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HOW WE FOOLS GET MANUFACTURED! Chomsky described this scam long ago. He didn’t blame average people: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JULY 22, 2011

Norquist v. Chance the gardener: Frank Bruni appeared with Piers Morgan last night, chatting away with the ex-Murdoch hack. But first, let’s examine Grover’s Norquist’s appearance in today’s New York Times.

Grover appears on the Times op-ed page, right beneath a pointless piece in which the Times’ own Judith Warner muses about Bachmann’s headaches. As Warner piddles your life away, Grover’s column helps explain how your country got to its current place:

NORQUIST (7/22/11): Reap My Lips: No New Taxes

The Taxpayer Protection Pledge has received increased attention as the Aug. 2 deadline for raising the debt ceiling approaches. My organization, Americans for Tax Reform, created the pledge in 1986 as a simple, written commitment by a candidate or elected official that he or she will oppose, and vote against, tax increases. Over the years many candidates and elected officials have signed the pledge, including 236 current members of the House of Representatives and 41 current senators.

Nevertheless, there is some confusion these days about what the pledge does and doesn’t mean, and numerous people have tried to reconfigure its intent to somehow allow its signatories to support tax increases. But in fact the pledge has not changed—indeed, fiscal conservatives must stick to their commitment to oppose tax increases and fight to reduce the size of the federal government.

Thoreau began Walden in a similar way, explaining why he was saying the things which followed. (“I should not obtrude my affairs so much on the notice of my readers if very particular inquiries had not been made by my townsmen concerning my mode of life…Some have asked what I got to eat; if I did not feel lonesome; if I was not afraid; and the like.”) Similarly, Grover is only speaking today because “there is some confusion these days about what the pledge does and doesn’t mean, and numerous people have tried to reconfigure its intent.” At any rate, what Grover says as he starts is quite true: He created the Taxpayer Protection Pledge in 1986. And he has been pushing it very hard, with great effect, for the past twenty-five years. In today’s piece, he goes on to describe the semantics of “tax increase,” a topic he could discuss in his sleep, even when the things he says don’t quite exactly parse.

In his column, Grover says (net) taxes must never be raised. That too he can limn while asleep.

Grover has worked extremely hard down through all these years. His dogged efforts help explain why American political and journalistic cultures tilt quite hard toward spending cuts rather than toward tax increases. Along with other skillful, well-funded players, Grover has worked to defeat the ol debbil, higher taxes—as is his perfect right.

We liberals get mad at Grover for this. We think the problem lies elsewhere.

Ask yourself this: Can you think of a comparable liberal figure? For example, can you think of a liberal figure who has worked in a similar way regarding Social Security? Can you think of a liberal figure who wrote a pledge in 1986 to this effect: Social Security benefits, present and promised, must never be lowered for any reason? Can you think of a liberal figure who spent the last twenty-five years exploring every possible aspect of that basic position? Who doggedly fought the endless deceptions churned against that program?

Of course you can’t think of such a figure! For various reasons, no such liberal figure exists, which helps explain why your side is getting its ass royally kicked once again. Why everyone talks about cutting SS, while it seems to be against the law to even discuss tax increases.

This morning, Grover takes us into the weeds of no new taxes semantics. Above him, a major mainstream journalist piddles around about the meaning of Bachmann’s headaches. Then too, there was Bruni, chatting with Morgan last night.

Are the leading tribunes of the mainstream press corps any match for players like Grover? Please! Bruni may be the world’s nicest guy; he may have been a great restaurant writer. But he has absolutely nothing to say about the world’s major problems. Despite this rather obvious fact, he was recently named a Times op-ed columnist, with Andrew Rosenthal boasting about all the “big events” the guy would surely explore (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/5/11).

Simple story: The mainstream press corps is vastly outmatched by well-funded, dogged players like Grover. Just consider the things Bruni said to Morgan, the ex-Murdoch hack.

Morgan started in an oafish way, as you can note in the transcript. But after discussing Bruni’s status as “one of the first openly gay op-ed columnists that we've seen,” Morgan began to explore Bruni’s views on various big major issues. Bruni may be the world’s nicest guy and a top food writer to boot. But when it came to such basic political topics, he sounded more like Chance the gardener.

Morgan’s first question was almost comically broad. So was Bruni’s answer:

MORGAN (7/21/11): What's your take on America right now? We had an interesting interview with Prince Alwaleed bin Talal from Saudi. We have talked to some senators. Obviously, America's got big problems. Let's just face up to this. It's in massive debt. You've got these no-longer emerging countries, China and India are here, Brazil. America's status as the sole super power is in real peril, isn't it?

