Portrait of a steady decline!

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2020

The commander-in-chief's health plan: Our failing society's dumbness quotient has grown and grown and grown.

At some point, we'll amuse you with the history of basic cable. We'll recall the lofty goals with which certain well-known channels began, as compared to the low-IQ dreck these channels now put on the air.

That's one way to think about our growing dumbness quotient. Or you can consider what happened last night when Chris Wallace asked the commander in chief about his health care plan.

In the beginning, it seemed to make sense. Wallace started like this:

WALLACE (9/29/20): Mr. President, the Supreme Court will hear a case a week after the election in which the Trump Administration, along with 18 state Attorneys General are seeking to overturn Obamacare, to end Obamacare.

So far, it all made traditional sense. Then the interjections began:

TRUMP (continuing directly): That’s right.

WALLACE: You have spent the last week—

TRUMP: Because they want to give good health care.

WALLACE: If I may ask my question, sir.

Already, Wallace was struggling. And when he tried to continue, so did the interjections:

WALLACE (continuing directly): Over the last four years, you have promised to repeal and replace Obamacare, but you have never, in these four years, come up with a plan, a comprehensive plan, to replace Obamacare—

TRUMP: Yes I have. Of course I have. We got rid of the individual mandate—

WALLACE: Well— When I finish, I'm going to give an opportunity—

TRUMP: Excuse me. I got rid of the individual mandate, which was a big chunk of Obamacare.

The moderator was getting sidetracked again. Before long, he was begging for the chance to get his question out:

WALLACE (continuing directly): That's not a comprehensive plan.

TRUMP: That is absolutely a big thing. That was the worst part of Obamacare.

WALLACE: I didn't ask, sir

TRUMP: Chris, that was the worst part of Obamacare.

WALLACE: You're debating him, not me. Let me ask my question.

TRUMP: Well, I'll ask Joe! The individual mandate was the most unpopular aspect of Obamacare.

WALLACE: Mr. President—

TRUMP: I got rid of it. And we will protect people.

WALLACE: Mr. President, I'm the moderator of this debate, and I would like you to let me ask my question, and then you can answer.

TRUMP: Go ahead.

At this point, Wallace still apparently thought that he was the moderator. "Go ahead," his thick-headed companion now said.

With that, Wallace actually managed to ask a form of his question. He managed to get this much out, occasioning a sad reply

WALLACE (continuing directly): You, in the course of these four years, have never come up with a comprehensive plan to replace Obamacare, and just this last Thursday you signed a largely symbolic Executive Order to protect people with pre-existing conditions five days before this debate. So my question, sir, is what is the Trump healthcare plan?

TRUMP: Well, first of all, I guess I'm debating you, not him. But that's okay. I'm not surprised...

Poor Trump! Just as he insightfully said during one of the 2016 debates, he was being forced to debate the moderator as well as the other candidate!

At this point, Trump briefly rambled the countryside, tossing in insults directed at Biden. He managed to make an incoherent claim about drug prices.

"What about preconditions?" Wallace actually said at one point. Basically, though, the commander ignored him, and the moderator finally gave up.

Wallace had been trying to ask a fairly obvious question. Trump has been claiming to have a health care plan for years, but he just keeps failing to release or describe it.

Some within the realm of "fake news" have suggested that he may not have a health care plan at all! In theory, Wallace was trying to make Trump talk about that, but he was defeated by the interjections, the interruptions, and the general all-around dumbness.

Bravo was supposed to be all about the arts. Now it's about the real housewives.

Kennedy and Nixon once spoke at great length. Now our "debates" look like this!

And also, such dumbness as this: All the way back in 1999, Candidate Gore had that one earth-toned suit. 

Our nation's pod of upper-end journalists discussed it for several years!


THE ERA WHICH WAS: In our view, an auspicious event!

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2020

Trump on display as he is: In this era of 24-hour "news," how quickly they forget!

On Sunday evening, the New York Times reported that Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes in both 2016 and 2017.

Also, that he paid no federal income taxes in ten of the previous fifteen years.

That second claim strikes us as standard journalistic deception, of a type which has widely prevailed in this, The Era Which Was.  We expect to return to that topic tomorrow.

For today, how quickly they turn! After watching hours of post-debate punditry last evening and this morning, we've seen no one say a single world about yesterday's top concern!

It isn't like the topic didn't arise during last evening's "debate." Chris Wallace directly challenged the commander on this matter, though we'd be inclined to say that Wallace backed off in the end. 

With apologies, here's the bulk of the transcript of the non-discussion discussion. We're omitting various interjections and interruptions:

WALLACE (9/29/20): Mr. President, as you well know, there's a new report that in 2016, the year you were elected president, and 2017, your first year as president, that you paid $750 a year in federal income tax each of those years. I know that you pay a lot of other taxes, but I'm asking you this specific question. Is it true that you paid $750 in federal income taxes each of those two years?

TRUMP: I paid millions of dollars in taxes, millions of dollars of income tax. And let me just tell you, there was a story in one of the papers that paid—I paid $38 million one year, I paid $27 million one year.

[...]

You know, if you wanted to, go to the board of elections. There's a 118 page or so report that says everything I have, every bank I have. I'm totally under leveraged because the assets are extremely good, and I built a great company.

WALLACE: Sir, I'm asking you a specific question, which is—

[crosstalk]

WALLACE: No, Mr. President, I'm asking you a question. Will you tell us how much you paid in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017?

TRUMP: Millions of dollars.

WALLACE: You paid millions of dollars in—

TRUMP: Millions of dollars, yes.

WALLACE: So not 750?

TRUMP: Millions of dollars. And you'll get to see it. And you'll get to see it.

BIDEN: When?

TRUMP: Chris, let me just say something, that it was the tax laws. I don't want to pay tax. Before I came here, I was a private developer, I was a private business people. Like every other private person, unless they're stupid, they go through the laws, and that's what it is. He passed a tax bill that gave us all these privileges for depreciation and for tax credits. We build the building and we get tax credits, like the hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. Which by the way, was given to me by the Obama administration, if you can believe that. Now the man got fired right after that happened, but that's-

WALLACE: Vice President Biden, you want to respond?

"Chris, let me just say something," Donald Trump skillfully said.

With that, a filibuster began, after which Wallace relented. We'd describe the statement we've quoted as an example of "famous last words."

Back to our basic point. In that long, multiply-interrupted exchange, the commander seemed to say that he paid millions of dollars in federal income taxes in both 2016 and 2017. Rather plainly, he seemed to contradict what the Tmeshad reported.

That said, it seemed to us that the accumulated confusion was substantial. For that reason, it seemed to us that Wallace should have asked him to state that as a specific claim at the end of the hubbub. 

Instead, the commander staged a filibuster. To our ear, it seemed to us that Wallace then let him escape.

All in all, we thought Wallace did a perfectly decent job last night in a lunatic situation. That said, we thought he should have nailed down the commander's apparent claim.

That said, it was fairly clear that the commander had actually said it. He seemed to say that he paid millions of dollars in federal income tax each of those years, not the $750 the New York Times had reported.

As of yesterday afternoon, it was the number-one topic on earth. But so what? From 10:45 Eastern last night through 8 o'clock Eastern today, we didn't see a single reporter or pundit mention what Donald Trump said.

So it goes in the current era, an era known to future experts as The Era Which Was. 

Journalistic attention spans have become extremely limited during this badly fraught period. Under the stress of the 24-hour "news" cycle, our journalists have tended to let major issues slide, focusing instead on Whatever Donald Trump Did or Said in The Past Fifteen Minutes.

A similar pattern has played out in the case of the $750. Also, in the case of the claim that the commander often paid no federal income taxes at all. 

We expect to return to that Times report tomorrow. For this morning, we offer this instant reaction concerning last evening's debacle:

Last night's debacle may have been the most helpful event in a very long time. Beyond that, we'd say it was a milestone in the age of presidential politics as conducted on television.

Televised presidential debates began in 1960. Our "journalists" never tire of telling a silly, long-debunked tale in which Nixon won the first debate on the radio but Kennedy won on TV.

Our journalists love their stories! Last night, Joy Reid offered a slightly improved version of that long-debunked tale in the rollicking, entertaining hour MSNBC aired before the debate. All in all, our journalists observe one basic rule:

They never surrender their bullshit.

In part because of that silly story, that first Kennedy-Nixon debate has become iconic. Routinely, journalists say it showed the powerful role television was destined to play in presidential politics.

Television has played a major role in presidential politics. Today, we'll suggest a possibility:

We'll suggest the possibility that television has never played a larger role in presidential politics than it did last night. We suggest that for this reason:

All over the land, on TV screens, people were shown the commander in chief last night as he actually is. We'll guess that for most people—though not for all—he came across very badly.

Different people react in different ways to the various things we all see. Late last night, on CNN, six undecided Ohio voters in Ohio said that last night's debate helped them make up their minds.

Four of them said they'll be voting for Biden. Two of them watched last night's debate, then said they'll be voting for Trump.

We respect the reactions of all six of these fellow citizens. But again, we'll advance this guess:

On their TV screens last night, voters saw Trump as he actually is. We'll guess that, on balance, this will tilt things toward Biden.

No, Virginia! Kennedy didn't lose that debate on the radio but win that debate on TV. Our journalists love to repeat that memorized tale because repetition  is what they do best.

Kennedy didn't gain the White House that way, but Trump may have lost it last night. The magic of a familiar technology placed him on our TV screens. 

Last night, on our TV screens, he was seen as he actually is.

There were no interruptions: There were zero interruptions in that first TV debate. Kennedy listened as Nixon spoke. Nixon listened to Kennedy. 

There were no interruptions. That said, Theodore White didn't like what he saw.

In his iconic book, The Making of the President, 1960, White described the problems which obtained as Kennedy and Nixon debated. There were zero interruptions, but White was troubled by this:

WHITE (page 294): [R]arely in American history has there been a political campaign that discussed issues less or clarified them less.

