North Korea, White Nationalism, and Reality TV: The Key To the Fake King

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Look, I’m sorry, I love this image.

In Deadspin today, Burneko talks about why he doesn’t think Trump is a real ideological Nazi or Confederate or even an actual white supremacist. I sort of disagree, but this is a solid point.

Honestly, even his white supremacism is a second-order thing, an artifact of the coincidence that he, himself, is white, and cannot tolerate less than personal supremacy. He likes the things in the world that gratify him, and those things happen to be good for preserving the power of white people, men in particular, literally any of whom he’d run over with a combine harvester in a moment if it got the New York Times to treat him like a True New York Big Shot.

There’s a lot to that, I think, especially about how he’d uncaringly destroy the people who for whatever reason adore him. He has no problem crushing the people closest to him, his advisors and staff and defenders. Indeed, he likes cruelty, probably because it reminds him that, despite being a mush-headed coward, he still has unearned power.

He clearly doesn’t care about any of his voters. As Burneko puts it, ““Nazi” and “Republican” and “fork” and “war” and “hello”: For Donald Trump these are just noises you make with your mouth. You make the ones that get people to look at you; if they also smile, fine, but if their eyes widen in shock or horror or disgust, that’s fine too, so long as they don’t look away.” I do think he’s a pretty old-school Queens/Staten Island racist, but he played it up more to get the people cheering. He’s a wrestling heel and a reality show savant (that’s not a compliment). He knows how to gin up conflict for the cheap seats.

Indeed, that’s confirmed by a post late yesterday in the Times.

The president’s top advisers described themselves as stunned, despondent and numb. Several said they were unable to see how Mr. Trump’s presidency would recover, and others expressed doubts about his capacity to do the job.

In contrast, the president told close aides that he felt liberated by his news conference. Aides said he seemed to bask afterward in his remarks, and viewed them as the latest retort to the political establishment that he sees as trying to tame his impulses.

First off, people who are stunned: you’re idiots. This is who he has always been. It isn’t like he somehow became a different man over the 200 days of his Presidency. Everyone knew this was exactly how it would go, so don’t act surprised. When Gary Cohn resigns because his conscience was rocked, don’t treat him as a hero. He’s a goddamn dope if he ever thought differently.

But it’s the last line that’s key. The political establishment is trying to “tame his impulses”, and that’s why he feels great. It doesn’t matter what he said, it doesn’t matter how divisive it was, it doesn’t matter that he broke up his precious CEO conclaves or emboldened Nazis or hurt his chances of passing policies. He was able to be Trump.

That’s what it is all about. That’s what it has always been about. He wants to be the swaggering anti-PC cowboy he envisioned back in his old draft-dodging days, and wants to be seen as the big man who tells it like it is because he’s the only one smart enough to know that George Washington owned slaves, and because all he really wants is attention.

The key to this is his reality show days, which are the main reason he is now President, as terrible an indictment of the United States as that is. On his show, he pretended to be the titan of business and the guy in charge, deciding on the fates of supplicants depending on if they pleased him or not. In reality, producers decided who came and went. At least, according to Clay Aiken, but come on: does Trump seem like the guy who makes real decisions?

He doesn’t. He just likes the trappings of power and fame. A perfect example of this was the North Korea showdown. Trump blustered and blathered, but the DoD played it straight, and Nikki Haley did her job, and we didn’t move to DefCon 1 or anything. Indeed, Trump’s statements seemed outside the process. He was the fake President.

The problem is that he is still the real President, and he made the situation more tense, and could have made it catastrophic. On TV, he could pretend to be the boss and say stupid shit, and it didn’t matter. But here, all you have is people trying to do their jobs under a guy who has no concern for protocol or the right way to do things, because they constrain Trump from being “Trump”.  He doesn’t know anything, doesn’t make actual decisions, doesn’t care to handle things, but wants to be seen as the boss. Wants to be seen as the swaggering tough. And that’s enormously dangerous.

