Friday, July 28, 2017

The Obama-Trump Syndrome

America's Media Meltdown

Between 2008 and 2016, the media were unapologetic about their adoration of President Barack Obama. Now, they are energized by their thorough loathing of President Donald Trump. In tragic fashion, the hubris of deifying Obama has now come full circle to the nemesis of demonizing Trump. The common denominator of the two extremes is the abandonment of disinterested reporting.

When Obama announced his candidacy for president in 2007, the media relinquished pretenses of objectivity. The progressive Obama, who had the most partisan record in the U.S. Senate after less than four years in office, appeared to progressive journalists to have come from central casting: glib and charismatic, an Ivy-League pedigree, mixed racial ancestry, a power marriage to a Harvard-trained black lawyer, and an exotic name resonant of multicultural fides.

By comparison, even the would-be first female president Hillary Clinton seemed staid. In the 2008 general election, moderate Republican John McCain—once the darling of the liberal press during his bid to sidetrack George W. Bush in the 2000 Republican primaries—was reduced to a cranky spoiler of the nation’s rare chance to be saved by the messianic Obama from the Bush era’s legacy of war, economic crisis, and callousness.

In the 2008 campaign, reporters ignored the close and disturbing relationships between the mostly unknown Obama and a cast of unsavory characters: his racist and anti-Semitic pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the neighborhood confidant and former terrorist Bill Ayers, and the wheeler-dealer and soon-to-be felon Tony Rezko.

Instead, journalists quickly started worshipping candidate Obama in a manner never quite seen before, not even in the days of the iconic liberal presidents like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. Newsweek editor Evan Thomas declared Obama to be a deity (“Obama's standing above the country, above the world, he’s sort of God.”) His very words were able to make the leg of MSNBC’s Chris Matthews “tingle.” His pants’ crease proved for David Brooks a talisman of his future greatness, along with the fact that the mellifluent Obama “talks like us.”

While a few journalists were aware of their cult-like worship, most were hooked and competed to outdo one another with embarrassing hagiographic praise. Upon election, Obama was summarily declared by one presidential historian and television pundit to the smartest man with the highest IQ ever to have been president.

Obama himself channeled the veneration, variously promising in god-like fashion to cool the planet and lower the seas, remarking that his own multifaceted expertise was greater than that of all of the various specialists who ran his campaign. For the next eight years, the media largely ignored what might charitably be called an historic overextension of presidential power and scandal not seen since the days of Richard Nixon’s presidency. A clique of journalists set up a private chat group, JournoList, through which they could channel ideas to promote the Obama progressive agenda.

Freed from most press scrutiny, the Obama administration surveilled Associated Press reporters accused of leaks and monitored the communications of Fox News’s White House Correspondent James Rosen. In a variety of scandals, UN Ambassador and National Security Advisor Susan Rice lied repeatedly about the Benghazi catastrophe, the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner swap, the Iran deal, and the supposed destruction of weapons of mass destruction by the Assad government in Syria. Meanwhile, Obama’s Attorney General Loretta Lynch faced inquiries about massaging the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Close advisors such as Rice and UN Ambassador Samantha Power faced congressional inquiries into whether some in the administration had requested improper surveillance reports of political opponents, unmasked their names, and illegally leaked them to the press—a story that the media overlooked.

Most Obama foreign policy initiatives proved disappointments: reset with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the bombing of Libya resulting in postwar chaos, the withdrawal of all U.S. peacekeepers from Iraq, the faux redlines with Syria, failed “strategic patience” with North Korea, writing off the ISIS terrorist caliphate as “Jayvees,” and the expansion of Chinese bases into the South China Sea.

At home, Obama was the first president in recent history never to have achieved three percent economic growth, as labor non-participation rose and median family incomes fell. The media largely ignored a series of scandals, as if investigating them might endanger the Obama progressive moment: the politicization of the IRS, FBI, and Justice Department; ICE reduced to de facto irrelevance; fraud at the VA; overreach at EPA; and incompetence at the Secret Service and GSA.

