Tag Archives: David Brooks

Our Pointless, Vicious, Very American Culture of Shame

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Puritanism’s obsession with guilt and shame, Nathaniel Hawthorne believed, was America’s original sin. We haven’t made much progress since “The Scarlet Letter.”

Do the crime do the time, goes the cliché. In the United States, when the time ends the shaming begins.

It starts when you look for a job. At least 65 million Americans have a felony or misdemeanor criminal record that makes them ineligible to work for the more than 90% of companies who run background checks to weed out applicants with a record. As for the few ex-cons who slip through this electronic dragnet, they are required by shaming laws to tell prospective employers about their checkered past. (Some states have slightly liberalized the requirement with laws like New York’s “Ban the Box” law, which requires disclosure only at the job offer stage.)

The only social benefit to convict-shaming is the shaming itself. “The irony is that employers’ attempts to safeguard the workplace are not only barring many people who pose little to no risk, but they also are compromising public safety. As studies have shown, providing individuals the opportunity for stable employment actually lowers crime recidivism rates and thus increases public safety,” notes a 2011 report by the National Employment Law Project. But capitalism is dog-eat-dog. Each company looks out for itself, society be damned.

I dug into the issue of convict-shaming after an op-ed I wrote for the Wall Street Journal calling for automatic expungement of records of people previously convicted of buying recreational marijuana in amounts that would now be legal prompted a discussion online. Some readers agreed with me that it’s absurd to keep punishing people for acts that are now legal. Others felt that if it was a crime at the time a criminal is still a criminal.

In most countries most employers do not conduct criminal background checks and there is no legal or ethical expectation that ex-cons reveal that they have committed a crime.

A person is convicted, sentenced to prison time and/or to pay a fine, serves the term and coughs up the money. Isn’t there a logical contradiction between release—which assumes an inmate no longer presents a danger to society—and public shaming? I am thinking of one of the most extreme examples of convict-shaming, Megan’s Law. Based on the false assumption that sex offenders have a high rate of recidivism, these statutes require that released inmates register in a database and notify local police and their neighbors of their address.

“What we’ve done,” Radley Balko wrote in The Washington Post in 2017, “is allowed sex offenders to be ‘released’ from prison, but then made it impossible for them to live anything resembling normal lives.” Websites linked to Google Maps allow anyone to check if their neighbor is a convicted sex offender. In some jurisdictions sex offenders are not allowed to reside within a set distance of a school or public park. In 2017 President Obama signed an “international Megan’s Law” that requires sex offenders against children to have the sentence “The bearer was convicted of a sex offense against a minor” stamped into their U.S. passports. So much for business travel.

Why such laws are popular is obvious. If a child molester lives down the block, parents want to know.

But vigilantes have used public Megan’s Law registries to locate and murder released sex offenders. In some communities the school and park restrictions are so draconian that there are so few legal places for released sex offenders to live that they’re forced to become homeless in order to comply with the law. All that harassment serves no real purpose except—you guessed it—serving the desire for cheap vengeance. “The [Megan’s Law] registry really didn’t protect kids at all” because “most child sexual abuse takes place in the home” and most of the victims of sex offenders listed in Megan’s Law databases are adults, says criminologist Emily Horowitz, author of Protecting Our Kids?: How Sex Offender Laws Are Failing Us.

To look at it another way: if sex offenders are dangerous, shouldn’t we keep them locked up rather than rely on mere shaming? Megan’s Law can’t stop a child molester from raping a child.

David Brooks of The New York Times has the latest MSM take on what he calls the “Call-Out Culture,” in which self-appointed guardians of identity politics (critics call them “social justice warriors”) swarm those accused of political incorrectness on social media feeds in order to shame, ostracize and demoralize them. “I don’t care if she’s dead, alive, whatever,” a man who went after a young women (ironically in retaliation for cyberbullying) told NPR.

Chinese Internet users have elevated doxxing and social media shaming to a high art called the “human flesh search engine” that costs victims their friends, family associations, jobs and sometimes their lives. But China is an outlier. While the phenomenon exists everywhere anecdotal evidence suggests that online “call-out culture” is neither as sophisticated or widespread in most nations as it is here in the United States.

