Paul Ryan: weakling, con man, misleader Ryan in headlines

paul-ryan-60-minutesOver the weekend we got to see Speaker of the House Paul Ryan on CBS News’ “60 Minutes”… Did he disagree with Donald Trump’s [fantastical made-up fantasy] claim of millions of illegal voters in the last election? Mr. Ryan: “I don’t know. I’m not really focused on these things.”

This is actually quite serious. The supposedly “responsible” or “traditional” or “establishment” leaders in the Republican Party [see also Reince Priebus and VP Mike Pence] are actively helping Trump weaken our democracy.

It is time… way past time… for the non-insane press, which is now just one segment of what Americans regard as their news and information system, to call a spade a spade.

Here’s a list — ranked, roughly, from best to worst — of news headlines covering Ryan’s remarks:

GQ: ‘Paul Ryan Apparently Doesn’t Give a Shit if Donald Trump Lies About Illegal Voting’

Politico: ‘Ryan won’t repudiate Trump’s false illegal voter claims’

Raw Story: ‘I have no knowledge of such things’: Paul Ryan plays dumb on Trump’s big lie about illegal voters

Mediaite: Paul Ryan on Trump’s Voter Fraud Claims: ‘It Doesn’t Matter to Me,’ He Won

Yahoo news: Paul Ryan on Trump’s baseless voter fraud claim: ‘Who cares what he tweeted?’

Huffington Post: Paul Ryan On Donald Trump Tweeting Lies: ‘Who Cares?’

Salon: Let’s watch Republicans feign ignorance about Donald Trump’s bogus voter fraud claims

Wisconsin State Journal: Paul Ryan: ‘Who cares’ what Donald Trump tweets if problems are fixed

To their credit, the Wisconsin State Journal did publish something.  But why is the headline so ambiguous? After reading the headline, would anyone know what the story is about? The story is: Trump manufactures a self-serving lie, a YUUUGE lie, a lie corrosive to American democracy. And Paul Ryan fails to marshal courage to say bupkis.


Why we know so very little

It’s one thing for an ordinary person to be wrong. It’s quite another for a public figure to be just spectacularly, famously wrong. On-the-record. And with disastrous results. Like the people who brought us the 2003 Iraq War.


Remember Dick Cheney?

  • “And he [Saddam Hussein] is actively pursuing nuclear weapons at this time.” (March, 2002)
  • “I think it will go relatively quickly. Weeks rather than months.” (March, 2003)
  • “My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.” (March, 2003)
  • I think they’re in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.” (July, 2005)

Dick and daughter Liz are back, opinionizing in Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal. Well, not surprising. It’s Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal.

There is no penalty for getting things wrong. 

And the famously wrong Bill Kristol (we “could have terrifically good effects throughout the Middle East.” September 18, 2002) and the equally thick Paul Wolfowiitz (“We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon.” March 27, 2003) are back, too. They’re on the supposedly serious Sunday morning TV shows, discussing — believe it or not — what to do about Iraq’s current descent into sectarian violence. It’s very much like having the captain of the Exon Valdez offer advice on how to clean up oil spills. Except, to be fair, grounding an oil tanker is only a very small blunder compared to the colossal moral, military, planning and policy blunders advocated — insisted on! — by these wrong-way neocon blunderers.

The lesson? There is no penalty — in large swaths of our news media — for getting things wrong. Even calamitously wrong.

In real life, people do fail. They get fired. They’re effectively discredited. They lose reputation. After a big blunder, they never work in the same field again.

That’s real life. If you screw up, you will probably experience accountability. That captain of the Exon Valdez? He never captained another oil tanker. Probably he never expected to. And indeed he never got the chance.

Meet the Press and This Week weirdly operate with entirely different rules — the incompetents never need to leave. Observe, the incredible shrinking news.


Climate spurs debate — some thoughtful, some pretty frustrating

Antarctic Ice SheetThe Western Antarctic ice sheet has begun to collapse. There’s no scenario for reversal and the whole western sheet will be lost. It IS going to happen. This was the conclusion of two separate studies soon to be published in the journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters and reported lots of places but of course not everywhere (see below).

“it shook me a little bit”

Richard B. Alley, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University said he found the new papers compelling. Though he had long feared the possibility of ice-sheet collapse, when he learned of the new findings, “it shook me a little bit,” Dr. Alley said.