Rather than appreciate such media obsequiousness, Obama sometimes showed near contempt for toadyish reporters, joking about his positive press coverage and joshing how he got the Nobel Peace Prize without much accomplishment. His deputy National Security Advisor and would-be novelist Ben Rhodes contemptuously manipulated and then wrote off young foreign correspondents as know-nothings—despite the fact they had helped the administration obfuscate the dangerous implications of Obama’s Iran deal through what Rhodes called an “echo chamber” of administration-fed talking points.

Former speech writers Jon Favreau and Jon Lovett joked on television how they had easily deluded the public on the downsides of Obamacare. Special advisor Jonathan Gruber laughed at the “stupidity of the American voter” who was easily deceived by the administration and media about the nature of Obamacare. Again, the common denominator was an expectation that the press was not a public watchdog but an enabler of the Obama agenda.

By the time of 2016 presidential race, the media had lost their credibility as disinterested guardians of objective truth. And while Hillary Clinton in 2016 was no Barack Obama in 2008, reporters still gave her special privileges. CNN talking-head Donna Brazile fed debate questions to the Clinton campaign prior to a Clinton-Sanders televised debate. And the John Podesta Wikileaks trove revealed that a number of marquee reporters were openly colluding with Clinton to defeat Trump.

Once the media crossed the Rubicon of partisanship, there was no turning back. The unchecked ebullience that they had showed for Obama has now been replaced by an undisguised hatred for Donald Trump. Just as journalists saw no negative repercussions in their adoration of Obama, they are now able to denigrate the conservative populist Trump without consequences. Arrogance plays a role: the media feel that they displayed power in getting Obama elected and now they wager that they can also ensure Trump’s defeat, or at least derail his presidency

The liberal Harvard Kennedy School and Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy issued a report recently showing how the media has established a “new standard” of negativity in presidential reporting. It noted that the aggregate news stories from the first 100 days of the Trump administration were about 80% critical. Some networks such as CNN aired 93% negative coverage of the president.

CNN was forced to fire three reporters for creating fictional news about the Trump administration. Some of its anchors and hosts used scatology to denigrate the president. CNN's New Year’s host Kathy Griffin was fired at the end of May 2017, for holding up a facsimile of the decapitated head of Trump. Some producers were caught on tape bragging about CNN’s biases against Trump and the stupidity of the voters who elected him.

Media hosts and commentators have been lavish in their coverage of progressive efforts to subvert Trump—whether it was getting the Electoral College to deny Trump the presidency; the attempts to overturn the voting results in three states Trump won; the move to impeach him or remove him by the 25th Amendment; or to find him guilty of obstruction of justice or collusion with the Russians.

Some exasperated journalists have been at least intellectually honest enough to admit that the profession should no longer adhere to traditional norms of disinterested presidential reporting in the post-Obama age. According to Christiane Amanpour, Carl Bernstein, Jorge Ramos, and Jim Rutenberg, the singular menace of the Trump presidency demands open anti-Trump advocacy, without the veneer of unbiased reporting.

What caused the media’s Trump meltdown? There were a variety reasons.

Trump represents everything that the media despise: a crude reality-TV billionaire without military or political experience, whose orange skin, combed over dyed blond hair, sharp Queens accent, and confrontational attitude seemed vulgar and crass.

The nexus between beltway politics and the media, often cemented through marriages and familial relationships, recoiled that an outsider like Trump sought not just to overturn the Obama agenda but to do so unapologetically and with the same executive orders that Obama himself had bragged about in his “pen and phone” ultimata to make laws without the help of the Congress.

Moreover, Trump campaigned on an us/them, red-state/blue-state dichotomy. He smashed the proverbial Democratic blue wall—a fact that caused great unease to liberal journalists who sensed that half the country found their coastal progressive culture not just foreign but apparently hypocritical and elitist.

