The cable broadcast which didn't bark!

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2020

Coe interview disappears:
What happened in the world of cable news last Thursday evening?

Thank you for asking! All in all, the Fox News programs outrated their MSNBC counterparts by substantial amounts.

You can check the numbers at the TVNewser site. Here's how the numbers break down:

At 8 PM, Tucker Carlson attracted 3.8 million viewers, Chris Hayes just 1.6 million.

At 9 PM, 4.1 million people watched Hannity, as compared to 2.8 million for the Maddow Show.

At 10 PM, Laura Ingraham had 3.6 million viewers, Lawrence just 2.0 million. And at 11 PM, Brian Williams racked up 1.6 million viewers, as compared to Shannon Bream's 1.9 million at Fox.

Brian attracted 1.6 million viewers to last Thursday's 11th Hour—unless you look at MSNBC's newly updated transcripts.

You guessed it! According to MSNBC's updated transcripts, there was no 11th Hour With Brian Williams program last Thursday night at all!

That's right! Ever since the end of last week, we've been waiting for MSNBC to update its transcripts. We wanted to show you excerpts of Brian's interview with Alexis Coe, author of the peculiar new book, You Never Forget Your First.

Coe's new book is remarkably strange. That said, there's a lot to learn from the credulous way major news orgs have bought the manifest nonsense Coe is selling. The major thing we learn is this:

Within the world of our "mainstream press," there's nothing so manifestly absurd that it won't be accepted by one and all, just so long as it promotes a favored tribal narrative. So it goes as Coe pretends to construct a cheeky new biography of George Washington, the nation's original president.

We wanted to show you what Brian and Alexis said last Thursday night. But while MSNBC has posted Brian's transcript for last Friday night's program, and even the transcript for last evening's show, it has skipped right past last Thursday night's show. No transcript is posted at all!

(No transcript appears for last Wednesday night because that was the night of NBC's Democratic debate.)

Coe's book is remarkably strange. The instruction comes when we see the way major news orgs, and major pundits, have accepted her manifestly weird presentations with no questions asked. But so it has gone in the past forty years as our clown-like national discourse has turned into a low-IQ stew of misdirection, entertainment and dust.

Eventually, we think we'll be able to show you what Brian and Alexis said. For today, we'll only report that a certain transcript has gone missing.

According to TVNewser, 1.6 million people watched Brian's show last Thursday night. But according to the slacker channel, there was no such program at all!

THE RATIONAL ANIMAL'S GUARDIANS: What Sanders said in '85!

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2020

What Sanders said last week:
Should Bernie Sanders be the Democratic nominee this year?

We don't have a firm view about that. By traditional standards, every candidate on last night's stage is unelectable. This complicates the decision a primary voter must make.

That said, the sitting president, Donald J. Trump, is also unelectable. And, by the rules of the game, someone has to be elected this year, assuming we have an election.

That conundrum set the stage for last night's embarrassing reenactment of the time-honored bar scene from Star Wars.

Who was worse—the moderators or the hopefuls? Our favorite exchange went like this:
KLOBUCHAR (2/26/20): So I have long supported the assault weapon ban. I am the author of the bill to close the boyfriend loophole that says that domestic abusers can't go out and get an AK-47—

BIDEN: I wrote that law.

KLOBUCHAR: That bill, along with— You didn't write that bill. I wrote that bill.

BIDEN: I wrote the bill, the Violence Against Women Act—

KLOBUCHAR: OK. You did do that.

BIDEN: —that took out of the hands of people who abused their—

KLOBUCHAR: OK. We'll have a fact check look at this.

BIDEN: Let's look at the fact check—

KLOBUCHAR: Oh my goodness.

BIDEN: The only thing that the boyfriend loophole is was not covered. I couldn't get that covered. You, in fact, when you were, as a senator tried to get it covered and Mitch McConnell is holding it up on his desk right now, and we're going to lose the Violence Against Women Act across the board.

KLOBUCHAR: OK. So if I could finish. I have the bill, anyone can check it out, to close the boyfriend loophole.
Who actually wrote the provision which would have closed the boyfriend loophole?

Reportedly, the text came to Biden in a dream when he was imprisoned on Robben Island. Why won't Klobuchar simply accept the basic facts of American history?

For our money, Candidate Biden is pretty much out on his feet. To her credit, Candidate Klobuchar seems to be sane, except when forced to stand within fifty yards of Candidate Buttigieg.

That said, voters were being asked to make their decisions on the basis of exchanges like the one we've posted—an exchange concerning the authorship of a loophole they'd never heard of. And then, there was the giant question—the question concerning what Candidate Sanders (partially) said in The Summer of '85.

As we noted yesterday, the sudden focus on this question comes from the part of modern campaign culture known as No Misdirection Left Behind.

Earlier in this very campaign, Candidate Harris assailed Candidate Biden for a position he'd taken all the way back in the 1970s. But as it turned out, Candidate Harris holds the same position today.

This awkward fact undercut the claims of greatness showered upon Candidate Harris in the aftermath of her attack. But whether it's Candidate Hart's possible girl friend, or Candidate Gore's three-button suits (one of which was brown);

Whether it's Candidate Clinton's treasonous Moscow trip, or Candidate Clinton's "extremely careless" behavior with a bunch of trivial emails;

Whether it's the temper displayed by Candidate Muskie while playing cards with the boys on the bus, or the fact that Candidate Dukakis didn't bunch Bernie Shaw in the nose when Shaw asked a deeply inappropriate question during a 1988 debate;

Whatever form the misdirection of the moment may take, the misdirection will always come when the rich come into our lives. This explains why we're now talking about what Sanders (partially) said in 1985 about a topic which no longer matters, as opposed to what he said last week.

What did Sanders say last week? He said something which is plainly very important! But he said something which, by the rules of the game, simply cannot be pursued within the American discourse.

In Monday's report, we were discussing this forbidden topic before Griff Witte came into our lives. Here's what Sanders last week. He said in the last Democratic debate, the one held near the casinos
SANDERS (2/19/20): Let me be very clear, two points. For a hundred years, from Teddy Roosevelt to Barack Obama, this country has been talking about the need to guarantee health care for all people. And yet today, despite spending twice as much per capita, Chuck, twice as much as any other major country on Earth, we got 87 million who are uninsured or underinsured, we got over 60,000 people who die every year because they don't get to a doctor on time.

We're getting ripped off outrageously by the greed and corruption of a pharmaceutical industry, which in some cases charges us 10 times more for the same drugs because of their price-fixing, Five hundred thousand people go bankrupt every year because they can't afford medical bills.
Thus spake Candidate Sanders—and he says this all the time! But as we noted in Monday's report, the topic goes undiscussed and unreported. By the unwritten rules of the game, this topic simply cannot be discussed within the American discourse.

Instead, we've now zeroed in on (partial) statements by Candidate Sanders from 1985. This is what happens when the rich come into our lives. Stated another way, this is what happens when the rational animal stages its latest charade.

On Monday, we approached this forbidden topic through the rarest of sightings—a front-page report in the Washington Post about American health care spending.

The report was written by Heather Long, an experienced economics reporter. She's the type of reporters who doesn't get asked to appear on MSNBC.

As we noted, Long's front-page report appeared on January 8. It started off like this:
LONG (1/8/20): America’s sky-high health-care costs are so far above what people pay in other countries that they are the equivalent of a hefty tax, Princeton University economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton say. They are surprised Americans aren’t revolting against these taxes.

“A few people are getting very rich at the expense of the rest of us,” Case said at conference in San Diego on Saturday. The U.S. health-care system is “like a tribute to a foreign power, but we’re doing it to ourselves.”

The U.S. health-care system is the most expensive in the world,
costing about $1 trillion more per year than the next-most-expensive system—Switzerland’s. That means U.S. households pay an extra $8,000 per year, compared with what Swiss families pay. Case and Deaton view this extra cost as a “poll tax,” meaning it is levied on every individual regardless of their ability to pay.
As we noted, Case and Deaton were actually understating the size of the annual "poll tax" visited upon the typical American family. If they had compared American health care spending to that in larger nations like England, Canada, France or Japan, the size of the extra annual spending which have been much more dramatic.

Long's report in the Post was a major outlier. This topic has been around forever. It goes to the heart of questions which have long defined our pseudo-discourse—questions about stagnant wages and about federal deficits and debt.

That said, this topic, by the rules of the game, simply cannot be discussed within the mainstream American press. For that reason, we're allowed, indeed encouraged, to discuss what Sanders (partially) said in 1985. But we aren't allowed to discuss a basic question:

Where's all the extra money going? What explains the very large "poll tax" paid by each family each year?

In theory, our journalists and our professors should be rushing into print to discuss this important topic. But, with very rare exceptions, our guardians have long since walked off their posts, and so we face the current situation:

We're encouraged to discuss what Sanders (partially) said in 1985 about a topic which no longer exists. We aren't allowed to discuss what Sanders said on NBC in prime time just last week.

Our guardians from CBS behaved like fools last night. Their inanity and incompetence helped create what happened.

That said, our major news orgs have never tried to explain where all that extra money is going. When Long's report appeared in the Post, it triggered zero discussion.

