Why were the documents there at all?


Inquiring minds want to guess: How large was the volume of top secret material found at Mar-a-Lago?

While we're at it, why were any such documents at Mar-a-Lago at all?

Regarding the first question, we just saw CNN's Alisyn Camerota describe the volume roughly as follows—the FBI found "something like twenty boxes of highly classified materials" in its search of Mar-a-Lago.

(We'll post the exact transcript when it becomes available.)

For the record, the "box" is not a standard unit of measure! Still, Camerota's statement makes it sound like the FBI found a very large volume of "highly classified material" when it conducted its search.

In all honesty, Camerota has no obvious way of knowing that statement is true. (Where did she get the number twenty? We have no idea.)

We humans! Anthropologically, we're "the story-completing animal"—the creature inclined to draw conclusions before we can know what's true. 

We're disinclined to acknowledge how many things we don't know. Socrates noted this tendency long ago, when he described his fruitless search for the wisest man [sic] in Greece. 

We humans are strongly disinclined to say that we don't know. Instead, we rush to complete the story in ways which fit our preconceptions. Our thumbs go clank upon the scales, creating a story we like.

This brings us to a letter which appeared in yesterday's New York Times. Essentially, the writer is trying to figure out why there were any top secret documents at Mar-a-Lago at all.

The writer rambles the countryside before stating his basic point. Essentially, he thinks Trump was (likely) planning to sell highly classified documents to the highest bidder:

To the Editor:

As a defense for moving reams of highly classified documents to his home, Donald Trump and some of his allies have begun floating the defense that he had “declassified” these documents.

Setting aside for a moment the highly dubious merits (and truthfulness) of that argument, I’d like to see Mr. Trump have to answer a simple question: Why? Why would Mr. Trump declassify some of the most sensitive and highly protected U.S. information for all eyes to see?

Why would he declassify documents that could contain information related to highly sensitive sources and methods, secret weapons technology, the names of covert agents and possibly even secrets related to our nuclear programs?

Isn’t that extraordinarily dangerous? Couldn’t countries hostile to the U.S. use that information to their advantage? How does any of this make America safer?

I’ve yet to hear an explanation from Mr. Trump and his allies regarding the “why” question. I doubt any coherent explanation will be forthcoming.

Personally, I don’t believe the declassification defense. I think there is a much simpler and far more realistic explanation. Mr. Trump took the documents for the same reason he does everything—for money. He likely sees the documents as “his” property that can be sold, leveraged or used in other ways to generate income for himself.

What keeps me up at night is the knowledge that copies of some of these documents may already be in the hands of some very bad actors.

M— S— / Newbury Park, Calif.

The letter writer is underwhelmed by the (transparently implausible) claim thar Trump automatically declassified a wide array of highly classified documents. Eventually, he states his basic belief about the motive behind these events: 

"Mr. Trump took the documents for the same reason he does everything—for money. He likely sees the documents as 'his' property that can be sold..."

Does that explain why those documents were present at Mar-a-Lago? We'd have to say it's one of the possibilities, but it's only one.

In fairness, the letter writer only says that this is the "likely" explanation for the presence of the documents. Beyond that, he says the documents may be in the hands of bad actors by now, not that they definitely are.

Still, what makes him think that he can "likely" puzzle this out? What makes the New York Times decide to publish a rather long letter built on pure speculation?

Were lots of top secret documents found, or were there a relative few? Beyond that, why were any such documents at Mar-a-Lago at all?

The first part of a logical answer is this: 

At present, we simply don't know! We don't know how many documents were found, and we don't know why they were there.

That said, we humans are strongly disinclined to say that we don't know. In this circumstance, we're strongly inclined to pretend we know how many highly classified documents the FBI hauled out. Also, we're strongly inclined to think we can puzzle out the reason why the documents were there.

We've been wrong many times in the past on matters of first impression. We were wrong about the Duke lacrosse case. We were wrong about the UVa gang rape.

Most people now seem to think that we were wrong about the Steele dossier. Our wishful impressions have often been wrong, but we just keep churning them out.

Readers, listen up! 

At present, we don't know why the documents were there. If we wait, it's always possible that some day we'll find out!

Our sources: Remember, it's all anthropology now. These musings came to us from experts.

For extra credit only: On yesterday's Deadline: White House, John Bolton was asked if he thought Trump took the documents for the purpose of selling them on the "black market."

This was Bolton's full reply:

"I don't think he's capable of holding an attention span that long."

For ourselves, the answer would start like this: We have no way of knowing.

UNDER THE BIG TOP: How many boxes can dance on the head of a pin?


Lawrence hears confession: How many "boxes of top secret material" can be found on the head of a pin?

For the record, Lawrence was educated by the almost Jesuits before moving on to Harvard. Last evening, on The Last Word, he didn't specify the number of boxes, but he did offer this:

O'DONNELL (8/16/22): Last week was the worst legal week of Donald Trump's life, and so far this week is just as bad. Because Donald Trump learned today, just today, that his top lawyers in the White House have both spoken to the FBI about everything they know about the boxes of top-secret material that the FBI found in their search of Donald Trump's home.

To watch Lawrence's opening monologue, you can just click here. Move to the 5-minute mark for that particular passage.

For the record, we know of no basis for saying that Donald J. Trump "learned today, just today," that those lawyers have spoken to the FBI about the topic in question.

Trump may have known that all along. Lawrence was working off a news report in the New York Times—a news report which makes no claim like the one Lawrence advanced.

That said, how about the claim we've highlighted? How about the claim that the FBI found "boxes of top secret material" when they searched Trump's Mar-a-Lago home?

As far as we know, no one has ever said that the FBI found "boxes of" such material. More careful reporters have generally described the FBI's haul in the manner shown below, at the start of a New York Times front-page report:

HABERMAN ET AL (8/13/22): Federal agents removed top secret documents when they searched former President Donald J. Trump’s Florida residence on Monday as part of an investigation into possible violations of the Espionage Act and other laws, according to a search warrant made public on Friday.

F.B.I. agents seized 11 sets of documents in all, including some marked as “classified/TS/SCI”—shorthand for “top secret/sensitive compartmented information,” according to an inventory of the materials seized in the search. Information categorized in that fashion is meant to be viewed only in a secure government facility.


In total, agents collected five sets of top secret documents, three sets of secret documents and three sets of confidential documents, the inventory showed. Also taken by the F.B.I. agents were files pertaining to the pardon of Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime associate of Mr. Trump, and material about President Emmanuel Macron of France—along with more than a dozen boxes labeled only by number.

More careful reporters have generally said that the FBI removed five "sets" of top secret documents. Such reporters have made no attempt to quantify the number of documents found in each set, or to report the total number of pages these five sets of documents contained.

(Presumably, there could be thousands of such pages. Or there could be twenty.)

Did the FBI actually find entire "boxes" of top secret material? That makes it sound like they found rather large volumes of such material—material sufficient to fill five separate "boxes," cartons of undisclosed size.

It's always possible that something like that will turn out to be true. But to date, there has been no reliable evidence to that effect. 

It could turn out that the FBI found massive volumes of top secret documents in last Monday's search. It could also turn out that they found a much more limited amount of such material—that they found five slender "sets" of such documents, scattered in among a bunch of dinner menus, weather maps and letters from North Korea.

The inventory released last Friday doesn't make such matters clear. But our regimen of 24-hour, round-the-clock news now sells scandal as news product—basically, as its only product—and certain tribunes have occasionally put their thumbs on the scales, making it sound like Mar-a-Lago's dank wine cellar contained entire boxes bursting with such material.

On Monday night, Don Lemon said that the FBI found "33 boxes of classified material" in last Monday's search. We'll guess that's simply inaccurate.

Last night, Lawrence failed to name a specific number of boxes, but he specifically cited "top secret" material, thereby restricting his account to the highest level of classification. 

He said the FBI found an unspecified number of "boxes" (plural) of such "top secret" material. Careful reporters have only said that the FBI found five "sets" of such documents, with the size of each set undefined. 

How much top secret material did the FBI find at Mar-a-Lago? Did they find a lot or a little?

The day may come when we all know the answer. As of today, we can't really say.

That said, Lawrence was on a roll last night, working from that news report in this morning's Times. Concerning that news report, a bit more must be said:

For starters, the New York Times didn't seem to think that its report contained some sort of bombshell disclosure. In this morning's print editions, the report appears on A19, the sixth page of the National section.

Maggie Haberman wrote the report. She doesn't report, at any point, that Donald J. Trump has now "confessed" to a crime. 

That's the principal claim Lawrence made last night—and he based his claim upon Haberman's report.

Lawrence was stretching matters a great deal, thereby thrilling viewers. Did he deliberately place his thumbs on the scales? We wouldn't assume that he did.

Much of modern-day "cable news" is built upon wishful thinking. It's tribes gone wild, tribe at war against tribe—Mad magazine's Spy vs. Spy.

For the record, Lawrence stretched the known facts in various ways last night. Here's  a fuller record of what he said at the five-minute mark of his opening monologue:

O'DONNELL: On June 3, when officials with the Justice Department's national security division went to Donald Trump's Florida home to collect documents, one of Donald Trump's lawyers signed a statement saying that all the material with classified markings had been returned. But that statement wasn't true. 

That lawyer now has a decision to make. Take the fall for the crime of lying to the FBI and the crime of concealing illegally obtained government documents, or tell the Justice Department the whole truth about the documents that were found in the FBI's search.