In addition, the current generation of marquee reporters was schooled at the major journalism schools by veterans of the 1960s, when the “new” journalism saw progressive political activism—opposition to the Vietnam War and the promotion of civil rights, feminism, and environmentalism—as the proper counterweight to traditional and supposedly regressive American values.

Postmodernism—the theory that there are no absolute facts or eternal truths, only interpretations based on power machinations—seeped out from university English departments into the larger elite culture. Such relativism may explain the epidemic of fake news accounts and plagiarism as alternative “narratives” rather than simple untruths. Buzzfeed, for example, published the infamous fake Steele file, a lurid dossier of oppositional research against the Trump campaign, even though it admitted it could not confirm the veracity of the salacious accusations against Trump. But who was to say that the accusations were any more true or false than any other? In such anything-goes fashion, Politico’s Julia Joffe channeled the vulgarity of television celebrities like Steven Colbert and Bill Maher in suggesting an incestuous relationship between the president and his daughter.

Trump was neither shy nor decorous in punching back, ridiculing the appearance of on-air talking heads, relegating them to back of the room slots at press conferences, and going over the head of the media through often crude ad hominem tweets. Although polls (whose reliability remains questionable after the 2016 election) rarely showed figures higher than forty percent for Trump, the media is held in even less regard, with about two-thirds of those polled expressing their disapproval of journalists.

If the media became unhinged in the adulatory Obama years through hubris, it might have earned back its respect and professionalism by covering Trump in even-handed fashion. But Nemesis does not work that way: those it destroys, it first makes mad.

Hoover Institute (July 20, 2017)

An Epidemic Of White Male Suicide

Chester Bennington (1976-2017)

Chester Bennington & White Male Suicide

On July 20, 2017, Chester Bennington, lead singer of the band Linkin Park, committed suicide by hanging. Just two months previously, Bennington perform Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” at Soundgarden and Audioslave singer Chris Cornell’s funeral after Cornell was found dead, having also committed suicide by hanging, on May 18. These were just the most recent in a spree of mostly white and mostly male high-profile suicides over the past several years, from actor Robin Williams to author David Foster Wallace.

Some in the Alt Right have wanted to focus on simply judging Bennington as weak, or cowardly, or irresponsible, over the fact that he left behind six kids. But this is at least somewhat ironic, given the nature of our cause. In 2016, the suicide rate in the United States surged to its highest level in nearly three decades—driven almost entirely by an increase in suicide among middle-aged whites—even as the suicide rate among black men fell. This cannot be because white men as a group simply have weaker wills than all other demographics. The explanation must be, as leftists would say, “structural."

Chester Bennington and family

But the traditional explanations offered by pundits in the popular press fall short. In an interview with the BBC, Pat Remington, a professor of population health sciences at the University of Wisconsin, pointed to “the widespread availability of guns and prescription drugs” as significant causes. But black Americans are killing each other with guns at significantly higher rates than whites are despite lower rates of gun ownership. Japan has a suicide rate that is nearly twice that of the United States, and South Korea has the highest suicide rate in the world, despite nation-wide bans on firearms. Meanwhile, there may be fewer prescription drugs in black communities, but there most certainly isn’t any lack of access to drugs in general.

So what can we learn from this epidemic of white male suicide? The first lesson of note is what it tells us about the nature of white men: we aren’t simplistic, one-dimensional, hedonistic pigs. Our deepest needs obviously transcend the economic. All the money and cars and sexual access to young, willing women in the world weren’t enough to keep the lead singers of Linkin Park and Audioslave interested in going on with their lives.

Those experts also point to “the financial downturn that began in 2008.” But a major cause of that financial downturn was our collective refusal to admit that blacks and whites behave differently at equal levels of income (for instance, whites who earn less than $25,000 per year have better credit scores than blacks who earn between $65–75,000). As such, because the housing boom was disproportionately driven by expanded minority home ownership, the housing bust also disproportionately hit minorities. So this can’t explain suicide rates either.
“We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war . . . our Great Depression is our lives.” ― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
It may be worth revisiting why suicide exists in evolutionary terms.

