The Barr Letter and Useful Idiots of the Jaded Left
As everyone knows by now, President Trump has been totally “exonerated” for everything, ever, by a four-page letter from William Barr, the Attorney General whom he appointed expressly to “exonerate” him. With regard to potential obstruction-of-justice, on page three of his letter, Barr cited Special Counsel Mueller’s statement that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
Understandably, Trump’s allies and surrogates are ecstatic that Trump has been so unequivocally and unconditionally exonerated by a letter about a report that “does not exonerate him.” But the gloating does not stop there. A contingent of “left” journalists and self-styled pundits are jumping in the self-congratulatory bandwagon.
The “leftist” critique of the Russia collusion story follows a certain “dialectical” logic: first, the lesser of two evils is the greater danger and therefore my foe and second, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Alleged journalist Glenn Greenwald presents an inarticulate version of this critique when he sputters hyperbole on Democracy Now. Greenwald magically transforms not establishing an actionable criminal case into not a shred of evidence.
Matt Taibbi gives a more nuanced performance in comparing Russiagate to the Bush administration’s lies about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. Taibbi qualifies his hyperbole by noting the hundreds of thousands of deaths and trillions of dollars wasted as a result of the latter. “Unless Russiagate leads to a nuclear conflict, we’re unlikely to ever see that level of consequence.” But in terms of journalism?
As a purely journalistic failure, however, WMD was a pimple compared to Russiagate. The sheer scale of the errors and exaggerations this time around dwarfs the last mess. Worse, it’s led to most journalists accepting a radical change in mission. We’ve become sides-choosers, obliterating the concept of the press as an independent institution whose primary role is sorting fact and fiction.
What a load of bollocks. Are we now supposed to believe that up until the time of the Steele dossier, the corporate news media was “an independent institution whose primary role is sorting fact and fiction”? Fox? Breitbart? Daily Caller? Not to mention non-stop CNN and NYT coverage of Trump rallies, diners in rural Pennsylvania, personable neo-Nazis, Clinton emails and climate change…
In his comprehensive critique of journalistic failure, Taibbi mentioned Fox once and the Daily Caller twice — to note their coverage of Michael Cohen’s denial of having ever been in Prague. Throughout the whole affair, the vast right-wing propaganda Wurlitzer was presumably acting as “an independent institution whose primary role is sorting fact and fiction.” Thank you, Matt Taibbi for your bold refusal to choose sides!
Not that it matters, but the mainstream media framing of the Russia collusion story was orchestrated by the “victim” of the “witch hunt.” The Mueller investigation was initiated by the Trump-appointed Deputy Attorney General who wrote the memo to give Trump cover for firing James Comey. The soi-disant “left” critics of Russiagate have bought that framing and are now gloating that “their side” has won.
An edited video of an encounter between Senator Diane Feinstein of California and a group of young campaigners for the Green New Deal is eliciting much outrage and indignation on Twitter. Senator Feinstein’s unpardonable offense is that she became impatient with being repeatedly interrupted and made a few sarcastic remarks having to do with her knowledge, experience and authority and their lack of those characteristics.
I don’t buy Feinstein’s rationale for her policy positions on climate change but that isn’t what this post is about. Just in the past month there have been three viral outrage epidemics: the Covington sneering kid standoff, the Jussie Smollett assault/hoax and now the Weinstein virtual stoning. Meanwhile there all these transient trending episodes involving billionaires, celebrities, politicians and pedophiles (not to mention “all of the above”). Then there was the Ilhan Omar trope crisis and the Governor Northam blackface controversy and on and on it goes. Are we having fun yet?
What all this nonsense reminds me of is the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 26, 2004. In those days, I was in a dialogue group that met once a month and at our next session after the tsunami, we shared a common impression of some kind of global convergence. Something that had never happened before. People around the world brought together by the sheer magnitude of the tragedy. The universal sublime.
“When we first came to Washington in 1933,” FDR Labor Secretary Francis Perkins wrote in her memoir, The Roosevelt I Knew, “the Black bill was already before the Congress. Introduced by Senator Hugo L. Black, it had received support from many parts of the country and from many representatives and senators.”
The Black Bill was the Senate version of the Black-Connery Thirty-Hour Bill. On April 6, 1933, the Senate approved the measure by a vote of 53 to 30. Perkins was scheduled to appear before the House committee holding hearings on the Connery Bill:
Roosevelt had a problem. He was in favor of limiting the hours of labor for humanitarian and possibly for economic reasons and therefore did not want to oppose the bill. At the same time, he did not feel that it was sound to support it vigorously. But the agitation for the bill was strong. Its proponent insisted that it was a vital step toward licking the depression. I said, “Mr. President, we have to take a position. I’ll take the position, but I want to be sure that it is in harmony with your principles and policy.”