That was thrilling stuff. It was based on the conflation which is central to Lawrence's ministry—the conflation according to which every inaccurate statement will be described as a "lie."

Uh-oh! If Trump's lawyer believed his statement was true, he wasn't telling a lie. And dagnab it! If the lawyer wasn't lying, he couldn't be forced to "take the fall for the crime of lying to the FBI."

As far as anyone knows at present, the situation is much more complex than Lawrence's presentation suggested. But Lawrence was dispensing pleasing news product, possibly having been swept away by partisan dreams of conquest.

There's no "confession" by Donald J. Trump found in this morning's new report. That's why the news report appears on page A19.

Beyond that, Trump's lawyer may not have known that his statement was inaccurate, It's even possible that Trump himself didn't know, as of June 3, that classified materials were still present at Mar-a-Lago!

(It's also possible that the facts will turn out to be totally different. It could turn out that Trump was selling top secret material, that very day, to some foreign power!)

Matters like these aren't known as yet, unless you're watching cable. If you're watching our tribe's cable, Donald J. Trump has confessed to a crime, in addition to which at least one of his lawyers will soon be frog-marched away.

On blue tribe cable, people like Lawrence and Lemon thrill us with their embellishments and their conflations. On red tribe cable and on the red Net, you'll hear every manner of ludicrous claim about the way the jackbooted thugs rifled through Melania's negligees and undermined the republic. 

You'll also hear such things on C-Span's Washington Journal. We now live in two separate worlds, driven along by wholly separate regimes of fact.

What did the FBI actually find in their search of Mar-a-Lago? While we're at it, why were any top secret documents located there at all?

At this point, such questions can't exactly be answered. Unless you're watching cable news, or unless you're listening to us the people making our phone calls to C-Span.

Tomorrow: Attention, C-Span shoppers!

Still on deck: Hillary's emails return

George Will puts his faith in Snopes!


Who will fact-check the fact-checkers? In a recent column, George Will started out by battering Josh Hawley around.

He did so in the course of praising a new book—a book in which Chris Stirewalt, late of Fox News, offers a critique of our country's "broken news business."

In Will's view, Hawley cast a silly showboat vote against admitting Finland and Sweden to NATO. In Will's account, this is where the performance led

WILL (8/10/22): ...That evening, Hawley appeared on Fox News to receive Tucker Carlson’s benediction.

This umpteenth episode of a senator using the Senate as a stepping stone to a cable television green room illustrates what Chris Stirewalt deplores in his new book, “Broken News.” He was washed out of Fox News by a tsunami of viewer rage because on election night 2020 he correctly said Donald Trump had lost Arizona. Now he says today’s journalism has a supply-side problem—that is, supplying synthetic controversies:

“What did Trump say? What did Nancy Pelosi say about what Trump said? What did Kevin McCarthy say about what Pelosi said about what Trump said? What did Sean Hannity say about what Rachel Maddow said about what McCarthy said about what Pelosi said about what Trump said?”

In all honesty, Stirewalt's call of Arizona came remarkably early—and Biden's winning margin turned out to be scarily slim. Maybe Stirewalt knew what he was doing that night, maybe he just got lucky. 

(If you flip a coin to call a state, you'll get it right half the time!)

That to the side, Will quoted Stirewalt mocking a type of "synthetic controversy" involving our nation's cable news stars. He went on to make the highlighted claim. 

We wondered if it was accurate:

WILL (continuing directly): But journalism also has a demand-side problem: Time was, journalists assumed that news consumers demanded “more information, faster and better.” Now, instantaneous communication via passive media—video and television—supplies what indolent consumers demand.

More than half of Americans between ages 16 and 74 read below the sixth-grade level. Video, however, requires only eyes on screens. But such passive media cannot communicate a civilization defined by ideas. Our creedal nation, Stirewalt says, “requires written words and a common culture in which to understand them.”

Is that statement about our "indolent [news] consumers" accurate? Is it true that "more than half of Americans between ages 16 and 74 read below the sixth-grade level?" 

We'd never seen a claim of that type. We wondered if it could be defended.

For starters, full disclosure! Measuring someone's "reading level" isn't like measuring their height or their weight. 

You can measure someone's height with something resembling perfect accuracy. Measuring the grade level at which a person is able to read simply isn't like that. It involves a much less objective set of assessments.

That said, we wondered if the highlighted statement could be defended as basically accurate. And so, we decided to click Will's link, a link which took us to this August 2 essay at Snopes.

There's little doubt about what the Snopes essay said. The topic was brooked in a Q-and-A format, with Madison Dapcevich starting her presentation like this:

Do More Than Half of Americans Read Below a 6th-Grade Level?

This claim is true, according to a review of the U.S. education system that was conducted in September 2020. Let’s explore.

In essence, Will was simply repeating what Dapcevich had said. (She cited the age range—16 to 74—as she continued.) That led us to wonder if there was any justification for Dapcevich's assertion.

In the next two paragraphs, Dapcevich offers a spectacularly confusing attempt to provide the source for her claim. She offers four separate links in those two paragraphs. Clicking all four links, then clicking additional links within those links, we found ourselves whirled about in a conceptual vortex.

We're not sure we've ever seen a more confounding journalistic presentation. And yet, Will had made his striking statement based upon nothing but apparent faith in the accuracy of the claim in Snopes.

Before the week is done, we may attempt to lead you through the list of Dapcevich's links. For whatever it's worth, we found no place, in any of the reports to which she linked, where evidence was offered in support of the claim which ended up in Will's column.

As we attempted to negotiate the Dapcevich links, we thought of the passage in the Iliad where mighty Achilles is almost swept away by the angry river Scamander. But we never found a way to support the accuracy of her claim.

To be fair, Will is anti-Hawley and anti-Trump. He's also anti-Carlson.

That said, he makes a sweeping claim about adult literacy in this column. For that reason, there's a certain irony involved in the following question: 

Did George Will bother to check the accuracy of his source? 

Similarly, Snopes has long been billed as a major fact-check site. The amazing confusion found in that recent Snopes report leads us to recycle a bit of Plato:

Who will fact-check the nation's fact-checkers? How can we know if they're right?

UNDER THE BIG TOP: CNN ringmaster counts the boxes!


Hillary's emails return: Don Lemon had been out of the country. On Monday night, he was back.

Lemon was BACK under the Big Top which houses our "national discourse." That said, the travels of the CNN star had given him a unique perspective on recent high-profile events. 

More specifically, Lemon had a unique perspective on the FBI's invasion of Mar-a-Lago. He reported this fact as he spoke with departing guest anchor Alisyn Camerota at the top of his 10 P.M. hour.

None of this was Camerota's fault. Their exchange started like this:

CAMEROTA (8/15/22): And with that, Don Lemon Tonight starts right now. All yours, Don!


LEMON: It's good to see you.

CAMEROTA: You too, Don.

LEMON: I was not here last week. I don't think you were either. What a week we chose to take a vacation, right?

CAMEROTA: I got so many texts, saying "How could you take off this week?" But I had to remind people it's a crazy news cycle every week.

LEMON: It's going to be a crazy news cycle for quite a long time.

CAMEROTA: Yes, don't worry. The craziness will continue.

The Crazy will continue, Camerota said. Moments later, Lemon offered a bit of foreshadowing:

LEMON: But I have to say, I've got a lot to talk about with this. And you'll understand, watching it from afar or whatever, not being here, gives you a different perspective...

So this is Don Lemon Tonight. So, yes, I had a—I got a really interesting perspective. I was actually out of the country watching all of this and getting people's perspective on it, and it gives you—

You know, it's good to be away, or it's good to watch things sometimes from afar so that you do get another perspective. Because as Americans, sometimes we are so myopic, we get so caught up in what is happening right in front of us, that we don't see the forest for the trees. O.K., so go with me here. 

It's good to be back, by the way. And I want to talk to talk to you—talk to you about something called CDT. Not CRT, CDT, something I was thinking about on vacation, Critical Democracy Theory. See what I did there on purpose?

For the record, this is what counts as intelligent high-end commentary as we all slide toward the sea. Soon, though, Michael Cohen appeared as Lemon's guest. When he did, Lemon fleshed out his own new perspective. 

First, Lemon offered a muddled account of Donald J. Trump's various explanations concerning the material extracted from Mar-a-Lago.

That was the way the effort began. Soon, though, Lemon was counting those boxes:

LEMON: So, it's surprising to—it shouldn't be surprising to me, but to watch everyone make all these excuses for—for, you know, what happened, and even the former president, because some of these excuses are starting to muddy each other, right? 

It was like, "Wait a minute. Didn't you just say that it was something else?" And now you're saying it's something else and someone is going on television.

One of your people saying, it's—it's now, this. Isn't—

The fact of the matter is, that you did something wrong. You just don't pack 33 boxes of classified information by accident. That just doesn't happen.

Finally, our question had been answered! 

How many top-secret documents had been present at Mar-a-Lago? Had there been a lot of top-secret documents there, or had there perhaps just been a little?

Finally, we the people had the stuff of an accurate answer! According to Lemon, "33 boxes of classified information" had been taken to Mar-a-Lago! ! That's the unique perspective he had acquired by watching this mess from afar.

Cohen didn't disagree. This was his response:

COHEN (continuing directly): No, but not only does that not happen. He already returned more than a dozen boxes. And they signed a document stating that there are no more boxes of information at Mar-a-Lago, which of course is yet another lie.