When he adopts the language of white nationalism because he likes to be seen as anti-PC, it is dangerous. When he threatens North Korea because he likes to be seen as bold, it is dangerous. When he is willing to say anything because he can’t stand being anything other than his own stupid caricature, it is dangerous.

The entire Donald Trump candidacy and presidency has been about serving this empty ego. It’s about propping up his fraud. Maybe that’s the only way to get through to his most stubborn supporters. Just keep pointing out that at no way, in no form, has this ever been about them. It never will be.

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Life in a Sebastian Gorka Moment

 

Sebastian Gorka is pictured.

Don’t be fooled by his “thinking face”. It’s uh…a bit misleading

In his classic obituary of Richard Nixon, the late and lamented Hunter S. Thompson said that Watergate read “like a textbook on human treachery.”  Of the Spiro Agnew, Nixon’s Veep, he wrote:

 

He was a flat-out, knee-crawling thug with the morals of a weasel on speed. But he was Nixon’s vice president for five years, and he only resigned when he was caught red-handed taking cash bribes across his desk in the White House.

Agnew was the Joey Buttafuoco of the Nixon administration, and Hoover was its Caligula. They were brutal, brain-damaged degenerates worse than any hit man out of The Godfather, yet they were the men Richard Nixon trusted most. Together they defined his Presidency.

Not having been alive during that time period, that was always my impression. Nixon, a snake and a crook, a classic paranoid, and a deeply human monster, surrounded himself with people like him. They brought out the worst in him, but his own personal pathologies empowered thuggish neo-fascists like Haldeman and Tex Colson and G. Gordon Liddy. It was a wholly criminal administration, and that starts at the top.

The Current Occupant has all of Nixon’s terrible tendencies, but absolutely zero of his redeeming qualities. Nixon worked his way up from the bottom, and certainly seemed to think that government existed for a reason. Nixon was also smart, and paid attention to the world, and thought about how to maneuver America as a superpower.

Don’t get me wrong: all of Nixon’s instincts were cheap and cruel, and his adminstration gleefully perpatrated war crimes throughout the world. I also don’t buy the glassy “Nixon would be too liberal for Republicans today!” nonsense.  He’d be leading every Blue Lives Matter March.

He was venal, but he wasn’t an idiot. Trump is a venal idiot. And with like attracting like, he’s surrounded by venal idiots, crawling out of the lowest rungs of American public life. Few embody that more than “Dr.” Sebastian Gorka.

As someone on the fringe of the counter-terrorism community for a while, back in my Yemen days, the name Gorka would float across the radar now and then. I was not in the upper echelon, and far from it. This isn’t pulling rank. But holy cow: everybody knew how dumb this guy was. He was a joke. Nothing he said made sense, and literally no one took him seriously as a counter-terrorism thinker.

Please don’t think this was because Gorka was a “conservative” or even because he is a bigot and an absolute Islamophobe. It was because he didn’t know anything. His ideas were half-baked talk radio nonsense, without any actual knowledge of the subject, the region, the religion, anything. He couldn’t answer basic questions.

This wasn’t a liberal field, anyway. Sure, maybe in our idiotic politics the idea that we should understand the actual causes of terrorism, and maybe try to figure out what is happening in the areas where it thrives, is seen as “liberal”, but that’s nonsense. It’s a field filled with ex-military types, warrior scholars, people who spend their whole lives trying to stop AQ and ISIS and other militant groups. They are people who take things seriously. Gorka spoke apocalyptically, but never, ever seriously.

And now he’s some kind of security advisor (though no one really knows what he does). He is somehow talking about North Korea and nuclear exchanges, and perhaps influencing the President of the United States on matters of life and death. He has the gall to pull rank on the Secretary of State, and then blame the fake news for quoting him.

He’s all over the news. Earlier this week he decided to drop some knowledge of the idea of lone wolf terrorists.

“There’s no such thing as a lone wolf,” Gorka said.

“That was a phrase invented by the last administration to make Americans stupid … There has never been a serious attack or a serious plot that was unconnected from ISIS or al Qaeda,” he continued.

“At least through the ideology and the TTPs, the tactics, the training, the techniques and the procedures that they supply through the internet.”