Roosevelt had another problem. The National Association of Manufacturers and the Chamber of Commerce were adamantly opposed to the Thirty-Hour Bill. Perkins offered amendments to the Connery Bill, the American Federation of Labor offered other amendments and business representatives “proposed crippling amendments that would have destroyed the purpose of the measure.”
On May 1, the administration withdrew its support for the Connery Bill. Roosevelt had concluded that organized business would not support the recovery program if the Black-Connery Bill were to become law. In its place, the collective bargaining provisions of Section 7(a) and wage, hour and labor standard provisions were added to the National Industrial Recovery Act through, in Leon Keyserling’s account, “a series of haphazard accidents reflecting the desire to get rid of the Black bill and to put something in to satisfy labor.”
The Supreme Court ruled the Recovery Act unconstitutional on May 27, 1935. In its place, the “Second New Deal” consisted of a variety of policies, including, most notably, the National Labor Relations Act, the Works Progress Administration and Social Security.
The moral to the story is that “the” New Deal was improvised, it evolved, was not unitary and its original impetus came from a fundamentally different policy proposal that was anathema to the business lobby. The Thirty-Hour Bill was conceived as a solution to a problem that is no longer polite in policy circles to consider as a problem — “over-production.”
I am sympathetic to the intentions and ambition of the Green New Deal resolution proposed by U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey. What I find especially compelling is the inclusion of social and economic justice and equality in the program goals. The vision isn’t just a proposal for “sustainable” business-as-usual, powered by wind and solar.
The day before Ocasio-Cortez and Markey announced their resolution, Kate Aronoff and co-authors presented a “Five Freedoms” statement of principles for a Green New Deal, modeled on Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms.from 1941. My favorite, of course, is number two: Freedom From Toil:
We can’t escape work altogether, and there’s a lot of work we need to do, immediately and in the long term. But work doesn’t need to rule our lives.
The great nineteenth-century English socialist William Morris made a distinction between useful work and useless toil: we need the former but should free ourselves from the latter. We can escape the crushing toll of working long hours for low wages to make something that someone else owns.
At present, there’s a lot of work that’s worse than useless — it’s toil that’s harmful to the people doing it and to the world in which we live. But even useful work should be distributed more widely so that we can all do less of it — and spend more time enjoying its fruits.
I suppose there always has been work that is “worse than useless” — bullshit jobs and all that. But there is cruel irony in the fact that the ultimate solution to the 1930s problem of over-production was perpetual creation of useless toil through credit, fashion, advertising, and government stimulus and subsidies. The original proposal had been… shorter working time!
Which brings me back to the peregrinations of the FDR New Deal. The 12-year deadline posited by the I.P.C.C. for keeping within the 1.5 degree centigrade limit brings us to the 100th anniversary of Keynes’s “Economic Possibilities For Our Grandchildren.” Time has run out on his caveat:
But beware! The time for all this is not yet. For at least another hundred years we must pretend to ourselves and to every one that fair is foul and foul is fair; for foul is useful and fair is not. Avarice and usury and precaution must be our gods for a little longer still. For only they can lead us out of the tunnel of economic necessity into daylight.
We have been pretending long enough now for foul to become worse than useless and to convince ourselves that fair really would be foul. It is past time to stop pretending.
“Unless productivity goes up by at least 25% to compensate, everyone will be worse off.”
“Dropping hours from 5 days a week to 4 means that the work that would have been done in 5 days now needs to be done in 4, which means each day needs a 25% increase in productivity. Where on earth do you think such an increase is going to come from?”
“OK, but to arrive at the same output in 4 days rather than 5 means that people have to become 25% more productive than they are today. That’s an awfully big jump in productivity. I’m not convinced that people today are that unproductive. Certainly when I think of my past workplaces, I don’t think my colleagues were that sub-optimal. A 10% increase in productivity seems more reasonable.”
Following up on yesterday’s post about comments in the Guardian, here are some thoughts about “where on earth” a productivity increase of 25 percent might come from:
Let’s start from a 40-hour week in which the rate of output declines somewhat toward the end of the day when workers are beginning to tire. Let\s assume the least productive eight hours of work produce only 75 percent of the output of the most productive 32 hours of work. Call the average output of the most productive 32 hours “one unit” of output. Total output for 40 hours work is 38 units.
Now, reduce the weekly hours to 32. Better rested, more motivated workers result in a “reasonable” 6.25 percent increase in average hourly productivity above and beyond the productivity gain from eliminating the least productive hours. Total output in 32 hours is now 34 units compared with 38 units previously produced in 40 hours.
“It’s all down to the numbers – something the article avoids and so is just pie-in-the-sky.”
“That clearly does not add up.”
“If you produce X in 30 hours you will produce > X in 40 – unless you are just sitting on your arse for the extra 10 hours.”