BRUNI: It is. The world has changed a lot in that regard. And I think in some ways, it feels like we're at that pivot of empire moment, when the arc is a little downward.

I think there's a sort of dislocation and apprehension about that. That is one of the things being manifested in Washington, with all this bickering and all this gridlock.

We have got to become more mature in Washington, certainly. And we've got to become more reasonable if we're going to get through this moment and have a country as strong on the far side of it as we had coming into it.

Huh! According to Bruni, we need to become more mature and more reasonable. And China is on the move! Morgan moved on to a paint-by-the-numbers Bruni piece concerning the end of the space shuttle:

MORGAN (continuing directly): I liked your column about the sort of lack of ambition when you see the space travel being dramatically reduced and that kind of dream ending. I think, when you and I were younger, you remember these amazing explorations into space. And they were fantastically ambitious and exciting. And they kind of motivated everybody.

What worries me about what's going on now is that everything’s been cut back. The great aspiration that America always stood for doesn’t seem to be there so much now. People aren't, I think, living that dream in the way they used to.

BRUNI: You know, the space program was always a great metaphor for our belief in this country, that we could do anything we set our minds to, that the future was going to be brighter than the past. What's really interesting, when you look at public opinion surveys and when you listen to people, is that sort of bedrock American belief that my kids will do better than I do, that's gone away.

And American confidence is on the wane. And I think what's happening in Washington right now is not helping that at all. It is compounding those fears and that anxiety greatly.

Interesting! American confidence is on the wane—and what's happening now doesn’t help!

By now, it was time to seek “the answer.” Blather in, blather back out:

MORGAN (continuing directly): What's the answer, do you think, Frank? When you look at your country, you have a great platform to talk about all the problems. What's the answer?

BRUNI: Well, part of the answer is an end to the kind of polarized politics and bickering that we have. I think when you talk to people, when you talk to your friends, everyone looks at what's going on in Washington with a significant measure of disgust.

The fact that we're coming this close to the deadline without any agreement about raising the debt ceiling, despite what the consequences of that would be, it's kind of surreal and mind boggling and nightmarish.

If we were able to follow his chain of reasoning, Bruni thinks our “polarized politics and bickering” would have to be part of the answer. And don’t even get this columnist started on the wild ways we spend:

MORGAN (continuing directly): How much do you blame the American public for being reckless with their own spending?

BRUNI: We've all been reckless. The baby boomer generation has been reckless. But right now, I think the problem is in Washington and not elsewhere in the land.

Although, you know, when we go to the ballot box and we exert our will, we need to be grown up and informed and intelligent about that. But I think we all want a better caliber of politics than we get from Washington. And I don't think it's the American people's fault that what's going on in Washington right now has the kind of tenor it does.

According to Bruni, we Americans “need to be grown up and informed and intelligent about” something when we vote—perhaps about excessive spending.

At this point, Morgan asked about Presideent Obama’s leadership, producing one more fuzzy reply. And then, Morgan told Bruni what they’d discuss when they Came back from a break:

MORGAN: We're going to have a short break, Frank. When we come back, I'm going to talk to you about Casey Anthony, about Harry Potter, about restaurants. And I want to ask you the greatest meal you've ever had and the worst.


Having disposed of the world’s major problems, the pair would move on to dessert.

Bruni may be the world’s nicest guy. But he has nothing whatever to say about the nation’s various problems. Question: If the New York Times was a real newspaper, would they ever have hired this guy as a twice-weekly op-ed writer? Next question: If CNN was a real news channel, would an empty suit like Morgan have been hired there?

In your country, you have an aggressive, well-funded plutocrat movement—and you have Potemkin news orgs. Grover Norquist is very determined.

Your nation’s “press corps” is not.

Coming Monday/speaking of Murdoch hacks: To see a photo of Murdoch testifying, click here. Question: Do you know who that fellow is right next to Murdoch’s wife?

Special report: Never explain!

PART 4—HOW WE FOOLS GET MANUFACTURED (permalink): Last night, Piers Morgan interrupted his interview with Frank Bruni to promote CNN’s upcoming 10 PM program, AC 360. He spoke with John King, who would be sitting in for the vacationing Anderson Cooper.

Alas! CNN’s transcripts don’t include such exchanges, which instead get dismissed as “news breaks.” But King told Morgan that he would be exploring a claim—the claim that nothing really bad will occur if the debt limit stays where it is.

Amazing! Weeks and months after major Republicans began to pimp this nonsense around, CNN was finally going to get off its ass and examine this foolish assertion!