This is perfect Gorka. A lot of CT Twitter and the internet has disproven the idea that there haven’t been any lone wolf attacks, but that’s sort of beside the point. Absolutely  no one claims that attacks happen in complete isolation. No one would imply that people wake up and decide to kill in the name of ISIS without ever having heard of ISIS. Everyone agrees that ISIS deliberately inspires people to become radicalized, taking advantage of people lost in our weird dissolved modernity. That’s their goal. They’re really good at it.

But that doesn’t mean these are all coordinated attacks. Very few are! The term “lone wolf” is inelegant and misleading and probably stupid, but Gorka is arguing against a point of view that doesn’t exist. But he doesn’t care. I don’t even think he is deliberately lying. I think he just doesn’t really understand the issues, and doesn’t know how to think about them, except through the narrowest fake tough-guy lenses.

I don’t even think he’s lying when he says the last administration invented the term to “make Americans stupid.” I think he actually believes that. Maybe because, in his specific case, it worked? I don’t want to delve into that.

My point is, Trump empowers these guys. There are very hawkish CT figures who I disagree with, but who are serious thinkers. Trump isn’t bringing them on. He’s brought on the worst of Fox News cannibals and Breitbart culture warriors who think every issue is entirely about liberals. He’s filling his administration with every sexless geek and vicious carny in the world of American bigotry. It’s an administration perfectly in his image.

And because of that, they are all over the news. Puffed up bigot and know-nothing dope Gorka gets to go on TV and be called doctor while spouting his nonsense. We’re in a timeline where nuclear war with North Korea and all fates depend partly, even slightly, even infinitesimally, on Sebastian Gorka. That’s enough for impeachment to me.

And Now, The Good News: Chicago Sun-Times Bought By Labor

Historical note: The Tribune was certainly not on the side of labor here

Pictured: New Sun-Times ownership group takes charge.

In what is sure to give Professionally Concerned People cause for concern, the Chicago Sun-Times was purchased today by workers. Sort of.

Edwin Eisendrath and a coalition of labor unions made good on their promise to secure funding to acquire the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Reader, the former Chicago alderman confirmed Monday.

With more than $11.2 million placed in escrow, Eisendrath and his group met the deadline set by the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division to complete the transaction with Wrapports Holdings LLC.

Behind the effort were unions affiliated with the Chicago Federation of Labor and seven individual investors, Eisendrath said.

The other interested party was tronc (sic), who owns the Tribune. The tronc people said they would maintain independent newsrooms, but no one believed them. For one thing, they are tronc, a ridiculous post-human company with no interest in journalism.  It’s not like would have any interest in competing papers. Most likely, the Times would slowly turn into a newsless rag, adverts and celebrity stuff, leaving the Trib the only real game in town.

For another, the Tribune has been moving to the right again. It’s always been the voice of Republicanism in any form. Sure, it endorsed Barack Obama, twice. That was sort of remarkable. They got out of that, though, by endorsing Gary Johnson last year. The endorsement is a thing of beauty. One paragraph on why Trump shouldn’t be President (he angered people, and he wasn’t a real Republican), followed by a paragraph about how they understand why the “elites” forced people to vote for Trump, followed by about 18 paragraphs of why Hillary is pure evil (while admitting she could do the job). Gary “what’s an Aleppo” Johnson is someone voters “could be proud of”.

The paper, de facto, endorsed Trump, by shrugging off his flaws by saying “he’s not qualified”, which is inarguable, but weirdly easy to disagree with, and then spending the rest of the time talking about Benghazi and her foundation and emails. Nothing specific with Trump, but all the ammo Hillary-haters would need. The media doing that is one of the main reasons he won.

And now they might be bought by Sinclair, a hard-right “news” group slowly taking over all the local media. A court ruling last month makes it look pretty damn inevitable. So what do you think? Would the august Tribune and the hard-right talk-radio Sinclair let the Times continue to be scrappy and liberal? Absolutely not. They have an agenda, and turning Chicago into a one-paper town was part of it.

