Journalists as Guardians of Democracy

With the Fourth Estate under increasing siege by the powers-that-be in America and elsewhere, the public is being entertained by journalists singing paeans to their profession; as secular prophets speaking truth to power; as “the last guardians of our democracy.” While I concur with their appeals for the unhindered right to exist, these minstrels of journalism conveniently omit some rather important verities.

If a cornerstone of the Western political heritage is the right of free expression, the underlying political theory which buttresses that right also conditions it under the rubric “with the consent of the governed.” So if the ambassadors of journalism chronically abuse that privileged right by the selective reporting of the facts and of the news stories published (a.k.a. self-censorship), with hyperbolic predictions of immediate economic disaster which fail to occur (i.e. Brexit), or unsubstantiated and baseless accusations (i.e. BuzzFeed), scandalous slanders (i.e. Rolling Stones, Washington Post), yellow journalism, outright mendacity, and all the other cheap disingenuous tricks of the rhetorician; it should not surprise if the governed, in effect, withdraw their consent, and permit would-be tyrants to trample over this fundamental tenet and bastion of free civic society. Those, who have previously discredited themselves and their moral authority, will find themselves alienated and sociopolitically isolated, as the willingness of the public to come to their defense, even at the cost of life and limb, falls by the wayside.

The moral authority of the Fourth Estate, at least in the United States, has all but collapsed; even before many of its members decided last year to surrender all pretense of journalistic objectivity and intellectual integrity and devolve into rank propagandists. Most of its members continue to fail to recognize and/or acknowledge their unethical estate, let alone change, and who blame their woes upon a civically illiterate public for not buying their sale of damaged goods.

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Many moons ago, I was struck by the ease by which 20th century tyrants and totalitarians steamrolled over real and potential islands of opposition. Be it true, for instance, that Germany had lacked a long tradition of liberal democracy, with brief and aborted attempts in the Revolution of 1848–9 and arguably in the Peasant’s War (1523–4). But it was my conclusion that the ambassadors of the various islands of societal power and influence had so discredited themselves, even prior to the Nazi takeover, they could no longer credibly serve as rallying points of defiance.

Some of the best paeans to the virtue of the Roman Republic were delivered in its last days by Cicero and Cato the Younger. However, the rhetorical flourish resonated little in the minds and hearts of their contemporaries while the optimates of the Republic nakedly pursued private aggrandizement at the expense of the commonweal and their less fortuned compatriots.

If President Trump be a potential tyrant, his inaugural speech echoed and exploits a similar state of affairs in contemporary America.

For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished — but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered — but the jobs left, and the factories closed.

The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.

It is a historical truism that those individuals, dynasties, sociopolitical institutions, and states who lose moral authority (Latin – auctoritas) find quick loss of power on its coattails.

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The good news, from an internal Canadian perspective, is that our Fourth Estate is largely unlike its American counterparts. I might complain about its superficial, dumb, and provincial coverage and analysis of world events at times. But the deceit and dissembling, lasciviously and shamelessly practiced by the American media and reaching pandemic levels, simply doesn’t exist here to any great extent. In the Jian Ghomeshi trial last year, one could sense some Canadian commentators chomping at the bit. But hyperbolic and irresponsible claims would be found largely in American rags, whose attention to the trial was otherwise fleeting.

Journalistic circumspection and integrity is neither innate in our blood nor a permanent fixture. If the odor of sheep manure emits from the pages and screens of many American media outlets, it is largely because truth and intellectual integrity is the first casualty of war, even if that war be of the multi-faceted cultural kind.

John Ibbitson’s depiction of a continuing Laurentian consensus in this country, of an inclusivistic political center which broadens, incorporates, and co-opts but brooks little tolerance for extremist and unsubstantiated claims, currently differentiates this country from our southern neighbours where the center has collapsed. But we are no less human than they; no more Exceptionalist than they.

Even so; if journalists be the last guardians of democracy, then journalistic and intellectual integrity is the strong fortress, high watchman’s tower, and chief weapon of their defense.

Publius

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics (Re: Why This Recovery Is So Lousy – WSJ)

“Truth,” it has been said, “is the first casualty of war.” – Philip Snowden[i]

A theme, long sustained within conservative economic circles, is that FDR’s New Deal crippled the recovery and prolonged the Great Depression. Screeds, like the following by Phil Gramm, a not insignificant player in legislative assemblies past, is stereotypical of this meme.