Apparently, before the jack-booted thugs staged their raid on Mar-a-Lago, , Donald J. Trump had already returned "more than a dozen boxes [of classified material]!" That would suggest that 21 boxes of such material could have been carted away during last Friday's raid.

Here at THE HOWLER, we're prepared to admit it. We don't know how large a haul of top-secret documents traveled with Donald J. Trump from the White House to his sweaty seaside manor. 

We don't know how large the haul really was. We have been noting, in the past few days, that our multimillionaire cable stars have done a poor job clarifying a basic fact:

At this point, none of us know how large the stash of top-secret documents was. Had Donald J. Trump hauled away a very large number of such documents? Or had he hauled away a relative handful, along with piles of dinner menus, weather maps and love letters from North Korea?

Gifted with a unique perspective, Lemon had now answered our question:

Donald J. Trump had decamped to Mar-a-Lago with 33 boxes of classified material—and that sounds like a very large haul.

Lemon didn't say how large each of those boxes was. But it sounded like Donald J. Trump had arrived in the Sunshine State with an extremely large haul.

This foolishness aired last night, right there on CNN. It represents the kind of foolishness which transpires within our own blue tents when scandal is being sold as cable's exclusive "news product."

Elsewhere, the lunacy has been general as red tribe forces have tried to push back against last Friday's search of Trump's seaside bunker. 

Tomorrow, we'll show you what was being said over the weekend on C-Span's Washington Journal. For today, we'll tease the topic with this, the second call to the heartbreaking program on this past Sunday morning:

DOTTIE FROM GEORGIA (8/14/22): The main thing I called about was to ask you to make sure these people stay on topic. 

Because pretty soon, we're going to be hearing about what Hillary Clinton did, what Barack Obama did. They might go all the way back to Ulysses S. Grant. They don't stay on topic!

And on top of that, they don't watch the news. They must not watch the news, because some of the stuff they're talking about has already been in the news. It's already been proven to be wrong, and they are still sittin' here saying it. 

And then they talk too long. Bye-bye!

Dottie's aim was true. All her complaints about "these people" were accurate.

Indeed, the first caller, John from New York, had already complained about the "double standard" from which Hillary Clinton allegedly benefitted with respect to the legal handling of her "30,000 emails."

He had also mentioned Eric Holder, Obama's attorney general. 

As the hour proceeded, Clinton's emails were mentioned several times, just as Dottie had foreseen. This had become a common approach within the red regions of our splintering world, even as those in our own blue world kept enlarging the number of boxes The Donald had carted away.

Tomorrow, we'll return to the question of Hillary's emails. As we do, we'll note a basis distinction concerning "classified materials," a distinction which was widely drawn at the time.

As far as we know, the distinction was reasonable, sound, instructive. For that reason, we've been applying the same distinction as we've discussed Trump's haul.

Way back when, in the 1960s, Malvina Reynolds and even Pete Seeger had ridiculed a bunch of "Little Boxes." In the process, they also ridiculed the lesser people who were living within them.

Those lesser people now call C-Span, repeating the bullroar they keep hearing from their own tribe's trusted sources. Last night, Lemon, fresh from abroad, was counting the boxes of Trump, pleasing our own blue world. 

A new perspective had arrived on the front. Broadcasting from under the Big Top, Lemon's count of the jam-packed cartons had now reached 33!

Tomorrow: Good God! Revisiting what Comey said



A vast nation, coming undone:  The new arrival on the front has choked off all other conversation.

The conversation about this arrival sketches the shape of a very large nation in serious disarray.

The conceptual chaos is general! On CNN's State of the Union, manifest nonsense like this was treated as if it made sense:

JENNINGS (8/14/22): I mean, I sort of felt this week like we're at the circus now. We're all under the Big Top. 

And this can only end one of two ways: He's got to be indicted, or Merrick Garland has to resign. 

You can't raid the president's house, the former president, and possible future candidate, say to the American people, "We think he's violating three different laws," and then do nothing.

So this has—to me—

KEILAR: Was it justified?

JENNINGS: Well, yes. If you think there are classified documents—and I totally get, if you have got top-secret information—which we don't know what it is, by the way—but if you got these documents, and they're not supposed to be out in the open, absolutely. 

But this cannot end in any—in any other way. I mean, how could it possibly end with just, "Well, OK, we got them back, and it's over now?" That—there's no going back now.

Scott Jennings is CNN's resident conservative commentator. CNN turns to Jennings for conservative reaction from someone who isn't out of his mind.

In fairness, Jennings was certainly right on one score. He was right when he said that we, the conceptually scattered American people, are all under the Big Top now.

Scott Jennings was certainly right when he said that our world's a circus! But in his own turn in the center ring, Jennings offered this:

He said the search of Mar-a-Lago was justified—but also, he said that Merrick Garland may have to resign!

Jennings said Garland will have to resign if Donald Trump isn't indicted. Please don't make us run through the various ways this reasoning doesn't make sense.

Now that you've let that cup pass from our lips, we'll outline one such possibility. In some world, it could turn out that Trump was being misinformed by his Florida lawyers, at least one of whom is a fairly obvious nut.

It could turn out that Donald J. Trump actually didn't know that there were top-secret documents on his property, among his possessions. This is one of the three million possibilities which could turn out to be true.

On the other hand, was Trump knowingly holding those top-secret documents? We have no way of knowing, but that's an obvious possibility too! Indeed, here's how far NBC's Ken Delanian was willing to go as he imagined some possibilities on yesterday's Meet the Press:

DILANIAN (8/14/22): There's so much we don't know because we haven't seen that affidavit of probable cause where the FBI lays out the justification [for conducting the search]. 

There's a couple of possibilities here. One is that this was just about getting the documents back. The FBI has their documents. That's the end of it. 

Another is that there were crimes committed here about the mishandling of information, and we'll see a case go forward. 

And then the third, most ominous possibility is it's something even worse than that. It's about: What was Donald Trump doing with those documents? Why did he have them there? Some of these documents would be worth billions of dollars to our adversaries, Andrea.

Speaking with guest host Andrea Mitchell, Dilanian floated the possibility that the documents in question could have been worth billions of dollars to Trump on the open market. (Stephanie Ruhle had floated the same possibility last Friday night.)

Is it possible that Trump was planning to sell those documents to foreign adversaries? Stating the ominously obvious, that's a possibility too—though that doesn't mean that it's true!

Jennings was right in one basic way, Dilanian in another. Jennings said we're all under the Big Top now. Dilanian stressed the fact that "there's so much we [still] don't know."

What are some of the things we don't know? We still don't know how many top-secret documents were found at Mar-a-Lago.

We're told that Trump had five "sets" of top-secret documents—but how many top-secret documents actually come in a "set?" 

Did Trump have thousands of pages of top-secret materials, lugged away in five large boxes? Or did he possibly have twelve to fifteen sheets of top-secret paper, marbled through a huge array of White House menus, weather maps and letters from Kim-Jong Un?

How many documents is five "sets?" Is it a very large amount, or is it just a little? 

The conceptual weaknesses of us the people is such that we've never so much as seen this question arise. For today, let it represent the three million other things we the former people still don't know.

We the former people have now become we the disconnected tribes. Depending on which tribe we're in, we've heard different claims, and believe different things, about what happened last week.

We're living deep inside a Babel under a three (million)-ring Big Top. The intellectual skills of our upper-end scribes offer us No Way Out.

Hillary's emails are back in this world. So are a wide array of bogus or unfortunate claims, most of them, though not all, from The Other Side.

The chaos was general on C-Span this weekend. Within the upper reaches of cable news, things weren't ginormously better.

Meanwhile, there was George Will, making an eye-catching claim about us the American people. We clicked his link, then we clicked and we clicked and we clicked again.

We were swirled around and around, in a brain-dead circle. Such is our discourse now.

Tomorrow: Where to begin?

How many documents come in a set?


We humans, attempting to function: Decades ago, the comedy world was in a general uproar. 

At issue was the number of raisins a person might find in a scoop.

Kellogg's was promising "two scoops of raisins" in every box of Raisin Bran. That said, the company was making this explicit promise on its giant FAMILY SIZE carton—but also on its famously tiny single-serving box!

(This nearly five-pound, boxcar-sized carton was so huge that it contained two separate bags of Raisin Bran. But the Kellogg's people were alleging that it too contained "two scoops!") 

A potent philosophical debate had thereby broken out. How could every size carton of Raisin Bran contain the same two scoops? Was Kellogg's perhaps using different sized scoops? Inquiring minds needed to know.

Yesterday afternoon, a similar problem arose as the men and women of cable news tried to explain, or at least attempted to seem to be trying to explain, a new arrival on the front. On the surface, the question was this: 

How many top-secret documents come in a set? Alternately, how many top-secret documents come in a box?

That was the new basic question. Beneath the surface, the anthropological question was this:

To what extent are we human beings built for explanation?

As you know, the background to this newly-arrived rumination was and is this:

The GSA had clumsily included some top-secret documents in the packages a former president had taken to his muggy Florida nesting place, Mar-a-Lago.

The former president had no idea that the GSA had stupidly done this. Quite plainly, it wasn't the former president's fault, and certainly not on Fox.

Yesterday afternoon, a magistrate judge released an inventory of the materials the FBI removed from the former president's premises in Monday's court-authorized search. 