Rachel continued to worry about how many years Roger Stone would get. Others kept dragging Kornacki before "the big board" to supply us with tons of pointless statistics. (No jacket; sleeves rolled up.)

The entertainment rolls along. But Long's report, a major outlier, came and went without notice.

Last night, we saw the fruits of this very familiar game. What Sanders said last week is extremely important. But, because it can't be discussed, we've returned to things he (partially) said in the summer of '85.

This happens when the rich come into our lives. The other rich won't tell you.

Tomorrow: As with Case and Deaton, so with Katherine Boo

Has MSNBC stopped producing transcripts?

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 25, 2020

Slacker channel cuts back:
Has MSNBC stopped producing transcripts?

We've begun to wonder. As of 6 PM Eastern this very night, transcripts seem to end with last Tuesday night's programs. We're still waiting for the transcript from Brian Williams' program last Thursday night, when Brian hosted alleged historian Alexis Coe to discuss her new, and very strange, book, You Never Forget Your First.

Who cares about Coe's new book, which principally concerns "The Thigh Men of Dad History?" The situation strikes us as highly instructive, not so much because this very strange book was written, or even because the book got published, but because of the way major news orgs, and major pundits, have accepted and affirmed its manifest nonsense with no questions asked.

In many instances, it's been a very long time since news orgs and pundits considered fact checking any claim, no matter how wacky or how improbable, so long as it broadly adheres to prevailing tribal narrative.

Your guardians have gone very far away, and they've also gone to sleep. In their place, we have a collection of pod pundits—sleepwalking boys and girls.

For Mike Pesca's interview with Coe for Slate, you can just click here. The podcast appears beneath these brain-damaged headlines:
Leave George Washington’s Thighs Alone
There’s more to the founding father than just his body
A jumbled transcript is included. In fairness, future anthropologists are already describing Coe's book as "the definitive text of end-times second-wave Dowdism."

As Williams did, Pesca swallows Coe's weird premises with zero questions asked. At this point, does Pesca try to get anything right? Despondent anthropological minds bemusedly want to know!

THE RATIONAL ANIMAL'S GUARDIANS: This day was always going to come!

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 25, 2020

When guardians attack:
This day was always going to come.

More precisely, this day was always going to come if Candidate Sanders became the Democratic nominee, or if it seemed he was getting close.

"If history teaches us anything," it teaches that it's better for this day to come sooner rather than later.

It would have been better for Democrats, and for Michael Dukakis himself, if the attack on the Massachusetts prison furlough program had come during the primary campaign, rather than later on, during the general election.

Alas! The attack came later on, with Candidate Bush changing William Horton's first name to "Willie." But the attack will always come, as it did this very day on the front page of the Washington Post.

The attack was written by Griff Witte, a well-regarded Princeton man (class of 2000). Near the end of the original version of A Moveable Feast, Hemingway described a different form of the attack which was always going to come.

A Moveable Feast is a memoir of the first, happy years of Hemingway's first marriage. Four pages from the end of the book, the end of the marriage starts like this:
HEMINGWAY: During our last year in the mountains new people came deep into our lives and nothing was ever the same again. The winter of the avalanche was like a happy and innocent winter in childhood compared to the next winter, a nightmare winter disguised as the greatest fun of all, and the marvelous summer that was to follow. It was the year that the rich came into our lives.
The next four pages end the book, with Hemingway composing a self-absolving though brilliantly fashioned account of the way he betrayed his first wife. It all started, Hemingway said, when the rich came into their lives, chasing after his own emerging success.

That's largely what happened today on the front page of the Post. This day was always going to come. This morning, with hard-copy headline included, it started like this:
WITTE (2/25/20): Rivals rip Sanders' past praise of Communists

The mayor of tiny Burlington, Vt., was back from Nicaragua and eager to share the good news.

The country’s Soviet-backed government—forged via armed rebellion—was cutting infant mortality, reducing illiteracy and redistributing land to peasant farmers. Its Sandinista leaders, branded terrorists by the U.S. government, impressed him with “their intelligence and their sincerity.”

Three years later, Bernie Sanders was fresh off the plane from Moscow
, reveling in the beauty of the land and the contentedness of the people.
That headline might make readers think that the piece is about what Sanders' "rivals" have said. In fact, Sanders is being "ripped" today by the Washington Post itself, in a way which is thoroughly familiar and was always going to come.

It's better that it's coming now. But it wouldn't hurt to understand the way these formats work.

As he starts, Witte almost seems to forget that our own nation, the United States, was "forged via armed rebellion" too. We're currently being told that you never forget your first (president), but our first president engaged in years of armed rebellion, as many other people have done.

Today's attack really began when Anderson Cooper came into our lives. On Sunday, he interviewed Sanders on 60 Minutes. The exchange in question was presented as shown:
COOPER (2/23/20): (Voiceover) Back in the 1980s, Sanders had some positive things to say about the former Soviet Union and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

Here he is explaining why the Cuban people didn't rise up and help the U.S. overthrow Cuban leader Fidel Castro:


SANDERS (videotape from the 1980s): He educated their kids, gave them health care, totally transformed the society, you know?

SANDERS: We're very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba but you know, it's unfair to simply say everything is bad. You know? When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?

COOPER: A lot of political dissidents were imprisoned in Cuba.

SANDERS: That's right. And we condemn that. Unlike Donald Trump, let's be clear, you want to—

I do not think that Kim Jong Un is a good friend. I don't trade love letters with a murdering dictator. Vladimir Putin, not a great friend of mine.
We don't get to see the actual question Cooper asked in real time. But understand this:

In this exchange, Sanders was being asked about things he said more than thirty years ago. Viewers were offered one tiny example of the allegedly troubling things he said.

If our society's guardians hadn't abandoned their posts a long time ago, viewers might be wary concerning the capacity of such presentations to shed much more heat than light. That's especially true if major news orgs can edit the interview in which the topic is raised.

Alas! Our guardians quit us a long time ago! Our journalists are routinely fatuous, are often tools of power. Our academics (including our "logicians") are strongly inclined to be lost in the weeds of super-specialization.

Given the general silence of our journalists and our academics, very few people ever step forward to challenge the ways of our upper-end press corps. We the people have rarely been schooled in the ways of selective presentation.

Our guardians walked away long ago. In their place are people like Witte, people who adopt the trappings of the guardian role.

This has led to many heavily tilted attacks on past presidential candidates. Note the sanitized way Witte remembers one of these past attacks:
WITTE: Sanders is not the first would-be president to confront scrutiny over long-ago travels. When he ran in 1992, Bill Clinton faced questions over a 1969 trip to the Soviet Union. John F. Kerry, the Democrats’ 2004 nominee, took heat from Republicans for a 1985 visit to Nicaragua—the same year that Sanders visited.

But Clinton was in Moscow as a student tourist,
while Kerry went to Managua as a senator preparing to vote on whether to back President Ronald Reagan’s plan to spend millions of dollars funding the ruling Sandinistas’ rivals, the Contras. While there, Kerry challenged the government over its curbs on individual liberties, and he carried back to Washington a proposal for peace.

The reasons the mayor of Burlington, Vt.—population 38,000—would repeatedly cross the world’s great geopolitical chasm are less straightforward.
In that passage, Witte crafts an insinuation about Candidate Sanders' motives back in the 1980s. As he does, he forgets to remember the way Candidate Clinton's motives were slimed when the rich came into our lives during the 1992 Clinton-Bush campaign.

He forgets to recall such moments as this, as reported in the New York Times:
ROSENTHAL (10/8/92): President Bush tonight accused Gov. Bill Clinton of not telling the truth about his visit to Moscow as a student in the late 1960's and sharply criticized the Democratic nominee for demonstrating against the Vietnam War while he was studying in England.

In an appearance on the CNN program "Larry King Live" that was broadcast around the country and abroad, Mr. Bush made one of his strongest attacks yet on Mr. Clinton's opposition to the Vietnam War...

[...]

Asked by Mr. King what he thought about Mr. Clinton visiting the Soviet Union while he was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford in 1969, Mr. Bush seemed to choose his words carefully. He avoided any direct accusation but at the same time clearly conveyed the impression that he had suspicions and disapproved.

"I don't want to tell you what I really think, because I don't have the facts," he said. "But to go to Moscow one year after Russia crushed Czechoslovakia, not remember who you saw? I really think the answer is, level with the American people."
For starters, please don't miss the absurdity of what President Bush said. He said he didn't have the facts, but there was something he really thought, though he wasn't going to say it!

As it turned out, the rich had been going through Candidate Clinton's passport files hoping to find some evidence of treasonous conduct. In December 1992, then-attorney general William Barr found "that there was possible evidence of White House involvement in a criminal act," though the subsequent multiyear investigation did not produce criminal charges.

In the childish language we love so well, the episode came to be known as Passportgate. For the late Robert Parry's history of this appalling episode, you can just click here.

That's the sort of thing which happens when the rich come into our lives during White House campaigns. When they trigger new episodes, people like Witte tend to erase such events from our collective memory.

For whatever reason, Cooper wanted to know about things Sanders said back in the 1980s. As everyone surely knows, inquiries of this type will often shed vastly more heat than light.