In all recoveries following all 30 economic contractions since 1870, only two have failed to have strong rebounds after deep recessions. Only two are now labeled “Great” because of the long periods of suffering they caused. And in only two recoveries did government impose economic policies radically different from the policies pursued in all the other recoveries—different than traditional policy but similar to each other— FDR’s Great Depression and Mr. Obama’s Great Recession.

From 1932-36, federal spending skyrocketed 77%, the national debt rose by over 73%, and top tax rates more than tripled, from 25% to 79%. But the tectonic shift brought about by the New Deal was the federal government’s involvement in the economy, as a tidal wave of new laws were enacted and more executive orders were issued than by all subsequent presidents combined through President Clinton . . .

. . . As government assumed greater control, private investment collapsed, averaging only 40% of the 1929 level for nine consecutive years. League of Nations data show that by 1938, in five of the six most-developed countries in the world industrial production was on average 23% above 1929 levels, but in the U.S. it was still down by 10%. Employment in five of the six major developed countries averaged 12% above the pre-Depression levels while U.S. employment was still down by 20%. Before the Great Depression, real per capita GDP in the U.S. was about 25% larger than it was in Britain. By 1938, real per capita GDP in Britain was slightly higher than in the U.S.

Considering that in the four years following FDR’s ascension, the American economy grew at 10.88, 8.88, 13.05, and 5.12 percent respectively, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA); or 10.74, 8.92, 12.91, and 5.23 percent respectively, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce; I am not quite sure what would constitute a strong bounce back for these partisans. There certainly has not existed any comparable rebound since.

This revisionist representation of the Great Depression abounds in sophistries and what we, in biblical circles, would call statistical proof-texting. Why, for instance, include years 1929 to 1932/3, a period when private investment totally collapsed, in determining the impact of New Deal policies from 1933 onward? (With inordinate price and asset deflation between late 1930 and mid-1933, investing one’s money in one’s mattress or backyard garden guaranteed that “investor” a 5–10% real return tax free.)

Nor is it fruitful to compare with other industrial nations without also mentioning that except for Germany and Canada, the economic downturn in America from 1929 to 1932/3 was considerably greater. Great Britain is, in particular, an egregious ploy, considering that the Great Depression was for Britain, a Great Recession within a Long Depression which began after WW1.

The national debt may have increased 73% in nominal terms from 1932–6. But as a percentage of GDP, it only increased from 32.5% to 40% during very trying times.[ii] Even so, comparing federal revenues and expenditures from (June) 1932 instead of (June) 1933, when Republican President Herbert Hoover governed for 8 of those 12 interim months, is but more statistical gamesmanship. In the final two years of the prior Republican administration, federal spending as a percentage of GDP was 10 (1932) and 13.5 (1933) percent respectively. Prior to WW2, FDR’s administration, except for 1934 (17%), never topped the last year of Hoover’s administration.

Indeed, FDR seemed not to have been particularly sold on Keynesian economics, which dominates the current economic thinking in Obama’s White House. Indeed, while John Maynard Keynes had hitherto expressed some rudimentary musings on his thesis, his The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money was only published in 1936. Deficit spending during WW2 was mandated far more from existential survival than economic theory.

Did Gramm also fail to mention that Hoover’s administration deemed it necessary to raise top income tax rates to 63% in 1932?

Considering how easily accessible the extant documentation is to refute Gramm’s assertions, articles like these constitute an incompetent form of mendacity. Does The Wall Street Journal seek to vie with Vox for the gold medal in Mendacity in American Journalism.

[i] Philip Snowden, Introduction to Truth and the War, by E. D. Morel, (London: National Labor Press Ltd., 1916), p. vii.

[ii] GDP in 1932 was $60 billion, national debt $19.5. In 1936, the figures are $85B and $33.8B respectively.

The Mendacity of Modern Journalism – Exhibit “A”

Rumors seep from the guilds of journalism of a pervasive belief therein that since impartial objectivity is impossible to attain, the bar should be lowered. But in that all fall short of any standard that is set, the invariable logic of lowering bars invariably produces a vortex of mediocrity. Thereby, honest reporting devolves into advocacy journalism and thereafter blatant sycophantic propaganda. That is certainly one plausible explanation for the contemporary state of affairs.

