Literacy: the Price of Liberty

Y’all need to stop reading the news.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the effort. You should want to be informed and involved. That’s what I want for you, to pay attention.

Your news is garbage though. I mean read Reuters. Read UPI. Read AP, Interfax, and CBC. Please. Sift newsfeeds as if there really was gold in those sandy hills.

But don’t read the news. When you read outlets like HuffPo, when you read the Wall Street Journal or USA  Today or the New York Times you’re just going to end up reading repackaged establishment tripe courtesy of some rattle-headed mouthpiece like David Brooks.

The same way we don’t need you people smoking crack and thinking it’s coffee we also don’t need you reading David Brooks and mistaking that for the news.

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s talk about this asshole. Let’s talk about David Brooks. 

David Brooks is a prolific liar and weirdly attention-hungry for someone who looks like your most boring high school English teacher. He’s a degenerate who needs to reevaluate his place in this world before a higher power sees fit to judge his misguided ways. Let’s not mince words. This sack of shit hawked his most recent New York Times bestseller — The Road to Character — with an entire publicity campaign resting upon a false and misleading statistic that he invented and peddled to shame children he knows nothing about.

‘Character’ indeed.

Just last week David Brooks wrote a spare 800 word defense of the oft-maligned Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. More or less the entire piece is a nakedly dishonest defense of the White House’s arrogant refusal to acknowledge any criticism or concern over the trade deal or its secretive negotiations.

I’ve made a lot of strong claims already though, so let’s let David speak for himself. Where exactly in this one particular column does Mr. Brooks go so wrong that I feel the need to call him a water-headed fluffer to the new Washington stud pony?

The North American Free Trade Agreement, for example, probably didn’t affect the American economy too much. But the Mexican economy has taken off. With more opportunities, Mexican workers feel less need to sneak into the U.S.

Well David, not exactly. “One lofty, unrealized promise of NAFTA was that the treaty would narrow the gap between the per capita incomes of Mexico, the United States, and Canada. Per capita income in Mexico rose at an annual average of 1.2 percent over the past two decades, from $6,932 in 1994 to $8,397 in 2012, far slower than Latin American countries such as Brazil, Chile, and Peru. NAFTA was also expected to discourage Mexican emigration to the United States, yet despite the 2007–2009 recession and increased deportations, Mexican-born people living in the United States doubled since 1994 to 12 million in 2013.” 

Many effects of NAFTA are still controversial but they are hardly an unalloyed win for average Mexicans or citizens of the US. “[Economists] agree that gains have been accompanied by some painful side effects. Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, notes that wages haven’t kept pace with labor productivity and that income inequality has risen in recent years, in part due to pressures on the U.S. manufacturing base […] Thea M. Lee is policy director for the AFL-CIO, which opposes NAFTA and lobbies against other free trade agreements as unfair to U.S. workers and corporations unless they include provisions that require signatory countries to raise labor and environmental standards. Lee argues one of the main upshots of the deal has been to ‘force workers into more direct competition with each other, while assuring them fewer rights and protections.'”

In Asia, the American-led open trade era has created the greatest reduction in poverty in human history.

At the same time it’s allowed the US and other “developed nations” to offshore externalities like the life threatening smog and crippling industrial pollution that the Chinese people now live with. That’s just the cost of exploiting the US demand for cheap unregulated labor.

Meanwhile, though many Asian nations are seeing rising GDP and living standards they are also following the global trend of channeling the bulk of the global economy’s largesse to a small financial elite. The Gini coefficient measuring economic inequality in China almost doubled from 1980 to 2010 ). India’s followed a similar course with income inequality almost doubling over 20 years.

Service-sector industries like these are where America is strongest, where the opportunities for innovation are the most exciting and where wages are already 20 percent higher than in manufacturing.

In an economy with a stagnating or collapsing manufacturing sector that’s not a particularly compelling statistic.

Imperil world peace

The Pacific region will either be organized by American rules or Chinese rules. By voting against the trade deal, Democrats went a long way toward guaranteeing that Chinese rules will dominate.

The clear implication here by Brooks is that allowing Chinese influence in their own backyard will somehow lead directly to threats to world peace. This is a bizarre non sequitur. Just compare how many open military conflicts China is involved in or organizing compared to how many the United States is openly involved in or has been involved in within the last fifteen years.

Meanwhile the Russian intervention in Ukraine conveniently illustrates what happens when the United States attempts to assert hegemony on the borders of another great power. In case anyone falls for the “naked aggression” narrative of Russia and the Ukraine consider comments this week by Russia’s ambassador to Sweden, Viktor Tatarintsev, “at what he called an “aggressive propaganda campaign” by Swedish media [… H]e underlined that if Sweden were to abandon its alliance neutrality and join the Western military organization, Russia would adopt “counter measures”.” If TPP is to threaten world peace it would only be by way of weakening China’s influence in its own geopolitical backyard.

Some Democrats are suspicious because it was negotiated in secret. (They seem to have no trouble with the Iranian nuclear treaty, which is also negotiated in secret.)

Brooks ignores that the Democrats are hardly undivided about a “fast track” executive passage of the Iran agreement either. Either way, these are two entirely different situations.