That's especially true when agents like Witte bring their own selectivity in. Witte's report includes a lot of paraphrase, a great deal less quotation.

What did Sanders actually think about Nicaragua and the Soviet Union back in 1985 and 1988? We don't know, and the chances are very slim that anyone will ever find out.

Once an episode like this is triggered, the downward spiral begins. Regarding Sanders' past thoughts about the (Gorbachev-era) Soviet Union, Witte makes us wait till paragraphs 50-52 before we get to read this:
WITTE: [Back in 1988], Sanders expressed hope that, after “a dismal history,” the Soviet Union could be redeemed by moving “forward into some of the early visions of their revolution, what their revolution was about in 1917.”

William Taubman, an Amherst College historian of the Soviet Union who was living there at the time, said Sanders’s comments need to be understood in the context of the moment, which was dominated by then-leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of opening and liberalizing his nation.

“He was not doing what the real suckers might have done, which was to say, ‘Gosh isn’t it wonderful?’ ” Taubman said. “I don’t think he was a dupe.”
As the rich tend to do when they enter our lives, Witte sells Sanders' rapture about "the beauty of the land and the contentedness of the people," though only in paraphrased form, in his second paragraph 2. He saves the direct quote about the Soviet Union's "dismal history" until paragraph 50.

The rich alwaye enter our lives during White House campaigns. Because our guardians abandoned their posts a long time ago, we tend to be quite unschooled in the face of this behavior.

Al Gore said he invented the Internet! Bill Clinton went to Moscow!

Gary Hart seems to have a girl friend! (We know because we hid in the bushes outside his home!) Candidate Muskie wept!

This is the way these lifeforms function. The people who should be warning us have long since abandoned their posts.

It's better that this has started now. But what follows won't be pretty, and it will be very dumb.
.
Tomorrow: Guardians ignored

Also this one: Hillary Clinton was "extremely careless!"

Incredibly, the Maddow Show explicitly took James Comey's side. So our guardians work.

We've never forgotten our very first time!

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 2020

Our first time reading Lincoln:
We're still waiting for a transcript to appear from last Thursday's 11th Hour. It was on that evening that Brian Williams interviewed Alexis Coe about her very strange biography of George Washington and his mistreated, misunderstood thighs.

Coe's new book, You Never Forget Your First, has provided us with our most interesting fact-checking experience since we fact-checked the three million footnotes to Ann Coulter's 2002 book, Bias.

To recall the first of our many posts about that book, you can just click here.

One after another, Coulter's three million ballyhooed footnotes kept failing to check out. But there was the New York Times, credulously citing their impressive number in a fair-and-balanced review of the ridiculous best-selling book.

(Coulter was pimping the large number of footnotes to give her work credibility. Her work in the book was relentlessly faux, but the Time bought the pitch.)

So it has gone, for many years, as our flailing, failing society slides toward the sea. We'd like to show you what happened last Thursday night as we prepare to move on to an exciting new meta-discussion.

Coe's new book is very odd. But it's being widely purchased wherever prevailing dogma is sold.

At some point, we'll offer examples. For today, we recommend an outstanding piece from this morning's New York Times.

Edward Achorn has written a book about the day on which Abraham Lincoln delivered his Second Inaugural Address. The Times' John Williams asked Achorn five questions. We may have liked this exchange best:
WILLIAMS (2/24/20): When did you first get the idea to write this book?

ACHORN: That’s a hard one because I suppose it was decades ago, when I first came across this speech. It has all this resonant language that sounds like something out of Shakespeare or the King James Bible. Here you have this president who’s been re-elected and virtually won a war that was a struggle for the country’s survival, and instead of celebrating he speculates on the war’s immense suffering. He says it may be God’s judgment for the sin of slavery. It’s not an ordinary speech. I’ve always thought I would want to write about it.

About five years ago, I decided to do it...
We remember, very clearly, the day when we ourselves "first came across the speech." We even have photos of the event. We'll post a few of those photos some day, though it can't be done on this campus.

We were 25, or maybe 27. We were taking a fifth grade class from Baltimore on a day-long field trip to Washington.

One stop was the Lincoln Memorial. On one of the walls beside the great statue has been engraved the entire text of the Second Inaugural Address.

We'd never read it before! As we read it, we found it hard to believe that any human being had ever said such things on earth.

As Achorn says, Lincoln was the commander in chief who was on the verge of winning an astoundingly bloody war. What did Lincoln say that day?

It's right up there on the wall of the memorial. Paraphrasing, Lincoln said this:

He said that our team did this too. And he said, in religious language, that if we're forced to shed even more blood, and if we're forced to sacrifice even more treasure, no one will ever be able to say that we've been unfairly treated, given the vast wrong we've done.

We remember thinking, instantly, that Lincoln must have come from another planet. We didn't tell our fifth graders that—it wasn't in the curriculum—but that's what we instantly thought on that, our very first time.

We had committed this vast evil too! It wasn't just The Others. We humans simply don't think that way. Some day we'll post a couple of photographs with a whole bunch of beautiful kids looking up at those words.

Lincoln was gone in a matter of weeks. For his full text, just click here. "It's not an ordinary speech."

THE RATIONAL ANIMAL'S GUARDIANS: Guardians abandon their posts!

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 2020

The $8000 tax:
Long ago and far away, the Washington Post published a front-page report which was, in theory, important.

Actually, Heather Long's front-page report appeared early last month. It graced the front page of the Washington Post.

Long's report started as shown below. As a theoretical matter, her topic was very important:
LONG (1/8/20): America’s sky-high health-care costs are so far above what people pay in other countries that they are the equivalent of a hefty tax, Princeton University economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton say. They are surprised Americans aren’t revolting against these taxes.

“A few people are getting very rich at the expense of the rest of us,” Case said at conference in San Diego on Saturday. The U.S. health-care system is “like a tribute to a foreign power, but we’re doing it to ourselves.”

The U.S. health-care system is the most expensive in the world, costing about $1 trillion more per year than the next-most-expensive system—Switzerland’s. That means U.S. households pay an extra $8,000 per year, compared with what Swiss families pay. Case and Deaton view this extra cost as a “poll tax,” meaning it is levied on every individual regardless of their ability to pay.
In recent years, Case and Deaton have become major high-profile economists. In 2015, Deaton won a Nobel Prize in the field.

Now, the pair were saying that the typical American household is paying the equivalent on an $8000 tax due to our nation's very high health costs.

Indeed, the typical family is paying this extra $8000 every single year. And, as Long's report continued, the news got even worse:
LONG (continuing directly): Despite paying $8,000 more a year than anyone else, American families do not have better health outcomes, the economists argue. Life expectancy in the United States is lower than in Europe.

“We can brag we have the most expensive health care. We can also now brag that it delivers the worst health of any rich country,” Case said.
Oof! American families are paying an extra $8000 per year. In return, our system is "delivering the worst health [outcomes] of any rich country," according to Case.

Case and Deaton had delivered this analysis at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association. Their analysis went right to the front page of the Washington Post—and, completely predictably, that's where the matter died.

The Post's report appeared in early January. We've waited to mention the front-page report in order to make a key point:

Our public discourse involves no serious discussion of any significant issue. In journalism and in the academy, the guardians have walked off their posts.

Before proceeding, let's note one key fact about Case and Deaton's analysis. By comparing American health care spending to that of Switzerland, the economists were making their point in the softest possible terms.

Switzerland is a small higher-income nation. Its per capita health care spending falls well short of our own, but it far exceeds that of all other major developed nations.

If Case and Deaton had compared our health care spending to that of Canada, France, the U.K. or Japan, the "poll tax" paid by the typical family would have been much larger.

Those larger developed nations all spend much less, per capita, than Switzerland does. For the relevant data, click here.

In that sense, the typical American family is paying a hidden "tax" of substantially more than $8000 per year. In return for all that extra spending, they're getting the worst health outcomes in the developed world, or so say Case and Deaton.

You'd almost think a front-page report like the one in the Post would trigger wide public discussion. That's especially true because health care has become the central driving topic in the nation's recent political discussion.

Health care lies at the heart of the current Democratic White House campaign. The Post was reporting that the typical family was paying an extra $8000 for its health care every single year—and, as a handful of journalists may even know, the real number is substantially higher!

You'd almost think a report like that would generate public discussion. But this front-page report in the Post had a predictable lifespan:

It appeared on page one of the Washington Post, and that's where the matter died.

Exactly as anyone might have predicted, that front-page report produced exactly zero wider discussion. Columnists didn't discuss the report in the Post or the New York Times. No one discussed the report on the liberal world's favorite "cable news" programs.

The silly children on corporate cable are there to entertain and please their tribal viewers. Rachel Maddow wouldn't discuss a report like Long's if her grandmothers' lives were at stake. In fairness, the same can be said for Chris and Chris, and for Lawrence and Brian.

Briefly, let's be fair. Absent the inflammatory language about a "poll tax," there was absolutely nothing new about Case and Deaton's presentation.

Way back in 2005, Paul Krugman devoted a series of columns in the New York Times to this remarkable state of affairs. To read the first column in his series, you can just click this.