A basic sentiment commonly expressed by the suicidal is: “Everyone would be better off without me!” Evolutionary analysis suggests that suicide exists because we really do have innate mechanisms crafted to evaluate whether or not everyone would be better off without us. Why? Because if our handicaps require assistance that limits our close kin’s ability to survive and reproduce, we may in fact increase our own genetic fitness more by committing suicide and removing the reproduction-limiting obligations we impose upon them than we would be going on living with the help of our kin.

This is only a paragraph-long oversimplification of a very complicated topic, but the underlying gist should be clear enough: what we really need more than anything is to be needed. As Sebastian Junger’s Tribe or Jack Donovan’s The Way of Men have been hammering in, this is why tribal societies are happier: the smaller a unit of people is, the more likely it is that it actually needs you.

That quote referenced above from Fight Club actually ends like this:
“We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”
But what are we to make of it when those very movie gods and rock stars turn out to be part of the suicide epidemic, too? Bennington, whose net worth was around $25 million, clearly could not have been a financial drain on his close kin.

Well, think back to his children: exactly what is it that he supposed to stick around to offer them? Under historical guild systems—which The Distributist Review opens by telling us are “the oldest, most necessary, most deeply rooted, of all human institutions . . . appearing in all civilizations which are at all stable, because it is necessary to stability”—a man knew that the trade he invested his life in was one he could pass on to his children. He could mentor his children and pass on the lessons he spent his life learning, because the lessons he spent his life learning were directly relevant for their success, since they were assured a place in his occupation.

Modern free market economies sever this particular kind of intergenerational tie. And public schooling ensures that fathers no longer truly raise their children, anyway. Libertarians will be quick to tell us how much more economically efficient the free market’s severance of that tie is, but how do we account for the psychological and sociological impacts of a world where fathers really do have little to pass on directly to their children?

Those libertarians will also be the first to tell us that value is subjective—could we not then have different subjective assessments of the value of increasing gross domestic profit versus building a more stable and rooted social order? I, for one, would unquestionably value the stability of a world where I knew that when I learned to increase my skills within a field, I was learning lessons I could pass on directly to my children well more than I value any increase in the amount of trinkets that exist to purchase in the current system.

Our sickness, as Palahniuk would have it, is a spiritual sickness. It’s about the nature of our social bonds—to each other, to our children, to the future.

And that can’t be reduced in any way to the number of trinkets and widgets up for purchase in the economy. Nor is there any necessary link between increasing the number of widgets up for sale and restoring us from that sickness. We’re also getting married less than our parents. At the same time, we’re participating in the economy less than our parents.

Clearly, the two phenomena aren’t unrelated. Men’s conspicuous consumption is an evolutionary adaptation to attract women. As Bridget Brennan (author of Why She Buys) writes at Forbes, “Women drive 70-80% of all consumer purchasing, through a combination of their buying power and influence. Influence means that even when a woman isn’t paying for something herself, she is often the influence or veto vote behind someone else’s purchase.” She concludes, “There is certainly no doubt: women’s consumer domination is here for the long term.”

In short, the basic fact is that one of the biggest reasons men work at all is to afford women. But today, “female empowerment” takes the form of things like lowering standards for firefighting just to ensure that women who are less physically capable of performing the duties of the job can join. And this combines with welfare to the point that over the course of a lifetime, only men pay taxes; men collectively pay more in taxes than they receive until around the age of 80, while the average woman will, over the course of her lifetime, represent a net fiscal impact of –$150,000.

When women are artificially subsidized into positions of work, and all men are collectively forced to pay all women just to exist, we artificially create a situation where no particular woman truly needs any particular man any longer. And the one thing we, as human beings, need most of all is to be needed.

By the way, Anne Case and Angus Deaton published a follow-up this year to their original 2015 paper covering the “shocking increase in midlife mortality among white non-Hispanic Americans."