That’s why this is great. I have no idea if Eisendrath’s group will do a good job. And I’m not going to romanticize the Times or even pretend I really read it (the website sucks). But it is great to have two papers, and very exciting that one is owned by Labor. I don’t think it is going to turn into the Weekly World Wobbly or anything like that, but we might actually have a pro-worker slant to a paper.

Yeah, everyone says they are for the working man and the little guy, but how often do you see any news outfits really fight for them? They instinctively side with business, because they are a business. Maybe the Times will be slightly different.

Looking forward to seeing very telling reactions. Having labor own a paper is, of course, bias. News operations should only be run by corporations, which are by definition conservative and business-oriented, and increasingly radical. But that’s fine. That’s how it should be, right?

I don’t expect a wildly liberal Sun-Times. But I do expect a paper that at least pretends a city should care about working people, and not just maximizing corporate profits. It’s nice to be a two paper town where the bad guy is so clearly defined. It’s nice to have a fight, and not just the right-wing homogenization of our media.

Somewhere, Mike Royko is happy. And if that makes you sad, you’re on the wrong goddamn side of this.

Sinclair Buys Tribune; Boot Synergistically Crushes Independent Media, Forever

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I’m not going to romanticize Tribune, Inc, they of the TRONC-ish nightmare and the propensity to lose their damn mind, but being bought by Sinclair Media is a disaster.  This is the type of media consolidation that is the death-knell of democracy.

Part of it is, of course, that Sinclair leans very hard to the right, having made a deal with the Trump campaign for interviews across the board in exchange for favorable coverage and softball questions. This friendship was rewarded with even deeper ties (something I missed until just now).

The conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group’s announcement that it hired former White House aide Boris Epshteyn as its chief political analyst suggests a move to deepen its ties with President Donald Trump’s administration.

So I’m guessing we aren’t exactly going to get in-depth coverage of this administration out of the nation’s largest media company, who own at least one affiliate in every media market, and now have bought one of the nation’s other largest media company.

Their ties to a hideous right-wing admin are bad enough, but it might not be useful to think of them simply as right-wing. They are in a way more insidious. Their entire corporate ethos is aligned against thought, against inquiry, and against anything that doesn’t support the bottom line. They are the quintessence of corporate media, perpetuating a thoughtless status quo. Actual journalism is anathema.

You can see that in their radio empire, which has helped to make every other station in America dental-office bland, with the exact same DJ teams playing the exact same songs (when they even have DJs, that is) across the country, an endless aural strip mall. That’s their vision of the media. It is inherently right wing, because it enforces conformity. It might not be the ravaging alt-right horde or embrace the racism of Jeff Sessions (indeed, it embraces the bland multicultural appeal of a Coke commercial), but by destroying independent media and actual journalistic inquiry, and by embracing ties to the powerful as a means of profit-driving leverage, it allows for shameless goons like Trump to flourish.

The beige boot of corporate conformity is embodied in this almost-parodic statement, which might as well serve as the epitaph for American journalism.

“This is a transformational acquisition for Sinclair that will open up a myriad of opportunities for the company,” said Chris Ripley, president-CEO of Sinclair. “The Tribune stations are highly complementary to Sinclair’s existing footprint and will create a leading nationwide media platform that includes our country’s largest markets. The acquisition will enable Sinclair to build ATSC 3.0 (Next Generation Broadcast Platform) advanced services, scale emerging networks and national sales, and integrate content verticals. The acquisition will also create substantial synergistic value through operating efficiencies, revenue streams, programming strategies and digital platforms.”

The “Chemical Weapons” Fiasco Is A Result of Not Understanding Syria or Russia; or: Spicer Is an Idiot, But He’s Also Carrying Water for Idiots

 

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“Ok, but…” No! Just don’t start that way. It’s SO easy

 

Look, it’s not hard. Normal people don’t slip up and say things like “Hitler never gassed his own people!” Most people don’t even start sentences with “At least Hitler…”  That’s Human Speaking 101, and something that, if your entire job is to talk, you should have learned. So one can reasonably come to the conclusion that Sean Spicer isn’t particularly good at his job.