It’s impossible to discuss shame culture without talking about the #MeToo movement. Criminal prosecution of accused sexual predators like Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey are exceptions. For the most part #MeToo is a shame-based movement. Sometimes, as in the case of comedian Aziz Ansari’s bad date, shame seems excessive and misplaced. In many cases, the targets seem to have had something coming—since it’s not jail we settle for job loss—and it’s unlikely they would have faced consequences otherwise. Then there are those who-the-hell-knows cases like Louis C.K. where the behavior was weird and pervy and consent is a nebulous issue (he asked, the women involved “laughed it off”).

#MeToo has a mixed record. I can’t help wonder if, for all the shattered careers and former celebrities who now take their meals at home rather than eating out at a fancy restaurant, the victims feel cheated. On the one hand, something finally happened to their tormentors. On the other, shame fades. Trauma is often forever.

Evildoers deserve real punishment. After punishment has been doled out shame is both a poor substitute and counterproductive overkill. But it’s what we’ve got.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Everyone But the Media Saw Trumpism Coming

  If you suck at your job, you’ll get fired.

If you suck because you’re lazy, you’ll definitely get fired.

Unless you’re a member of the political and economic establishment of a disintegrating superstate. If you’re incompetent and indolent but reliably loyal and unquestioning, your sinecure in the system that props up the powers that be is safe.

The New York Times, an institution so beholden to the establishment that it subjects a major presidential candidate to a media blackout and Orwellian post-publication memory-holing, is this week’s case study in establishmentarian unaccountability.

After effectively donating nearly half a billion dollars of free media coverage to the campaign of Donald Trump (or is it $1.9 billion? who can count?), corporate media is finally beginning to wonder whether teeing the country up for its first potential bona fide fascist dictatorship was a good idea.

In the Times, reliably mistaken op-ed columnist David Brooks allowed that, just maybe, opinion mongers like him ought to have noticed the building voter outrage over “free trade” deals like NAFTA and TPP — agreements supported by him and his paper’s editorial board — that gutted America’s industrial heartland and are driving the Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump campaigns. “Trump voters are a coalition of the dispossessed. They have suffered lost jobs, lost wages, lost dreams. The American system is not working for them, so naturally they are looking for something else,” Brooks wrote March 18th.

“Moreover,” continued the man who thought invading Iraq would be a cakewalk, “many in the media, especially me, did not understand how they would express their alienation. We expected Trump to fizzle because we were not socially intermingled with his supporters and did not listen carefully enough. For me, it’s a lesson that I have to change the way I do my job if I’m going to report accurately on this country.”

This is a stunning admission.

Let’s set aside the question of how likely it is that Brooks really will make the effort to get out more. (My guess: not very.) Why should the Times ­— and, more to the point, the readers whose paid subscriptions pay Brooks’ salary — keep a man on staff who admits that he sucks at his job because he’s too lazy to interact with the American people?

Brooks deserves to have plenty of company as he walks the unemployment version of the Long Green Mile.

On March 28th fellow Timesman Nicholas Kristof, famous for taking young men and women to Third World nations devastated by U.S. foreign policy (though I doubt he tells them why those dumps look so dumpy), went even further, in a piece titled “My Shared Shame: The Media Helped Make Trump.”

“We were largely oblivious to the pain among working-class Americans and thus didn’t appreciate how much his message resonated,” Kristof wrote.

Most Americans are working-class. In other words, Kristof and his colleagues admit they don’t cover the problems that affect most Americans. Again: why does he still have a job?

Believe it or not, there are scores — maybe hundreds — of opinion writers who do know what’s going on in their own country. Who write well. Who get stories right. Pundits who saw the Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders populist phenomena coming. But you won’t find any of them in the print pages of major newspapers like the Times, or even in the low-pay ghettos of their web-only content.

Because you can’t be a good journalist and a shill for a corporate media obsessed with access to the powers that be.

As usual in these moments of MSM navel-gazing, they almost get it right. Kristof continues: “Media elites rightly talk wabout our insufficient racial, ethnic and gender diversity, but we also lack economic diversity. We inhabit a middle-class world and don’t adequately cover the part of America that is struggling and seething. We spend too much time talking to senators, not enough to the jobless.”