(This "raid" took place "in the predawn hours," though only for those who watch Fox.)

On cable, famous stars began attempting to describe the contents of  that inventory. The effort continues on the front page of today's New York Times:

HABERMAN ET AL (8/13/22): Federal agents removed top secret documents when they searched former President Donald J. Trump’s Florida residence on Monday as part of an investigation into possible violations of the Espionage Act and other laws, according to a search warrant made public on Friday.

F.B.I. agents seized 11 sets of documents in all, including some marked as “classified/TS/SCI”—shorthand for “top secret/sensitive compartmented information,” according to an inventory of the materials seized in the search. Information categorized in that fashion is meant to be viewed only in a secure government facility.


In total, agents collected four sets of top secret documents, three sets of secret documents and three sets of confidential documents, the inventory showed. 

The highlighted statements are technically accurate. Los federales had, in fact, seized and removed "11 sets of documents in all." 

Elsewhere, the number of documents taken has been enumerated by the "box." That said, this raised an obvious question. 

Just how many top-secret documents come in a "set" or a "box?"

Is a "set of documents" a lot of documents, or is it just a little? In fairness, there's no apparent way to answer that question at the present time, based on the inventory released by the magistrate judge.

That said, we watched hour after hour of cable "news" last night. We saw no one call attention to the imprecision of quantification surrounding this endless discussion.

Did Donald J. Trump have a very large number of top-secret documents, or did he have just a few? On our campus, this seemed like an obvious point of concern—but as is often the case on cable, this elementary factual question seemed to occur to no one.

Is a "set" of documents a lot or a little? Also, how many documents come in a "box?" Just how big are these boxes?

Sometimes as we watched cable, it even seemed to us that a smaller number of boxes had entered Trump's premises and a larger number of boxes had, over time, emerged. Still, the cable stars lumbered along, tending to group around message. 

They attempted to convict or defend the former president, depending on which channel they were on. But no one attempted to estimate the size of the unauthorized stash which cluttered the Mar-a-Lago property, though certainly not by the pool.

How many documents come in a set, or in a box?  To our ear, that was one unidentified question. A second such question was this:

What explains the chronology surrounding that visit in June?

Apparently in early June, some officials from the FBI visited Wreck-of-the-Hesperus. You can watch many hours of cable discussion without getting a clear idea of the way the chronology surrounding this visit works. 

You'll hear that the FBI officials met with lawyers for Trump. You'll hear that they later instructed agents for Trump to put a padlock on the door to a room where  materials were being stored.

You'll hear those statements again and again, then you'll hear them some more. You'll rarely hear anyone try to untangle the puzzles here, or even note the fact that such obvious puzzles exist. To wit:

Why did the FBI suggest or order the installation of the padlock?

If officials thought that top-secret materials were, or might be, in that room, why didn't they simply take such materials when they were on-site in June? If they thought they already had the relevant materials, why did they care if a padlock was placed on the room days later?

You can watch hours of cable news without hearing these puzzles identified. (To see Mick Mulvaney attempt to do so last night on CNN, you can just click here.)

Instead, you'll hear pundits on one channel wondering how long Donald J. Trump could end up being in jail. On the other channel, you'll hear screeching gargoyles angrily asking why Hillary Clinton is still on the loose. Mary Dagen McDowell of The Five, angrily come on down!

Briefly, let's be clear:

As far as we know, there is no way for cable news stars to report the actual number of documents with which the hapless GSA saddled the plainly innocent Trump.

How many documents come in a set? How many come in a box? Cable stars can't provide specific numbers. They could at least call attention to the nature of this basic, undisclosed fact.

Also this:

As far as we know, there is no way for cable stars to explain what happened in and around that visit to Casa-el-Bunko in June. In the interest of clarity, they could at least identify the unresolved points of puzzlement which seem to surround that event.

At a time like this, the various stars of cable news talk and talk and talk. On Fox, the cable stars all tell you one story. On MSNBC, you hear a different tale. 

(Under current arrangements, these segregated groups of talkers almost never meet.)

In this instance, there is one other obvious question we'd like to hear identified by various cable stars. That question goes like this:

Is it possible that Donald J. Trump was selling the chance to view these, and possibly other, top-secret documents?

Obviously, yes—it's possible! Also, we have no idea if any such thing has occurred.

That said, the FBI apparently subpoenaed Mar-a-Lago surveillance tape to let them see who entered, or possibly who had previously entered, The Room With the Shiny New Padlock (alternately, The Room For a View). Our basic question would be this:

How many "wine stewards" at Mar-a-Lago are newly arrived from some hostile  power? Could that explain why they kept going in and out of that room?

With that, we return to the day's basic questions:

How many raisins come in a scoop? Also, how many top-secret documents come in a set or a box?

We've spoken to major experts concerning these unresolved questions. Concerning the documents, the consensus is this:

Question: How many documents come in a set?

Answer: Quite likely, a genuine shitload!

Next week: The human cognition files, starting with George Will's column

Question(s) for the day!


As the excitement builds: The question for the day is this:

Will Donald J. Trump allow the materials to be released by the magistrate judge? As of last night, he was suggesting that that would be his wish.

Or will he allow himself to be overruled by his super-cautious lawyers? Will he play the silly old trick where the cautious lawyers manage to hold the eager client back?

Final question:

If something embarrassing or potentially incriminating appears on the list of items removed from Mar-a-Lago, will Donald J. Trump say it was planted? Please remember this:

He only took the fifth this week because he finally saw that all the unfairness, and all the fake news, meant that he basically had to!

For extra credit only: If someone says that something was planted, is there any actual way to prove that the person's statement is false? 

(Putting it a different way: How much of what we accept as true is based upon the question of who we trust?)

THE MILBANK FILES: On Fox, Kilmeade mutilates sleep!


What Milbank is talking about: Last evening, Brian Kilmeade arrived on the front during the 8 P.M. hour.

Kilmeade was serving as guest host on Tucker Carlson Tonight. When the latest (possible) bombshell hit, he was speaking with Lara Trump.

The possible bombshell involved the claim that Donald J. Trump may have been hiding top-secret documents involving nuclear weapons at his Mar-a-Lago estate—possible documents he had possibly refused to return to the National Archives.

Had Trump really been hiding such documents at his muggy estate? This morning, as we type, that fact is still unknown. 

The facts remain unknown. Given the way our system now works, we the people will never agree on what the facts actually are.

We the people will never agree as to what actually happened here! But here's how the angry Kilmeade proceeded when the report of this possibility broke at the Washington Post:

KILMEADE (8/11/22): Let's read this together. The Washington Post has just crossed with this story. They believe the reason why the raid took place is because they were worried that your father-in-law had documents related to nuclear weapons among the items the FBI wanted back. 

[Quoting from the Post] "The unusual search underscores deep concerns among government officials about the types of information they thought could be located at Trump's Mar-a-Lago club."

So far, that was almost accurate! But now, as the fuming Kilmeade continued, this braindead exchange occurred:

KILMEADE (continuing directly): Did you see any nuclear reports at the Mar-a-Lago club? Maybe around the pool, by the lifeguard stand?

LARA TRUMP: Yeah, no. Those were not disseminated freely at Mar-a-Lago. I mean, who knows?

Lara hadn't seen any nuclear documents as she lounged by the pool! Deftly, she changed the subject now, instantly offering this:

"By the way, I think it's a mystery to a lot of people what could rise to the level of not taking a different approach and instead raiding the former president's home."

She just couldn't figure it out! With that, Lara Trump moved on from the possible bombshell report about the possible nuclear documents. She and the angry, fuming Kilmeade never returned to the topic.

Kilmeade had been behaving like a madman right from the start of the hour. At this point, around 8:20 P.M., the ultimate journalistic inanity—There were no documents out by the pool!—had finally hit the fan.

Or did that happen a few minutes later, at the end of Kilmeade's angry opening segment? At that point, the functionary sent Lara Trump packing, then told viewers this:

KILMEADE: This is not going away. Violent crime out of control. Democrats aren't interested in doing anything to make our cities safer, including the one we're in. Instead, they want to arm IRS agents to hunt down everyday Americans. 

And don't forget, by the way—this is great! A brand new episode of Tucker's blockbuster documentary, a Tucker Carlson Original, out right now.

It is called "Cattle Mutilations," and you can stream it on Fox Nation. Free membership, and extended preview, only if you go to Tucker Carlson.com.

There followed an ad for the blockbuster new documentary. The ad included the possibility that the many mutilations in the past forty years have been caused by extraterrestrials. 

No, we aren't making this up! Thanks to the Internet Archive, you can watch this whole segment, and the subsequent Cattle Mutilations ad, just by clicking here.

The ad for the cattle mutilations may have made what went before seem almost sane by comparison. That said, this is the cultural state of affairs Dana Milbank is describing in his new book, the one with the slightly odd title:

The Destructionists: The Twenty-Five-Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party

Roughly thirty years after Newt Gingrich composed his vocabulary lists; thirty-four years after Rush Limbaugh took his program national; almost thirty years after Jerry Falwell began promoting the many murders committed by Bill and Hillary Clinton; twenty-eight years after Limbaugh dramatically linked Hillary Clinton to the death of Vince Foster:

Roughly three decades after those lunacies, Fox viewers were being told that Lara Trump hadn't seen any nuclear documents as she went off the high-dive board at the Mar-a-Lago pool. Also, the IRS will be sending armed agents to take control of their money!