One can also, when riding in the wake of Seanspicerholocaustcenterdumbassgate, draw darker conclusions. This is an administration that didn’t mention Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day,  and it is one that employs not just Steve Bannon, but the ludicrous and grotesque pro-Nazi bigot Sebastian Gorka. It’s attracted the very worst elements of American politics, people who were more repulsively fringe than Steven King, mucking up from the bile of the hardest right. Every half-bright sexless bigot like Steven Miller with an axe to grind gyered and gimbled their way to the White House.  They were drawn by Donald Trump, who himself is a half-bright bigot. Like attracts like.

So yeah, you could say that hearing some perhaps mixed messages about Hitler contributed to Spicer’s confusion Choitner discusses that, but also gets closer to the real issues, which is that Spicer has to flip-flop almost daily.  Or not even flip-flop: wrench around based on the ill-informed whims of above-mentioned half-bright bigot.

The horrible weight of electing someone who never deeply considered any policy before, other than spouting off about headlines he skimmed, much like every other ill-informed paper-reader, is beginning to really press down on us. Our allies have no idea what to believe. Russia doesn’t even pretend to take us seriously. It has zero interest in listening to the administration, because, as we said yesterday, it is clear the administration doesn’t know what it is doing. Hell, right now, Putin is leaving Tillerson twisting in the wind.

Vali Nasser goes in-depth about why Russia will stay with Assad, and it is pretty clear that no one in the Trump administration has given these reasons much thought. They seem to believe that suddenly believing Assad “should go” is tantamount to a coherent policy that should be respected. I still think that Putin is making a mistake, and that even if things are going “well” right now, he’ll still end up broken on the rocks of an impossible conflict, but his short-term logic requires him to stay. And it certainly doesn’t require him to listen to an administration that has believed in what they are saying for about 15 minutes.

Trump likes to say he is “unpredictable”, and sell that as a virtue. And, to an extent (or rather, in neutral conditions) that could be true. But he isn’t “unpredictable” as part of some clever game; he’s unpredictable because he has no idea what he’s doing. His talk of not letting enemies know what he is going to do is pure bluster: he has no plans, no goals, no strategies, but couldn’t ever say that. So, like with everything else in his entirely empty life, he spun that off as a virtue. Oh, I can’t tell you what I am going to do, you’ll have to wait and see, but it’s great. Super great. I know more about everything that everyone, you’ll see. It worked during his days as a real estate and promotional carny, and it somehow worked during the campaign. He became President.

But it doesn’t work when you actually have to do things. When his casinos failed after empty promises, he declared bankruptcy. That’s something you can do when you are rich. He always had a system that would pick him up after he failed. But that doesn’t exist anymore. There is no backup. You actually have to produce, and you can’t suddenly have a coherent foreign policy when you’ve never actually thought of one before.

That’s where we are at now. A huckster who claimed that he was unpredictable as a way to mask his total ignorance is in a position where there is no net. He acts entirely on emotion and whims, never actually thinking things through. Eric Trump, showing the family gift for argument by evidence-free and indeed self-evidently counterfactual assertion, told the Daily Telegraph that his father was a “great thinker, practical not impulsive,” and added, “Believe me he thinks things through.” The last sentence also showed the family flair for relying on a non-existent wellspring of reliability.

This isn’t just snark. Pointing out the way this family runs is to point out how they are running the country. You can see that with Syria. One day it’s “Assad? He’s ok, I don’t care” and then “Well we should do something about that maybe” and then “Did we get good press for blowing things up? Then our position is that he’s big-league worse than Hitler. Got it Spicer?”

So no, Spicer can’t handle it. Partly because he’s an idiot, of course. But partly because he’s working for people with no idea what they are doing. In a way, he’s doing us all a service. If they had someone good at their job, they might be able to spin this in a way where you could potentially believe that the Trump administration knew what they were doing, that our allies wren’t terrified, that we weren’t being buffeted on the whims of an old man who is equal parts terrifying and laughable. Spicer’s wild incompetence does us the kindness of laying bare the enormoity of our world-historic mistake.