The TV debates, in retrospect, were the greatest opportunity ever for such discussion, but it was an opportunity missed...All TV and radio discussion programs are compelled to snap question and answer back and forth as if the contestants were adversaries in an intellectual tennis match. Although every experienced newspaperman and inquirer knows that the most thoughtful and responsive answers to any difficult question comes after long pause, and that the longer the pause the more illuminating the thought that follows it, nonetheless the electronic media cannot bear to suffer a pause of more than five seconds; a pause of thirty seconds of dead time on air seems interminable. Thus, snapping their two-and-a-half-minute answers back and forth, both candidates could only react for the cameras and the people, they could not think. And, since two and a half minutes permit only a snatch of naked thought and a spatter of raw facts, both candidates, whenever caught out on a limb with a thought too heavy for two-minute exploration, a thought seemingly too bold or fresh to be accepted by the conditioned American mind, hastily scuttled back toward center as soon as they had enunciated the thought.

The candidates were given two and a half minutes that night. There were zero interruptions. Each man was permitted to speak.

Nevertheless, White was appalled by what he saw. That wasn't sufficient time for this pair of experienced men to outline the full complexity of their thoughts. 

(We'll note that White didn't miss the chance to roll his eyes at "the conditioned American kind." Our elites have been playing this way for a very long time.)

White thought TV had murdered debate. Fast-forward, if you will, to last night!


Does Bret Stephens' column make any sense?

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2020

The thinking of one Trump voter: Does Bret Stephens' column make any sense in today's New York Times?

Stephens interviews a New York City woman (he calls her "Chris") who's going to vote for Trump. She was "enthusiastic for Bernie Sanders in 2016," Stephens writes—and not only that, she's a lesbian!

Despite all this, she's going to vote for Donald J. Trump! Stephens seems to think that Democrats have something to learn from this particular voter.

Personally, we'd like to see Trump voters interviewed much more often. We'd like to see such interviews on CNN and MSNBC.

That said, we don't see any benefit to a lazy effort like this. Stephens has really phoned it in. Here's the start of his presentation of Chris' point of view:

STEPHENS (9/29/20): It’s worth understanding where she’s coming from.

Start with the economy. “I haven’t seen double digit [gains] in my 401(k) since the internet boom of the late ’90s,” she says. “It went up 19.6 percent” in the year before the pandemic. “Look at the stock market,” she says. (Up about 35 percent from four years ago.) “Look at gas prices.” (About the same as what they were when Trump took office, but well below the $3.31 per gallon at the midpoint of the Obama administration.)

The stock market is up under Trump, as is the natural state of affairs. Such comparisons are parlous, but all in all, it looks like it was up more under Obama.

Now consider gas prices. According to Stephens, they're "about the same as what they were" at the end of Obama's tenure. If so, it's hard to see why we should feel that Trump has worked some sort of miracle here. 

For the record, presidents don't set or control the price of gas.  Nor does it make any obvious sense to compare today's gas prices to where they were midway through Obama's tenure, as Stephens does.

Regarding Chris' 401K, she says it went up by 20% last year, as it may have done. That's one plan's gain in one single year. 

A quick search seems to show analysts saying that 401K gains were as good or better under Obama and others. Stephens made no such search.

In short, it's interesting to see what Chris is saying, but Stephens makes no serious attempt to see if her perceptions and claims make sense. At times, he seems to be putting his thumb on the scale in support of her possibly puzzling views.

Next, Stephens presents Chris' negative views about Obamacare. She's still talking about the website snafu. 

At this point, does this really make sense? Meanwhile, Stephens doesn't seek her view about Trump's lack of a health care proposal.

From there, it's on to the pandemic. Why would a newspaper like the Times but bullshit like this in print?

STEPHENS: Then there’s the pandemic. “Is Trump trying to play it down?” she asks. “Yeah. But when this first started, the news media was saying that millions of people were going to die. And look at it: 200,000, compared to the population.”

When the pandemic started, were "the news media" really "saying that millions of people were going to die?" 

Stephens provides a link to one (1) interview at CNBC in mid-March in which one (1) health analyst is pushed into saying that this outcome wouldn't surprise her if worse comes to worse through successive waves of infection over an unspecified amount of time.

That's what one (1) health analyst said in one (1) interview. At that same point in March, Trump himself was saying that millions of people were going to die this year alone if we didn't intervene. But it's absurd to say that "the news media" were making some such general statement. Nor is it clear how that would help us evaluate Trump's performance. 

Stephens really has it on cruise control as this former Sanders enthusiast speaks. Meanwhile, this is Chris' gloomy view of life in Gotham itself:

STEPHENS (continuing directly): What worries her more are the effects of the response to the pandemic in a liberal city like New York. “Crime is in my neighborhood now. There’s a homeless encampment near me that’s growing and growing. They have a living room and a shower curtain and that’s where they go to the bathroom. I have a guy who walks in front of the store every day. In a diaper! And there’s lawlessness coming into the store every day, with an attitude of ‘Who’s gonna stop me?’” Regarding Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, she adds, “I can’t put into words how inept this guy is.”

It's a horrible day in the neighborhood wherever it is that Chris works. For the record, that's a very "Fox News" account of life in These Liberal Cities Today. 

People may well sour on liberal governance to the extent that such descriptions are accurate. That said, did Stephens go where Chris lives and works  to see if her claims make sense?

There's zero sign that he ever did any such thing. What he actually did is just phone her claims in. His work is amazingly lazy. 

There's little point in interviewing Trump voters if you aren't going to make any attempt to fact-check, analyze or evaluate their perceptions and claims. We'd like to see liberals exposed to Trump voters but not in this silly, faux manner..

Voters within our own self-impressed tribe are full of shaky claims too. Meanwhile, the New York Times crawls with vapid work. With these lazy, bumbling efforts, our tribe tries to take out Trump.


THE ERA WHICH WAS: When DJT paid the AMT!

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2020

The NYT's sleight of hand: Walter Cronkite wasn't crazy. Neither was David Brinkley.

In 1965, Cronkite anchored the CBS Evening News. Huntley co-anchored NBC's evening news program, The Huntley-Brinkley Report.

Brinkley's co-anchor was Chet Huntley. He didn't seem to be crazy either. None of these fellows did.

In 1963, these network news programs had been expanded from 15 to 30 minutes per night. Essentially, this was all a person could watch when it came to TV news. 

In short, there wasn't a lot of TV news in 1965. Even better, the people who anchored these nightly news programs didn't seem to be crazy. 

You rarely saw them make crazy statements. We're not sure they ever did!

In truth, it was hard to hear crazy statements in 1965. Our current era, The Era Which Was, hadn't quite started yet.

That said, talk radio was starting in San Francisco, not far from where we were finishing high school.  If memory serves, a bit of the Crazy actually was starting to show up there as Les Crane, and then Ira Blue, screamed and yelled at their callers.

(Crane would even slam the phone down on his callers. It was like talking to NAME WITHHELD at the Washington Post!)

We recall being puzzled by the turn toward the loud, the opinionated and the crazy on those KGO programs. That was largely because there hadn't been a lot of crazy around before that.

In 1965, it was actually hard to hear crazy statements. If you wanted to hear one version of the Crazy, you had to send away to the John Birch Society. After that, you'd have to wait until they mailed you back. 

In the meantime, there were Cronkite, Brinkley and Huntley. They delivered their half-hour news reports. That wasn't just the way it was, that was also all there was.

Today, thanks to new technologies, the Crazy is everywhere. And not only that! The Crazy is everywhere  on a 24-hour basis. 

Some of the crazy, or the selective, or the misleading or flatly inaccurate comes from organized corporate  sources. Talk radio, cable TV and the Internet are sources of the crazy or wrong on a round-the-clock basis.

That said, a large amount of the misleading or bogus now comes to us from regular people. "Social media" makes this possible. On occasion, Putin joins in!

The Crazy is everywhere today, and we humans are lacking in basic discernment. It's also true that our biggest journalistic stars may not always be well informed or fully cogent.

Yesterday morning, at 6 A.M., we were watching Morning Joe. We'd quit the show within the last year, so ridiculous had it become. Yesterday, we wondered how Joe would handle the bombshell report about the commander's taxes.

The program opened with videotape of Donald J. Trump saying that he does pay taxes. Also, that the New York Times' giant front-page report was "fake news." 

As he's done for six years, Trump said he'd release his tax returns once the IRS audit was done. 

"The IRS doesn't treat me well," the commander in chief complained. Then, Joe and Mika said this:

JOE (9/28/20): You know, he's actually right, Mika. He does pay taxes He—I think, what was it, last year, he paid $750 in taxes?

MIKA: Yeah.

JOE: Ten out of 15 years he paid zero percent in taxes? Think actually of the nurses who paid more in federal income taxes than Donald Trump over the last decade. Think of all the construction workers...

As everyone else on the planet knew, the celebrities had it wrong. Below, you see paragraphs 1, 2 and 5 of the bombshell report the stars were now discussing:

BUETTNER ET AL (9/28/20): Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency. In his first year in the White House, he paid another $750.

He had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years—largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.

[...]

The New York Times has obtained tax-return data extending over more than two decades for Mr. Trump and the hundreds of companies that make up his business organization, including detailed information from his first two years in office. It does not include his personal returns for 2018 or 2019. 

The lengthy report doesn't cover Trump's tax payments from "last year." On Sunday evening, we'd watched several hours of pundit discussions which made this basic point clear.

The Times report doesn't cover Trump's taxes from last year. Now it was Monday morning, and Joe and Mika didn't seem to know that. 

Their error doesn't make any difference; at this point, nothing does. But Joe and Mika are seven- or eight-figure TV stars, and they literally didn't know the first thing about the Times report.

This doesn't qualify as the Crazy, although this sort of thing does help nudge the Crazy along. 

Yesterday afternoon and evening, we were puzzled as various TV pundits offered dueling capsule accounts of what the Times had reported.

Some pundits said that Donald K. Trump had paid no income taxes in 10 of the 17 years on which the Times was reporting. Others said he had paid no income taxes in 11 of 18 years.

We're still not entirely sure where the eighteenth year comes from (more to follow). We saw no one stop to explain.

That isn't the Crazy either. It simply represents the culture of round-the-clock TV news.

Might we state the obvious? "Cable news" would be much more competent if it didn't create so much product. 

The same might be said of opinion columns. Consider Bret Stephens's column in this morning's New York Times.

Why do Trump voters vote for Trump? That strikes us as a very important question.

It's also true that there's no easy way to answer any such question. Today, Stephens reports his interview with one Trump voter, a gay woman in New York City who's a registered Democrat.