Beyond that, viewers could get a free preview of Tucker Carlson's documentary about the way extra-terrestrials have possibly been mutilating our cattle. This is the cultural state of affairs the Milbank book discusses in its own somewhat undisciplined way.

We refer to the cultural rot which obtains within the organs of the Republican Party itself. But also, within the various media organs devoted to spreading the party's various messages as a type of silent secession continues to gather steam.

Was Donald J. Trump actually hiding top-secret documents concerning nuclear weapons? If so, why might he have been doing such a thing?

As we type, the answer to the first question is unknown. Given the apparent psychiatric facts the mainstream press refuses to discuss, it's easy to imagine answers to the second question.

Basic facts about the possible bombshell remain unknown at this time. But as Macbeth once murdered sleep, the extraterrestrials now running Fox have mutilated journalistic norms in the manner described.

Full disclosure! If this latest arrival hadn't occurred, we would have discussed a few other events this morning. 

We would have discussed the role of the mainstream press in the intellectual meltdown which began spreading through the herd in the 1990s. We would have discussed the failure of our own blue tribe to see what was happening at that point, or to offer a peep of complaint.

We would have cited Gene Lyons' book, Fools For Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater. We would have cited the way the press corps booed and jeered Candidate Gore's every word as they sat in the press room during the first Democratic debate of Campaign 2000—and yes, there were three on-the-record sources concerning this astonishing conduct, Jake Tapper now being best known.

Unfortunately, what happened in the mainstream press corps stayed in the mainstream press corps, right on through the silly pursuit of Candidate Clinton's emails. The people our tribe is trained to respect didn't tell us about this, and we the blue people weren't sharp enough to notice these things on our own.

As it turns out, many humans will do and say almost anything in search of position / wealth / fame. Also, we human beings love to say whatever the last ten people just said.

These basic anthropological facts have become painfully clear. The stunningly ridiculous Kilmeade continued to nail down those learnings last night. 

Mainly, though, it all boils down to this:

Aliens have been consuming our cattle! Some who perform for the Fox News Channel have also been eating our brains!

Mar-a-Lago in chains, defiled!


Garland pours it on: “They even broke into my safe!” a disappointed Donald J. Trump wrote.

The former president was describing the strong-arm tactics of the FBI in Monday's search of Mar-a-Lago (Middle Frisian, Damaged/marred/fouled lagoon), his sumptuous Florida home.

The entry into the former president's safe had been especially shocking. 

Most typically, law enforcement agents conducting a search will randomly look around inside the subject's home. 

But who would stoop so low as to look inside a subject's locked safe while conducting a search for contraband? At this point, the FBI, a runaway agency, won't even decline to do that!

Today, we spent some time watching the Fox News Channel as we awaited Merrick Garland's statement. We were somewhat puzzled by the nighttime footage of Mar-a-Lago the channel insisted on running.

Most reporting on this event says the FBI began its search on Monday at 9 A.M. In this report, CBS News seems to say that the search began at a more leisurely 10 A.M.

Today, on Fox, Martha McCallum said the "raid" had begun "in the predawn hours." Producers kept playing the videotape which seemed to support her statement, which could imaginably even be right.

After Garland made his brief statement, McCallum brought the ludicrous Joe Concha on. He said we should all have our heads examined if we believe a single world the attorney general said. 

On MSNBC, Garland was praised for noting the fact that at least one of Trump's lawyers was present during the search. Garland had thereby undermined any possible claim that evidence could have been planted.

In that same CBS report, the network quoted one of the lawyers saying that, while she'd been present,  she hadn't been allowed to watch the actual search. We don't know what actually happened and quite likely we never will.

In the unlikely event that we find out, we can feel fairly sure that no one else ever will. Each tribe will hear its own news reports. As with Florida's weather, so too here:

If you don't like the facts you're hearing, you can simply wait a while. Or you can change the channel! 

At any rate, they even looked inside Donald Trump's safe! On Fox, the moral to the story is clear:

If they can do that to Donald J. Trump, they can even do it to you!

The remaining question: How many sales receipts from Vladimir Putin are included in the papers the FBI hauled away?

Also this:

Luckily, Xerox machines are illegal in Florida. This means that Trump couldn't have copied the three million top-dollar documents he has returned to the feds.

THE MILBANK FILES: George Will jumps in to denounce Josh Hawley!


"How did it get so far?" Dana Milbank is certainly right in one of his book's key points:

The current lunacy of our American discourse didn't start with Donald J. Trump. Having said that, let's also say this:

In his new book, Milbank isn't trying to trace the history of "the current lunacy of American discourse." He limits his field in a pleasing way, under this slightly odd title:

The Destructionists: The Twenty-Five-Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party

Milbank is tracing the crack-up of the Republican Party alone. There's no question that such a crack-up has occurred, but what about everyone else?

Full disclosure! For ourselves, we'd always seek to draw a distinction between Republican office-holders / opinion leaders and plain old Republican voters

Under current arrangements, the first group works to mislead the second. The second group gets misled.

It's true that a crack-up has occurred among both parts of the GOP. But Milbank fails to mention the crack-up of everyone else, including his own mainstream press corps—and, of course, himself.

All too plainly, the Republican Party has cracked up over the past (let's say) thirty years. As we noted in Tuesday's report,  Milbank traces it back to Newt Gingrich in 1997.

In this way, Milbank gifts himself with a nice round quarter century—with a nice round twenty-five years.

In fact, Gingrich was promoting the crack-up long before that, urging voters to demonize Others in the ugliest, stupidest ways. But those were the demonization wars. Other elements of our societal crack-up were already underway in those ancient days, and not only on the right.

Belief in The Crazy was well underway, with the Reverend Falwell urging the flock to believe that the Clintons had engaged in a wide range of murders. 

In 1994—that was 28 years ago—Rush Limbaugh gave nationwide voice to the ugly idea that Hillary Clinton, then the first lady, was involved in the death of Vince Foster. It was already working that way as of then.  

(For the record, Limbaugh's radio program had gone national in 1988, on the ABC Radio Network.)

As it turned out, there seemed to be a substantial market in full-blown belief in The Crazy. As of 1996, former FBI agent Gary Aldrich was selling a book which included the claim that the first lady had decorated the White House Christmas tree "with drug paraphernalia, condoms and c*ck rings."

Like Meredith Willson's Music Man, Aldrich was peddling belief in The Crazy. His book was a major best-seller.

As it turned out, belief in The Crazy was amazingly easy to sell by that time. In fairness, this belief in The Crazy, during this era, didn't exclusively come from the right.

Way back in the 1980s, improbable belief in child sex abuse seemed to have swept through the country. On the basis of utterly lunatic claims, operators of several preschools were subjected to endless trials and then to long prison terms.

These episodes proceeded through the courts, not through the organs and instruments of the Republican crack-up. 

Belief in The Crazy was easy to sell. So was the ugly demonization of Others engineered by Gingrich and his remarkably ugly, remarkably braindead, quite lengthy vocabulary lists.

Belief in The Crazy and love of The Ugly were peddled by GOP organs. But at some point, an honest historian must mention at least two other groups. 

One such group would be the mainstream press. The other would be us, The Blue Voters.

Tomorrow morning, we'll skip ahead to the role those two groups played in our society's wider crack-up—the crack-up we're still undergoing. 

There is no doubt that Donald J. Trump now serves as drum major for this headlong decline. But the mainstream press corps, and we the blue people, have also played a steady role in this dangerous downward spiral.

So, some say, has Milbank himself—though he's right to trace one part of this wider societal crack-up to the years before Trump's arrival.

"How did things ever get so far?" That's what Vito Corleone is reportedly said to have said. 

How did things get so far? In his new book, Milbank traces one highly significant part of our societal decline—but he omits all the rest.

Tomorrow, we'll quickly recall the role the mainstream press corps played in our ongoing crack-up. We'll mention the ways our own slumbering tribe has failed to confront this problem.

We'll also look at a statement which appears in George Will's new column. In the Washington Post, the headline above the new column says this:

Josh Hawley, senator-as-symptom of a broken news business

It's a broken news business, the columnist says. Even as he batters Josh Hawley around, Will offers this startling statement:

"More than half of Americans between ages 16 and 74 read below the sixth-grade level."

We'd never seen that claim before, and so we began clicking links. 

How well do our journalists reason and read? That's one of the anthropological factors at play in the crack-up Milbank is chronicling.

How well do our journalists reason and read? Tomorrow, your answer appears.

Tomorrow: Today we have clicking of links

They want Donham sent to prison!


She's 88 years old: We've just returned from several hours off campus. We find that we've been thinking about a conversation we saw on CNN last night

Laura Coates and Areva Martin conducted the conversation. They want Carolyn Bryant Donham sent to prison, right now.

We aren't saying they're right or their wrong in their assessment. We will say that we think their conversation was extremely instructive.

Unpacking the facts a little bit more, Coates and Martin want Donham sent to prison for her role, real or imagined, in a vicious murder she rather plainly didn't commit. 

The unmistakably vicious killing occurred in 1955. For the record, Carolyn Bryant Donham is 88 years old.

The brutal murder was conducted by Donham's husband and brother in-law. It was one of Mississippi most famous, most vicious racial murders. 

The innocent victim was Emmett Till, who was just 14 years old.