 

Trey Gowdy’s Comey Strategy: All Tomorrow’s Conspiracies

 

“Did reverse vampires have access to redacted names?” 

 

Trey Gowdy first came to the national spotlight when he began his relentless investigation into Benghazi, which, to hear the GOP tell it, was the first time something bad had happened to Americans in the Middle East, which is the only reason they spent years and millions of dollars investigating. Gowdy was determined to find out exactly what happened, because that was his solemn duty as an American, and there were no alternative motives.

It was probably just a happy coincidence that, although the main takeaways were 1) sometimes tragic things happen in unstable countries and a nation determined to have a global military and diplomatic presence will bear the brunt of that; and 2) maybe the GOP shouldn’t have cut embassy and consulate security spending, the investigations also helped to hurt Hillary Clinton.

Really, obviously, that was the entire point. The GOP knows the way to work the modern media climate. Keep putting things in the news. Keep hyping up scandals even if they can be disproven easily. People will hear words and phrases bandied about and assume something bad has to be going on. The media will duly report on it, and the initiates in the media and the right-wing noise machine will amplify it. Facts don’t matter; what matters are certain words that enter the ether, sulfurous and redolent of crime. That’s why there were innumerable hearings on Benghazi. It kept the name alive.

And that was their strategy yesterday during the Comey hearing as well. The entire plan, revolving largely around the boss’s unhinged ego-preservation strategy, is that the real crime issue here is leaks. One might point out that Gowdy’s own Benghazi panels leaked like a reefstruck dinghy, in a way that just so happened to consistently hurt Hillary Clinton. One might even argue that was the entire point of the hearings. But no matter: right now, the Republicans are united in fury at the very thought of leaks! This is the most serious issue our country is facing.

As we talked about yesterday, this is part distraction, and part fervent belief that the Obama “Deep State” is hurting Trump. They are unable to believe otherwise. And Gowdy, who pretends to be a serious prosecutor but is really just a skilled manipulator of the media, both normal and alternative, knew his job.

During his interlude with Comey, he commiserated about the seriousness of the crime of leaking (which is a crime in many cases). He then put forth a laundry list of names of people who could, in theory, have access to redacted names that made it to the press. (Times summary, then WaPo transcript)

In an outraged tone, Mr. Gowdy noted Washington Post and New York Times articles citing anonymous sources to report that in conversations intercepted by American intelligence, Mr. Flynn had discussed sanctions against Russia with Moscow’s ambassador to the United States, Sergey I. Kislyak. Such interceptions are highly classified intelligence, Mr. Comey confirmed.

“I thought it was against the law to disseminate classified information. Is it?” Mr. Gowdy asked.

“Yes, sir,” Mr. Comey replied. “It’s a serious crime.”

GOWDY: Do you know whether Director Clapper knew the name of the U.S. citizen that appeared in the New York Times and Washington Post?

COMEY: I can’t say in this forum because again, I don’t wanna confirm that there was classified information in the newspaper.

GOWDY: Would he have access to an unmasked name?

COMEY: In — in some circumstances, sure, he was the director of national intelligence. But I’m not talking about the particular.

GOWDY: Would Director Brennan have access to an unmasked U.S. citizen’s name?

COMEY: In some circumstances, yes.

GOWDY: Would National Security Adviser Susan Rice have access to an unmasked U.S. citizen’s name?

COMEY: I think any — yes, in general, and any other national security adviser would, I think, as a matter of their ordinary course of their business.

GOWDY: Would former White House Advisor Ben Rhodes have access to an unmasked U.S. citizen’s name?

COMEY: I don’t know the answer to that.

GOWDY: Would former Attorney General Loretta Lynch have access to an unmasked U.S. citizen’s name? COMEY: In general, yes, as would any attorney general.

GOWDY: So that would also include Acting AG Sally Yates?

COMEY: Same answer.

GOWDY: Did you brief President Obama on — well, I’ll just ask you. Did you brief President Obama on any calls involving Michael Flynn?