On the left (well, really the “center”) there’s a debate about how to communicate to the public. Basically the question is: should news about unfolding climate change emphasize urgency or actual somewhat-nerdy detail? (See: Climate Hawk vs. Serious People for example.)

  • Serious Person“: If you read the studies, this ice sheet “collapse” will be a slow-moving affair, in human terms, not really occurring rapidly until 200 years from now, or even later, at which point we’re on our way to seeing sea levels rise 10 feet or more.
  • Climate Hawk“:  Ya, sure, but we should still have “COLLAPSE!” in the headline just to get attention. If we’re going to avoid the worst of climate calamities, we must act now, now, NOW… within the next 15 years. Telling people that the real shit storm will arrive long after they’re dead is an ineffective motivator (for most of us) to do something NOW.

These are both reasonable arguments, and here at The Daily Tissue we weaselly endorse both, simultaneously.

But meanwhile what’s happening on the right?

Well, it’s unchanged. It’s now a very dumb discussion where facts don’t matter. Climate change is to be ignored, minimized or derided. It’s a foolish orthodoxy. In the week just past Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio (R-FL) reversed himself and said what “conservatives” (at least for now) simply must, must say,

“I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it.”

Republican candidates believe (or know?) that they cannot say anything else if they hope to be nominated. So Rubio says it, even though he’s from a state where parts of two major cities and all of the Everglades will drown in the future.

But it’s not just the craven politicians angling to a Republican base. It’s more extensive than that.

Jonathan Chait in his Daily Intelligencer column does a point-by-point takedown of two conservative, millionaire star-pundits — George Will and Charles Krauthammer who will never run for office.

Krauthammer and Will are (or used to be) as good as it gets in the world of conservative movement punditry, and yet there they are on Fox News just grasping for ways to cast doubt on an established scientific consensus, even on the whole scientific field of climate science. WHY? Would they be drummed out of the movement if they broke with Rush Limbaugh?  Would they lose their well-paid pundit gigs? How long can this bubble-think go on?

Remember “Bagdad Bob”?

Bagdad Bob was DOUBTLESS. THE. ONLY. amusing figure in the 2003 Irag war. As Iraqi information minister, “Bob” became hilariously famous for saying things like “There are no American infidels in Baghdad. Never!” as U.S. tanks were rolling by, on camera, in the background behind him. He was a figure of rich satire at a terrible moment. This is what Krauthammer and Will are doing, positioning themselves as American Bagdad Bobs denying climate change, even as — in the background — California’s fire season lasts 75 days longer than a decade ago, rain events become stronger and more frequent in the northeast, and on and on.  

Are we really doomed to do almost nothing at the highest levels of government because of a gridlock where one side enjoys its bubble of misinformation and magical thinking? That’s where the smart money would be wagering for now. Even though it cannot last.



The kill list and the public “dialog”

In a sense there’s no good reason for ordinary people to be interested in their nation’s foreign activities. “We” – and here we mean us ordinary schlubs (citizens) outside of the highest levels of the military and foreign policy establishment – we have no influence, no say, in what goes on. And huge parts of it are secret anyway. Secret from us. It may be “our” national policy, but we don’t know what it is.

Often we see reporting about foreign policy in the “serious” press. We look at these stories but with no conviction that it accomplishes anything. Why do we do it? Dunno… just do. Why do we look at funny cat videos on YouTube? In either case, it’s not because we think we’re accomplishing anything.

Reporter Mark Mazzetti

Reporter Mark Mazzetti

Nonetheless, we’ve been weirdly fascinated by the reporting of Mark Mazzetti which keeps popping up on the front page of the New York Times. We mentioned one of his stories earlier. Rather remarkably, it told us almost nothing! How is it that a story which tells us almost nothing can earn a spot on page A1 of the Times? Well, maybe the editors think we’re supposed to care about our national policy of killing individuals, one by one, by means of drone-based hellfire missiles. (Well, yes, also killing nearby friends and family, too. Collateral damage.)

So what IS our “policy”? Who knows?  Ordinary-citizen-schlubs, like us, perusing the Times can read that there’s a “debate” going on, a debate at top levels of our government about whether to drop a drone on one particular guy in Pakistan. Here, the proximate concern — actually just a sliver of what ought to be a much larger debate – seems to be that the guy in the cross-hairs is an American citizen, now gone over to Al-Qaeda. So there’s a little extra dithering about killing – if you want to get all legalistic about it — an American citizen.