Class diversity is a real thing. Newsrooms at stodgy institutions like the Times have their token women and people of color, but most are women and POC from well-off families. They attend expensive journalism schools that don’t offer scholarships, and thus don’t produce graduates from poor families and towns. As Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton prove, coming from a traditionally disadvantaged minority group is no guarantee that someone understands or cares about the troubles of the economically oppressed.

More to the point, we need a new class of intuitive journalists. Men and women with empathy. People who have a clue about what’s happening in their own country.

(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “Bernie” is now on sale online and at all good bookstores.)

 

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Where Are the Passionate Editors?

          Stipulated: David Brooks isn’t that smart.

As editor of The Weekly Standard — the neo-con rag that served as the warmongering Der Sturmer of the Bushies — he endorsed the unprovoked U.S. invasion of Iraq.

He wrote a book, “Bobos in Paradise” (the “bobos” are “bourgeous bohemians”) that, aside from having the lamest title in the history of movable type attempted to coin a phrase to alongside “yuppies” and “hipsters” but never stood a chance.

Every now and then, however, the New York Times op-ed writer whose take on things uncannily mimics whatever happens to be the 50.000-yard line of mainstream corporatist politics writes something worth reading. (This distinguishes him from fellow militant centrist Tom Friedman.)

Brooks’ October 23rd column “Lady Gaga and the Life of Passion” is one of his more thought-provoking pieces, though probably not for a reason he might have hoped.

Born of staring-down-a-deadline laziness, “Gaga” came out of that most bobo of activities, sitting on one’s ass at a benefit dinner in a hotel banquet room. The shindig was thrown by Americans for the Arts, but that’s not important.

Brooks was enthralled by the musician Lady Gaga, who received an award. He quoted her: “I suppose that I didn’t know what I would become, but I always wanted to be extremely brave and I wanted to be a constant reminder to the universe of what passion looks like. What it sounds like. What it feels like.”

Brooks mused: “That passage stuck in the head and got me thinking. When we talk about living with passion, which is sort of a cliché, what exactly do we mean?”

I won’t rehash Brooks’ discourse about living with passion. Click the link if you’re so moved; he’s competent enough at expressing himself.

What struck me was Brooks’ hypocrisy.

Here is a man who, whatever else one can say about him, decidedly does not live his life with passion. He does not take risks. He does not say what he really thinks or really means, because doing so would greatly reduce his income stream. I mean, invading Iraq — seriously? No one with a brain thought that would go well. Even Brooks’ vocal delivery, as seen on NPR and PBS, defines the term “flat affect.”

More damning, he does not endorse the struggles of those who do live with the passion he praises in people like Lady Gaga.

To read him, you’d almost believe Brooks really, truly admires artists and others who take a chance. “[A] trait that marks them is that they have high levels of both vulnerability and courage. As Martha Nussbaum wrote in her great book ‘Upheavals of Thought,’ to be emotional is to attach yourself to something you value supremely but don’t fully control. To be passionate is to put yourself in danger,” Brooks writes.

In this Brooks is absolutely right.

My chosen profession, political satire and commentary, is a high-wire act. To be really funny, to be really incisive, you have to be willing to express opinions that are unpopular — not provocation for its own sake, but in the service of ideas that are necessary to express.

If you’re any good as a political cartoonist, or artist, or singer, you’ll spend your career accumulating enemies. I draw 200 or 300 cartoons and write at least 100 essays a year. That comes to roughly 3500 pieces a decade, each expressing a political opinion. Not too many fans will stick with you through the one or 10 or 100 things you draw or write that really, really piss them off — even if they absolutely adored the other 90% of your work.

If the world needs artists with passion, as Brooks argues and I agree, how do we support them, emotionally as well as economically?

“People with passion have the courage to be themselves with abandon,” Brooks points out. “We all care what others think about us. People with passion are just less willing to be ruled by the tyranny of public opinion.”

Right. For passionate artists to survive or even thrive, then, cultural gatekeepers must themselves be willing to defy public opinion. There is no Lady Gaga without record company executives and concert promoters willing to distribute her music and put on her appearances.