COMEY: I’m not gonna get into either that particular case that matter, or any conversations I had with the president. So I can’t answer that.

This is perfect. He’s just throwing names out there, just in theory, just trying to see who may have had the ability to disseminate this information. Just because the names he threw out there happen to be a rogue’s gallery for the right wing doesn’t mean anything. He’s just doing his damn job.

What he’s doing is giving red meat to the base while trying to force the actual media to look at the “theoretical possibility” that many people in the previous Administration, up to and including President Obama, had access to these names, and could have leaked them. The right wing Twitter armies and talk radio goons will go nuts poring over every name, and tying that to their broad conspiracy that the reason Trump is failing is because a perfidious and traitorous elite, aided by a Bolshy bureaucracy, is undermining him (undermining America).

Dragooning Sally Yates into this is key. She, of course, said that she couldn’t defend the travel ban, and was duly (and rightfully) fired. That was the beginning of the “Obama is still ruling Washington!” campaign, a distraction from the gross illegality and immorality of the ban. And now, Gowdy is continuining to push that, hoping that it’ll work once again.

My guess is no, it won’t. I mean, it’ll be great for Breitbart and Alex Jones and their satellites, and someone will uncover evidence that Ben Rhodes was offered a discount on a Washington Post subscription when he signed up for Amazon Prime, so there is your goddamn quid pro quo, but they are beginning to realize things are different when it is your party in power. You can’t point to the bogeyman. It’s you.

Monday Quick Hits: Berry and Breslin, Exxon, the NCAAs, and More

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Some quick hits and good reads to get us into a shining new American week…

-When I got the alert yesterday that Jimmy Breslin had died, hard on the heels of Chuck Berry, I had a vague notion of writing a piece about how the two men both created an American langauge. They took old traditions, grabbing along the way snatches of different and older languages, different sounds jumbled through the tumult of our history, bouncing around in the vastness of the land, from concrete wisdom to country passions, and in their own way, forged new and more democratic modes of expression. But then I thought: hm, I don’t know if I am really capable of exploring that, and anyway, it seems like something Charlie Pierce will do 10000 times better. He does not disappoint.

Did anyone do more to change American pop culture than Chuck Berry? This isn’t incidental; pop culture is culture. It’s an expression of our desires. Coming up with other names yields a short list, with maybe James Brown at the top of it. The list of musicians who were more awesome than Chuck Berry might be even shorter.

-So there was this commercial, in which a Jessica Chastain look-alike tells us that Exxon Mobil is really nothing more than a big ol’ jobs creator, and all the people they show are model attractive, that ran approximately 360000 times during the games this weekend. It wasn’t advertising anything, per se, other than the idea that Exxon is basically your neighborhood store, giving kids their first job so that Johhny can take Mary Sue to the movies this weekend. It’s basically a way for them to make us vaguely remember that “oil = good”. It’s essentially political, which is very smart.

Anyway, the repetition of that commercial is maybe why I had a dream this morning in which the real Jessica Chastain was giving a lecture where she said “There is maybe no more clear example of the importance of elections than fracking. Think about it: it’s an issue dominated by hydrologists, geologists, engineers, and increasingly, seismologists, yet is determined almost entirely by the people we elect. That makes it up to us. Do we elect the thoughtful, or the cheerfully venal?”

Seriously, those are my dreams with Jessica Chastain. Thanks, brain!

-Speaking of Exxon, that commercial was considerably more accessible than Exxon’s former CEO, who is settling into a quiet job outside the public eye, Secretary of State. On a weekend in which he moved us closer, rhetorically, to conflict with North Korea (a state to which North Korea themselves are also rushing), he also give some limited statements about why he’s not accessible to the press (and why he didn’t bring them along for his Asian trip, save for one friendly reporter).

“I’m not a big media press access person. I personally don’t need it. … When we’re ready to talk about what we’re trying to do, I will be available to talk to people. But doing daily availability, I don’t have this appetite or hunger to be that.”

He added: “When I have something important and useful to say, I know where everybody is and I know how to go out there and say it.”