The Iran negotiations are defense and nuclear related talks between a small group of nations, some of which excluded even US allies: “discussions were kept hidden even from America’s closest friends, including its negotiating partners and Israel, until [Sep 2013]”. The very matters under discussion are issues of national security and there would be no discussions without guarantees of strict confidentiality on all sides. Simply getting those guarantees is a major hurdle toward beginning any such negotiations. Whether or not Congress has a say in the treaty’s eventual approval is immaterial to the secrecy of the Iran negotiations.

TPP on the other hand is only a secret to the civilians of the nations it would affect. It’s a multilateral trade deal including Mexico, Japan, Australia, and the US. All of its provisions will be entirely public once signed and are entirely public to the many transnational corporations who are already party to the negotiations process. It’s preposterous to argue that the negotiations must be kept secret from non-signatory nations for security reasons. The only obvious purpose behind TPP’s secrecy is to keep the populations of its proposed signatory nations from reading the proposal and becoming involved in the process.

That is not iron-clad proof of the treaty’s nefarious purpose but unnecessary secrecy should always inspire suspicion. Brooks’ specious comparison to talks with Iran is a slight of hand trick aimed to disarm pro-peace Democrats and the sort of independents who fantasize a hassle-free government, neither seen nor heard.
If Brooks sees a tangible benefit to TPP, despite being unable to read it in its entirety, then he’s welcome to argue his point. Painting all opposition to a secret, corporate-negotiated international trade deal as conspiratorial fringe lunacy is simply not accurate and not fair. Brooks’ good buddy Mr. Obama once quoted Justice Brandeis — though Brooks and Obama both seem to have forgotten it sometime since the 2008 inauguration — “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.

These aren’t trivial mistakes. If this was the argument your buddy at the bar made this might be excusable. That’s because your buddy at the bar is half drunk and doesn’t have a research staff and fact checkers available to him. David Brooks does. When Brooks lies to you he has a team of friends who all read his lies and approved them. He and they were all paid to read what he said and then send it on to you.

Whether it’s the outright fables in his books that he offers as social commentary or it’s his unceasing parade of laughably ignorant editorials Brooks is another resounding example of the abject failure of the mainstream news media to engage constructively and adversarially with the powers that be. The Times bestows an aura of trustworthiness to Brooks, its own legacy conferring legitimacy and provenance to Brooks’ columns. In exchange Brooks, a natural toady and trite stenographer for the faux-intellectual establishment, spouts portentous sounding doggerel. He threatens calamity and war and disaster if we don’t all go along with the administration’s (and the Congressional Republicans’) plans to jam through a covertly bargained TPP. Every one of those threats is clearly gibberish the second you compare them to reality.

If the press is going to come out in favor of the policies of the ruling party it should be defending those policies against unfair or fallacious attacks. Instead, Brooks and the New York Times are defending the administration’s TPP stance with unfair and fallacious propaganda.

The ostensible purpose of the fabled Fourth Estate is to offer adversarial challenges to the forces that would deceive us and exploit a misinformed public. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution includes a freedom to speak even inconvenient truths to the powerful. So when I tell you to stop reading the news I don’t mean that you should be uninformed or ignore current event. I mean ignore The News.

We have freedom of the press so we also have a press free to lie and connive against its audience. That free speech comes with the responsibility to critically examine the speaker. Listening is just the first half of the citizen’s job. Rights are responsibilities in sloth’s clothing.

Stop paying attention to ossified mouthpieces for the establishment that sell crony corruption and secret handshake deals with shoddy and insincere punditry.

For god’s sake, stop reading David Brooks.

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2 thoughts on “Literacy: the Price of Liberty

  1. Michael Hilliker

    How about advocating that people learn to assess the authors first, instead of just swearing off reading any particular publication? Learn their political or social leanings, religious delusions or spiritual revelations (Brooks is an emerging Christian.) The ability to decipher any salient points (should they exist) vs the spin, allows people to consume virtually anything without fear of accidental indoctrination. Give a man a fish…

    I happen to agree with most of your assessment of Brooks. Although I don’t see him as the asshole that you do, he veers into lazy generalizations and his writing can come off a bit convoluted at times.

    1. William Parke Post author

      I’ll confess to some conscious hyperbole on this one. The problem though is that as much as I do support people learning to critically read this sort of material I also have to realistically accept that not everyone will. That’s why there are pundits in the first place, to distill complicated issues for nonexpert consumption. While gentlemen of leisure such as ourselves may have the luxury of deconstructing Brookses and Friedmans for sport or profit most people either can not or just do not dedicate hours of their day to this shit. If people didn’t need trustworthy abbreviated and encapsulated news then Brooks wouldn’t have a column in the Times to begin with.

      When someone like Brooks is butchering statistics, making unqualified statements of fact about controversial subjects, and offering appealingly deceptive analogies like his fast track/Iran shpiel, then he’s being ignorant, lazy, or just flat out lying. I can handle pundits making ideological arguments but when they peddle juked stats and fallacious arguments to do so then they’re assholes. Brooks might be a sweetheart at home but professionally he’s negligent, and his job is to influence popular opinion on matters that materially affect peoples’ lives. A train conductor drunk on the job is an asshole, and so is David Brooks.

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