hold while he watched a cable news segment about the speakers that were lined up for the convention. 'We have some great speakers, they’re just announcing the speakers now,' he said while I held. Then we resumed." Now, what does that tell you? Ha, "distracted"! He remembered who Scarry was and everything. At least I assume he did.

I wonder whether Scarry ever thought for a minute what a embarrassment that whole exercise was -- or what drugs one takes not to notice.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

THE SPIEL OF THE CONVERT.

I'm so old I remember when those famous deficit hawks of the Republican Party looked the other way as George W. Bush ran a surplus into a huge deficit with tax cuts and foreign wars. (Actually not all of them looked the other way; some of them bullshat with all their might about how it wasn't Bush who did it, it was the bleeding-hearts' cavalier spending on stupid things like food and medicine for poor people.)

Well, you don't have to be old to remember last month when Trump and the Republicans larded another trillion-plus onto the deficit just so more rich assholes can douche with Dom PĂ©rignon and wipe their ass with Treasury notes. At this point most Americans are clear about that and are probably at least closing in on the revelation that Republicans are full of shit when they profess concern with deficit spending.

It's so obvious even clue-averse Ross Douthat has picked up on it, and last weekend while people were distracted with New Year's preparations the Times columnist announced that if 2017 taught him anything, it's that deficits don't matter.

Douthat announced he had some "mistaken analysis to acknowledge and live down" and, after praising Trump because he "appointed decent judges and crushed the Islamic State" (Mission Accomplished!), admitted his error:
Now is a good time for intellectual humility, and for reserving judgment on an administration whose ultimate effects on domestic tranquillity and the Pax Americana remain uncertain. 
Instead, in the spirit of the longer view, I want to use this confessional column to reach back to the early Obama years, and the arguments I made then that assumed the urgency of deficit reduction, the pressing need for honest liberals to champion major tax increases and for honest conservatives to go all-in for major entitlement reform.
Yes, in those Obama years, for Douthat "it seemed reasonable to make deficit cutting a near-term priority from 2010 onward, to offset the surge of Great Recession spending with a period of belt-tightening." But he was wrong, oh, so wrong, and now believed "rather than pursuing a balanced budget for its own sake" America, being "a rich and powerful country with a stable government and control over its own currency," should not be "pursuing a balanced budget for its own sake."

Of course who could blame him -- Douthat certainly didn't blame himself: after all "people in the Obama White House" told him "it was important to reduce deficits pre-emptively," so it's really Obama's fault when you think about it.

Nowhere in this mea culpa did Douthat mention the geyser of new debt with which his former fellow deficit hawks had gifted the fisc; he's clearly hoping that we'll take it on faith that his was an organic growth toward his new loose money position, informed by careful study and fervent prayer. Maybe when the country's in ruins, Douthat will have another conversion experience; and, watching the senile Trump hauled off to prison, will like Harry Lynch in Wall Street say "the minute I laid eyes on you I knew you were no good." And expect us to believe it.