Krugman hadn't yet won his own Nobel Prize; that happened in 2008. But he was writing from one of the highest platforms in American journalism, and his columns produced zero discussion. Simply put, topics like this will not be discussed within the mainstream American discourse.

Within the mainstream American discourse, silly children go on TV and hand you the latest polls.

They speculate about what will happen next. They discuss what Trump said ten minutes ago, and they do little else.

They gambol and they play and they cash their extremely large checks. They're trained to know how to make you like them. They do not discuss the kind of topic Case and Deaton aired.

In journalism and in the academy, our guardians have walked off their posts. Our journalists avoid topics like this. Our academics tend to be lost in the weeds of their particular "disciplines."

Krugman's columns produced no reaction. Fifteen years later, Long's report disappeared. Starting next week or the week after that, we plan to say goodbye to most of this, embarking on a different type of award-winning meta-discussion.

This week, though, we plan to review the type of carnage we'll be leaving behind. It's a type of American carnage characterized by endless silence, but also by mountains of foolishness.

Our thought leaders gave up the ghost long ago. Across the nation's upper-end landscape, our guardians have abandoned their posts.

Tomorrow: When guardians attack

Reporting which may not exactly make sense!

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 2020

Also, which may elect Trump:
For our money, the most important part of the news report appeared more than halfway through.

The report in question was the featured report in the National section of Thursday's New York Times. Bannered across the top of page A11, it consumed the bulk of the page.

At its start, the report discusses a new practice at one of the nation's "renowned" universities. But for our money, this later passage was the most important part of the lengthy report:
HARTOCOLLIS (2/20/20): “A lot of students who are transitioning, trying to figure this out—there’s a lot of depression, their suicide rate is high, there’s a lot of emotional turmoil attached to that,” she said. “The least we could do is make it an OK thing to be open about who you are.”

Recent research indicates that social affirmation, including the use of chosen names and proper pronouns, can help reduce the higher rates of depression and suicide for transgender and nonbinary young people, which stem in part from a lack of acceptance and frequent harassment.
No one should want young people consumed by depression. No one should want young people to be taking their own lives.

Beyond that, the world is a much better place when young people experience social affirmation. Also, older people, and people of various stripes.

In our view, these are the most important points in this report from a societal and human perspective. From a journalistic perspective, we were struck by several other features of this high-profile report.

From a journalistic perspective, we're often struck by reports which don't exactly seem to make sense right from the opening whistle. We're also struck by reporting which doesn't attempt to explain basic points the readership won't understand.

On occasion, we're also struck by various manifestations which may tend to keep Donald Trump where he is. It seems to us that this Times report checked off all three boxes.

That doesn't mean that this news report wasn't well-intentioned. But below, you see the way it began.

On the surface, does this make sense?
HARTOCOLLIS: For generations of future diplomats and cabinet officials educated at Harvard’s renowned John F. Kennedy School of Government, orientation day has come with a name placard that the students carry from class to class, so their professors can easily call on them.

When Diego Garcia Blum, 30, got his placard last fall, the first-year graduate student immediately took a Sharpie to it, writing “He/Him” next to the big block letters of his name. Other students did the same thing, writing “She/Her” and “They/Them.”

“Yup! Day 1,” Mr. Garcia Blum, recalled, adding, “That’s when I thought, the students are ahead of the school.”

But despite its reputation as a bastion of the establishment, the Kennedy School followed the students’ lead, agreeing to provide clear plastic stickers this semester with four pronoun options that students could apply to their name cards: “He/Him,” “She/Her,” “They/Them” and “Ze/Hir.”
As a general tendency, the Times likes to keep its readers apprised of events and practices at our most "renowned" schools. In this instance, we seem to be learning about stickers which can be applied to students' name cards "so their professors can easily call on them."

We're told that these stickers provide four different "pronoun options" that students can apply to the name cards they wear to class or in social interactions early in the year.

Just a guess! Already, we'll guess that many Times subscribers don't exactly understand what's being discussed. But even for those who may understand, let's return to the basic logic of the way this report begins:

How would third-person pronouns come into play when a professor calls on a student in class? Presumably, students are called on by name. Where do these pronouns come in?

Some will say that the answer is obvious, or that the question we've asked is hopelessly beside the point. We'll suggest that the answer to our question isn't obvious—and since we're discussing life and death issues, it seems to us that editors might want their logic to be a bit more clear right from the start.

That opening logic strikes us as opaque, and we think that a larger problem lurks there. Beyond that, though, we were struck, all through this report, by the assumption that readers understand what is being discussed, when we'll assure you that they generally don't.

The American people are pretty sharp! Public figures all know that should say that. Times subscribers are even smarter, according to tribal lore!

That said, let's recall the four stickers in question. They were described as shown:
The Kennedy School agreed to provide plastic stickers with four pronoun options that students could apply to their name cards: “He/Him,” “She/Her,” “They/Them” and “Ze/Hir.”
Question: How many Times subscribers could explain the meaning of "Ze/Hir?" We'll guess that the number is quite small. But those pronouns go unexplained in the lengthy text.

In the classic way of elite upper classes, it seems to be fairly clear that you're just supposed to know what those pronouns mean. If you don't understand what those pronouns mean, you're supposed to just play along.

What the heck do Ze and Hir mean? If readers don't know, that's too bad! But in fact, it seemed to us that basic points go unexplained all through this report. Consider this later passage:
HARTOCOLLIS: Amy Hillier, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice, said her university did not have a standard gender pronoun protocol. But it is becoming more common for students and professors to put personal pronouns on email signatures and name tags, she said.

Despite those efforts, Loran Grishow-Schade, a 33-year-old graduate student in social work at Penn, said that when “X” appears on official documents as their gender, many professors can be bewildered. So Mx. Grishow-Schade has found that it is generally a good idea to meet with instructors and explain that they are agender.
In this passage, the Times drops in on another elite university. That said, we'll take a quick guess:

Professors at Penn may not be the only ones who are "bewildered" by the honorific "Mx.", or by the use of "X" to designate someone's gender.

Beyond that, we'll guess that many Times subscribers can't explain what it means to be "transgender and nonbinary," as is one student in this report. Or perhaps to be "agender" or "nonbinary" at all.

That said, the Times report just steamrolls ahead. Wouldn't it perhaps be better to take the time to explain?

In our view, this report stands out for its failure to explain basic points its readership almost surely won't understand. It also stands out for the way it lingers at Harvard and Penn, and at Sarah Lawrence and Evergreen—in other words, for the way it brings the eternal note of capital v. provinces in.

Human history spills with the recurrent division of the capital versus the provinces. Our deeply dangerous current political division follows this ancient pattern.

Last night, we watched as Chris Cuomo urged Democrats to understand the way Trump voters see the world. We humans aren't inclined to function that way. This tends to produce major problems.

In our view, the most important part of this Times report involves the possibility of reducing human suffering—the possibility of reducing depression and death at one's own hand.

We shouldn't want young people to feel depressed or to feel disregarded. Then too, "social affirmation" will ideally be extended to those in the provinces too.

This Times report was full of material its readership won't understand. Reflexively, the Times blew past this problem.

Do you know what "Ze/Hir" means? Do you know what it means to be both transgender and nonbinary?

Do you know what Mx. means? What it means to list X as a gender? The chances are fairly good that you don't. When elites behave as if the rubes are just supposed to know, they tend to trigger the deluge. Trump skates behind such divisions.

We were left with one last question as we read this Trump-helpful piece. How many students at the Kennedy School choose pronouns other than the traditional pairs? How many "Ze/Hirs" attend the Kennedy School? What's it like everywhere else?

Inquiring minds might like to know the lay of the land in this emerging world. Also, in the parts of the world to which Cuomo referred last night.

We'll close with one last point. To many people all over the country, this might not seem to make sense:
HARTOCOLLIS: Three years ago, Ruth Hayes, who teaches animation at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., adopted a script to introduce herself in class: “My name is Ruth Hayes. I use she/her pronouns. I teach animation.” Her L.G.B.T.Q. colleagues had been following the formula for a while. But it knocked her off balance at first, she said—and she found that disturbing, because she had always been the radical in her family.

“It’s kind of funny to be in that position where you’re the stick in the mud or the old-fashioned person,” said Ms. Hayes, 64. But she recognizes how important it is psychologically to get it right, because “gender is so close to our core.”
Gender is quite close to our core, and so respect should be paid. On the other hand, does that "script" really seem to make sense?

Does Professor Hayes "use she/her pronouns?" Yes, but in the most obvious sense, so does everyone else! At one time, teachers would settle the question in play here by writing "Ms. Hayes" on the board.

Our tribe often seems to go out of its way to adopt the arcane kinds of private language which exist, on a secret level, as a way of establishing Tribe.

Unfortunately, Tribe tends to drive Others away. And uh-oh! All across this vast continental nation, the Others are able to vote!

Like love, anthropology hurts!

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 21, 2020

Just this side of insane:
Last night, the purported historian Alexis Coe appeared with Brian Williams. She jumped right into her favorite topic, discussing the "thigh men" who have written biographies of George Washington while allegedly zeroing in on his exciting thighs.

(At present, no tape is available. And no, we're not making up.)