In the original paper, they concluded that the rise in white deaths was “largely accounted for by increasing death rates from drug and alcohol poisonings, suicide, and chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis.” But the follow-up corrects for the fact that in this original conclusion, they focused only on the increase in deaths, without focusing on the disparities between this demographic’s death rate and the falling death rates found everywhere else in the world.

Fifteen years ago, middle-aged whites in the United States were tied with their German counterparts; now, white Americans are 45% more likely to die than white Germans. Every year, about 285 people out of 100,000 die between the ages of 45 and 54. In the United States, that number is more than 410. And of these additional 125 deaths, only about 40 are explained by the spike in drug use, drinking, and suicide.

Much of the other two thirds of this figure is owed to deaths from heart disease—and it is very well established in the scientific literature that psychological and emotional stress plays a massive role in producing heart disease.

People who have been clinically depressed even once are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack, as long as ten full years after the original episode. A 2014 study, “An Inflammatory Pathway Links Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease Risk to Neural Activity Evoked by the Cognitive Regulation of Emotion,” found that the very psychological experience of negative emotion contributes directly to creating the type of inflammation that causes heart disease.

In fact, subjective psychosocial factors probably do more to explain death from heart disease than physical lifestyle factors do: “Traditional coronary risk factors cannot explain the rapid increase in CHD mortality among middle-aged men in many of the newly independent states of eastern Europe. However, eastern European men score higher on stress-related psychosocial coronary risk factors (e.g., social isolation, vital exhaustion) than men living in the West.” In other words, men in eastern Europe have higher rates of heart disease, but this can’t be explained by the normal physical factors, because men in eastern Europe eat and exercise just as well as their Western counterparts. They are, however, more socially isolated, and have higher rates of ‘vital exhaustion’ (a fancy term for nervous breakdowns).

The average age of first heart attack in men is 65—for women, it’s 72. And men are 50% more likely to die from it. As you include older age groups, more women end up dying annually from heart disease than men—but this is only because older age groups are skewed female because most of the men have already died by then.

I normally wouldn’t share articles from the Huffington Post. Much less one authored by a lying plagiarist. Much less one that attributes bad behavior to environment, rather than choice or innate disposition. But I actually think drug abuse is an exception to the rule, and Johann Hari’s article on addiction really is excellent.

To summarize, the most important point here is that most of the animal studies on the addictiveness of hard drugs involved putting rats in small cages alone with nothing else to do, and then seeing how addicted they became to cocaine-laced water. But when Vancouver Professor Bruce Alexander placed rats in “Rat Park”—filled with colored balls and winding tunnels and access to social relationships with other rats—as a whole they consumed less than a quarter the amount of cocaine-laced water that the isolated rats did, and none of them became heavy consumers or died of overdose.

Further, when he took rats who became addicted to cocaine while stuck alone in small cages and placed them in Rat Park, even they got off of the drugs—voluntarily; spontaneously.

So the rise in white and male deaths, even as deaths fall for most other cohorts, is mainly owed to three things: suicide, drug abuse, and heart disease. All three of these things are major symptoms of psychological and emotional stress as well as social isolation.

And that is why, no matter what we think about the teen angst-fueled nu-rock music of Linkin Park, we shouldn’t contribute to a public atmosphere of condemnation of Bennington for committing suicide—because the fact is, for everything else that can rightly be said about this event, and whether Bennington himself was even able to recognize the fact or not, he was also a casualty of the same forces that are currently working to destroy us all.

From Counter Currents Publishing (July 21, 2017)

Slaves For Jesus?

Jane Whaley

The Word of Faith Fellowship used its two church branches in Brazil to siphon a steady flow of young laborers who came on tourist and student visas to its 35-acre compound in rural Spindale, North Carolina. The Brazilians often spoke little English when they arrived and many had their passports seized. "We're made to get up early, make the kids' breakfast, cook, do their beds, pick up their laundry," said Rebeca Melo, a former Word of Faith Fellowship member. 