Why were Coates and Martin discussing this well-known case? Below, you see the start of their conversation, and you can see the general outlines of their view of the case:

COATES (8/9/22): A grand jury in Mississippi declining to indict Carolyn Bryant Donham. If that name sounds familiar, she is the white woman who accused a 14-year-old Black teenager, Emmett Till, of making advances towards her nearly 70 years ago. 

Now, those accusations led to Till's brutal death, a murder that shook America to its core and frankly does to this very day.

And only after Emmett Till's mother decided to have an open casket funeral—and a warning that this image is disturbing—for the world to see what they did to her boy, the horrors done to her son. Do you realize that Emmett Till would've turned 81 years old two weeks ago?

CNN legal analyst Areva Martin, she joins me now. 

Areva, nothing at all lessens the shock and the pain of seeing that image or thinking about this happening seven decades ago. And yet, after seven hours of testimony, the grand jury decided there wasn't enough evidence to indict her on kidnapping or manslaughter charges. 

Now, there is a difference between how people think about moral culpability, legal culpability, and what a grand jury would be deciding, right?

MARTIN: Well, absolutely, Laura. It is shocking as the story is and the horrors of it. As you said, even 70 years later, it is still as painful to think about what happened to Emmett Till.

I am not surprised that the grand jury did not come back with an indictment for Carolyn Bryant. We know that there have been efforts over the last 10 to 15 years to have the case, you know, reopened, to have it re-investigated, to have charges brought against Carolyn Bryant. But every time that there has been a re-investigation of the facts of this case, the outcome has been the same.

There's been a determination that there is just not enough evidence to charge her, even though we know that there is this alleged memoir where Carolyn Bryant apparently recanted her statement about what Emmett Till did. 

But even with that memoir being out in the public sphere, no district attorney has been willing to move forward with charges against her.

COATES: We also learned that back in June, there was an unserved warrant for her arrest that was found charging her and her then-husband Roy Bryant and brother-in-law J.W. Milam in Emmett Till's abduction.

I have to tell you, just saying their names just sickens me to think about what they did, what the two men, what they did to Emmett Till. It really—it causes me a great deal of pain to even articulate that. They were arrested and they were acquitted on murder charges, only to then confess later.

But Donham, she was never taken into custody. So, this wasn't followed up on? I mean, no arrest warrant until now? That's stunning to people.

MARTIN: It absolutely is stunning. And you talk about the system failing this family. That's exactly what happened, Laura. The system failed the Till family.

The conversation continues from there.

Donham's role in the Emmett Till murder has been re-investigated several times in the past seventeen years. Coates thinks it's stunning that grand juries have refused to charge Donham, though she never quite answers this obvious question:

What should those grand juries have charged Donham with?  What should Donham, age 88, be frog-marched to prison for? 

Should she be charged with kidnapping or manslaughter? Coates is happy to float the idea, but she doesn't bother attempting to explain the logic of her suggestion, or the state of the evidence, to the extent that any exists.

Two grand juries have now found insufficient evidence to charge Donham with anything. If memory serves, the grand jury back in 2005 or 2007 was predominantly black.

Still, the journalists want to see her shipped off. For their full conversation, click here.

We've been watching American journalists on a daily basis for the past twenty-four years. This conversation seemed familiar in certain unflattering ways.

We saw no particular sign that Coates and Martin could have reported the remarkably complicated facts of this very old, horrid case. That said, they made it clear where they stood:

They want to see Donham sent to prison, though it wasn't entirely clear what she should be sent there for.

Donham is 88 years old. It isn't clear that she played a direct role, of any kind, in this vicious killing.

That said, the journalists want to see her locked up. In several ways, this conversation shows us the complex face of our flailing nation as it slides down toward the sea.

The past isn't even past. We believe Abraham Lincoln said that!

Further disclosure: Your lizard brain will urge you to say that the journalists are right. That said, you and your sacred lizard brain don't have the slightest idea what the facts are either.

THE MILBANK FILES: Other folks started this, Milbank says!


Some folks disappear: It's much as sacred Chekhov once correctly reported:

"The appearance on the front of a new arrival...became the topic of general conversation."

In Chekhov's account, the new arrival was "a lady with a lapdog." Here and now, in our own place and time, the most recent of many new arrivals has been an FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, yielding widespread reaction to same.

(We're quoting the start of Chekhov's story, The Lady with the Lapdog. Several major figures—Nabokov and Cornel West among them—have described it as one of the greatest stories ever penned.)

This more recent arrival appeared on the front at 7 o'clock Monday night. This morning, in the Washington Post, five reporters describe one part of the general conversation:

BARRETT ET AL (8/10/22): Dozens of die-hard Trump supporters came to Palm Beach on Tuesday to express their support. Adriane Shochet, 64, of Lake Worth, Fla., bought a $14 broomstick, which she attached to an American flag and waved as she stood on the causeway that overlooks part of Mar-a-Lago.

“I just needed to come out and show the whole free world that this is frightening, and if they can do this, what’s next?” Shochet said. “This is the polar opposite of whatever effect politically they thought they were going to get because all it’s doing is empowering the right politically.”

Dozens of people—at least twenty-four!—arrived on the scene at Palm Beach. As quoted, Shochet wondered what "they" might do next if "they" are allowed to do this.

Shochet was hardly alone in her state of concern. As they continued, the WaPo Five recorded some other reactions:

BARRETT ET AL (continuing directly): Passing motorists honked in support. One man stood on the bridge, which crosses the Intracoastal Waterway, holding the American flag upside down—widely recognized as a symbol of his belief that the country is in distress.

Pat Stewart, 85, found the “Trump 2020” flag that used to fly at her house in Jupiter, Fla., which she had expected to keep tucked away until the next presidential election. For several hours, she stood in the sun alongside a friend who was visiting from Michigan, who is also 85, waving at passing motorists.

“I was very angry, very angry, and very upset, that our government would do this to an ex-president,” Stewart said. Even though aides said Trump was in New York and at his golf club and residence in Bedminster, N.J., this week, Stewart held out hope that he was at Mar-a-Lago.

“We want him to come out and announce he’s running for president,” she said.

Stewart's comments were part of the general conversation triggered by Monday's arrival. It isn't clear that her comments make perfect sense, though there's certainly nothing especially new about that.

Stewart was very angry, and very upset, with respect to the governmental conduct in question. Shochet wondered what "they" will do next if "they" are permitted to do this, as they  basically are.

Within the borders of the Post report, Stewart and Shochet weren't asked to explain what was actually wrong with the government's conduct. Given the lack of information about the background to the search, it wasn't clear that these discussants knew what they were talking about—and it didn't seem that the WaPo Five had actually tried to find out.

"Verdict first, trial later," a Lewis Carroll character once said. So it went along the front as the new conversation broke out.

On various sides of various aisles, people had access to very few facts—but many people were expressing firm views, or engaging in rich speculations. This was especially true, though not exclusively so, within the group Dana Milbank discusses in—what else?—his new book.

Milbank's book has a somewhat clumsy title and a slightly truncated chronology. He focuses on one part of a terrible state of affairs. His title reads like this:

The Destructionists: The Twenty-Five-Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party

"Destructionist" is a brand-new term, but it could always catch on. As we noted yesterday, the specific crack-up to which he refers has been going on for more than twenty-five years at this point.

That said, Milbank's claim of a crack-up is entirely fair, though other groups have been failing too.  And as we noted yesterday, Donald J. Trump didn't start the specific crack-up under review, as Milbank correctly says.

It isn't just the Republican Party which has been cracking up. That said, it isn't clear that any other major societal group has cracked up to the same extent.

The crack-up involves a range of behaviors our press corps is loath to discuss. The anthropological background here involves such questions as these:

Major public figures: Newt Gingrich was plainly there at the start. Is it possible that he could be diagnosed as a "sociopath?" 

According to a major study, more than six percent of adults males can be so diagnosed. Our press corps would jump off the Golden Gate Bridge before it would agree to discuss such topics.

We the regular people: To what extent are we the regular people possessed of good sound judgment? In the crack-up which Milbank describes, we the people have often seemed to have remarkably limited powers of discernment.

Especially at times of tribal warfare, there seems to be nothing so crazy that we the regular people won't be available to believe it. 

We the regular people today!  In the crack-up which Milbank describes, we came to believe that Hillary Clinton was involved in a range of murders. Also, that she was trafficking children for sexual purposes  out of a pizza joint. 

We believed that Obama was born in Kenya. We now believe that the2020 election was stolen, even though Donald J. Trump has never attempted to produce a white paper, or anything like it, supporting that unfounded claim.

Increasingly, it seems that there's nothing so silly, or so unfounded, that we the regular people aren't capable of believing it. That said, throughout the period under review, our press corps has been wed to a rather silly branding statement: 

"The American people are pretty sharp."

The American people are pretty sharp? Increasingly, it becomes clear that this isn't exactly true. 

That said, the press corps would exile itself to the Gobi Desert before it would make the discernment of us the regular people a topic of explicit review. Our press corps doesn't discuss the mental health of political figures, and it doesn't discuss the basic discernment of us the regular people.

Sadly, another group was there at the start of the crack-up in question. It's an important societal group—a group which Milbank seems disinclined to mention.

This group is persistently disappeared in discussions of the crack-ups of the past thirty years. We refer to the guild to which Milbank belongs. We refer to the mainstream press corps.