“If you work 40 hours your total output will be higher than if you work 30 hours – unless you are actually destroying output in those extra 10 hours.”
The U.K. think tank Autonomy has published a report on working time, “The Shorter Working Week: A Radical And Pragmatic Proposal.” Autonomy’s co-director, Will Stronge, wrote an Op-Ed for the Guardian on Friday that outlines some of the proposal’s main points. The Guardian piece received over 600 comments, around a quarter of which were opposed to the proposal. I am always fascinated with why people are hostile toward seemingly good things so I downloaded the comments and sorted and coded them.
Twenty-eight percent of the negative comments included gratuitous disparaging remarks about the article and its author. “Riiiiight. …whoever dreamed up this silly notion hasn’t got a clue about the realities of life.” “This drivel is always coming from some useless twit who sits on their backside…” “Yes, the article is nothing but pie-in-the-sky.” “Really? It’s all a bit if a pipe dream isn’t it?” “Comrades , rejoice! Tractor production will still be up 130%.” “Along with flying cars and pet unicorns for all, presumably.” “Following the columnist’s logic, why not a three day week? Or a two day week?” “better still just pay me full time but I don’t want to turn up at all.”
BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate. — Office of the Special Counsel.
If this is the first story the special counsel has felt compelled to dispute, does that mean he had no objection to all the others that have come out before now? — Peter Baker, New York Times.
These things cannot both be true:
The Mueller investigation is a witch hunt fomented by a Mueller-Comey-Strzok cabal of Trump haters.
The statement from the Office of the Special Counsel calling BuzzFeed’s “description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office” “not accurate” definitively refutes the two-year long fake news crusade against Trump by the media.
Parsing the special counsel’s statement, it seems to refer to the “description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office.” Period. Note the repetition of the word “office.” The evidence may or may not exist. The office of the special counsel may or may not be in possession of it. They do not confirm or deny that they are not confirming or denying.
But “BuzzFeed’s description” is “not accurate.” Where does the crucial word “office” appear in the BuzzFeed description?
At the CEPR blog, Beat the Press, Dean Baker and Jason Hickel are debating degrowth. Dean makes the excellent point that “claims about growth” from oil companies and politicians who oppose policies to restrict greenhouse gas emissions, “are just window dressing.” I also agree, however, with the first comment in response to Dean’s post that his point about window dressing could be taken much further.
I would add that economic growth is window dressing for what used to be referred to much more aggressively as “man’s triumph over nature” or the “control of nature.” Climate change deniers are more forthright about this connection between aggression and so-called growth: “Is “Strive on — the control of nature is won, not given” a controversial statement? What does it mean for science if it is?” asks Linnea Lueken at the Heartland Institute website.
Scattered throughout his writings, Donald Winnicott made fleeting but intense criticisms of “sentimentality.” “Sentimentality is useless for parents,” he remarked in a 1949 article on the analysis of psychotic patients, “as it contains a denial of hate, and sentimentality in a mother is no good at all from the infant’s point of view.” The inference he drew from this observation was that “a psychotic patient in analysis cannot be expected to tolerate his hate of the analyst unless the analyst can hate him.”
In a 1946 article on the treatment of juvenile delinquents, he warned against “one of the biggest threats” to the use of psychological methods in the management of young offenders was “the adoption of a sentimental attitude towards crime:
If advances seem to come but are based on sentimentality, they are valueless; reaction must surely set in, and the advances had better never have been made. In sentimentality there is repressed or unconscious hate, and this repression is unhealthy. Sooner or later the hate turns up.
The most thorough discussion by Winnicott of his aversion to sentimentality is probably his 1939 article, “Aggression and its roots.” As it is only three paragraphs, I quote it in its entirety:
Finally, all aggression that is not denied, and for which personal responsibility can be accepted, is available to give strength to the work of reparation and restitution. At the back of all play, work, and art, is unconscious remorse about harm done in unconscious fantasy, and an unconscious desire to start putting things right.
Sentimentality contains an unconscious denial of the destructiveness underlying construction. It is withering to the developing child, and eventually it can make him need to show in direct form destructiveness which, in a less sentimental milieu, he could have conveyed indirectly by showing a desire to construct.
It is partly false to state that we ‘should provide opportunity for creative expression if we are to counter children’s destructive urges’. What is needed is an unsentimental attitude towards all productions, which means the appreciation not so much of talent as of the struggle behind all achievement, however small. For, apart from sensual love, no human manifestation of love is felt to be valuable that does not imply aggression acknowledged and harnessed.
He might well have added, “And I’m not so sure about sensual love.”