There is no Ted Rall without editors willing to publish my work.

Editors are wimps. Journalists say that all the time. That was probably always true — but there were fewer wimps and more heroes in the past.

One of my first editors, at the Vandalia Chronicle in Ohio, got fired over one of my cartoons, about Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. I was in high school. When she called to tell me the news, I felt awful. She was cheery. Courage came naturally to her.

I can’t imagine an editor being willing to lose his job over something I drew today. I was fired by The Los Angeles Times last summer over a charge that was quickly proven to have been trumped up — yet no one at the Times spoke out, much less resigned, over an obvious injustice in the service of censorship. Years of budget cuts and downsizing have made editors who still have their jobs terrified of rocking the boat. All they want to do is coast to retirement before getting fired.

Brooks on the passionate: “There’s even sometimes a certain recklessness there, a willingness to throw their imperfect selves out into public view while not really thinking beforehand how people might react.”

True — but this will stop happening when there’s no one left to catch the passionate when they fall.

At the Times, where Brooks works, there has never been a columnist who truly took chances — much less one whose ideology was truly challenging to the status quo. There has never been a review of a truly revolutionary book, or CD, or play. “Experts,” though frequently wrong, are always drawn from among the usual middlebrow elites.

Brooks could dig deep into avant garde culture and politics if he wanted to. Which he clearly doesn’t. Every year around the December holidays, for example, he releases a list of magazine articles he recommends. Never, ever will you find him praising something that didn’t appear in the mainstream media.

There’s something really, truly weird about reading a paean to passion in a paper so dedicated to crushing it.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net, is the author of the new book “Snowden,” the biography of the NSA whistleblower. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.CO

Cops’ Right to Privately Beat Suspects Shall Not Be Infringed

New York Times columnist David Brooks came out in a recent column as a strident proponent of privacy. Not for you and me, mind you, but for policemen whose right to privately beat people will be infringed upon by body cameras.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Gun Control Talk Is Cheap. A Sane Mental Health System Is Not.

Guess Which Policy Prescription We Hear After Shooting Sprees?

It is, unfortunately, necessary to state the obvious after America’s latest mass shooting in Colorado. Like: we don’t know why James Holmes, the 24-year-old suspect, shot up that movie theater. We don’t know his mental state. Given the legal presumption of innocence, we shouldn’t write with certainty that it was him.

Given how the 24-hour news cycle has expanded the American media’s love of speculation, however, the Batman Bloodbath became fodder for political policy prescriptions the moment the first round left the chamber of Holmes’ (or whomever’s) AR-15.

We saw it after Columbine, when conservatives blamed goth, video games and the so-called “trenchcoat mafia.” Liberals (me included) set their sights on bullying jocks. Both sides were wrong—Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were probably mentally ill, simply victims of one or more not-so-simple personality disorders—yet the political debate ultimately prompted schools to adopt increased security measures and zero tolerance policies against bullying. State legislatures passed minor gun control laws.

Which may have been good ideas. But they didn’t stop it from happening again.

The gun control debate took center stage after student Seung-Hui Cho shot 32 people to death at Virginia Tech in 2007. Liberals said people with a history of mental health issues shouldn’t be able to buy guns. Arguing that Cho’s victims would have been able to defend themselves had they been packing, right-wingers pushed to allow students to carry weapons on campuses.

Some commentators wondered aloud whether the United States should make it easier for people with mental health issues to seek and obtain help. But that line of discussion was quickly drowned out by the gun control debate.

Now the pattern is repeating itself. We know what happened, but we don’t know why.

We know that high-powered automatic weaponry was involved. Most of us assume that Holmes, though purportedly intelligent and educated, was deranged; why else would anyone slaughter innocent strangers in a movie theater?

Given these assumptions, which may turn out be wrong—the Fort Hood shooter, thought by some to be suffering from PTSD, was most likely “self radicalized” by U.S. foreign policy, making the killings a political act—it follows that we would try to prevent future similar tragedies by promoting policies in line with our personal ideological preconceptions, and that the political class and their media allies would promote themselves by marketing such “solutions” to us voters and consumers.