* * * * *

Brazilians Funneled As "Slaves" By US Church, Ex-members Say

When Andre Oliveira answered the call to leave his Word of Faith Fellowship congregation in Brazil to move to the mother church in North Carolina at the age of 18, his passport and money were confiscated by church leaders — for safekeeping, he said he was told.

Trapped in a foreign land, he said he was forced to work 15 hours a day, usually for no pay, first cleaning warehouses for the evangelical church and later working at businesses owned by the sect's senior ministers. Any violation of the rules risked the wrath of church leaders, he said, ranging from beatings to shaming from the pulpit.

An Associated Press investigation has found that Word of Faith Fellowship used its two church branches in Brazil to siphon a steady flow of young laborers who came on tourist and student visas to its 35-acre compound in rural Spindale. The Brazilians often spoke little English when they arrived and many had their passports seized.

"They kept us as slaves," Oliveira told the AP. "How can you do that to people — claim you love them and then beat them in the name of God?"

Under U.S. law, visitors on tourist visas are prohibited from performing work for which people normally would be compensated. Those on student visas are allowed some work, under circumstances that were not met at Word of Faith Fellowship, the AP found.

In 2014, three former congregants told an assistant U.S. attorney that the Brazilians were being forced to work without pay, according to a recording of the meeting obtained by the AP.

Jill Rose, now the U.S. attorney in Charlotte, promised she would "take a fresh look at it," according to the recording. But the former members said she never responded when they repeatedly tried to contact her in the months after the meeting.

Rose declined to comment to the AP, citing an ongoing investigation.

Oliveira, who fled the church last year, is one of 16 Brazilian former members who told the AP they were made to work while being subjected to physical or verbal assaults.

Former congregant Jay Plummer, an American, supervised remodeling projects for a church's leader business and confirmed the Brazilians' assertions that the U.S. workers who labored alongside them were paid while they were not.

The revelations of forced labor are the latest in an ongoing AP investigation exposing decades of abuse at Word of Faith Fellowship. Based on exclusive interviews with 43 former members, documents and secretly made recordings, the AP reported in February that congregants were regularly punched and choked in an effort to "purify" sinners by beating out devils.

The church has rarely been sanctioned since it was founded in 1979 by Jane Whaley, a former math teacher, and her husband, Sam. Another previous AP report outlined how congregants were ordered by church leaders to lie to authorities investigating reports of abuse.

The AP made repeated attempts to obtain comments for this story from church leaders in both countries, but they did not respond.

Under Jane Whaley's leadership, the church grew from a handful of followers to about 750 congregants in North Carolina and nearly 2,000 members in its churches in Brazil and Ghana and affiliations in Sweden, Scotland and other countries.

Whaley and her lieutenants travel several times a year to the Brazilian branches, in the southeastern cities of Sao Joaquim de Bicas and Franco da Rocha.

She tells the Brazilian members of her flock that they can improve their lives and relationships with God with pilgrimages to Spindale, according to several of those interviewed.

Some said they also were enticed with the chance to attend college, to learn English, to see a bit of the U.S. Others said they felt they had no choice but to travel to North Carolina.

Perhaps to circumvent the rules against employment, church leaders sometimes referred to the forced labor projects as "volunteer work," according to Brazilians interviewed in both countries.

Many females worked as babysitters and in the church's K-12 school, and many males worked in construction, the former members said. The work included ripping out walls and installing drywall in apartments owned and rented out by a senior church minister, they said.

"It was slave labor," said Rebeca Melo, 29, who grew up in the church in Brazil and visited the U.S. about 10 times.

Whaley's brand of "love" also played a key role in enticing Brazilian males to Spindale — and keeping them there once their visas expired, according to former members of the church.

Ten of those interviewed spoke of male Brazilians obtaining green cards for permanent residency and being able to legally work by being married off to female American congregants.

It is illegal to enter a sham marriage for the purpose of avoiding U.S. immigration laws.

"I can count at least five or six Brazilian guys that moved here to marry an American girl," Melo said. "They would never, ever, ever consider letting you date somebody outside of the church."

From The Associated Press (July 24, 2017)