According to Stephens, "she was enthusiastic for Bernie Sanders in 2016" but will vote for Trump this year. Stephens reports her reasons for favoring Trump, failing to note that some of her statements make little sense on a purely factual basis.

(We'd be less dismissive of some of her views make perfect sense. For example, we share her view that Biden-Harris is a weak ticket.)

Do Democrats have something to learn from this one voter, who Stephens describes as an "outlier?" Almost surely, the answer is yes, but Stephens makes no attempt to say what it is.

We'd like to see our favorite stars speak to more Trump voters. Even so, it seemed to us that Stephens was phoning it in.

That doesn't qualify as the Crazy, just as the not super-sharp. That said, let's return to the basic claim made in the New York Times news report. As we do, let's ponder a possible sleight of hand within the the lengthy report.

Below, you see paragraphs three million and three million and one from the ten million paragraph report. Assuming the highlighted statements are accurate, they seem to undermine what the Times said way up in paragraph 5:

BUETTNER: Mr. Trump was periodically required to pay a parallel income tax called the alternative minimum tax, created as a tripwire to prevent wealthy people from using huge deductions, including business losses, to entirely wipe out their tax liabilities.

Mr. Trump paid alternative minimum tax in seven years between 2000 and 2017—a total of $24.3 million, excluding refunds he received after filing.

For the record, Buettner seems to be speaking about eighteen years in that passage, rather than seventeen. Elsewhere, he seems to say that the Times examined new data for eighteen years, including the year 2000.

("The Times examined and analyzed the data from thousands of individual and business tax returns for 2000 through 2017, along with additional tax information from other years.")

How many new years of data did the Times obtain? You'd almost think that financial journalists could keep such matters straight. 

Much more significantly, consider what Buettner says about the AMT—the alternative minimum tax.

As Buettner notes, the AMT was created as a type of substitute for the federal income tax.  If, under the tax code's welter of rules, an individual ended up owing no income tax, he would have to pay the AMT instead.

Sad! According to the Times, in seven years when Trump "paid no income tax," he did make AMT submissions—and those submissions totaled slightly more than $24 million. 

During those seven years, Trump averaged $3.5 million per year in AMT submissions. Did we mention the fact that the AMT was designed as an alternate form of—as a substitute or replacement for—the federal income tax?

During seven of the years in question, Trump paid no "income tax"—but he paid an average of $3.5 million in the alternative minimum tax! Journalistically, that has to be an all-time example of a "distinction without a difference." 

Sadly, it seems to leave us with only three years when the commander paid no income tax. Let's review the basic concepts:

The T in AMT does in fact stand for "tax." (The A stands for "alternative.") 

In other words, the AMT was designed as an alternative form of the income tax. It takes the place of the income tax when, under the rules of the game, no "income tax" is owed.

Yesterday morning, Joe and Mika (literally) didn't know the first thing the Times had said. Beyond that, it's hard to tell if the new data the Times acquired covers seventeen or eighteen years.

That's fairly minor stuff. The kicker would be this:

At some point, Stephens' outlier Trump supporter is going to hear about the way the New York Times glossed the role of the alternative minimum tax. 

She'll be told that the Times was selling fake news about the commander. Are we sure that claim will be inaccurate?

The Crazy starts to arrive on the scene when various people stop listening to people like Cronkite and Brinkley. When they decide that it makes no sense to credit the New York Times.

It seems to us that the Times report involved some sleight of hand. Did Cronkite and Brinkley ever do that?

Before The Era Which Was took shape, very few people thought that!

Again with what Joe said: Again, here's what Joe said:

JOE (9/28/20): You know, he's actually right, Mika. He does pay taxes He—I think, what was it, last year, he paid $750 in taxes?

MIKA: Yeah.

JOE: Ten out of 15 years he paid zero percent in taxes? Think actually of the nurses who paid more in federal income taxes than Donald Trump over the last decade. 

Oof! In seven of those ten years, Trump "paid zero percent in taxes" unless you count the millions he paid in that alternative tax!

Those nurses did pay more than Trump in "federal income taxes." But he paid millions more than they did in that alternative tax.

Absent further explanation, this strikes us as sleight of hand. Could a sensible person possibly say that this is slightly "fake?"


We have two questions about the report!

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2020

They take shape in its opening paragraphs: We have two questions about the New York Times' bombshell report.

The questions take shape in its opening paragraphs. Our first questions goes like this:

Question 1: If Trump was losing tons of money, why would he pay income tax?

This question takes shape in the first four paragraphs. The Times report starts like this:

BUETTNER (9/28/20): Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency. In his first year in the White House, he paid another $750.

He had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years—largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.

[...]

The tax returns that Mr. Trump has long fought to keep private tell a story fundamentally different from the one he has sold to the American public. His reports to the I.R.S. portray a businessman who takes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year yet racks up chronic losses that he aggressively employs to avoid paying taxes. Now, with his financial challenges mounting, the records show that he depends more and more on making money from businesses that put him in potential and often direct conflict of interest with his job as president.

That's what the Times report says. It says that Trump was "losing much more money than he made," apparently on a regular basis. It seems to say that he was "rack[ing] up chronic losses" year after year after year.

Our question, and yes, it's bone simple: If a businessperson loses more money than he takes in, what would be pay income taxes on? 

If he loses more money than he takes in, in what sense does he have any income at all? Why would he pay income taxes?

That's our first bone-simple question. Our second one goes like this:

Question 2: Did the New York Times really acquire Donald Trump's tax returns?

Did the Times acquire Trump's tax returns? The report doesn't quite seem to say that. This is paragraph 5, continuing from above:

BUETTNER ET AL (continuing directly): The New York Times has obtained tax-return data extending over more than two decades for Mr. Trump and the hundreds of companies that make up his business organization, including detailed information from his first two years in office. It does not include his personal returns for 2018 or 2019. This article offers an overview of The Times’s findings; additional articles will be published in the coming weeks.

In that passage, the reporters clearly say that they didn't obtain the commander-in-chief's "personal returns for 2018 or 2019." 

Our question: Did they obtain his "personal returns" for any other year? It doesn't seem clear that they make this claim in that passage, or anywhere else in their lengthy report, although they always may have.

In that passage, the reporters only say that they have obtained the commander's "tax-return data." In the next paragraph, it almost sounds like they're saying that they obtained the gent's "returns." But we'd have to say that they don't flatly make that statement.

If "the tax data examined by the Times" (paragraph 10) are accurate, this would presumably qualify as a distinction without a difference. But did they actually obtain the commander's "personal returns?" 

This seems like a basic question. Has the question been answered?

For extra credit: If a businessman loses a boatload of money, does he owe income tax?

We'll guess the answer is buried within our convoluted tax system.  We'll guess that, for all practical purposes, the complexity of the system may make questions like that impossible to answer.

We'll guess that, for all practical purposes, our tax system is too complex to explain. This would make it another one of our many failing systems. 

We have a boatload of failing systems. Is our first bone-simple question today perhaps too hard to explain?


THE ERA WHICH WAS: This has been An Era Which Was!

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2020

A remarkable learning experience: Last evening, we thought of The Plague (La Peste)—of the way Camus' denizens of Oran struggle to comprehend the change taking place around them.

That part of Camus' novel is a discerning, though affectionate, portrait of human discernment. 

We also been thinking of the old TV show, That Was The Week That Was. 

We recall it as a breakthrough show during our late high school years. Oddly, we can't say that we specifically recall ever having watched it, although we assume we did.

What was That Was The Week That Was? The leading authority on the program begins its account as shown:

That Was the Week That Was, informally TWTWTW or TW3, was a satirical television comedy program on BBC Television in 1962 and 1963. It was devised, produced, and directed by Ned Sherrin and presented by David Frost.

The program is considered a significant element of the satire boom in the UK in the early 1960s, as it broke ground in comedy by lampooning political figures...An American version under the same title aired on NBC from 1964 to 1965, also featuring Frost.

That Was The Week That Was displayed a new attitude.  

For a certain demographic, the most significant TV event of the era was the Dr. Kildare two-part drama, Tyger, Tyger, which gave the world Yvette Mimieux plus an important new message.

In college, we learned that everyone remembered a particular Superman episode from grade school years. It was the episode which ended with Superman explaining how he knew which of two identical clowns to save from certain death.

("I knew the real Chuckles the Clown would never let a man fall to his death," Superman explains to Lois Lane at the end of the program. We still regard it as one of the most succinct moral lessons ever published or aired.)

Those were transformative TV events. But That Was The Week That Was introduced a new attitude, as a few other major figures were doing at that time. The leading authority fleshes out its portrait of the  show:

An American version was on NBC from 10 November 1963 to May 1965. The pilot featured Henry Fonda and Henry Morgan, with Mike Nichols and Elaine May as guests, and supporting performers including Gene Hackman. The recurring cast included Frost, Morgan, Buck Henry, and Alan Alda...; regular contributors included Gloria Steinem, William F. Brown, Tom Lehrer, and Calvin Trillin...

The American version is largely a lost program, although the pilot survives and was donated to the Library of Congress by a collector. Amateur audio recordings of most episodes also survive.

We graduated from high school in June 1965. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, audio recordings survive. 

"In any man [sic] who dies there dies with him his first snow and kiss and fight, " Yevtushenko wrote in his human being-affirming poem, People.

"There are left books and bridges and painted canvas and machinery," he wrote. "Whose fate is to survive."

Thus spake Yevtushenko. "But what has gone is also not nothing: by the rule of the game something has gone," the poet opines as he continues 

"Not people die but worlds die in them. Whom we knew as faulty, the earth’s creatures."

Audio recordings of the old TV program survive. So has the sound of that program's title as we contemplate our current era, which very much qualifies as An Era Which Was.

The era of which we speak didn't begin with Trump. It was already underway with the relentless work of Ceci Connolly, and with the forbearance of her editors at the Washington Post. 

It was underway with the transparent lunacy, and the deranged name-calling, of TV's Chris Matthews. That started in 1999, then continued, as mainstream and liberal reporters and pundits agreed to avert their gaze. 

The era had been underway long before that—for example, in the story Joe Klein told about the way  New York Times honchos first spotted the brilliance of Maureen Dowd. (In 1984, Walter Mondale didn't know which woman he should hug first!)