This all may sound somewhat arbitrary and speculative but actually it is a very compressed and jargon-free application of Melanie Klein’s developmental theory of the self. What Klein referred to as the depressive position involves an infant’s feeling of “guilt” — or in Winnicott’s less extravagant terminology, “concern” — about its aggressive fantasies toward its mother. In Klein’s rather lurid account of the infant’s aggressive fantasy:
The phantasied attacks on the mother follow two main lines: one is the predominantly oral impulse to suck dry, bite up, scoop out, and rob the mother’s body of its good contents.… The other line of attack derives from the anal and urethral impulses and implies expelling dangerous substances (excrements) out of the self and into the mother.… These excrements and bad parts of the self are meant not only to injure the object but also to control it and take possession of it.
Whether or not the infant has such unconscious aggressive fantasies about the mother’s body, Rex Tillerson, when he was CEO of Exxon, expressed similar, fully-conscious ones, “My philosophy is to make money. If I can drill and make money, then that’s what I want to do…” Robert White-Stevens, the corporate-designated nemesis of Rachel Carson following the publication of Silent Spring, exemplified the “control of nature” faction of science:
Miss Carson maintains that the balance of nature is a major force in the survival of man, whereas the modern chemist, the modern biologist and scientist, believes that man is steadily controlling nature.
White-Stevens’s vision of a “feeble creature” penetrating “every corner of the planet,” and “contest[ing] the very laws and powers of Nature, herself,” could have been written as a Kleinian parody of the of the infantile arrogance of scientistic triumphalism:
Within the past 100 years, man has emerged from a feeble creature, virtually at the mercy of Nature and his environment, to become the only being which can penetrate every corner of the planet, communicate instantly to anywhere on earth, produce all the food, fiber, and shelter he needs, wherever he may need it, change the topography of his lands, the sea and the universe and prepare his voyage through the very arch of heaven into space itself.
This is the stuff that science is made of, and man has learned to use it. He cannot now go back; he has crossed his Rubicon and must advance into the future armed with the reason and the tools of his sciences, and in so doing will doubtless have to contest the very laws and powers of Nature herself. He has done this already by expanding his numbers far beyond her tolerance and by interrupting her laws of inheritance and survival. Now, he must go all the way, for he cannot but partially contest Nature. He has chosen to lead the way; he must take the responsibility upon himself.
But I digress. What does all this have to do with economic growth? Again, as Winnicott explained, “aggression that is not denied, and for which personal responsibility can be accepted, is available to give strength to the work of reparation and restitution.” However, “[i]n sentimentality there is repressed or unconscious hate, and this repression is unhealthy. Sooner or later the hate turns up.” Indeed, the hate does turn up at the Heartland Institute, where the “Green New Deal” is exposed as the “Old Socialist Despotism.”If it fails to acknowledge the primitive aggression of “man’s triumph over nature” that lies beneath the reparation of adopting environmentally-friendly policies, the debate between degrowth and green growth risks descending into sentimental bickering about the window dressing in the hotel on the edge of the abyss.
The world according to Trump — notice a trend here?
Reporter: “Who should be held accountable?” [for Jamal Khashoggi’s murder]
Trump: “Maybe the world should be held accountable because the world is a vicious place. The world is a very, very vicious place.” — November 22, 2018.
“The world is a vicious and brutal place. We think we’re civilized. In truth, it’s a cruel world and people are ruthless. They act nice to your face, but underneath they’re out to kill you.” Think Big and Kick Ass in Business and in Life, Donald Trump & Bill Zanker, 2007, p. 71.
“Life is not easy. The world is a vicious, brutal place. It’s a place where people are looking to kill you, if not physically, then mentally. In the world that we live in every day it is usually the mental kill. People are looking to put you down, especially if you are on top. When I watched Westerns as a kid, I noticed the cowboys were always trying to kill the fastest gun. As a kid, I never understood it. Why would anyone want to go after the fastest gun?
“This is the way it is in real life. Everyone wants to kill the fastest gun. In real estate, I am the fastest gun, and everyone wants to kill me. You have to know how to defend yourself. People will be nasty and try to kill you just for sport. Even your friends are out to get you!” Think Big and Kick Ass in Business and in Life, Donald Trump & Bill Zanker, 2007, p. 139.
“Well, not all people. But it’s a vicious place. The world is a vicious place. You know, the lions and tigers, they hunt for food, we hunt for sport. So, it can be a very vicious place. You turn on the television and you look at what’s happening.” Interview with John Barton, Golf Digest, October 13, 2014.
“This is the most deceptive, vicious world. It is vicious, it’s full of lies, deceit and deception. You make a deal with somebody and it’s like making a deal with– that table.” Interview with Lesley Stahl, CBS 60 Minutes, October 15, 2018.
“This is a r– this is a vicious place. Washington DC is a vicious, vicious place. The attacks, the– the bad mouthing, the speaking behind your back. –but– you know, and in my way, I feel very comfortable here.”
Interview with Lesley Stahl, CBS 60 Minutes, October 15, 2018.