Today’s champion of journalistic mendacity comes from left-liberal ezine, Vox, not particularly notorious for noetic integrity. I stumbled upon an article by Vox’s Matthew Yglesias through a well-meaning but inept op-ed by David Brooks of The New York Times, who cited  Yglesias’  summation of another source, without validating the veracity of that summation.

The issue involves immigration and illegal immigration in the context of Donald Trump’s recent burps of authenticity; and in particular the claims that immigration harms the “incomes of native-born Americans on average.”

Continue reading “The Mendacity of Modern Journalism – Exhibit “A””

Far From the Frenzied Herd

A frenzied herd of U.S. reporters and media political analysts rushed to proclaim the immanent ascension of Donald Trump. Like reading many a movie review, one suspects that these pundits never actually watched the ‘film’, but pieced together their op-eds on the basis of the pre-release trailers, the undigested ruminations of fellow reviewers who did likewise, and Google.

Super Tuesday . . . a total renegade came close to clinching the presidential nomination of the opposing party. – CNN

Donald Trump is on the verge of winning the Republican nomination . . . Trump dominated a diverse coalition of states. – NBC

Trump is now unstoppable. It’s game over for Cruz, Rubio, Kasich and Carson . . . Game over! This was a rout, America. Winning seven states and the vast majority of delegates is a landslide. – Fox

It will be a Trump tsunami. The question is how high has the water will rise. – RealClear Politics

But the click bait hype fails to correspond to any objective political realities. On the morning of Super Tuesday, Tom Bevan, “syndicated” political analyst to multiple networks, and co-founder of RealClearPolitics, in the space of 250 words, made the following claims about an oncoming Trump political tsunami.

• “the only state that [Trump] is not winning is the state of Texas”
• “six polls taken [Texas] in the last ten days show Cruz with about a nine-point lead”
• “every other state . . . Trump has double-digit leads”
• “the only place where [Trump is] under double digits is Oklahoma and he’s 8.6%.”
• On Minnesota: “one poll that was taken in January, which is like ten years ago, in the way that this race has progressed, that showed Rubio up a couple of points”
• “Rubio is solidly behind Trump in all the states”

These were the ensuing realities.

• Of the eleven states in play, Trump lost 4, not 1.
• In Texas, Cruz’s lead was 17 percentage points, not 9.
• In only 4 of the states, not 10, Trump retained double-digit leads
• Trump’s high single-digit lead in Oklahoma, turned into a 6 point lead for Cruz, a difference of 14 percentage points
• Rubio, not merely barely won Minnesota, but won by high double digits over Cruz, and 15 points over Trump
• Rubio was ahead of Trump in 1 state, and barely behind in 2 others (Virginia, Oklahoma)

To paraphrase Churchill, “Some tsunami!” Indeed, the only diagnostic which proved correct was “[Trump] is in solid shape.” A ten-year old, sufficiently informed in current events, might have reached that same epiphany.

Instead of demonstrating a little humility, which invariably would undermine the credibility of his brand and business, this professional political prognosticator perpetuated this mythological tsunami narrative after the event. “The Trump and Clinton tsunamis crashed ashore as predicted . . . only adds to his momentum heading into the winner-take-all phase . . .” Bevan considered Cruz the only other Republican winner on the night. In retaining his home state, and adding a couple more, Cruz “[bolstered] his case that he’s the only candidate in the field who can defeat Trump.” Such facile and maudlin tripe raises suspicions as to whether Bevan is one of Trump’s sycophantic trumpets.

The Hard Tacks of Real Journalism

A little homework would quickly reveal that Trump’s popular support within the Republican Party remains stuck at 35%, evidencing no sign of momentum; momentum, seeming to be the primary Trump campaign strategy and expectation, considering Trump’s high negatives. Surely, momentum works in stock market manias, doesn’t it!
Trump’s actual electoral performance, in comparison with public opinion polls, should be worrisome for him. Of 10 of the 11 races, in which a reasonably recent poll existed, Trump strongly outperformed polls in only one losing cause (Arkansas), did mildly better in 3 (+3–5%), did mildly worse in 2 (-4–6%), and considerably worse in 4 others (-10–24%). Rather than people hiding their sentiments in his favor, they are brandishing a false image, reconsidering at the last moment, or support has recently dipped.