Coe's new book seems almost insane; happily, Brian was lapping it up. To our eye and ear, Coe seems like the avatar of a movement we might call "second-wave Dowdism." We may possess sufficient bad judgment to cover the topic next week.

Watching Brian enjoy Coe's d*ck jokes, we thought back to a wonderfully comical interview he performed in June 1999. Governor Bush had emerged from Texas to initiate his White House campaign. Brian was having a very hard time hiding his admiration.

On the comical occasion in question, Brian was about to interview Steve Forbes, one of Bush's opponents for the GOP nomination. But omigod! Governor Bush emerged from a plane and walked across the tarmac to a camera location, where he spoke with Brian!

Candidate Forbes would have to wait! When Brian was able to collect himself, poor Forbes was subjected to this torrent of gushing in the form of a question:
WILLIAMS (6/28/99): And Mr. Forbes, let's start with the mechanics of what we just saw play out here on live television.

What you just saw was a very much at-ease governor of a big state in this country, jacket slung over his shoulder, going on over to a camera position and doing what some find absolutely impossible without paper in front of them and a briefing within five minutes of the appearance.

Is that appearance—and we're talking, you know, as much physical appearance as anything, making no judgments or comparisons—the people say has made the difference with this person-on-person contact?
Seriously though, that's what he said, although it didn't quite parse. Brian had been blown away by the governor's physical appearance. Plus, that jacket slung over his shoulder!

By that fall, Brian was going on and on, night after night, complaining about Candidate Gore's deeply troubling wardrobe. According to Brian, it was obvious that Gore was wearing polo shirts to appeal to female voters. Brian kept this bullshit up for several weeks before regaining control.

(He continued complaining about Gore's clothes on into the new year. Gore's obvious psychological problems were also part of the play list.)

Last night, Brian let his inner fatuous out for the first time in years. Coe seems to be Dowd-beyond-Dowd, and Brian was lapping it up.

Brian is secretly just a bit strange. We had almost forgotten.

Also nearly insane: On page A3 of this morning's Times, readers were offered a detailed analysis of the way they can fight climate change through their choice of alcoholic beverages.

This too was just this side of insane. The "Here to Help" feature was an edited version of this even longer longer essay. In hard copy, the edited version started out like this:
Here to Help
THE FACTS ABOUT ALCOHOL AND CLIMATE CHANGE

If you did dry January this year, you probably reduced your carbon footprint without knowing it. That’s because alcohol production and distribution can be quite energy intensive. So, what if you want to reduce your environmental footprint but you’re not quite ready to hop on the wagon and stay there?

Broadly speaking, liquor tends to be more environmentally sustainable per unit. “The more concentrated they are, the less impact they have,” Alissa Kendall, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Davis, said of alcoholic beverages.

Drinkers typically get more mileage out of a bottle of spirits than wine or beer. That’s especially true if you drink to get a buzz. Simply put: Liquor is quicker.

For beer, the world’s most consumed alcoholic beverage, refrigeration is a big part of the emissions equation. A 2008 study by the New Belgium Brewing Company, based in Fort Collins, Colo., found that the greenhouse gas emissions from one six-pack were about the same as driving a car nearly eight miles. The largest share of those emissions came from refrigeration.

[...]

Shipping distance can also be an important consideration when choosing climate-friendly wine...
Seriously though, does anybody actually think that individuals can affect climate change by regulating the shipping distance of the wine they drink? That said, manifest craziness on this level is a regular part of the New York Times. The sheer insanity of this piece made Williams and Coe seem look giants.

Anthropologically speaking, how did the race ever get this far? Inquiring minds want to know.

THE RATIONAL ANIMAL'S SYSTEMS: Judge Jackson says the truth still matters!

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 21, 2020

We don't know if Maddow agrees:
Famously, Mr. T pitied the fool.

Way back in 1968,
Bob Dylan said he pities Trump.

("That man who with his fingers cheats, who lies with every breath...Who falls in love with wealth itself and turns his back on me.")

For ourselves, we pity the poor American citizen to whom the most obvious question occurs.

Within our tribalized journalistic system, such questions will routinelgo unaddressed. Information is no longer the coin of the realm. Tribalized narrative is.

Consider the question which occurred to us after the perpetually ludicrous Roger Stone was sentenced to forty months in prison. Our question shaped up like this:

On Monday, February 10, the Justice Department originally recommended a sentence of 7-9 years for Stone (more precisely, 87-108 months) The next day, that recommendation was amended.

Attorney General William Barr had been involved in this switch. This new, amended recommendation included these statements:
AMENDED SENTENCING RECOMMENDATION (2/11/20): The defendant committed serious offenses and deserves a sentence of incarceration that is “sufficient, but not greater than necessary” to satisfy the factors set forth in Section 3553(a).

Based on the facts known to the government, Mb and unwarranted under the circumstances.
Even in the amended recommendation, the DOJ said that Stone "committed serious offenses and deserves a sentence of incarceration." However, the amended recommendation said that a sentence of "far less than 87 to 108 months’ imprisonment would be reasonable under the circumstances."

At one point, the amended recommendation suggested that a term of 37 to 46 months might be "more in line with the typical sentences imposed in obstruction cases." That said, the amended recommendation "ultimately deferred to the Court" without specifically recommending a specific term of imprisonment.

As of February 11, so the matter stood. In the days which followed, Barr was raked over the coals for his role in this amendation. On cable, we liberals were told that Judge Amy Berman Jackson wouldn't be swayed by such conduct.

But then, how strange! When Judge Jackson sentenced Stone, she sentenced him to 40 months. The recommendation which came from Barr was pretty much where Jackson came down!

Our question: Why did Jackson's sentence seem to align with the amended recommendation? Did this mean that the heroic Barr had been right all along? Was Jackson somehow required to defer to the general drift of the amended recommendation?

Why did Stone's sentence fall short of the initial recommendation? Inquiring minds wanted to know, but liberal news orgs didn't rush to explain.

If you watched Nicolle Wallace yesterday at 4 PM Eastern, you saw a lengthy discussion of this matter. But no one ever noted the fact that Jackson's sentence largely aligned with Barr's amended recommendation.

If you watched Rachel Maddow last night, things seemed to get much worse.

Did you watch Maddow last night? To our ear, she seemed to say that the mustachio-twirling Barr had recommended that Stone get no prison time at all.

That's what Maddow seemed to say, and Maddow tends to be like that. In the course of an endless treatment of this matter,
here's the way her second segment started:
MADDOW (2/20/20): How would the court deal today with the crisis around this case, right? The president publicly demanding that the sentencing recommendation from prosecutors should be thrown out, that Roger Stone was being treated unfairly and that he shouldn't get any prison time.

The attorney general then apparently acceding to that request and getting himself into that case personally,
overruling the prosecutors who had brought the case to instead ask for lenience for the president's friend, for Roger Stone.
That's the way the segment started. It almost sounded like Trump had said that Stone should get no prison time, and that Barr had then said the same thing.

Plainly, that isn't what happened. But that's almost the way it almost sounded as Maddow's segment began.

Later in this same segment, Maddow seemed to make this claim more clearly. As part of a lengthy oration, she explained what happened after Barr had engaged in the conduct described below:
MADDOW: ...William Barr hears that public criticism from the president and intervenes and rescinds the sentencing recommendation from the prosecutors running this case and instead says, "No, no, no! I, William Barr, instead insist that instead we have a revised sentencing recommendation in which Roger Stone gets off."
You can watch the full oration yourself. As she continued, Maddow suggested, one more time, that Barr had said that Roger Stone shouldn't have to "go to jail."

In that presentation, Maddow seemed to say that Barr had recommended that Stone should "get off"—shouldn't go to prison at all. To our ear, Maddow had seemed to say that at the start of the segment. Now, her account of the matter seemed clear.

For ourselves, we were still wondering why Judge Jackson's sentence had come down as it did. Even in the course of endless monologues on a favorite subject, people like Maddow don't waste their time explaining such matters to you.

As our journalistic systems continue to crash and burn, people like Maddow paint tribally pleasing pictures and tell tribally pleasing stories. In 2017, Janet Malcolm seemed to praise this pseudo-journalistic process when she profiled Maddow in the New Yorker:
MALCOLM (10/9/17): “The Rachel Maddow Show” is a piece of sleight of hand presented as a cable news show. It is TV entertainment at its finest. It permits liberals to enjoy themselves during what may be the most thoroughly unenjoyable time of their political lives.
Maddow's show lets us liberals enjoy ourselves! Weirdly, Malcolm seemed to approve of this service. To us, Malcolm's description captures the way our information systems are increasingly falling apart.

Over on Fox, Tucker was telling millions of viewers last night that Judge Jackson has been behaving like an authoritarian. We haven't been able to review his whole segment yet, but our own tribe is involved in so much nonsense at this point that his segments are often highly persuasive without even being inaccurate.

Rachel and Tucker are extremely well paid to ladle comfort food to the tribes. Information and explanation play second fiddle to the process of novelization which now lies at the heart of this corporate project.

Can a continental nation function this way? We'd say the answer is no.