The era was well underway when Jerry Falwell peddled his Clinton Chronicles videotape about the Clintons' many murders, once again with the mainstream and elite almost wholly looking away. 

The era has always been with us! From way back in our college years, we remember this episode as it occurred in real time:

BIEHLER (2017): In the summer of 1967, President Lyndon Johnson asked Congress for $40 million to support rat control in communities engaged with his Model Cities program. Model Cities and the Rat Extermination Act were part of Johnson’s agenda to invest in black neighborhoods long deprived of resources for housing, infrastructure and economic development by segregationist policies.

Black leaders like Whitney Young and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. urged a multi-billion dollar program of urban redevelopment, but Congress even refused many of Johnson’s more modest requests. The Rat Extermination Act was one small example of this: When it came up for debate, Congressmen from rural districts laughed it off the floor. Rep. James Broyhill of North Carolina drawled, “the rat smart thing to do is to vote down this civil rats bill, rat now.”

We recall that congressman's witty use of regional humor, though we wouldn't have remembered his name. If memory serves, and we think it does, we saw his witty performance  on the day it occurred, right there on our TV machine. 

That was The Summer of 67. In this country, That Was The Week That Was had stopped airing two years before.

Nichols and May were a superb, intelligent comedy team. William F. Brown went on to write The Wiz (1974), but also the semi-prophetic How To Steal An Election (1968). 

Today, his authorship of The Wiz would be seen for the manifestation of systemic racism and white male privilege it now dogmatically is. Brown also wrote episodes of Love American Style, suggesting the possibility that things were already in headlong decline shortly after The Week That Was disappeared from the air.

Last night, we thought about Camus' portrait of the citizens of Oran as they try to comprehend (to see) what is happening around them. That (affectionate) part of Camus' novel is a study of human discernment, an entity which has always been in limited supply.

Over the weekend, we were struck by the New York Times' decision to publish a catalogue of all the times anyone ever used blackface, or currently seems to have done so, on American TV during the "21st century," which is now twenty years old.  

As we always do at such moments, we thought about this:

We've never seen the New York Times attempt to speak in a serious way about the experiences of black kids in our low-income public schools. Instead, they obsess about who can get into Stuyvesant High, then possibly get into Yale. 

Also, they scold Jimmy Kimmel for what he did when he performed an impression of Karl Malone, a major NBA star. It's human discernment in action!

We also spent some time this weekend reviewing the news reports about the death last month of Cannon Hinnant. He was (deliberately) shot and killed, at the age of 5, as he rode his bike in front of his home accompanied by his sisters, ages 7 and 8.

The event turned into a brief second-order hubbub. One part of this report in Forbes qualifies as "journalistically dumb beyond all belief."  This defensive report in the Washington Post was almost as transparently faux. 

(Our advice: See paragraph 13 in the Post report, but then perform some checking. When Forbes lists the news orgs which did in fact report the shooting, click the various links it provides. Prepare to marvel at the limits to human discernment or honesty, even at high journalistic levels.)

We're living in the dangerous days of This Era Which Was. In the backwash of the rise of 1) talk radio, 2) "cable news," 3) the Internet and 4) social media, the era has given us an unusual chance to observe the remarkable limits of human discernment.

We humans! Our discernment is very limited—although, as Camus gently suggests, that doesn't make us bad people.  It does suggest this possibility:

Nothing even a tiny bit gold can be expected to stay.

We've decided to cast ourselves in the role of Don Corleone in the garden. In a certain well-known film, the gentleman retires there to drink a bit more wine, to offer advice to his son when asked, and to play an affectionate game with a 3-year-old child in the moments before he dies. 

Relieved of the burden of control of the family, he's free to ruminate more widely. As viewers, we're left to ponder the mystery of the film in question:

We're left to wonder how a person who viciously murders other people all through the course of a film can be a sympathetic figure all through and in the end. The answer, of course, is supplied early on, when we see Corleone say this:

"I refused to be a fool."

We humans! We rarely take so clear a stand on that particular issue! Instead, as Cummings notes, we "unflinchingly applaud all songs containing the words country home and mother when sung at the old howard," or whatever words are currently found in the songs our tribe is singing.

The godfather refused to be a fool. We humans may be inclined to respect such defiance, though he almost surely could have found a better way to do it.

This has very strongly been An Era Which Was! Thanks to the rise of those new technologies, it's been an amazing time for people-watching, for seeing the way members of our species—"faulty, the earth's creatures"—are actually inclined to reason, to puzzle things out. 

At this site, we've receive consultation from highly-credentialed, major top figures from the world of anthropology. We'll continue to offer random observations from our spot in the garden we've chosen, though generally while continuing to channel these unnamed top major experts.

As it turns out, our human discernment is very limited. This era is giving us  a chance to see this surprising state of affairs as it's acted out in real time, and no, this trademark lack of discernment isn't all found Over There.

Tomorrow: Whatever comes to mind! 


Explaining how Donald J. Trump reached the White House!

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2020

Simply put, not up to the task: Last year, in 2019, we began to ask an award-winning question:

What makes you think that we'll even have a White House election this year?

In truth, we didn't quite understand our own question. We were in receipt of imprecise tips from major  experts who report to us from the future—from the years which follow the global conflagration they refer to as Mister Trump's War.

These despondent scholars were glumly suggesting that no real election would happen this year. With Barton Gellman's new report in The Atlantic, we may be starting to see what these despondent major experts may have meant by their vague remarks.

Might this yea's election results be nullified by lawsuits and state-level machinations involving the electoral college? Might that turn out to be the story behind the award-winning question we started asking last year?

Will this year's election results be nullified? We can't answer that question! But the fact that the question is being asked shows how far down a dangerous road we've traveled since Trump descended that escalator after four year serving as king of the birthers.

The nation's headlong descent began with Trump's razor-thin election win. So how did he ever get to the White House? How in the world did he get there?

We can answer that question! In large part, the answer involves the feckless behavior of our own self-impressed liberal tribe.

We were having a ton of fun in 2016 at this time! Our tribunes kept filing reports about how Candidate Clinton couldn't possibly lose, even though it was always clear that she actually could.

Astonishingly, the Maddow Show explicitly took James Comey's side when he trashed Candidate Clinton in July 2016. Maddow rolled over and died about Comey that year, just as she'd done all through the autumn of 2012 as Susan Rice was burned at the stake and the Benghazi narratives took form. 

Comey's behavior, and the Benghazi narratives, each played a major part in sending Trump to the White House. Maddow (and others) took major dives as each of these storms took shape.

Those events were bad enough, but the problem was much more extensive. In April 2015, the New York Times published its crazy Uranium One report. The 4400-word front-page report was based on Peter Schweizer's crazy Clinton Cash book, and it was full of logical howlers.

It was a totally crazy report. When the New York Times published it, major tribunes of the tribe failed to say boo about it.

On the brighter side, Michelle Goldberg ended up with a spot as a regular New York Times columnist. She and Chris Hayes rolled over and died on the night in 2015 when the crazy report—4400 words long!—appeared in the glorious Times. 

Goldberg's ascension testifies to the personal gain which can result from a dangerous silence—from a refusal to tell the truth, from a refusal to fight. We recall that silence every time we read one of her columns.

Our lunatic president reached the White House by beating Candidate Clinton. This followed 24 years of war against Candidate Clinton—a war our compliant tribal tribunes endlessly failed to identify or oppose.

How clueless is our tribe, even today, about this long-running war? Consider a piece which appeared in last Sunday's New York Times Book Review. It ran under this extremely salient headline:

Why Is Hillary Clinton So Hated?

Why is Clinton so hated? To the extent that you can answer that question, you can explain how the grossly disordered Donald J. Trump ever reached the Oval Office, from which venue he now attempts to terminate Roe v. Wade, The Affordable Care Act and the American experiment. 

As such, that question is very important. Needless to say, the answer was missing in action in the book review which ran beneath that headline in Sunday's New York Times.

The review was written by Noreen Malone, who is almost surely a thoroughly good, decent person. Unfortunately, something else is true about Malone, if we assume that her piece for the Times was written in good faith:

If we assume that she wrote her piece in good faith, Malone knows virtually nothing about the reasons why Candidate Clinton was "so hated." In that sense, she knows nothing about the way our disordered and dangerous commander in chief managed to get where he is.

Who the heck is Noreen Malone? According to the Times' identity line, she's "a writer and editor [and] the host of an upcoming season of Slate’s Slow Burn podcast." 

She graduated from Columbia in the class of 2007. According to her LinkedIn page, she still serves as "editorial director" at New York magazine. 

Malone works for New York magazine and for Slate. This suggests that she, like so many others, would never explain why Clinton was so hated, even if she actually knows.

Liberal careerists have avoided such questions for the past 28 years. This largely explains the massive know-nothing political cluelessness which infests our failing tribe.

Why was Hillary Clinton so hated during Campaign 2016? As Malone addresses that question, she points the finger at "right-wing attacks" and at misogyny, and of course at Clinton herself.

She fails to mention the decades of enmity against Hillary Clinton which emerged from the upper-end mainstream press, very much including the famous newspaper for which she penned this review. 

She fails to mention the fact that the Whitewater pseudo-scandals began on the front page of the New York Times. She fails to mention the subsequent, related War Against Gore, which raged in the Times and the Washington Post and all over NBC cable.

She fails to mention the continuing enmity which drove so much New York Times coverage during Campaign 2016. That includes, but is hardly limited to, the crazy Uranium One report the Times cut-and-pasted live and direct from the crackpot anti-Clinton right. 

For the record, Malone was reviewing a new book by Michael D'Antonio, The Hunting of Hillary: The Forty-Year Campaign to Destroy Hillary Clinton.

Malone makes the book sound like major hackwork. That could be a fair assessment.

That said, why was Hillary Clinton so hated—so hated that a nutcase like Trump actually reached the Oval? Staying within major zones of safety, Malone offers this at one point:

MALONE (9/20/20): D’Antonio does a certain amount of feminist-inflected analysis in his text, particularly in the early biographical chapters...It’s impossible to argue with the substance of this—misogyny is hypermagnetized toward Clinton, not to mention virtually every woman in politics or the public eye—but it’s a comment that’s certainly been made before. And in places, D’Antonio seems a little blinkered from noticing sexism that doesn’t target Clinton herself. He isn’t particularly generous or thoughtful in his assessment of the way the media treated women like Paula Jones or Monica Lewinsky, or Juanita Broaddrick, who made a credible accusation of rape against Bill Clinton that has, in recent years, become the subject of much feminist reconsideration.