He added that there’s plenty of media in the cities where he’s heading, lowering the need for a traveling press. And he disregarded the tradition of the secretary of State spending time with reporters on flights, saying “that’s not the way I tend to work.”

Well…shucks, Rex. It is admirable that you’re not one of those big media persons, always needing to be on the twitter for the kids, like one of those Kardashians or Kissingers. Here’s the thing, though: you’re not a CEO anymore. You don’t get to work in the shadows. You’re on the public dime, and you’re talking about issues of literal life and death, all the time. You don’t actually get to decide when we know what’s going on and when we don’t.

It’s fine that you don’t want to be a celeb SecState, and just want to do your job. But saying “I’ll only talk to the press when I feel like it” isn’t admirably modest or a burst of down-home sensibility. It is, at best, incredibly patronizing and undemocratic, and at worst, sinister. If you don’t want people to think that you’re colluding with foreign powers to help the energy industry, maybe don’t be so secretive.

-Speaking of the NCAAs, while I didn’t watch every game, I had at least most of them on at one point or the other. Yesterday was clearly the best day, though Nigel Hayes’s winner against Nova was bucket of the tournament, for sure. Witchita/Kentucky, which should clearly have not been a Round of 32 game, had that breathtaking sequence at the end, which might have been the most exciting part of the weekend. UCLA showing off their powerhouse offense in a 5-minute blitz against Cincinnati demonstrated everything that’s fun about hoops. And Duke losing in the first weekend makes every tournament worth it.

But, to me anyway, the most impressive game of the tournament was Kansas vs. Michigan State. It was a close one throughout, with a feisty Michigan St trading blows with the Jayhawks, until with about eight minutes left, Kansas methodically and brutally pulled away, winning by 20. In a weekend in which a 3-seed lost by about 900 to an 11-seed, in which Gonzaga nearly collapsed against Northwestern, in which UNC struggled against Arkansas, and in which the defending champ and #1 overall seed lost, to see a team remember they’re great, and play like it, was a sight to behold.

(Although, sneakily, and I might be biased, the best overall weekend went to Butler, which took on a very good Winthrop team and an extremely dangerous Middle Tennessee team, and never trailed in either game. Now their half of the bracket is UNC, UCLA/Kentucky, and most likely Kansas. Let’s take on some blue bloods, Butler.)

-Finally, my favorite read of the week was this in the most recent London Review of Books, in which Benjamin Kunkel talks about the “captialocene.” It’s a take on the Anthropocene, the idea that human activity has so changed the planet, in ways that were before only the result of gradual climatic and geologic shifts or sudden space-borne disasters, that it’s a whole new Epoch. This isn’t just a catchphrase, either: by the end of this year, the Anthropocene might be officially established alongside the Pleistocene, Holocene, Miocene, and others.

But the idea of the “captialocene” is slightly different. It argues that the great changes weren’t really the results of all humans, but came about as a result of capitalism, in which the land and the people were converted into capital for the benefit of the very few. That is, we as a species didn’t make a choice to do something, but a select group got rich destroying the planet.

There’s a damn good argument there (and nowhere is it I think more true than in North America, in which literally everything was alchemized into money). There is a counterargument that communism wasn’t exactly good for the environment (see, while you can, the remainder of the Aral Sea), but that was a reaction to capitalism, and still in the essential capitalist framework. The nature of the project is to wring profit out of everything, and if that means using up the world the way it uses up workers, so be it.

The other counterargument is that the process started long before capitalism. Hell, the people that came over to North America set out to immediately wipe out all large mammals save for buffalo, changing the ecosystem almost irreversibly. So maybe capitalism is just the ultimate expression of our nature?

The idea is that the capitalocene can actually transform into the Anthropocene, in which humans more broadly have a say in the environment, and our systems are revised to redistribute both economic and environmental justice. That is: the decisions about the earth aren’t just made by the few, for the few, but finally, for once, by the species as a whole. That does seem to be the only way to solve this mess. All it takes is a complete reordering of all our priorities. I’m guessing another asteroid will hit first.