Last evening, an irate Maddow seemed to say that Barr had recommended that Stone get no prison time at all. Obviously, that isn't true. Just consider what readers were told in this morning's Washington Post, though only if they read all the way to paragraph 32:
WEINER ET AL (2/21/20): This week, those close to Barr said the attorney general has told Trump advisers that he has considered resigning over the president’s tweets. But Trump continued to tweet about the Stone case. This week, he suggested his friend deserved a new trial—just as the Justice Department, with Barr’s blessing, made clear it had opposed Stone’s request on that front. Like prosecutors, Barr has called Stone’s prosecution “righteous” and added, “I was happy that he was convicted.”
Say what? Barr has called Stone’s prosecution “righteous?” Barr has said, “I was happy that he was convicted?”

Well actually, yes he has. He said those things to ABC's Pierre Thomas in an interview last week. Maddow's viewers have never been told that Barr said those things.

Barr said Roger Stone should go free? Maddow talked and talked and talked and talked about this topic last night. It seemed to us that's what she said, but with multimillionaire novelists like Maddow, the viewer can never be sure.

This too from Nicolle: Wallace and her "favorite reporters and friends" didn't attempt to explain the way Jackson's sentence turned out. Along the way, she once again repeated a claim which she knows is false.

We refer to her repeated claim that the Mueller report charged Trump with ten instances of obstruction of justice.

In the past, Wallace has said, on at least two occasions, that she knows this statement is false. But she says it, she has explained, because, "as a political communicator," she makes inaccurate statements which put her opponents on the defensive.

Increasingly, this is the way the tribes are allowed to enjoy themselves. Along the way, our systems fail. Increasingly, things fall apart.

Roger Stone gets forty months!

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 2020

Now he belongs to the ages:
We'll admit that we're never glad to hear that someone is going to prison.

That said, Roger Stone has been sentenced to forty months, pending a possible retrial or pardon. Now it falls to our tribal tribunes to explain why his sentence was so light.

For what it's worth, Stone has always seemed a little bit nutty. He has a tattoo of Nixon on his back, and things go sideways from there.

Almost everyone seems to be crazy now. But long ago, long before crazy was cool, Stone was already like this.

Originally, the Justice Department recommended a sentence of 7-9 years. On cable, this made our liberal hearts glad.

One day later, the DOJ scaled that back, suggesting 3-4 years. On cable, we were told this was much too soft, and that Judge Amy Berman Jackson was a strong-willed, non-nonsense judicial performer.

Now, the no-nonsense performer has given Stone a sentence which lands right in the middle of that amended range. Our tribunes have some explaining to do, though they'll surely be up to the challenge.

In this matter, as in everything else, whatever you've heard has almost surely been narrative. It's all tribal talking points now. We can't tell you where to go to get an unbiased, information-based perspective on this or on anything else.

We haven't read Jackson's full statement yet. For now, we'll offer what follows.

According to the Washington Post, Jackson said the following in her statement today:
WEINER, ZAPOTOSKY AND JACKSON (2/20/20): In a lengthy speech before imposing the penalty, Jackson seemed to take aim at Trump, saying that Stone “was not prosecuted for standing up for the president; he was prosecuted for covering up for the president.” She also appeared to call out Attorney General William P. Barr, whose intervention to reduce career prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation she called “unprecedented.” But she said the politics surrounding the case had not influenced her final decision.
If that report is accurate, Jackson said Barr's conduct was "unprecedented." But in this morning's Washington Post, George Terwilliger seems to say something different:
TERWILLIGER (2/20/2020): I served in the Justice Department for 15 years, half of that time as a career prosecutor. From time to time, I was overruled on decisions involving my cases. My judgment was better for the benefit of oversight and supervision, including from the politically appointed U.S. attorney. Whether direction came from even higher authority is unknown to me, but if it did, I would see it no differently. That is how a chain of command must work.

I also served in a Republican administration as deputy attorney general and acting attorney general. In that capacity, I recall no one decrying interference when I overruled the recommendation of line prosecutors and the department’s criminal division that a then-sitting U.S. senator should be indicted. He was a Democrat. I also approved the prosecution of another sitting senator. He was a Republican. Those matters came up through the bureaucracy because they were highly visible and politically controversial.

[...]

The decisions of the dedicated professionals who are the heart and soul of the department merit respect and a substantial degree of deference. But those decisions must also be subject to review. The higher the profile of a case, the more deserving it is of high-level attention, because the public will measure the department by its actions in such matters.
Terwilliger goes on from there. Overall, he seems to offer quite a bit of detail.

Is there an actual disagreement here, or just the appearance of same? At this point, we can't say. We can offer this embarrassing fact:

Jackson's decision put her in agreement with Barr's amended recommendation, not with the original recommendation which he overruled.

We can't tell you if Jackson and Terwilliger actually disagree on this matter. We can tell you this:

Whatever you hear on cable today will be sifted through the tribal blender. Almost everything you hear at this point is narrative all the way down.

Stone has always had a screw loose. Barr's amended recommendation said he deserved imprisonment.

It's also true that you're being propagandized almost any time you dial up "cable news." A lot of product is being sold as you're told that the cable talkers are a collection of "friends." Beyond that, a lot of the people you see on your screen are living inside some political, professional or social bubble.

Especially on MSNBC, everyone will agree on every point. Alternate viewpoints will almost never be heard.

Stone has always seemed to have a screw loose. The larger question we face is this:

How did our liberal team ever reach the point where we could lose an election to Donald J. Trump? Also, how does the world actually look to the 63 million people who voted the way we didn't?

More on that last question tomorrow. For tonight, let the tribal framing begin!

THE RATIONAL ANIMAL'S SYSTEMS: The Hill kicks Solomon to the curb...

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 2020

...several decades later:
How broken are our nation's journalistic systems?

Consider a current bit of too little, (several decades) too late. The report in question appears in this morning's Washington Post.

Paul Farhi's report in the Post concerns a decision made by The Hill, an insider Capitol Hill publication. Roughly one year too late, The Hill has decided to renounce a large chunk of influential published work concerning Candidate Biden:
FARHI (2/20/2020): In a lengthy and damning review of former columnist John Solomon, the Hill newspaper ripped Solomon—and itself—for publishing misleading and poorly attributed articles last year that asserted corruption by Joe Biden in his dealings with Ukraine during his time as vice president.

The columns, published in early 2019, set in motion President Trump’s demand that Ukrainian officials announce an investigation of Biden and his son, Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. Trump’s demand, and his withholding of military aid to Ukraine, led to the House’s impeachment of Trump and his subsequent acquittal in the Senate.

Trump and his allies, including his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and his son Donald Trump Jr., promoted Solomon’s Hill columns via Twitter, and Solomon made several appearances on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program to promote his conclusions, which were that Biden, then considered Trump’s top 2020 challenger, had ousted Ukraine’s top prosecutor to head off an investigation into the company that had hired his son.

That allegation has never been proved; indeed, the former Ukrainian prosecutor has recanted it.

In effect, the Hill said Solomon amplified an inaccurate and one-sided narrative about the Bidens and Ukraine that was fed to him by Giuliani, “facilitated” by businessman Lev Parnas, who was working with Giuliani at the time, and reinforced by Solomon’s own attorneys, who also represented clients embroiled in U.S.-Ukraine politics.
Oof. Roughly a year too late, The Hill has decided that Solomon's work about Candidate Biden was grossly misleading.

The Hill's review of Solomon's work is quite lengthy.
We found dark amusement in the highlighted parts of this passage:
THE HILL (2/19/20): While Solomon's columns on Ukraine were labeled as opinion, they largely read like news stories. Adding to the potential confusion between opinion and news, Solomon was identified as "an award-winning journalist" in his column tagline. When appearing on television to discuss his Ukraine columns, Solomon was not typically labeled an opinion writer by the broadcast programs. The Hill did not contact television producers to label Solomon as an opinion columnist. It should have.

Lending further support to an impression that the columns were more like news stories, rather than opinion columns, Solomon’s Ukraine columns were longer than typical opinion pieces, in many cases contained what could be viewed or was identified by him as original reporting, and stuck to one general topic. This may have suggested to many readers it was an investigative series, which normally resides in the news department, rather than opinion. Solomon’s subsequent appearances on Fox News where he was often identified as an investigative journalist further potentially blurred the distinction between news and opinion in the minds of some readers.
In our view, the most comical terms in modern journalism are "award-winning journalist" and "expert." Beyond that:

According to The Hill, the presentation of Solomon's work tended to blur a distinction which is amazingly blurry in the mental world of modern journalism—the distinction between "news" and opinion. But so it endlessly goes among us, the rational animals.

Could Candidate Biden ever have been a successful opponent of President Trump? We have no idea.

Might he still be the Democratic nominee? Everything is possible!

That said, Solomon's work jumped from The Hill over to Fox, where millions of people were watching. Almost surely, the barrels of bluster involved in this attack on Biden harmed the candidate's reputation of all sides of various aisles.

We suppose we ought to give The Hill credit for conducting this review of Solomon's work. That said, Solomon has been producing work of this type for a very long time.

We've been puzzled by his peculiar work going all the way back to the fall of 2000, when he was working for the Associated Press and writing about the Gore campaign. Back then, of course, his weird reports about Candidate Gore made him a part of the overall herd.