As for Cruz, Super Tuesday was his explicitly expressed firewall. While Cruz benefitted from late surges in Texas, Oklahoma, and perhaps Alaska; if one subtracts Texas, Cruz actually ran 2% behind Rubio in largely God and country Southern Baptist land.

Finally, the numbers proffer evidence of an organic Anybody-But-Trump movement. How otherwise does one explain the varied late-day surges, apparently undetected by late polls, in Oklahoma (Cruz), Virginia (Rubio), and Vermont (Kusich)?

Conclusions

These privately ascertained insights are not without confirmation. Jonathan Last of The Weekly Standard seems to have also done his homework, arriving with similar observations. A foreign newspaper, not caught within the frenzy, makes the prosaic and tedious note, that contrary to having won the vast majority of delegates, Trump has about 46% of all delegates overall; only 42–43% of the latest catch. Some vast majority! Some momentum! Another Canadian pundit expresses near perfectly the current existential crisis in the Republican union.

The politicos and pollsters continue to rely on historical precedents and traditions to determine existing and future prospects. This continues, despite the near flawless incompetence of that frenzied herd. But if the context of the sociopolitical milieu has been considerably transformed (e.g. the relative futility of campaign money), to what extent can historical precedent be reliable?

As for me, I largely stand by my August 2015 premonitions.

I watch bemused [at] the gladiatorial spectacle of Donald Trump from afar. He is, without doubt, a thuggish buffoon with the subtlety of mind of a solid cube; who pummels through prudence, rationality, empathy, civility, tact and virtue like a rhino in heat. He is the “ugly American,” raised to the third power, whose simpleton appeal to imbecility, confirms democracy’s devolution towards a Confederacy of Dunces.

The meretricious courtesans of political punditry hope that a fickle populace is merely toying with the witless minds and anxious hearts of a neglectful elite. They give the idiocracy too much wit.

Trump is the Rob Ford of the American [ideological] Whatever. (It becomes practicably difficult to identify a consistent and rationally coherent ideology or feasible strategic policy to his constipated outbursts.) But with Rob Ford; even after a season of Jimmy Kimmel easy-to-make vignettes about our clown naturale; the Bulldozer of City Hall retained a stubborn third of the popular vote in Toronto, indeed of liberal Toronto; before our Ford finally suffered electoral defeat to cancer. I likewise suspect that contrary to “wish-upon-a-star” analysis, the Trump Nation will endure. The ramifications of the long decline of mind and culture of the American Idiocracy is finally coming [home] to roost.

I would probably now add that contrary to a momentum-based coronation, there is real likelihood of a brokered convention and duplicitous machinations in a 1968-style tumultuous melee in Cleveland. And contrary to my initial scorn concerning Trump’s ideological incoherence, Trump is indeed a true conservative; just not the Exceptionalist American kind. His simple-minded, authoritarian “style” has historical if foreign precedents with the völkisch, nationalist, and intrinsically anti-democratic German National People’s Party (DNVP); which for lack of deeper study, Wikipedia must suffice to provide this little gem.

The spring 1924 campaign was largely led and organized by charismatic, media savvy Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz who was presented as the “savior” type figure, able to rally together the entire nation to both win the election and then restore Germany back as a great power.

© Copyright John Hutchinson

The State of American Establishment Opinion

The problem with subjectivist (“subjectivity is truth, truth is subjectivity”) or existentialist (“I create my own reality”) truth is that the world’s real actors always miss your cues.

The narcissistic, parochial insanity that is the ideologically gated community of the American Versailles, whose heartland stretches from Boston to Washington, never ceases to astonish and amuse. Or its sycophantic audacity. The ignorance, stupidity, folly, mendacity and all-round mediocrity of its Ivy League elite has become downright dangerous in foreign policy. And it behooves my country to quickly pursue an independent trade, economic, political and military policy before our all too integrated ties with this unhinged behemoth takes us down with it.

According to a self-proclaimed expert on Russian affairs, writing in the venerable Washington Post, Russia is not living in the reality-based community. To whatever extent that that is true; one of this columnist’s immediate example drips with supreme irony.

On almost any other issue you can think of, Russian views differ radically from the consensus here in America. Russians have extremely different opinions about the conflict in Syria, viewing the war in that unlucky country not as a brave struggle for freedom but as a chaotic war of all against all. They have different views about the war in Libya, where they see the overthrow of Gaddafi not as a new beginning but as the start of chaos and disorder.