Malone inhabits safe harbors. 

It pleases the tribe to be told that misogyny "is hypermagnetized toward Clinton, not to mention virtually every woman in politics." On the down side, it's hard to show that this is true, or even to say what it means.

(Was misogyny "hypermaginitized toward" Senator Klobuchar during the primary campaign? This is the kind of vast overstatement which vastly pleases the tribe.)

That said, Hillary Clinton certainly was assailed by sexist and misogynistic slimings all through her national tenure. This was routinely done at the New York Times, as public editor Clark Hoyt pointed out in a remarkable essay in June 2016.

Hoyt's essay produced exactly zero discussion from major liberal pundits. This has long been exactly the way our tribe's career players have played. 

For decades, Clinton was slimed all over NBC cable, which isn't a part of the right. On NBC cable, she was Evita Peron and Nurse Ratched, but also Cruella da Ville. 

Career liberals knew they mustn't notice or complain. They knew how to play the game.

Today, it pleases the tribe to hear that Clinton was slimed in misogynistic ways, but no career liberal will ever say that the sliming was done by the upper-end mainstream press. Dearest darlings, it just isn't done! Future jobs hang in the balance!

From her sanitized claims about misogyny, Malone moves on to criticize Bill Clinton, who isn't Hillary Clinton. We then reach Malone's most ridiculous passage.

Why was Hillary Clinton so hated? As she continues, Malone offers this:

MALONE (continuing directly): Hillary Clinton’s notorious remark that she “could have stayed at home and baked cookies” offended plenty of women who weren’t on the right, but it is similarly glossed over. The fact of Bill Clinton’s unfaithfulness is mostly used as a launching point for discussing the right’s exploitation of it. D’Antonio can rarely bring himself to admit the couple have legitimate baggage. [Malone's italics]

Hillary Clinton's "notorious remark" was made in March 1992, during her husband's primary campaign. It was a snarky comment. Along with her earlier  remark about Tammy Wynette, it showed the world that Hillary Clinton has a certain tendency toward making politically unwise remarks, as most people do.

That said, does that remark constitute "legitimate baggage" of the type which explains why she was so hated in 2016, and is so hated today? Only in the childish world in which liberal careerists have always remained, in which they agree to disappear the long, puzzling war of the mainstream press against both Clintons and Gore.

Reading Malone, you're told that Clinton was attacked by the right. You're told that she had "legitimate baggage." 

There's a great deal you aren't told. You're also asked to read this:

MALONE: [T]he book is most successful as a work within the terms of its chosen genre: Clinton defense. Just as the Clinton prosecution—in the manner of Edward Klein and Peter  Schweizer—is a recognizable literary category (one to which D’Antonio rightly draws critical attention), so is Clinton defense. (The defense is less given to magical realism; D’Antonio writes factually and journalistically.) For instance, the book’s dramatic title seems to be a riff on Joe Conason and Gene Lyons’s 2000 book, “The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton,” which sought to catalog the “vast right-wing conspiracy” Hillary Clinton so famously blamed for trying to bring her and her husband down.

Did Conason and Lyons seek "to catalog the 'vast right-wing conspiracy' Hillary Clinton so famously blamed?" Yes, they did, but—Shhhh!—they also discussed the assaults on the Clintons by the upper-end mainstream press.

That book followed Lyons' 1995 book, Fools For Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater. In the main, the "media" to which Lyons referred were the New York Times and the Washington Post. 

For that reason, Lyons' book—it started as an essay in Harper's—was never discussed by the career liberal press. Malone seems to lump it in with the hackwork of someone like Schweizer, whose Clinton Cash book was cut and pasted for the Times' Uranium One gong-show.

Donald J. Trump squeezed into the White House on the strength of twenty-four years of this journalistic chaos. His opponent wasn't a great politician. But why was she "so hated?"

Liberal careerists have always agreed to disappear a large part of the answer. As they pursued their sacred careers, they greased the path to Gore's amazingly narrow defeat, and then to Hillary Clinton's.

On the whole, we liberals have never complained about this, largely because our tribal sachems haven kept us from hearing about it.  On our own, we  simply haven't been up to the task of seeing how this worked.

We're pleased when our favorites show up in the Times. It's their silence which put them there, and it also put Trump where he is.


Performative speech triggers bad-faith probe!

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2020

The Trump bunch tackles Princeton: In last Saturday's print editions, the Washington Post ran a fascinating report about the twin problems now facing Princeton. 

Our jaundiced reading of the Post's report went exactly like this:

On the one hand, you had the transparent bad faith of the Trump administration, which had launched a heartfelt probe into Princeton's "systemic racism."

On the other hand, you had the public confessions of the university itself. Specifically, you had recent statements by Princeton's president, Christopher Eisgruber, who was apologizing for such ingrained behavior on the part of his university. 

Where did the Trump Bunch get the idea that Princeton is steeped in systemic racism? They'd heard it from Princeton itself!

Is Princeton sunk in systemic racism? We were struck by the "cultural revolution" feel of Eisgruber's scripted remarks, and by the very limited scope of his proposed solutions.  In our view, such performative conduct will rarely be instructive or helpful, but it seems especially out of place on a major college campus.

At any rate, once Eisgruber issued his scripted confession, the Trump Bunch launched their bad-faith federal probe. Or at least, that's how the whole thing sounded to us as we read the Post's report.

Over at The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf has offered a fascinating appraisal of this contretemps. We don't necessarily agree with every word Friedersdorf has written, but we'll let his well-researched essay substitute for anything we could have presented.

We especially recommend Randall Kennedy's assessment of the alleged systemic racism at Princeton along with the alleged "strategic hyperbole" with which it's being described. In part, that section reads like this:

FRIEDERSDORF (9/25/20): An allegation of systemic racism “is a serious charge,” Kennedy insisted. “If the allegation is substantiated, it ought to occasion protest and rectification commensurate with the wrong,” but if flimsy or baseless, that should be stated too. Kennedy warned that “minority students who take such indictments at face value—unaware of strategic hyperbole—become overwhelmed by unrealistic fears of encountering racist assessments that will unfairly limit their possibilities.”

Kennedy aimed that criticism at Princeton in particular. He graduated from the institution in 1973, and noted in his article that “the exploitation and exclusion of African Americans is, indeed, deeply embedded in Princeton’s history.” As for its present, however, he dissented from this summer’s faculty letter, with its claims such as “anti-Black racism has a visible bearing upon Princeton’s campus makeup and its hiring practices.” If Princeton’s racism “was as conspicuous as alleged, one would expect the ultimatum’s authors to be able to dash off some vivid, revealing examples,” Kennedy argued. He went on to call the claim of anti-Black racial exclusion implausible given various facts: prominent Black intellectuals who have made Princeton their academic home, scores of Black scholars who hold or recently held positions of academic leadership, and an African American dean of admissions. What’s more, he added, Princeton has a number of distinguished Black trustees. “These people, all Princeton alumni, are alert and capable and in demand,” he argued. “They are by no means needy. They could associate themselves with any number of prestigious enterprises. They would surely decline to contribute to or be involved with the sort of institution that the ultimatum depicts.”

To what extent could Princeton improve its performance in this area? We have no first-hand knowledge or idea.

That said, after more than 22 years at this post, we think we've developed a bit of an ear for mandated speech, if and when such performative foofaw may appear. It seems to us that mandated speech will rarely be helpful in any real way, and that people should be especially disappointed when high academics bow to tribal demands for overwrought, frog-marched confession.

We groaned when we read the Post's report. To our ear, a transparently scripted confession seemed to have triggered a transparently disingenuous probe.

Mad magazine used to publish Spy vs. Spy. This had the feel of Faux vs. Faux. Is Princeton sunk in the culture its leader described? 

We recommend Friedersdorf's musings.


SIMPLY PUT, NOT UP TO THE TASK: Paul Butler is making zero sense!

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2020

So too with everyone else: Should the officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor have been charged with a crime?

This morning, on the web site of the Washington Post, Paul Butler glumly says yes. (Butler's column doesn't appear in today's hard-copy Post.)

According to the Post's identity line, Butler is the Albert Brick Professor in Law at Georgetown University. He's a graduate of Harvard Law School, and even of Yale before that.

Inevitably, the Post further identifies Butler as "a former federal prosecutor." As people with cable access know, he's one of the roughly three million such former officials who swarmed over MSNBC in recent years, assuring us that Robert Mueller was going to take Trump down and that the Southern District of New York is stocked with the greatest crime-fighters in the history of the whole world.

If so, why hadn't Trump ever been charged with a crime? The question was never asked.

Almost surely, Butler is a good, decent person. On TV, he always seems like the saddest person in the room.

He's a  graduate of Yale and of Harvard Law. This morning, he's making zero sense, courtesy of the Post.

In his opening paragraph, Butler seems to vastly understate the reasons why Louisville police staged the (inherently dangerous) raid in which Taylor was shot and killed. More accurately, we'd be inclined to say that Butler misstates the reason for that inherently dangerous and ultimately fatal police action.

We'll leave those complaints to the ages. For today, let's say this:

Late-night raids strike us as remarkably dangerous on their face. That said, they've long been a standard part of police behavior, and three police officers (with backup) were sent to conduct such a raid that night.

Butler says they should be charged with manslaughter. As liberals, let's agree to be truthful just this once. Does this make any sense?

BUTLER (9/25/20): I’m a former prosecutor, and I would have charged all three officers with manslaughter. I think murder would be overcharging, because the officers did not have the intent to kill Taylor. Still, if three gang members burst into an apartment, were met with gunfire by somebody in the home, and in response shot up the apartment complex and killed an innocent person, they would almost certainly be charged with homicide.

It’s no less of a crime when three cops do the same thing. Self-defense is an issue, but one that a jury should decide. 

No, really. That's what the passage actually says, and the Post chose to publish it.

Does that passage make any sense? Speaking directly just this once, that passage strikes us as insane.