But so it has gone as our major “news orgs” have pretended to discuss the news in the past few months. Indeed, another major cable show was rushing to catch up with this basic question on yesterday’s program. On Hardball, the hapless regular host, Chris Matthews, was vacationing on Nantucket (we’re guessing). This allowed guest host Michael Smerconish to say that he would examine that long-standing GOP claim.

Right at the start of last night’s Hardball, Smerconish, who is much more serious than Matthews, said he would examine that claim—a claim which should have been examined in detail several months ago:

SMERCONISH (7/21/11): Good evening. I’m Michael Smerconish, in tonight for Chris Matthews.

Leading off: Deal or no deal? All day long, there’s been word that a deal between President Obama and Speaker John Boehner is in the works to save the U.S. from default. But publicly, at least, both sides are denying it. It’s clear that the adults on both sides are trying to avoid default. But here’s a question. How do you get to an agreement when Tea Partiers are saying no to any deal with taxes and Democrats are saying no to any deal without them?

Plus, what happens if the country does default? The Tea Partiers insist the White House, Boehner, Mitch McConnell, that they’re all just crying wolf. Really? We’ve crunched numbers, and default would seem to affect almost every American home.

In fact, “the Tea Partiers” have been making that claim for months, deceiving tens of millions of voters and putting the nation’s future in peril. As they have done so, the hapless Matthews has sat on his Welch-fed ass, clowning away as his darling, Joan Walsh, tells us how brilliant he is as he defrocks right-wing guests. But then, as Upton Sinclair once said, “It is difficult to get a Salon editor to understand something when her career standing depends on her not understanding it.”

Upton Sinclair was so right!

“What happens if the country does default?” More specifically, have Obama and others been crying wolf about this matter? Republicans have been making this claim for months; last night, two major cable programs finally decided to check out their sh*t! In our view, King did a horrible job with the topic when he addressed it on AC 360. But at least, with its regular host en vacance, this “news program” gave it a try.

Question: What kind of news org would have waited until last night to evaluate what the GOP has been saying? Answer: A news org that isn’t a real news org—a Potemkin news org which clowns its way through life, giving Americans the impression that journalism still does exist. Several months later, Hardball and AC 360 decided they should check out the facts! Months later, they decided to examine the truth of what the public has been hearing from high-ranking folk.

“What happens if the country does default?” For the sake of clarity, we’d frame the question a different way: What happens if the debt limit stays where it is? For months, average Joes have been told, by a long list of players, that nothing especially bad would occur. But did that claim ever make any sense? Just consider this Kevin Drum post.

On Wednesday, Drum ran a post under this mocking headline: “40 Percent Less Government Will Be Fun!” If the debt limit stays where it is, federal spending would have to drop by a fairly immediate 40-45 percent. On the surface, it takes a very foolish person to think that nothing much would happen if that kind of overnight change did occur. But big “news” programs like AC 360 have been too busy diddling themselves about Casey Anthony to try to help their viewers learn what would actually occur.

What would “40 percent less government” look like? Drum linked to Megan McArdle, a conservative blogger at the Atlantic. At the start of her own post, McArdle described the things her conservative soul-mates have been saying—and she found a courteous way to say they’re totally nuts.

“Lots of folks” have been saying that people “are just scaremongering about the consequences of refusal to raise the ceiling,” McArdle said as she started. “I don't think people are really thinking this through.” McArdle accepted the basic idea that there would be “plenty of money for debt service, military payrolls, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid” even if the debt limit stays where it is. But uh-oh! She then listed other federal functions which would have to screech to a halt. Among them, she listed the following functions, and many more besides. We’ve picked just a few from her long laundry list and shifted her order around:

Things which will happen if the debt limit stays where it is (Megan McArdle’s language):
All of our troops stationed abroad quickly run out of electricity or fuel. Many of them are sitting in a desert with billions worth of equipment, and no way to get themselves or their equipment back to the US.

The TSA shuts down. Yay! But don't worry about terrorist attacks, you TSA-lovers, because air traffic control shut down too.

The doors of federal prisons have been thrown open, because none of the guards will work without being paid, and the vendors will not deliver food, medical supplies, electricity, etc.

The border control stations are entirely unmanned, so anyone who can buy a plane ticket, or stroll across the Mexican border, is entering the country. All the illegal immigrants currently in detention are released, since we don't have the money to put them on a plane, and we cannot actually simply leave them in a cell without electricity, sanitation, or food to see what happens.

The nation's nuclear arsenal is no longer being watched or maintained.

You just cut the IRS and all the accountants at Treasury, which means that the actual revenue you have to spend is $0.

Shorter McArdle: U.S. air travel will screech to a halt. Border control will cease to exist. Federal prisoners will all be released. U.S. nukes will be there for the taking.