I must confess to deep envy for not emanating from a family that could put me through Harvard or the connections that would have me groomed to write for Salon, The National Interest, Forbes, The Atlantic Monthly or the Washington Post, even before I finished post-graduate studies. But laying aside such personal pique, might not these media outlets, these major opinion makers be more circumspect as to whom they wish to represent them? Or do they share in this lad’s wide perceptual variance from objective and actual reality, otherwise known as insanity?

Two days after this ridiculing of Russian perspectives on Syria and Libya, the U.S. State Department issues this travel warning as it shutters its embassy.

The security situation in Libya remains unpredictable and unstable. The Libyan government has not been able to adequately build its military and police forces and improve security following the 2011 revolution. Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including antiaircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation. Crime levels remain high in many parts of the country. In addition to the threat of crime, various groups have called for attacks against U.S. citizens and U.S. interests in Libya. Extremist groups in Libya have made several specific threats this year against U.S. government officials, citizens, and interests in Libya. Because of the presumption that foreigners, especially U.S. citizens, in Libya may be associated with the U.S. government or U.S. NGOs, travelers should be aware that they may be targeted for kidnapping, violent attacks, or death. U.S. citizens currently in Libya should exercise extreme caution and depart immediately.

Sporadic episodes of civil unrest have occurred throughout the country and attacks by armed groups can occur in many different areas; hotels frequented by westerners have been caught in the crossfire. Armed clashes have occurred in the areas near Tripoli International Airport, Airport Road, and Swani Road. Checkpoints controlled by militias are common outside of Tripoli, and at times inside the capital. Closures or threats of closures of international airports occur regularly, whether for maintenance, labor, or security-related incidents. Along with airports, seaports and roads can close with little or no warning. U.S. citizens should closely monitor news and check with airlines to try to travel out of Libya as quickly and safely as possible.

The status of the country’s interim government remains uncertain. The newly elected Council of Representatives is scheduled to convene by August 4, but political jockeying continues over where and when to seat the parliament. Heavy clashes between rival factions erupted in May 2014 in Benghazi and other eastern cities. In Tripoli, armed groups have contested territory near Tripoli International Airport since July 13, rendering the airport non-operational. State security institutions lack basic capabilities to prevent conflict, and there remains a possibility of further escalation.

U.S. citizens should avoid areas of demonstrations and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations, as even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. U.S. citizens traveling to or remaining in Libya, despite this Travel Warning, should use caution and limit nonessential travel within the country, make their own contingency emergency plans, and maintain security awareness at all times.

We strongly recommend that U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Libya enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP enrollment gives you the latest security updates and makes it easier to contact you in an emergency. If you don’t have internet access, enroll directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

You should make plans to depart as soon as possible. Travelers should check with their airlines prior to their planned travel to verify the flight schedule. Flight cancellations occur frequently. There are no plans for charter flights or other U.S. government-sponsored evacuations. U.S. citizens seeking to depart Libya are responsible for making their own travel arrangements. Land port closures occur frequently.

The warning is actually not that significantly different from the one issued on May 27, 2014. Of course, if any American networks had covered the recent Libyan conflagration in as great detail and insight as well as Aljazeera had, (which reminded me of American reportage on the Viet Nam War); such continued deceits and self-deceits that Libya was on a new beginning to a Westernized liberalism democracy would have been disabused from the beginning. As much as Muammar Gaddafi was unhinged himself, the country was peaceable. The autocracy was not too oppressive or murderous. Why rock the boat? Has no one amongst the Washington Establishment watched and absorbed the lesson of Woody Allen’s “Bananas” (1971)?

Who really is not living in the reality-based community?

Ramifications of the 2012 U.S. Federal Election: The Collapse of Honourable Journalism

Skepticism toward the possibility of impartial and objective truth within the ‘journalistic’ professions decades ago has denigrated toward the collapse of all pretense of impartiality. In choice of stories published, in facts selected, in language deployed; the News has become merely prejudicial opinion. The conscientious pursuer of truth about objective reality must distrust all socially popular organs of news and piece together the current state of affairs like a forensic scientist.

Consequently, one of the social roles of the media, as an independent check against power, becomes discredited and denigrated. The different media organizations become viewed, merely as cheerleaders for their respective sociopolitical faction. With one source of potential credible opposition discrediting itself, would-be tyrants have one less burden on their quest for power.