Setting aside the caveat that we still don’t know why it happened, the big guns/crazy young white guy dynamic leads to two obvious policy prescriptions: gun control and improving access to mental health care. Post-Aurora, we’re seeing a lot of the former, including calls for numerical limits on ammo sales—but relatively few of the latter. David Brooks, a conservative columnist at The New York Times, is an interesting exception. “These killers are primarily the product of psychological derangements, not sociological ones,” Brooks writes. But even he won’t call for a national War on Mental Illness: “The best way to prevent killing sprees is with relationships—when one person notices that a relative or neighbor is going off the rails and gets that person treatment before the barbarism takes control. But there also has to be a more aggressive system of treatment options, especially for men in their 20s.”

Well, yes. But not everyone has a relative or a concerned neighbor. Without a real commitment to treating, and thus destigmatizing mental illness—in other words, providing free, simple and easy access to mental health professionals for everyone—they’re empty words.

A 2008 study found that six percent of Americans suffer from serious mental illnesses, which resulted in an estimated economic loss of $200 billion annually in lost earnings. (This doesn’t include the one-quarter of the population who have less serious, diagnosable conditions.)

Sixty percent of people with mental illness seek no treatment whatsoever. It’s easy to see why: Americans with limited funds must make do with a lame hodgepodge of options when they feel themselves going off the rails: suicide prevention hotlines, support groups, and absurdly low allocations of shrink visits under group insurance plans.

Along with vision and dental care, mental health is an ugly stepsister of America’s frayed healthcare infrastructure, regarded as a supplemental luxury, and funded accordingly. If it isn’t overturned by a Romney Administration, Obama’s Affordable Care Act will help make “mental health parity”—forcing insurers to treat mental illness at the same priority level as physical ailments—a practical reality. But, failing a public option—or, what we really need, fully socialized medicine—the overall plan doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Gun control talk is cheap. A national mental healthcare system that works would be expensive.

Would either one prevent the next shooting spree? Maybe. Maybe not. Like zero tolerance for bullying, they might be a good idea no matter what—but we won’t be any closer to a solution.

(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com)

(C) 2012 TED RALL, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

AL JAZEERA COLUMN: How the US Media Marginalizes Dissent

The US media derides views outside of the mainstream as ‘un-serious’, and our democracy suffers as a result.

“Over the past few weeks, Washington has seemed dysfunctional,” conservative columnist David Brooks opined recently in The New York Times. “Public disgust [about the debt ceiling crisis] has risen to epic levels. Yet through all this, serious people—Barack Obama, John Boehner, the members of the Gang of Six—have soldiered on.”

Here’s some of what Peter Coy of Business Week magazine had to say about the same issue: “There is a comforting story about the debt ceiling that goes like this: Back in the 1990s, the U.S. was shrinking its national debt at a rapid pace. Serious people actually worried about dislocations from having too little government debt…”

Fox News, the Murdoch-owned house organ of America’s official right-wing, asserted: “No one seriously thinks that the U.S. will not honor its obligations, whatever happens with the current impasse on President Obama’s requested increase to the government’s $14.3 trillion borrowing limit.”

“Serious people.”

“No one seriously thinks.”

The American media deploys a deep and varied arsenal of rhetorical devices in order to marginalize opinions, people and organizations as “outside the mainstream” and therefore not worth listening to. For the most part the people and groups being declaimed belong to the political Left. To take one example, the Green Party—well-organized in all 50 states—is never quoted in newspapers or invited to send a representative to television programs that purport to present “both sides” of a political issue. (In the United States, “both sides” means the back-and-forth between center-right Democrats and rightist Republicans.)

Marginalization is the intentional decision to exclude a voice in order to prevent a “dangerous” opinion from gaining currency, to block a politician or movement from becoming more powerful, or both. In 2000 the media-backed consortium that sponsored the presidential debate between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George W. Bush banned Green Party candidate Ralph Nader from participating. Security goons even threatened to arrest him when he showed up with a ticket and asked to be seated in the audience. Nader is a liberal consumer advocate who became famous in the U.S. for stridently advocating for safety regulations, particularly on automobiles.

Read the full article at Al Jazeera English.