By the way: How accurate are McArdle’s claims, including her more sanguine assertions? Is it true that the federal government would still have “plenty of money for debt service, military payrolls, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid” if the debt limit stays where it is?

Here at THE HOWLER, we simply don’t know. You see, your major “news organs” have made virtually no attempt to examine such piddling questions. They have been too busy stroking themselves about Casey Anthony’s bounteous bosom—about the long flowing hair Bruni caught her “petting.” We know of no major “news org” which has made a serious attempt to report on these piddling concerns. Even at our greatest “newspapers,” these topics have gone unexplored.

Let’s give credit where modest credit is due. Last Thursday, the Washington Post finally rose off its big fat ass and printed that front-page report by Zachary Goldfarb—a piece in which Goldfarb began to review the choices Obama would face if the debt limit stays where it is (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/21/11). In the next two days, the Post ran two more pieces by Goldfarb, making a very modest attempt to explore related questions. That said, the Post should have been exploring these questions long before and in greater detail—and when Goldfarb wrote his front-page piece, he made no mention of the high-ranking Republicans whose claims he seemed to be contradicting.

At long last, Post readers finally began to learn about the bad choices Obama would face. But as a courtesy, they weren’t required to hear about the famous players who have been saying or implying, for weeks and months, that there would be no bad choices—that there was no real need to raise that federal debt limit. And by the way: Goldfarb didn’t sound quite as sanguine as McArdle, although, in classic Post/Times fashion, his meaning was somewhat unclear. Here’s part of Goldfarb’s account of what will happen if the debt limit stays where it is:

GOLDFARB (7/13/11): On Wednesday night [July 12], several Republican leaders were briefed on the Bipartisan Policy Center report as concern grew in the party about the potential impact of not raising the debt ceiling.

According to the center's analysis, the government would have to cut 44 percent of spending immediately. Through August, the government could afford Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, defense contracts, unemployment insurance and payments to bondholders.

But then it would have to eliminate all other federal spending, including pay for veterans, members of the armed services and civil servants, as well as funding for Pell grants, special-education programs, the federal courts, law enforcement, national nuclear programs and housing assistance.

After the debt ceiling was breached, there would be no delay in the tough decisions.

According to Goldfarb, pay for the troops would have to cease if Obama kept paying for the other functions. But when would military pay have to stop—after August, or during that month? As usual, our biggest newspapers’ imprecise language left us rather unsure.

To its very modest credit, the Washington Post did some explaining about this topic—very late in the game. As best we can tell, the New York Times has still made no attempt to explore that basic question: What will happen on August 3 if the debt limit stays where it is? You can explain that failure however you like: Perhaps the darlings are too wrapped up in the annual Hamptons migration! But your biggest newspaper has behaved in a truly astonishing way—unless we agree that your biggest newspaper isn’t a newspaper at all.

Many other obvious questions have gone unexplored as we slide toward disaster. Can you explain what Moody’s is? How about S & P? By the way: If Obama does keep paying our “debt service,” would we then be “in default?” These names and concepts have floated around in a conversation few folk understand—but your “news orgs” have made no attempt to explain them. Nor have they tried to explain how we got here, or how we might attempt to get out. For example: Have you seen any major news org explain what would happen to deficit projections if we returned to the Clinton tax rates? Actually no, you haven’t! And by the tenets of Hard Pundit Law, you and your kind never will.

As this silence has occurred, a matching silence has been observed across the “liberal” world. The liberal world barely seems to notice the fact that the mainstream press corps has refused to discuss these various topics. Failing to notice, the liberal world then fails to complain. Can we talk for just one moment? The liberal world as it now exists is almost spectacularly unintelligent. We are no match for the skilled, well-funded plutocrat players who manufacture the utter nonsense which passes for “public discussion.”

Twice a week, Krugman gets 800 words. Otherwise, silence descends.

In fairness, there is one thing we liberals know how to do—we know how to name-call The Others. Long ago, Noam Chomsky described the process we’ve been describing as “manufactured consent.” When he did so, he didn’t blame the average people on various continents who get fooled by this massive deception. Instead, he blamed the powerful interests who author this scam. By doing so, he got himself banned for our ersatz “public discourse,” of course.

Last week, Digby found a different approach. She called eighty million average people “fools,” letting us see who the biggest fool is and showing the way to our final defeat. Question: When our biggest “news orgs” won’t tell average people that they’re being scammed, how are they supposed to know this?

How are they supposed to know that major player are handing them total crap?

You’ll have to ask Digby, the reigning queen, who seems to hate the proles more than the miscreants. You can’t ask the latter group this week—the people who agreed not to report. They are lounging on Nantucket—and in the Hamptons, of course.