It was very hard to draw distinctions between the mainstream and the right-wing press when it came to the coverage of Candidate Gore. The press corps' two branches had come together in a very unusual way, forming an assault which eventually sent Bush to the White House.

That said, The Hill had had twenty years to wonder about this star reporter turned opinion columnist. His work has been challenged and criticized every step of the way, but our journalistic systems have been on the brink of collapse for the pasts several decades.

For that reason, Solomon sailed from the AP to the Washington Post, then on to the Washington Times and eventually to The Hill, where they finally decided to check his work roughly twenty years too late.

People who saw Solomon's segments on Hannity didn't necessarily know that his claims possibly shouldn't be trusted. Similarly, people watch Rachel Maddow on MSNBC without having any real way to know how shaky her work often been—in our view, shaky bordering on a diagnosis of "trusting viewer abuse."

Is it all tribal reinforcement now? Is it all tribal entertainment? Is it all tribal pleasure?

In October 2017, Janet Malcolm published a lengthy profile of Maddow in the New Yorker, a well-known Bible of the self-impressed upper-end very smart left.

Malcolm was highly experienced and had been frequently celebrated. Now, though, she was writing these pensees about "the current liberal sweetheart of cable TV," and the New Yorker had put them in print:
MALCOLM (10/9/17): Maddow is widely praised for the atmosphere of cheerful civility and accessible braininess that surrounds her stage persona. She is onstage, certainly, and makes no bones about being so. She regularly reminds us of the singularity of her show (“You will hear this nowhere else”; “Very important interview coming up, stay with us”; “Big show coming up tonight”). Like a carnival barker, she leads us on with tantalizing hints about what is inside the tent.

As I write this, I think of something that subliminally puzzles me as I watch the show. Why do I stay and dumbly watch the commercials instead of getting up to finish washing the dishes?
By now, I know every one of the commercials as well as I know the national anthem: the Cialis ad with curtains blowing as the lovers phonily embrace, the ad with the guy who has opioid-induced . . . constipation (I love the delicacy-induced pause), the ad for Liberty Mutual Insurance in which the woman jeers at the coverage offered by a rival company: “What are you supposed to do, drive three-quarters of a car?” I sit there mesmerized because Maddow has already mesmerized me. Her performance and those of the actors in the commercials merge into one delicious experience of TV. “The Rachel Maddow Show” is a piece of sleight of hand presented as a cable news show. It is TV entertainment at its finest. It permits liberals to enjoy themselves during what may be the most thoroughly unenjoyable time of their political lives.
Is it all tribal enjoyment? Malcom went on to offer these thoughts about the cable star's carefully planned "performance of the Rachel figure:"
MALCOLM: Maddow’s TV persona—the well-crafted character that appears on the nightly show—suggests experience in the theatre, but Maddow has had none. “I am a bad actor. I can be performative. But I can’t play any other character than the one who appears on the show. I can’t embody anyone else.” To keep herself in character, so to speak, Maddow marks up the text that she will read from a teleprompter with cues for gestures, pauses, smiles, laughs, frowns—all the body language that goes into her performance of the Rachel figure. “My scripts are like hieroglyphics,” she said. I asked her if I could see a page or two of these annotated texts. She consented, but then thought better of it.
In fairness, these are Malcolm's impressions of Maddow's show. But is it all performance now? Does little else remain?

According to leading anthropologists, we humans have never enjoyed being told that we aren't enormously sharp. But Malcolm was saying that the Maddow Show is "TV entertainment" designed to let us liberals enjoy ourselves, and she seemed to be praising Maddow for providing this service.

She herself was so mesmerized that she had "dumbly" memorized the commercials. So it has gone as partisan cable and the partisan Net have melted our skill sets down.

Solomon had been at this forever, but The Hill was still printing his work. When he appeared on Hannity, viewers had no obvious way of knowing that they were perhaps being misled.

One hour earlier, watching Tucker, they may have seen one of Carlson's persuasive segments featuring our own tribe's imperfection. So it went last Friday night when Tucker sent in the clowns—the folk who had been mesmerized by Stormy Daniels and her lawyer, a fellow who, that very day, had been convicted of various crimes.

Stormy shook a candidate down for cash. In this way, she became our flailing tribe's feminist hero.

While this was going on, Malcolm was memorizing the ads. So it went inside the New Yorker as the center failed to hold and our systems went into collapse.

Tomorrow: Recalling Monday's examples

The only stain on Clinton's shirt!

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2020

Our own tribe's criminal cluelessness:
We're going to postpone our review of Dana Goldstein's account of "the reading wars."

Instead, let's consider our liberal tribe's remarkable cluelessness concerning the basics of recent political history. More specifically, we refer to the decades of political history which put Donald Trump where he is.

Sarada Peri was a speechwriter for President Obama. Yesterday, she published a piece in the Atlantic concerning President Trump.

Peri warns that Donald J. Trump may well willing to cheat to win re-election. We can think of more possible examples than she does, but much of her essay makes perfect sense. The highlighted part of this remarkable passage seems to make no sense:
PERI (2/18/20): Lying, of course, is only one challenge. The Democratic nominee will also have to contend with cheating. After the 2016 election, the journalist Katy Tur offered an applicable analogy. She said that what made covering Trump as a reporter and running against him as a candidate so difficult was the way that scandals stuck—or didn’t stick—to him. Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state was like a stain on her shirt that people couldn’t get past, because it was the only mark on an otherwise clean shirt. But Trump had so many stains that “you couldn’t tell if it was a stained shirt or if it was just supposed to be that way.”
Peri goes on to enumerate some of the ways Trump might be willing to cheat. We direct you to her remarkable claim about the reason why Candidate Clinton was damaged by the reports about her email server.

According to Peri, the Emailgate matter hit Clinton so hard "because it was the only mark on an otherwise clean shirt." The cluelessness displayed by that statement is very hard to compute.

In fact, the email matter hit Candidate Cinton so hard because it was the ten millionth scandal or pseudo-scandal the press corps had laid at her feet. For many voters, it reinforced a set of negative associations which dated back to 1992.

Peri seems to be roughly 40. (She graduated from Tufts in 2001.) Especially by modern press corps norms, that almost makes her "old."

Still, that means that Peri was still in middle school when the sliming of Clinton began. Almost surely, it was this constant prior sliming of Clinton which made the email matter hit so hard with a whole generation of voters.

Beyond that, it was almost surely the constant prior sliming of Clinton which explains why newspapers like the New York Times pursued the topic at such massive length. Let's take a (truncated) look at the record:

Peri would have been in a freshmen in high school when Rush Limbaugh suggested on his radio program that Clinton was involved in the death of her friend, Vince Foster.

She still would have been in high school when Jerry Falwell began selling a videotape called The Clinton Chronicles, a crackpot film which attributed an array of mysterious deaths to Clinton and Clinton.

The story starts before that. Peri would have been in 7th grade when the "Presidential Bitch" t-shirt caper began. Briefly, we'll quote Gene Lyons:
LYONS (7/13/16): Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear: specifically to September 1992, when Attorney General William P. Barr, top-ranking FBI officials, and—believe it or not—a Treasury Department functionary who actually sold "Presidential Bitch" T-shirts with Hillary Clinton's likeness from her government office, pressured the U.S. Attorney in Little Rock to open an investigation of Bill and Hillary Clinton's Whitewater investment.
The never-ending Whitewater pseudo-investigation sprang from those seamy roots. For more about the selling of the "Presidential Bitch" t-shirts, read Lyons' 1995 book, Fools For Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater.

Peri would have been an undergraduate in 1999, when Chris Matthews began sliming Clinton as "Evita Peron" and "Nurse Ratched." That said, Matthews kept it up right through the Democratic primaries of 2007 and 2008, along with many others.

Perhaps Peri may not remember the early episodes which formed the foundation upon which the email claims took root. But Obama was already in the White House when Bob Schieffer and John McCain helped touch off the endless and bogus Benghazi narratives which dogged Clinton from September 2012 right through the 2016 election.

Was Emailgate "the only mark on an otherwise clean shirt?" On its face, the claim seems astoundingly clueless, but it betrays an ugly fact about the way our liberal tribe has played the game these many long hapless years.

The wars against the Clintons and Gore were largely conducted from within the mainstream press corps. These wars were often based on the flimsiest logic and evidence; many claims were simply made up.

The claims against these figures were endless. That said, a code of silence surrounds these events, and Peri's essay seems to extend it. It's astounding to think that a person of Peri's status could have written the passage we've quoted. Even sadder is the fact that the Atlantic chose to put the passage in print.

What explains the mainstream press corps' war against Clinton, Gore and Clinton? The question has never been answered, mainly because the question has so rarely been asked.

What happened within the mainstream press corps has stayed there. Careerist children agreed not to rock the boat. Dearest darlings, use your heads! Careers hung in the balance!

Did the Emailgate matter hit Clinton so hard "because it was the only mark on an otherwise clean shirt?" Almost surely, the Emailgate matter hit Clinton so hard with many voters because it was the extension of decades of pseudo-scandals aimed at both Clintons and Gore.

Routinely. these pseudo-scandals were invented and pushed by the mainstream press, not by the right-wing machine. This pattern obtained through November 2016, with the New York Times extending its decades of crackpot enmity in various ways.