Then we had a second story, again almost devoid of detail or factual certainty. And again on page A1 of the New York Times! In it we learn just a few more random facts. He was born “possibly in Texas” and “moved with his family to the Middle East when he was a toddler.” His real name and age still can’t be divulged, because it’s classified. Really? Check with Mr. Kafka down the hall.

So here’s what we think. 1) We think it’s great that America’s greatest newspaper is letting us in on the fact that there’s some secret debate going on, even though we’re clearly not invited to participate. 2) We’re pretty suspicious this debate includes only a very narrow range of participants and perspectives. 3) We’re almost certain this secret debate does not include the perspective that we happen to start with… namely, that we shouldn’t just go murdering our little-bitty adversaries (and this guy is nothing if not a little-bitty adversary). And 4) Why isn’t this state-sponsored terrorism (which we’re supposed to be so very opposed to)?

The President’s kill list

Headline, the New York Times, front page:

 U.S. Debates Drone Strike on American Terrorism Suspect in Pakistan

So, there’s a debate going on? About our national-list-of-guys-we’re-planning-to-kill-with-a-drone-strike? Well, that is nice to hear.

The “kill list” thing seems so nakedly immoral, not to mention so likely to, as they say, blow back. But at least there’s a debate, say the reporters, albeit a secret debate. The reporters aren’t able to tell what American is currently topping the kill list, or what he’s done, or rather “suspected” of. They can’t say for certain what’s being debated or who’s privy to the debate. The White House won’t comment. Neither will the Pentagon nor the CIA.

hookah-smoking caterpillarWelcome to Wonderland. In the absence of facts, feel free to wonder about anything at all. (One of the least important things to wonder about? Whether to call it “assassination” or “targeted killing”. See Erik Wemple in The Washington Post.)

Only late in their story do the Times reporters quote a non-anonymous, non-government source, Naureen Shahan, an Amnesty International U.S.A adviser. She identifies the one thing that is ironically certain

“The public and most members of Congress are still completely in the dark about where the U.S. claims authority to strike, the legal rules and the identity of those already killed.”

“The policy is still the stuff of official secrecy and speculation when it should be a matter of open debate and explicit constraints.”


The GOP “uncertainty” hoax

failureLydia DePillis at the Washington Post Wonkblog accumulates a damning list of quotes from GOP’ers over the last two years supposedly worrying about higher taxes, new regulations, and so on increasing “economic uncertainty” for businesses, “job creators” and well, anyone trying to plan for the future. Here’s the first quote:

“I believe our mission as legislators is to liberate our economy from the things that impede growth…to provide clear policies, so that innovators and entrepreneurs have the green light to move forward and create jobs, without having to worry about second-guessing from Washington.” – Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), May 2011

But now, of course, these self-same GOP’ers are themselves deliberately causing massive economic uncertainty in order, they say, to block Obamacare.

It turns out that “uncertainty” stuff was a mere talking-point, now dropped like a hot potato, as the Tea Party wing of Congress

  • shuts down the federal government
  • offers a whirling hors d’oeuvres tray of silly plans to fund just those parts of the government they happen to like
  • suggests, not all that seriously, funding the government for a few months or even a few weeks!
  • and prepares to default on America’s sovereign debt.

All that “concern” about “economic uncertainty” was phony as a $3 bill. It’s now been discarded and replaced with new talking points. (And, yes, massive economic uncertainty.)

Is our point that the GOP has lied about something, again? Well, that’s obviously one point.

But there’s another point we’ll choose to make. What kind of journalist is it who gets lied to, over and over, right in his or her face? What kind of journalist never seems to tumble to the fact they’re being lied to? (Lied to again and again. And by the very same people?)

Is it endless gullibility? Gullibility is surely one of the last things you’d hope to find in a real reporter, and yes, there are fake reporters. There are fakes in every line of work, and we’re not talking just about the fake news on Comedy Central. We’re talking about our most esteemed national press. Are they so very lazy that they know a source is throwing dust in the air, and yet they pass it along, as if it were something worth paying attention to? How is the average person supposed to make sense of this? It’s poison to democracy, poison to the public dialog.

We are seeing simultaneous, serious failures in the great American experiment. The press really needs to rethink its relationship with the easy, obvious, self-serving, and yet powerful class of liars. This cynical partnership is leading to disaster. Has it become a condition of employment to maintain that everything is more or less normal? Nothing can be called what it is?