In fairness, it's certainly true! If three gang members break into someone's apartment (after midnight) and end up killing an innocent person, they will almost surely be charged with an array of crimes.

We'll assume that these hypothetical gang members would be charged with homicide. But according to Butler, "it's no less of a crime" when three police officers do the same thing! 

Does that make any sense? On its face, that strikes us as insane. For starters, let's try this:

The officers had been directed to raid Taylor's apartment as part of a narcotics investigation.  They had a search warrant authorizing them to conduct a no-knock raid—a search warrant which had been approved by a  (female) judge who had reviewed the rationale behind this dangerous action.

According to the New York Times, the rationale involved a long list of behaviors by and involving Taylor. According to the Times' lengthy front-page report, those behaviors went well beyond what Butler describes in his opening paragraph.  

A (female) judge had reviewed the evidence of such behaviors. Rightly or wrongly, she had authorized the dangerous late-night raid.

(Rukmini Callimachi, in the Times: Judge Mary Shaw "said she had 'asked needed questions of the officer, reviewed the affidavits prepared for each warrant and subsequently made the probable-cause determination required of me by law.' ”)

Reviewing, the officers had been sent to Taylor's apartment by their superiors. They went there armed with a search warrant which authorized them to break into the apartment in the middle of the night.

That strikes us as a very dangerous type of law enforcement. That said, we'll guess that gang members breaking into apartments won't generally be so equipped. 

Does it make any sense when Butler performs his weird conflation? Rather plainly, it seems to us that it doesn't. Along the way,  other questions arise:

Should Judge Shaw be charged with homicide for approving the raid? Should the three officers' superiors also be charged with this crime?

Butler doesn't bother readers with such obvious points. For several decades, our failing liberal/mainstream tribe has been conducting its business this way as our floundering nation has slid toward the sea.

We'll admit it! We wonder why the Washington Post would put such work in print. We wonder why a person like Butler would compose such peculiar musings.

We're puzzled until we look around and notice an obvious fact. As has long been the norm on cable TV, no one else is making sense within our failing tribe:

The first essay we read this morning was a piece by Somil Trivedi at Slate. 

According to Slate, Trivedi "is a senior staff attorney at the ACLU's Criminal Law Reform Project."  Inevitably, he's also described  as "a former federal prosecutor." Isn't everyone these days? 

Moving beyond the timid Butler, Trivedi seems to think that the officer should be charged with murder.  As his essay begins, his rationale runs like this:

TRIVEDI (9/24/20): Americans have just completed another round of one of our grimmest national rituals: shaking our heads while cops who killed an unarmed Black person get away with murder. This time the victim is Breonna Taylor, whose name has galvanized nationwide protests for racial justice, but whose family will receive no justice themselves. Yesterday, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced a single charge from the grand jury against only one of the three officers involved in her shooting, and even that was for shooting a wall, not Breonna Taylor. The other two will walk. And a community that has already waited six months for closure will just keep waiting.

Many are rightly pointing out that these cops should not avoid charges based on self-defense when they created the danger in the first place. Accordingly, whether the grand jury result makes sense under the criminal law will be hotly debated in the coming days...

Interesting! According to Trivedi, the officers shouldn't avoid being charged, presumably for murder, because  "they created the danger in the first place." Trivedi says that "many" people are "rightly pointing [this] out."

We wanted to see how those arguments go, and so we foolishly clicked the link Trivedi and Slate provided. It took to a perfectly sensible essay by Jane Coaston, a "senior politics reporter" at Vox.

Coaston has no apparent legal background. More to the point, her essay appeared in August 2019. 

For that reason, Coaston's essay makes zero reference to the Taylor case, which arose in March of this year. Further stating the obvious, Coaston doesn't  "point out that these cops should not avoid charges based on self-defense when they created the danger in the first place." 

Indeed, it's a stretch to claim that Coaston engages in any such general claim at all. Her essay isn't anything like the way it's advertised.

In other words, Trivedi and Slate have provided a classic "link to nowhere." This is the kind of insulting behavior which now prevails at disintegrating sites like Slate.

Trivedi's piece was the first thing we read this morning. After that, we read this piece by Brooke Leigh Howard at The Daily Beast.

Inevitably, we found Howard making a standard bollixed claim:

HOWARD (9/23/20): The unjust death of Breonna Taylor was already exhausting. Louisville police officers entered her apartment on a “no-knock” warrant, without announcing themselves according to the accounts of many ear witnesses. Taylor’s boyfriend defended the home by shooting at the intruders, the cops shot back, and Taylor was fatally shot while lying in her own bed defenseless. On top of it all, the person the police were seeking didn’t even live in the apartment and had actually already been arrested on the other side of town. It took six months, waves of protests, celebrity outrage, and a national outcry before a grand jury was even convened.

Sad, but thoroughly typical. As everyone knows, the police weren't seeking some other person when they raided Taylor's apartment that night—some person who had "already been arrested on the other side of town."

More specifically, they weren't seeking Jamarcus Glover, Taylor's long-time (apparently) former boyfriend, with whom she'd engaged, or had at least seemed to engage, in a fair amount of suspicion-arousing behavior over the course of several years.

Callimachi ran through the list of such behaviors in her lengthy front-page report in the August 31 New York Times. As liberals, we aren't hearing about those behaviors because the twin processes of sanitization and cartoonization are  currently underway in discussions of this matter.

At any rate, the Louisville police didn't enter Taylor's apartment "seeking" Glover that night. And the fact that Glover had already been arrested in a companion raid doesn't help us assess the wisdom of the raid on Taylor's apartment.

A bit like Tucker Carlson before her, Howard seems to have little sense of the basic facts of this case. That said, knowledge of facts is rarely required where Tribal Script serves as god.

After being amazed by Butler, we read this column by Melanye Price in this morning's New York Times. Professor Price, "a political scientist," also thinks the officers should have been indicted, apparently on a charge of "killing."

In other words, Price doesn't bother naming the specific crime with which the officers should be charged. She doesn't offer any rationale for the claim that they committed a crime at all. 

Her column was published anyway, in print editions of the Times. This is the way our tribe works.

Are we humans up to the task of self-government? Within our self-impressed liberal tribe, are we up to the task of creating anything resembling a rational discourse?

These questions are especially salient now. They're especially salient as Donald's Trump's craziness threatens the national interest in deeply disturbing ways.  

Are we liberals up to the task in any way at all? Top anthropologists constantly tell us that the answer is no. Weeping is heard inside their caves as they deliver this verdict, and as they say that our limbic brains will lead us to think that their assessment is wrong.

Kafka was able to see himself—to see his very body parts—as being non-"human." Anthropologists despondently tell us that Kafka had  a very good strong solid basic point.

At any rate, Butler is making zero sense at the Washington Post today. In fairness, the same is true of everyone else as we slide down a dangerous path.

We still hope to mention, perhaps tomorrow: Zero awareness of  How Trump Got There. 

Also, the commissar spoke.


Bill Clinton's intimate secret dinner!

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 2020

This bullshit never stops: We don't know who composes the headlines at The Daily Beast.

Two days ago, the headline writer was earning his or her keep.

Here's another way to say it—this bullshit never stops! Even as we slide toward the sea, the children continue to pleasure themselves by shoveling headlines like these:

Revealed: Bill Clinton’s Intimate Secret Dinner With Ghislaine Maxwell

The former president invited Ghislaine Maxwell to a cozy dinner in L.A. in 2014, years after she had been accused by a victim of procuring girls for Epstein’s sex ring.

Those are the headlines which sit above an exciting "report" by The Beast's exciting Kate Briquelet. 

Briquelet is bad enough; the headline writer is worse. For the record, there is no indication in the report that it was Clinton who invited Maxwell to the intimate, secret, extremely crowded dinner in question. 

That claim seems to have emerged from the headline writer's thrill-seeking, sex-obsessed brain.

That said, how about it? Did Bill Clinton actually enjoy an "intimate secret dinner" with Maxwell? Was it a "cozy" affair?

Maybe it all depends on what the meaning of "secret" is! Not to mention "intimate" and "cozy!" 

Was it really a secret affair? If you read Briquelet's pitiful effort, you learn that the "secret" dinner was held at a crowded "Melrose Avenue hotspot" (that's in L.A.) with roughly half the west coast present.

("That night, the restaurant was bustling," Briquelet reveals.)

You also learn that the dinner in question took place in February 2014. That was more than six years ago!

The dinner was so "intimate" that "the man now rumored to be Maxwell's husband" was also part of the large dinner party inside the crowded hotspot. According to Briquelet, this was taken as a sign that Maxwell had dumped her previous long-standing boyfriend, Gateway's billionaire co-founder.

Just so amazingly cool!

Returning to our major inquiry, how cozy was the intimate dinner to which Clinton doesn't seem to have invited Maxwell? It was so cozy that Sean Penn was part of the large party with whom Clinton was dining, possibly acting as chaperone at the "swanky soiree."  

"Hours earlier," Briquelet reveals, "the men rubbed elbows at the Unite4:Humanity gala at a Sony Pictures Studios lot,  where singer Demi Lovato and other celebrities took selfies with the former president. Clinton, who received a 'unity recognition award,' was the keynote speaker."

Did we mention the fact that this cozy, intimate, secret dinner took place more than six years ago? Inside a crowded but also bustling hotspot with half the universe present?

Alas! This bullshit is a very significant part of the way our failing nation reached its current state. Our dull-witted tribe has never quite been able to figure this basic fact out. (More on that tomorrow.) 

Meanwhile, believe it! As the nation slides toward the sea, this bullshit never stops.

Until the nation slides into the sea, the Briquelets will always be with us. They're constantly looking for thrilling new ways to get their juices flowing. 

Our advice to these underfed creatures? Enjoy the few moments left!

It was an intimate, secret affair. Half of West Melrose was there!


SIMPLY PUT, NOT UP TO THE TASK: Tucker gets it amazingly wrong!

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 2020

But then, so does everyone else: Last night, right at 8 P.M. Eastern, Tucker Carlson got it amazingly wrong.

He got it just about as wrong as a top TV journalist possibly could. In fairness, everyone else was also getting it wrong. But Carlson really did.

He was describing the late-night raid in which Breonna Taylor was shot and killed. Piously claiming to offer "the facts," he started as shown below.

Two warnings! 