Gingrich was there at the start of the crack-up. Tomorrow, we'll add more names from the cultural right, Falwell and Limbaugh among them.

That said, the upper-end press corps was also there at the start. And how about us, the regular people from the blue tribe? Is there some way in which we the blue people were also there?

"We are not enemies, but friends," Lincoln said. "We must not be enemies."

He said that in his First Inaugural Address. In his more famous Second Inaugural, he pretty much said this:

We in the North did this too. 

Our group did this too, Lincoln surprisingly said. Does that sort of thinking still represent a type of good solid judgment?

On Monday night, the latest arrival became the latest topic of conversation.

It hasn't been just Stewart and Shochet, who hurried to Palm Beach. At this point, no one really knows what we're talking about as this conversation goes on and on

Few of us are inclined to say that, surely not in a full-blooded way. Anthropologically speaking, our cognitive powers are rather limited, our tribal instincts quite strong.

Tomorrow: Gingrich wasn't alone

A final note on inflation reduction!


Elsewhere, anthropology rules: Reactions to yesterday's events at Mar-a-Lago represent a sprawling anthropology lesson. 

The lesson involves what happens to people—the things we people will say and do—when our nations divide into tribes.

As of today, our tribal division is much more advanced, but we'll postpone that discussion. For now, let's take one more look at the idea that the Inflation Reduction Act involves inflation reduction.

We'll start with Paul Krugman's new column. Here's what Krugman says:

KRUGMAN (8/9/22): Republicans like Mitt Romney are trying to lump this legislation in with last year’s American Rescue Plan, which they claim caused inflation to spike.

Never mind whether this claim is true. The key thing is to do the math. The Inflation Reduction Act calls for spending less than $500 billion over a decade, compared with the American Rescue Plan’s $1.9 trillion in a single year—and will actually reduce the deficit. That’s why independent analysts find that it will have little effect on inflation.

According to Krugman, independent analysts "find that [the Inflation Reduction Act] will have little effect on inflation." As we noted a few days ago, that's what the CBO has officially said.

Krugman links to an analysis by the Penn Wharton Budget Model. The analysis he links to says this:

PENN WHARTON: The Act would very slightly increase inflation until 2024 and decrease inflation thereafter. These point estimates are statistically indistinguishable from zero, thereby indicating low confidence that the legislation will have any impact on inflation.

More specifically:

PENN WHARTON: We estimate that the Inflation Reduction Act will produce a very small increase in inflation for the first few years, up to 0.05 percent points in 2024. We estimate a 0.25 percentage point fall in the PCE price index by the late 2020s. These point estimates, however, are not statistically different than zero, thereby indicating a very low level of confidence that the legislation will have any impact on inflation.

To the extent that they can make an estimate, Penn Wharton says the act will (very slightly)   increase inflation up to and including 2024. 

On the brighter if utterly pointless side, they estimate a small drop in the rate of inflation "by the late 2020s." That said, they offer a "very low level of confidence that the legislation will have any impact on inflation" at all.

With that, Penn Wharton largely agrees with the official assessment by the CBO. As noted, this is the analysis that Krugman, a top economist and an expert, has chosen to cite today.

We mention this because we looked in last night on the NBC Nightly News. At the end of a very brief report on this legislation, cable's own Ali Vitali had this cheerful, upbeat exchange with guest host Tom Llamas:

LLAMAS (8/8/22): The bill is expected to pass in the House. What are experts saying on how it will affect the current inflation crisis?

VITALI: Tom, top economists say this bill will put downward pressure on inflation. A group of former Treasury secretaries from Democratic and Republican administration had urged Congress to pass it, saying investments in energy and health care will fight inflation and lower costs, while setting the table for long-term economic growth.

Vitali seems to be referring to this brief, August 3 statement by five former Treasury secretaries—four Democrats and one lone Republican. 

These top economists devoted exactly two words to their analysis of the bill's likely effect on inflation. Vitali chose to go with that, embellishing what the former secretaries said while failing to mention the CBO and pretty much everyone else.

This is the world we live in today. We're living in a market economy. Alert consumers can shop around to find the news product they like.

THE MILBANK FILES: "Donald Trump didn’t create this!"


Dana Milbank remembers: This past Sunday, the Washington Post offered an essay which was adapted from—what else?—a new book.

The essay was written by Dana Milbank. At one point, he correctly said this:

MILBANK (8/7/22): It is crucial to understand that Donald Trump didn’t create this noxious environment. He isn’t some hideous, orange Venus emerging from the half-shell. Rather, he is a brilliant opportunist; he saw the direction the Republican Party was taking and the appetites it was stoking. The onetime pro-choice advocate of universal health care reinvented himself to give Republicans what they wanted. Because Trump is merely a reflection of the sickness in the GOP, the problem won’t go away when he does.

Each person will have to judge the claim that Donald J. Trump actually isn't "some hideous, orange Venus emerging from the half-shell." 

That said, it's true that Trump didn't create the noxious environment which currently rules our politics and pervades our national discourse. 

Other performers started the fire. At one point, for example, Milbank remembers an event from September 27, 1994, the day when Rep. Bob Michel stepped aside, allowing Newt Gingrich to become the Republican Party's leader in the House:

MILBANK: Gingrich had avoided service in Vietnam and regarded Democrats as the enemy, impugning their patriotism and otherwise savaging them nightly on the House floor for the benefit of C-SPAN viewers.

“Newt! Newt! Newt! Newt!” the candidates and lawmakers chanted. A pudgy 51-year-old with a helmet of gray hair approached the lectern. “The fact is that America is in trouble,” Gingrich declared. “It is impossible to maintain American civilization with 12-year-olds having babies, 15-year-olds killing each other, 17-year-olds dying of AIDS and 18-year-olds getting diplomas they can’t even read.” The pejoratives piled up in Gingrich’s shouted, finger-wagging harangue: “Collapsing … Failed so totally … Worried about their jobs … Worried about their safety … Trust broke down … Out of touch … Wasteful … Dumb … Ineffective … Out of balance … Malaise … Drug dealers … Pimps … Prostitution … Crime … Barbarism … Devastation … Human tragedy … Chaos and poverty.” “Recognize that if America fails, our children will live on a dark and bloody planet,” Gingrich told them.

Whatever a person might think of the views which Gingrich expressed that day, such presentations were clearly the start of "American carnage." 

Had Gingrich "avoided service in Vietnam?" So had a wide array of major figures from both political parties. For the record, we've never heard an account of Milbank's military service after emerging from Yale.

That said, did Gingrich "regard Democrats as the enemy?" In our view, Milbank frequently puts his thumbs on the scale in Sunday's essay, but it's very hard to disagree with that assessment of the attitude Gingrich brought to the party.

Forget the words which rained down from Gingrich that day in September 1994. Long before the address which Milbank quotes, Gingrich had been schooling Republicans in the best ways to describe Democrats. 

All the way back in 1990, a conservative entity named GOPAC had been circulating a list of 133 words assembled by Gingrich—a list of words conservatives should use to characterize themselves and Others.

What words should conservatives use in describing Democrats? You can peruse the full list here, but such words as "sick, pathetic, traitors, destructive" appear early on the long list.

In Gingrich's view, that was the way one of our two political tribes should describe the members of the other. This advice was already being aggressively pushed as far back as 1990—and not by Donald J. Trump.

For whatever reason, Milbank has chosen an awkward title for his book. The title is a bit of a mouthful. It goes exactly like this:

The Destructionists: The Twenty-Five Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party

"Destructionists"—is that a word? If Milbank has his way, it will become one now.

On balance, we aren't fans of Milbank's work for the Post. That said, we were thrilled to see one major thrust of his new book.

For the record, many people will agree with the approach Newt Gingrich suggested. On balance, tens of millions of voters agree with the type of rhetoric, and the type of politics, performed today by Donald J. Trump.

Those people are our fellow citizens, and they have a right to their views. That said:

As of 1990, were Democratic office-holders "sick, pathetic, traitors, destructive?" ("Corrupt, intolerant, selfish, insensitive?") 

Such questions are always a matter of judgment. That said, a modern nation can't hope to survive the harsh, unyielding  tribal warfare Gingrich recommended. 

("We must not be enemies," Lincoln advised. "We are not enemies, but friends.")

Milbank is right when he says that Donald J. Trump didn't invent the type of rhetoric, and the brand of politics, which is now widespread within the GOP.

The Others were "sick, pathetic, traitors, destructive!" Gingrich was saying that way back when, and he was telling other conservatives that they should speak the same way.

Other aspects of our modern Crazy were also taking form at that time. For today, we'll offer this closing thought:

Milbank describes the problems among the Republican Party, and among no one else. He fails to discuss the ways his own guild, the mainstream press, has contributed to this plainly "destructive" societal decline.

Tomorrow: Trump didn't invent The Crazy

An extra credit assignment: In September 1990,  the New York Times published a Political Memo about the 133 words.

That was 32 years ago! To peruse it, just click here.

Inquiring blue minds are eager to know!


Bonfire(s) of the inanities: Give the death of the late Chadwick Boseman, should Marvel Studios cast someone else in the role of T'Challa, the king of Wakanda?

This morning, on its opinion page, the New York Times was helping up think that one through. 

Meanwhile, is it possible that two of the passengers on the Titanic were, in fact, a gay couple?

This morning, with links all over its decaying online edition for the second straight day, the Washington Post was helping us think about that.