Careerist liberals have agreed that these stories must never be told. If Peri's as clueless as that passage makes her seem, it may be because she's simply never heard these stories.

At any rate, that ridiculous claim in the Atlantic captures an era of willed self-defeat. The liberal world ignored the misogyny and the pseudo-scandals every step of the way, except to the substantial extent that liberals produced the abuse.

We were then shocked by Clinton's defeat! Has any tribe in political history ever been more pathetic than we are?

THE RATIONAL ANIMAL'S SYSTEMS: Rachel was all about Stormy again!

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2020

The way Tucker played that same card:
Last evening, the crying and wailing from our youthful analysts extended through the full hour.

The cable star had started her program by "selling the car"—in this case, the company car. Tonight's debate is on NBC and MSNBC, so she spent her first five or six minutes exhorting us rubes to watch.

Her sales pitch didn't exactly make sense. Five minutes in, she said this (no transcript available):
MADDOW (2/18/20): The Democratic primaries are entering into a fascinating phase. If you haven't been paying close attention to the Democratic race yet, or if you haven't yet been trying to make up your own mind about about who you might vote for when the primaries or the caucuses in your state roll around, this would be a good time to start tuning in.

It is getting super-interesting, super-unpredictable.
Honestly, you don't want to wait till after Super Tuesday to start paying attention and start thinking about your own equities in this race. A lot of these candidates are going to have their gooses cooked by then. This is the time to watch.
"Honestly," the cable star said, this is the time to start watching. As she did, she offered a sales pitch which didn't exactly make sense.

What was wrong with the cable star's pitch? For starters, if a lot of these candidates are going to "have their gooses cooked" after Super Tuesday, wouldn't it make better sense to start tuning in after that?

Of course, if you wait until after Super Tuesday, the primaries and caucuses will already have rolled through eighteen of the fifty states. If you live in one of those states, making up your mind wouldn't matter a whole lot after that.

The cable star skipped that point. She was transparently "selling the car"—in this case, the company vehicle. Tonight's debate will be on her owners' stations, and so she was selling it hard.

She used the word "honestly" as any salesperson would. So it goes when transparently shaky individuals are paid millions of dollars—you aren't allowed to know how many millions—to play journalists on cable TV.

As the evening proceeded, the star cut quite a few factual corners. Most horribly, she overstated what "the FBI" (that is, James Comey) had done to Candidate Clinton during the 2016 race, while failing to note the fact that her own program had aggressively taken Comey's side after the first of his two attacks on the candidate.

For several years, this cable star would periodically pose beneath a big, absurdly misleading DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS sign. In part as a result of such acts of misdirection and branding, our nation's informational system has completely fallen apart.

On last night's show, the cable star returned to a tired old topic. The bulk of her show was built around the notion that other figures should have been prosecuted and sent to prison because of that "hush money" payment to Stormy Daniels.

Funny that! Last Friday night, Tucker had played a different side of that very same card. In truth, he'd played it quite convincingly for his millions of viewers.

Uh-oh! Last Friday, Stormy Daniels' heroic lawyer had been convicted of a string of criminal offenses. This fact wasn't mentioned on Rachel's show, but Tucker played it hard.

How did Tucker play this card—the Michael Avenatti card? With the help of videotape, he recalled the way our liberal thought leaders had swooned for this transparent fraudster in the days of yore.

Question: Was anyone ever more transparently phony than Avenatti was? That said, Daniels herself was a piece of work, though our failing, flailing side was completely unable to see that.

According to Daniels, she'd had sex with The Donald on one occasion, back in 2006. This one (1) act had been completely consensual—but ten years later, she wanted to get paid.

(She could have "told her story" at any time. She was seeking cash, as an election neared.)

On Fox, viewers were eventually told, rather convincingly, that Daniels had been involved in an act of extortion. She was shaking down a candidate for a big sack of cash as Election Day neared.

That's what viewers were told on Fox, on programs hosted by Tucker. On our own ridiculous cable channel, people like Rachel never let us ponder this possibility.

Instead, within our own ridiculous tribe, Stormy became a "feminist icon," a "feminist hero." That's how ridiculous our own team now is!

Stormy wanted to get paid for one alleged act of consensual sex which had happened ten years before. Meanwhile, the lawyer who ended up selling her case on TV was so transparently reptilian, so transparently fraudulent, that he was practically wearing a sign to that effect.

That said, our failing team was by now totally tribal. Stormy was a feminist hero; Avenatti was her knight.

How bad did it get on our pseudo-progressive cable news channels? Last Friday night, Tucker rather convincingly reminded his millions of viewers.

For the record, Tucker has never referred to Avenatti by name. He calls him "Creepy Porn Lawyer."

We wouldn't call him that ourselves. But, just as a matter pf fact, he may have been the world's most obvious fraudulent man.

Last Friday night,
Tucker let viewers remember these facts. First, he played tape of Avenatti's appearance on his own program back in September 2018.

On that occasion, Tucker had assailed him for exploiting his client. Tucker played some of that tape Friday night. In part, that re-aired tape went like this:
CARLSON (9/13/18): You're exploiting her and you know that. Why aren't you paying her some of what you're making?

AVENATTI: Sir, this is absurd.

CARLSON: But it's my question. Why are you rich, and your client is working in seedy strip clubs?

AVENATTI: I am not—sir, do you have any idea how much money I've earned?

CARLSON: You're on every cable show. You're running for president!

AVENATTI: You have no idea. You have no idea.

CARLSON: Well, I know that you haven't paid your taxes. Like so many lawyers, you were taking advantage of her, and you pose as a feminist hero because you are shameless and the others let you get away with it, but you're an exploiter of a woman and you should be ashamed of it.
That was part of the way it went back in 2018, when Avenatti went on Tucker's program.

Last Friday night, Tucker played a longer chunk of that tape, but then he stuck the knife in. He let his viewers recall the way our own tribe's stars had lionized this transparently fraudulent man:
CARLSON (2/16/20): Just two years ago, like Napoleon before Waterloo, he was a Colossus of American public life. Cable news producers trembled when they said his name, which we have never said in the show, not one time.

They put him on television almost daily for months on end. They couldn't stop themselves. They loved him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELISE JORDAN: He's a beast.

EDDIE GLAUDE: He's a beast. He keeps popping Donald Trump and all of these folks in the mouth. Jon Meacham says he may be the savior of the republic.

STEPHANIE RUHLE: I owe Michael Avenatti an apology. For the last couple of weeks, I've been saying, "Enough already, Michael. I've seen you everywhere. What would you like to say?" I was wrong, brother.
(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON: No, you don't owe [him] an apology. You owe America an apology for promoting a guy you knew was filthy at the time, but because he hated the same person you hate, you made him seem like a hero.
Jordan, Glaude and Ruhle are all major figures on MSNBC. We wouldn't assume that they "knew [Avenatti] was filthy," but they swallowed him hook, line and sinker.

Avenatti was going to save the republic. On CNN, it got this bad:
CARLSON (2/16/20): We saved all the tape, especially this one. Here's Jeff Zucker's marionette over on CNN telling you that Creepy Porn Lawyer actually is a presidential contender.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN STELTER: Looking ahead to 2020, one reason why I'm taking you seriously as a contender is because of your presence on cable news.

AVENATTI: I've got 20 years of experience at a very high level. As an attorney, I understand how governmental regulations are passed, how laws are passed, how the Supreme Court works. I have an extreme depth of knowledge.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
As far as we know, Brian Stelter isn;t Jeff Zucker's marionette. But Avenatti actually was being hyped as a presidential contender! That's how bad—how unbelievably stupid—it got on our own cable channels, where our informational system has thoroughly fallen apart.

It's hard to know what was dumber—treating Daniels as a "feminist hero," or treating her transparently phony lawyer as a White House contender. But the people we trust to interpret the news aggressively purchased both notions.

Meanwhile, Rachel's show aggressively took Comey's side against Candidate Clinton when he launched his first attack on her in July 2016. As best we can tell, she's never explained why her program took that astounding approach. (Steve Kornacki was guest hosting.)

For herself, Rachel never so much as mentioned Comey's name until late October 2016, when his second attack occurred. Last night, she was overstating the number of attacks "the FBI" lodged against Clinton, even as she forgot to cop to what her own program had done.

Last night, Rachel was selling the car concerning tonight's debate. She then devoted the bulk of the program to her desire to see more people sent to prison concerning Stormy's extortion demands.

Why do millions of people think we liberals are world-class fools? In part, because we plainly are. In part, because they've watched Tucker down through the years, airing convincing segments like the one he aired Friday night.

Thing fall apart, Achebe claimed. If you doubt that, just watch Rachel on cable news any night of the week. Also, read our
tribe's thought leaders as they explain why they fell for Avenatti so hard.

Several essays of that type have emerged in the wake of Avenatti's convictions. We'll link you to those essays tomorrow, and look at some Tucker-style piffle.

Tomorrow: Tucker accepts what he's told

Links to Rachel: As we type, MSNBC has posted no transcripts for Rachel's shows since last Wednesday night.

The channel tends to function that way. It's a heavily slacker "news org."