First, the account you're about to read is full of misinformation. Also, in highly annoying Euro fashion, Tucker always states a person's name by saying what that person is "called:"

CARLSON (9/23/20): In March, three Louisville police officers served a search warrant at the apartment of a woman called Breonna Taylor. They knocked outside. They announced they were from the police department, and then they entered the apartment.

Once they did, a man called Kenneth Walker opened fire on them. Walker was Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend. He was also supposedly a drug dealer. That's one of the reasons the police were there. 

Walker admits that he fired first and that he shot a police officer. In response, the cops fired back.

By the time, Kenneth Walker surrendered, Breonna Taylor, who was in another room in the apartment, had been fatally wounded. 

Those are the facts of the case. It's a very sad story nobody disputes that. Awful things sometimes happen, despite the best efforts of everyone involved to prevent them from happening. That's the truth.

"Those are the facts of the case." So the top TV star said!

Amazingly, the program was less than two minutes old by the time all those things had been said. In fairness, everyone else was getting it wrong about yesterday's grand jury decisions, generally in preapproved mandated tribal fashion. 

But it's hard to get basic facts more wrong than the perpetually irate Carlson did.

How many things did Carlson get wrong? Most amazingly, he said that Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, "was supposedly a drug dealer. That's one of the reasons the police were there."

Truly, that was astounding. Stating the obvious, any journalist who had spent ten seconds reviewing the facts of this matter would have known two basic facts about Kenneth Walker.

Any such journalist would have known that Walker wasn't suspected, by anyone, of being a drug dealer. He also would have known that Walker wasn't any part of the reason why the police were there. 

An actual drug dealer actually was a key part of this case. That drug dealer  was the reason why the police were at Taylor's apartment that night. 

That much is plainly true. But the drug dealer wasn't Kenneth Walker, and Kenneth Walker wasn't and isn't a drug dealer. Nor was Walker any part of the reason why the police were there.

Carlson's account of "the facts of the case" was imperfect in a wide range of other ways. By the time his program was two minutes old, he had made an amazing array of false or misleading statements:

It isn't clear that the police officers announced themselves in any significant way that night. (For the record, they had a search warrant which didn't require them to do so.)

Beyond that, it certainly isn't clear that the officers did everything they could tp prevent bad things from happening. Just yesterday, one of the officers was indicted on a felony charge of "wanton endangerment" for his reckless behavior that night.

Was Taylor "in another room" when she was fatally wounded? It doesn't matter in any obvious way, but the New York Times' August 31 front-page report on this matter seems to say that Walker and Taylor were together in the apartment's hallway when the fatal shots were fired.

Had Carlson ever spent ten seconds reviewing the facts of this case? It seemed quite clear that he had not—and then came his "correction!"

Late in his program, Carlson offered an astounding "non-correction correction" of his early, astounding misstatement concerning Kenneth Walker. Amazingly, incredibly, the angry star now said this:

CARLSON: We made a mistake at the top of the show and we want to correct it as we always do. We flipped the names around of a couple of people inadvertently. We said police believed Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend was a drug dealer—he might have been. We meant to say her ex-boyfriend, a man called Jamarcus Glover. We wanted to correct that. Sorry.  

Amazing! Even as he "corrected" his astounding misstatement, Tucker slimed Walker again!

Walker might have been a drug dealer, the perpetually angry TV star gratuitously said. One thinks of Joseph Welch chastising Joe McCarthy: 

At long last, have you no shame?

In fact, no one has ever said or suggested that Walker is, or ever was, a drug dealer. Rather, no one had said or suggested that until Carlson did last night.

First he said it, then he suggested it! On a simple journalistic basis, it's clear that Carlson had no idea what he was talking about.

In the past few months, we've recommended watching Carlson's show for the videotapes you'll see. We've warned you that you'll have to tolerate the angry star's overwrought crazy rants.

That said, Carlson rarely engages in bald misstatement of the type he delivered last night. Instead, he features paranoid conspiracy claims in which he offers wild accounts of what everyone's motives are.

(If the people in question are Democrats, they want to have complete control over every part of your life. Such is the virus he spreads.)

Last night, Tucker got it amazingly wrong as he discussed this widely-discussed, extremely high-profile case. In fairness, everyone else was getting it wrong around the cable dial.

Extremely poorly reasoned complaints were being offered on our "liberal" channels. As usual, everyone was upset that the grand jury hadn't agreed to lock all three officers up.

With what crime would two of these people be charged? That was completely unclear. As usual, though, everyone was Saying The Exact Same Things. Our stars were all working from script. 

In the previous days, we'd have to say that New York magazine had also gotten it wrong. They'd done so through a long, now updated account of Taylor's death written by Bridget Read.

What seems so odd about Read's account? Read offers a journalistic overview of "what we know" about the events of that night. We're not sure we've ever seen an overview of that type which relies so heavily on unverified claims in a major lawsuit brought by a victim's family. 

Standard tribal scripts emerged in the process. In its present form, Read's second paragraph says this:

READ (9/23/20):  Taylor was shot eight times by law enforcement. According to a lawsuit filed by her family, her killing was the result of a botched drug-warrant execution. No drugs were found; the warrant in question targeted another person, who lived miles away and had already been detained by the time police entered Taylor’s home.

We're not sure why Read says the warrant "targeted" someone else. 

For reasons explained in detail by the New York Times in its lengthy report, Louisville police, rightly or wrongly, suspected Taylor of being part of her ex-boyfriend's drug business. 

As explained in some detail by the Times, police were raiding Glover and Taylor on the same night as a result of that suspicion.

Yesterday, the snark was widely delivered on cable. Police had already arrested the actual target when they raided Taylor's apartment! This snark was presented as further evidence of the way the Keystone Cops had bungled things when they staged their dangerous, post-midnight raid.

Raids like that are very dangerous, but the snark doesn't seem to make much sense. That said, the claim is tribally pleasing—and vast amounts of what we now read and hear come from the pleasing realm of Storyline and Narrative, from Memorized Pleasing Group Script.

In her front-page report in the Times, Rukmini Callimachi had described a long set of reasons explaining why police had come to be suspicious of Taylor. Read's lengthy report in New York magazine fails to mention the vast bulk of that apparent evidence, on the basis of which a (female) judge had apporoved a no-knock warrant.

So it goes in this brave new era as our nation slides toward the sea. Each tribe has its array of pleasing, oversimplified tales, with armies paid to repeat them.

It would be hard to misstate a set of events any more egregiously than Carlson did last night. His initial account was stunningly wrong. His "correction" made matters much worse. 

("We always do," Carlson said.)

By that time, tribal warriors had already gone to work presenting our tribe's scripted grievance about the grand jury's decisions. As usual, our tribunes were working from the immortal realm in which it's verdict first, rationale perhaps/maybe later.

The previous night, Lester Holt and Brian Williams sleepwalked through an astoundingly lazy report about a startling forecast of virus deaths to come. Yesterday, the tribal spinning started fast after one officer was charged with a crime—one officer, not all three.

What actually happened in Louisville on that fateful night? What kinds of lessons and reforms might sensibly emerge from this deadly event?

Yesterday afternoon, our tribe got busy spinning; Carlson then managed to top them. Are we up to the task of governing ourselves at this extremely late date as our nation slides toward the sea?

Lester and Brian were soundly asleep. Everyone else is on fire.

Tomorrow: Silent on how Trump got where he is, plus the commissar

Justice Ginsburg's dying wish...

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2020

...and another unraveling system: In yesterday morning's Washington Post, Ann Hornaday lowered the boom on the frequent childishness of our failing liberal tribe.

That said, are mainstream journalists far behind? Last night, Senator Barasso appeared on The PBS NewsHour. He was charged with the task of defending the GOP's right to power ahead with a Supreme Court appointment at this particular time and under the circumstances his own party created four years ago.

Given what the GOP did (and said) in 2016, this should have been a hard case to make. But sad! Judy Woodruff's third question to Barasso was uttered exactly as shown:

BARASSO (9/22/20):  I think Judge Ginsburg was right when she was asked about this and said, the president is the president from the first day of the term to the last day of the term. She was very clear.

She was also clear on the kind of threats that Chuck Schumer is making now about expanding the size of the Supreme Court from nine to 11 or 13. Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, no, shouldn't do that. Nine is the right number.

And if the Democrats do the things that they're threatening to do, she said that would just politicize the court, and it shouldn't be done.

WOODRUFF: She also said, Senator, that her dying wish was to have this nomination wait until after the president, the next president is elected.

Gack! In fairness to Woodruff, a person might suspect that she was triggered by Barasso's context-free recitation of Ginsburg's past remarks.

That said, surely we all understand that a dying or retiring Justice doesn't get to set the rules for the selection of her successor.  And yet, childish references to Justice Ginsburg's "dying wish" have been all over liberal cable this week. Again and again, our floundering, unimpressive though self-impressed team just can't quite seem to grow up. 

Meanwhile, even as we play Peter Pan, our various American systems keep breaking down around us:

Coming soon, the Electoral College may select the losing candidate for the third time in six elections. Also, thanks to the growing strangeness of "Senate math," smaller red states (currently) tend to hold sway over larger blue states. The resulting political advantage can be seen in various ways. 

(It seemed to us that Kevin Drum was jumping through hoops in this recent post to suggest that this doesn't much matter.)

It's also true that, under current arrangements, Democrats will typically have to win more than 50 percent of the nationwide vote just to break even in the House. For an explanation, click this.

These systems are all creaking, in some cases rather badly. But none of our original systems have come to make less sense than the prevailing Supreme Court system. That's especially true now that the Court is a plainly political branch.

Did a lifetime appointment to the Court ever make sense? If so, it no longer does. 

Several Justices have perhaps overstayed Father or Mother Time's welcome in the past several decades. And now that the Court is so plainly political, the lifetime appointment encourages a certain type of president to search for the youngest possible ideologue to nominate for the Court. 

Why pick the youngest instead of the best? It extends the number of decades the ideologue will cast predictable partisan votes on the nation's highest court. (George Bush the elder had been urged to "pick young" when he picked Clarence Thomas.)

Now that the Court is a political branch, the lifetime appointment isn't the only problem with its traditional arrangements. Through coincidence of death or retirement, the right to select Justices has becomes a deeply ridiculous game of political chance.