Slate entered the world, way back when, as an intelligent center-left site. Bright and early this very morning, its editors were helping us ponder such issues as this:

RICH JUZWIAK / AUG 07, 2022 / 6:00 PM
I’m Having a Very Distracting Reaction to My Hot Friends’ New Relationship

 Good solid thought-provoking stuff!  And of course, also this:

SLATE STAFF / AUG 07, 2022 / 8:00 AM
Help! Can I Use My Dead Wife’s Vibrator With My New Girlfriend?

You'd almost think that the whole Slate staff had pitched in on that rumination! (Sub-headline: "Is This Creepy?")

It's easy to see the terrible problem created by lunatic public figures like Alex Jones. It's easy to roll our eyes at the people who believe the things they're told by such disordered players.

But as our nation slides toward the sea, Slate is moving in the direction of the Daily Beast, which is now routinely tabloid. On occasion, we get the impression that the Atlantic may be drifting toward Slate.

Was there a gay couple on the Titanic? Should Marvel cast someone else as T'Challa?

Here within our own blue tents, our brightest inquiring minds want to know. We mention this as a way of suggesting—well, we'll let the Slate staff guess. 



Bonfire(s) of the inanities: This morning, we had to chuckle.

It was 6:07 A.M. Eastern. Mika was listing the basic provisions of the bill the Senate has now passed in one of its lunatic all-nighter sessions.

She cited the provision which would "invest more than $300 billion" in "climate reform." She said the bill would allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices for the first time. 

The bill would also impose a 15% minimum tax on large corporations. So she correctly said.

Those were the basic provisions Mika cited. Now, as she prepared to throw to Joe, we had to chuckle at one part of what she said:

MIKA (8/8/22): Joe, I just want to start with how big a win this is. 

The name of this bill—The Inflation Reduction Act. Everything seems to be lining up in a way which has brought this together for Democrats, hopefully ultimately in a way that Americans can understand—that they have been working on their agenda and they got it done.

JOE: Yeah. It's been incredible.

Joe proceeded from there. We had to chuckle at the way Mika cited the name of the bill.

Everybody understands that the so-called Inflation Reduction Act has virtually nothing to do with inflation reduction. That isn't what the bill is about. This basic fact has been explained again and again and again.

Everyone knows that about this bill. But when she mentioned how big a win this new bill is, Mika added a bit of unintentional humor to the mix:

As she started, she stressed the name of the bill. She did this without making any attempt to say what the name of the bill has to do with its contents. 

(You can assess Mika's presentation at this handy link. Once there, just click on "Joe: This has been an extraordinarily successful two years legislatively," then advance to the 3-minute mark.)

Repeat! Everyone knows that the name of this bill has nothing to do with its contents. Unless they're watching MSNBC, where we now get the impression that tribunes are now going out of their way to make us rubes think different.

Are bosses at this particular channel directing tribunes to stress the bill's  misleading name? For the first time, we're seeing behaviors which make us wonder about the possibility of such backstage direction. For last weekend's example, click here

At any rate, so it goes in the tribalized world into which "cable news" has descended. We mention Mika's presentation because it was unintentionally funny, and because we've now descended to the point here we're willing to take our comic relief wherever we can find it.

We're willing to take our comic relief wherever it can be found! That said, the realities of our flailing  "public discourse" are extremely grave. 

We compliment the Washington Post's Dana Milbank for calling attention to the fact that this enormous problem wasn't invented by Donald J. Trump. He does so in (what else?) a new book, The Destructionists: The Twenty-Five Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party.

Milbank cites a list of players who have brought us to this state. We're prepared to suggest that he's omitting one key set of players in this disastrous decline—a decline which dates back more than 25 years.

Alex Jones is currently in the news, where he should have been all along. As one of our craziest "music men [sic]," he belongs in this set of players.

Milbank names several others. We'll try to categorize them this week—and to direct your attention to some players in this deeply dangerous state of affairs Milbank seems to omit. 

Tomorrow: Milbank remembers

Stephanie Ruhle now rules the waves!


A place where our team's always right: We've really come to loathe the way she runs The 11th Hour.

Last night, Stephanie Ruhle introduced her opening four-person pundit panel, saying, as she always does, that the pundits would help us "get smarter." 

In her second question of the night, she unfurled the tribal banner. Speaking of a major bill which may soon pass through the Congress, she said this to the New York Times' Peter Baker:

RUHLE (8/5/22): Let's talk about the politics. Put your Donnie Deutsch Branding Hat on, and the branding of even calling it, Peter, "The Inflation Reduction Act."

We know inflation is one of the top issues for the American people. For weeks, if not months, people have been asking, "What are you going to do?"

Now they will be able to say, "We passed this major legislation," and Republicans will have to say, "What did we do on inflation reduction? We voted against it."

For the record, and as all viewers of Blue Cable know, Donnie Deutsche is one of our tribe's "favorite reporters and friends." His is persistently branded that way om the popular serial repetition show, Deadline: White House.

At any rate, Yay yay yay yay yay yay yay yay yay yay yay yay yay! We get to say we reduced inflation! It's right there in the name of the bill!

By way of contrast, Republicans will now have to say that they voted against the bill! Yay yay yay yay yay!

Stating the obvious, that plainly isn't what Republicans are going to say. It also isn't what they're saying about the bill right now.

That said, here's what Baker said to Ruhle in reply. Somewhat sheepishly, the well-informed Timesman let some sunlight in:

BAKER (continuing directly): Yeah, I mean, that's a point they will make, no question about it. But it's a kind of a clever naming, right?

The real purpose of this bill is not to reduce inflation. It's to spend on climate, which is a priority for Democrats, and a lot of Republicans for that matter too.

They want to spend on health care. They want to have a minimum tax for corporations that have been getting away with not paying any tax.

These are all big priorities the president has had long before inflation became an issue. It's not like inflation suddenly caused them to want to do these things. 

They're making the argument that it will help curb inflation. There's an argument about that, some of the economists out there saying, "Well, maybe not that much."

So I don't think it's really aimed at inflation as the primary goal, even if they can make the argument it will have some beneficial impact on it.

Say what? The Inflation Reduction Act isn't aimed at inflation reduction? That was just a bit of "clever naming?"

Also, "some of the economists out there" are saying it won't help reduce inflation much (and certainly not in the short term)? Is one of our favorite reporters and friends really permitted to say that?

In fairness, Baker hadn't exactly gone out on a limb as he made these comments. Here is the CBO's formal assessment, which it offered in Q-and-A form:

CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE (8/4/22): How Would Enacting the Bill Affect Inflation in 2022 and 2023?

In calendar year 2022, enacting the bill would have a negligible effect on inflation, in CBO’s assessment. In calendar year 2023, inflation would probably be between 0.1 percentage point lower and 0.1 percentage point higher under the bill than it would be under current law, CBO estimates.

That doesn't seem like a giant amount of inflation reduction! And people are concerned about inflation right now, in the current year and the next, not at some imaginary point in the more distant future.

That assessment by the CBO doesn't mean that the Inflation Reduction Act is a lousy bill. It simply means that the so-called Inflation Reduction Act won't have much effect on inflation reduction, and certainly not next week.

Indeed, here's what Paul Krugman has said on this matter, before going on to discuss the important matters the bill really seeks to address:

KRUGMAN (8/2/22): First, would the law, in fact, reduce inflation? Yes, probably—or at least it would reduce inflationary pressures. That’s because the legislation’s increased spending, mainly on clean energy but also on health care, would be more than offset through its tax provisions; so it would be a deficit reduction act, which other things being equal would make it disinflationary.

According to Krugman, the bill would probably reduce inflation. Or it would at least do something related to that, other things being equal.

It would probably reduce inflation, but Krugman isn't real sure—and he doesn't say when, or by how much, this reduction would likely happen. (He went on to say that the bill is "a very big deal," due to its potential effect on other important matters.)

None of this means that the Inflation Reduction Act is a bad bill. It simply means that the bill actually may indeed involve some "clever naming." That said: 

Given the silly, tribe-pleasing way Ruhle posed her question last night, Baker's response, however mildly stated, qualified as a bombshell.

Question! Did Ruhle go on to examine the bombshell claim—the claim that the Inflation Reduction Act may not have much effect on inflation reduction? That's it's mainly a matter of naming?

Dearest darlings, use your heads! Having a four-member pundit panel means never having to say you're sorry! 

In this case, Ruhle simply moved ahead to her next pundit, asking a wholly unrelated question. She had pimped the greatness of the bill in what it allows our tribe to say. On cable news as it currently stands, viewers will never be asked to learn that the truth may be quite different.

Ruhle introduced her panel last night as she always does. She told us that the gaggle of guests was going help us "get smarter." 

For herself, she proceeded to scattershot her questions around, persistently leaning her head on her hands in the manner of Rodin's The Thinker. This strikes us as an awkward branding exercise, though we certainly can't be sure.

It seems to us that Ruhle has been thrown in over her head with her new late evening assignment—or at least, that she disconcertingly seems to feel that way. But in her silly exchange with Baker, we all can see what "cable news" is all about at this juncture.

"Cable news" is designed to tell us this:

Our team will now get to say wonderful things! The Others will be frog-marched about, admitting their shameful defeat!

Later in the program: Later, Ruhle spent two segments listening to monologues by presidential historian Michael Beschloss.

Beschloss was linking in from the antique furniture wing of the Sorbonne, where he currently seems to reside.