In the current arrangement, an unpopular, disordered one-term president who never actually won an election is going to end up having named a full one-third of the Court.  If he finds a way to win while losing once again, he may name several additional Justices.

In the current circumstance, this has happened partly through chance and partly through the GOP's power grab in 2016. But it represents a ridiculous way to apportion a large nation's political power.

Our systems are breaking apart around us, but there's no particular sign we'll ever be able to fix them. One team is geared to power grabs, the other to dying wishes—and to the feel-good fun of the bobblehead dolls Hornaday angrily ridiculed.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but our systems are failing fast. As we reveal ourselves as the party of twee and of perpetual high self-regard, is it likely that we liberals will find a way to stop this?

For extra credit only: Back in 2016, was it really Beau Biden's dying wish that Hillary had to be stopped? Was the dying wish really voiced with his last few nouns?

Where did Maureen Dowd's claim come from? Why did her newspaper print the unsourced claim in a major front-page news report?

Also, are you happy with what that alleged dying wish helped buy us? For our money, it was the shakiest sounding dying statement since Bob Woodward allegedly snuck into Georgetown Hospital, where he allegedly heard Bill Casey's dying reveal. 

As we said in the passage above, quite a few systems are failing around us or have perhaps already failed.


SIMPLY PUT, NOT UP TO THE TASK: NBC News, not up to the task!

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2020

Lester and Brian do deaths: Brian started last evening's report with a somewhat misleading statement. 

The report came near the end of his show. In fairness, his hair was perfect:

WILLIAMS (9/22/20): We have lost over 200,000 souls, and in that respect, America leads the world. 

With autumn now here, the fear is that a surge may be here shortly as well. A report tonight from NBC News correspondent Tom Costello.

With that, the handsome anchor played part of a report Costello had performed on NBC Nightly News that very night.

Costello was light-years out of his depth as he reported on the pandemic. Below, we'll show you what he said. For now, let's consider Brian's misleading if pleasing statement.

Is it true? Does America "lead the world" in total coronavirus deaths to date? 

It's only true if you forget to adjust for population! If you perform that stunningly basic task, nine other countries boast a worse death rate.  We'll omit tiny Andorra and tinier San Marino  and show you the ten most afflicted:

Total deaths from coronavirus to date, per million population:

Peru: 955

Belgium: 858

Spain: 661

Bolivia: 657

Brazil: 647

Chile: 643

Ecuador: 628

United States: 620

United Kingdom: 615

Italy: 591

We've finally moved past the United Kingdom, though only by a hair. That said, once you adjust for population, we aren't even close to "leading the world" in this undesirable measure.

(When it comes to Current Daily Deaths, we're the worst, by several light-years, among a long list of peer nations.)

Should Brian have adjusted for population? In this, as in all other things, it's pretty much as you like it! 

Telling the story the way he did is pleasing to the tribe. It says that we're the worst in the world, all thanks to Commander Trump.

Almost surely, that's part of the reason why you hear the story told that way, full stop, on our own tribal channels. The other reason is this:

The people you see on these corporate channels may not be especially sharp or overwhelmingly honest. To the extent that they may have been sharp at one point, their aggressive climbs and their large successes have drained The Sharp right out of them.

Was Lester ever sharp in the relevant way? We have no idea! 

Below, you see the way the report in question began on NBC Nightly News. We'd say the complete total cluelessness was quite impressive this night:

HOLT (9/22/20): Tonight, troubling new signs about the pandemic. With U.S. deaths surpassing 200,000, a new analysis from the University of Washington revised its projection slightly downward to a still staggering 378,000 by year's end, with signs that a fall surge may be underway. 

Here's Tom Costello.

COSTELLO: On this first fall evening, 17 states plus Puerto Rico report a disturbing increase in coronavirus cases over the past two weeks.

25% or more in Wyoming, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Utah, Colorado, New Hampshire, Nebraska, Oklahoma and New Jersey.

Nationwide, 421 deaths yesterday alone.

DR. JOHN TORRES, NBC MEDICAL EXPERT: We don't know if this is a bump because of Labor Day or if this is a trend moving into the fall. And if it is a trend moving into the fall, then the concern there is that numbers could be even higher.

(To watch Lester's full report, click here, move ahead to minute 7.)

Costello's presentation continued from there. Already, the cluelessness was so extensive that we think it's highly instructive.

Let's start with what Lester said. According to Lester, the University of Washington is now projecting that we will have suffered a total of 378,000 deaths from coronavirus by the end of the year.

Lester was citing the current projection from UW's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). As we recently noted, the IHME's extremely gloomy new projections received a blip of news coverage something like ten days back.

Last night, Lester didn't seem to realize how gloomy that projection actually is. For now, we'll stick a pin in that point as we move forward to Costello's "notice-nothing" report.

By conventional norms, Costello isn't as handsome as Brian. That's why one is cast as the handsome anchor while the other is out in the field.

Beyond that, Costello didn't seem to have a clue about the numbers he was citing. If you watch the tape of this report, he seemed to suggest that "421 deaths yesterday alone" might be a "disturbing" figure in and of itself.

In fact, Costello was citing the number of deaths which were recorded on Monday of this week. And, because Mondays follow our weekends, there is always a reduced amount of reporting of deaths on those particular days.

(Anyone who's ever examined the daily data would surely have noticed this fact.)

This Monday was no exception. Within the context of our national pandemic, is 421 deaths a disturbing number? 

Actually, as averages go, that's a good day for us! Puzzle it out this way: 

The recording of significant numbers of deaths from the virus has been underway for roughly six months, dating back into the middle of March. The very first recorded death occurred on February 29.

Think of the numbers this way:

If we had suffered 421 deaths every day over a six-month period (180 days), we'd be looking at a total of 75,870 deaths. That's less than 200,000!

If we imagine a seven-month period, dating back to before the first recorded death, our total would be 88,410 deaths at this point

That would take us back before the first reported death—and our total numbers of deaths would be less than half what it actually is.

In short, 421 deaths is a good day in this nation! Unless you've never examined the data, it isn't a sign of a worrying possible increase in deaths, as Costello seemed to suggest. 

Lester was possibly resting his eyes as Costello made his odd presentation. Five hours later, Brian aired the report as if it was golden.

Now, let's return to what Lester said: 

Quite correctly, Lester said the IHME's new projection was "staggering," a source of major concern. But he only cited the projected total number of deaths by the end of the year. 

He didn't seem to realize what that projection, if accurate, means about the coming fall season's number of daily deaths. (Just yesterday, we noted the way we've seen cable anchors sleepwalking in this manner.) 

According to Lester, the IHME is predicting an additional 178,000 deaths between now and the end of the year. As of yesterday, exactly one hundred days remained in the year. 

That means that the IHME is predicting an average of 1780 deaths per day over the nest three months! Since we're nowhere near that daily average at present, that means that we'll be averaging 2000 deaths per day, or more, by the time our autumn increase kicks in.

That would match the daily death toll in the worst few weeks of this nation's pandemic, back in mid-April. The difference would be this:

According to the IHME projection, that vastly increased level of deaths will obtain over a much longer period.

We'll have to guess that Lester hadn't given any of this a single thought. As we look ahead to several thousand deaths a day (according to the projection he chose to air), his correspondent actually seemed to think that 421 deaths in a single day was an alarming figure.

Dr. John Torres was then brought, via videotape, on to complete the inanity. Seeming to refer to the 421 deaths, he seemed to say there's "concern" that the numbers could be even higher as we move into the fall!

(In fairness, his videotaped comment may have made perfect sense in its original context.)

Torres seemed to say that there's "concern" that the number of deaths could go even higher. As a matter of fact, there's more than concern. There's a projection that our daily deaths will be five times that high this fall!

Did any of these NBC stars understand that fact? Let's review the carnage:

As the report began, Lester cited a projection according to which our daily death rate will be at or above 2000 deaths per day over a lengthy period. Did he, or anyone else at NBC News, have any idea of this fact?

Was Lester aware of this fact? How about Costello? He seemed to suggest that Monday's reported number—421 deaths—was a disturbing number in and of itself

Hours later, Brian aired the report without comment. Does he have any idea what the IHME has projected? If he does, he kept it to himself, while adding a thoroughly standard and yet misleading claim.

This report was an example of coloring by the numbers. It involved the most simple-minded possible presentation of a very disturbing projection.

A serious person would have told viewers what that projection actually entails if accurate. He or she would then have interviewed someone, asking if that projection makes sense and asking why the daily death rate has been projected to skyrocket to that extent.

What was this nation's 7-day average of daily deaths as Lester and Costello prepared this report? The Washington Post and the New York Times agree—in the previous seven days (September 15-21), the nation had averaged 770 deaths per day from the coronavirus.

Now, Holt was citing a projection according to which that daily average would likely triple by the time the autumn increase took hold. But neither Lester nor Tom nor anyone else seemed to have any sense of this fact. These are not impressive performers, but this is very much who they are.

Brian rebroadcast the shaky report, adding in the misleading claim that we "lead the world" in total deaths to date. That's a technically accurate, preferred tribal claim. You'll hear it constantly on our  channels, much less often on theirs.

In fairness, as Brian reaired this D-minus report, his hair and his wardrobe were perfect. But he was slacking his way though another evening, not unlike Lester before him.

At this site, we go way back with Brian. We recall his clownish campaign reports in 1999 and 2000, when he was serving NBC CEO Jack Welch and sliming one candidate well.

In June 1999, his gushing treatment of Candidate Bush-On-The-Tarmac remains a cable news unintentional comedy classic. Later, his attacks on Candidate Gore's disturbing clothes and their obvious meaning went on and on and on. 

Years later, he managed to get himself fired. Eventually, the gods brought him back.

In our tribe, we used to say that George W. Bush "lacked curiosity." The same is true of corporate stars like Lester and Brian, and even Costello and Torres.

Last evening, the gentlemen seemed to lack the first clue about what the IHME is projecting .That said, Brian had perfect wardrobe and hair, and that's one way product gets sold.

This is part of the way we've come to the place where Donald J. Trump may get re-elected and will almost surely replace the late Justice Ginsburg. Simply put, losers like us just haven't been up to the task.

Tomorrow: It would be hard to know much less, how-Trump-got-elected edition

Still coming: The commissar spoke