Raskin with Colbert, Leonnig with Lawrence!

SATURDAY, JULY 30, 2022

All the way back to I, Claudius: Last Monday night, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.  

We pretty much wish he hadn't. That said, one exchange between the two men helps us consider the bogus nature of much of our public discourse.

To watch the tape of the interview's first segment, you can just click here. Three minutes into the six-minute session, Colbert introduced the question of the Secret Service texts:

COLBERT (7/25/22): Now the Secret Service cannot find their texts to each other, and they sent one text, which almost seems like a "[BLANK] you," if you will pardon the expression. It seems insulting to send one text. 

RASKIN: Well, when was the last time you got one text in a day?

COLBERT: Exactly. So the Secret Service has said, "Oh yeah, big mistake. Oopsy daisy! We can't find them." 

Do you buy their explanation at all?

Raskin replied with a wonderful joke: "Is it for sale?" he said.

He was rewarded with a laugh. This is how people get popular.

Meanwhile, inquiring minds will agree. Colbert's viewers had been given an extremely truncated factual overview of the situation at hand.

That said, Colbert had posed a provocative question. Does Raskin believe what the Secret Service has said? Does he "buy their explanation at all?"

For us, Raskin's grossly misleading reply recalls a Dylan lyric:

RASKIN: I don't—I don't really buy that for one minute

For one thing, isn't it a little odd that all of the texts would vanish for January 6th and January 5th? You know, of all the days, what an odd coincidence that is.

And you know, there was a preplanned migration of the phones that just happened to be on the same day as the first violent insurrection in American history? 

So I'm a little dubious of that. So count me as skeptic of that.

We recall the famous Dylan lyric, in which a father laments the way his daughter has come to believe  "that no one would be true." In this case, it would be the baldly disingenuous Raskin serving as the source of the disillusionment.

Let's start with Raskin's reply to Colbert's provocative question. 

Appearing on a network comedy show, Raskin said he doesn't buy the existing explanation at all. Essentially, he doesn't buy the explanation from innocent error, from mere "mistake"—not even "for one minute!"

By the time Raskin finished his reply, he had scaled that dramatic statement back. That said, we know of no instance where Raskin has spoken in such a definitive way in an actual news context. 

We couldn't help thinking that he was overstating what he knew while speaking to a comedian, at the expense of a comedy crowd. In such ways, we see that even the tribunes from our own tribe aren't willing "to be true."

For the record, that's a relatively minor part of Raskin's performance here. The truly horrible part of what Raskin said involves his obvious insinuation that text messages can't be found for only one or two highly significant days.

He started by suggesting that, "of all the days," the texts had only vanished for "January 6th and 5th." That suggestion, of course, is factually inaccurate. Messages were sought from 24 agents, generally without result, for a period of more than a month, starting in early December 2020.

From there, Raskin proceeded to a flatly inaccurate statement. He seemed to say that the "preplanned migration of the phones" had taken place on the same day as "the first violent insurrection in American history"—on January 6th, the day of the violent riot at the Capitol Building. 

That, of course, is blatantly false. But it added to the picture Raskin was drawing—a picture in which text messages are mysteriously missing for only one or two (highly significant) days.

Raskin's words were baldly deceptive. There's no excuse for what he said this night. 

We've advised our analysts to remember what he said to Colbert and to the Colbert crowd when they see him appearing in other venues, which he seems to do in pretty much every waking hour.

On Monday night, Raskin painted a baldly misleading picture of the basic facts of this matter. Three nights later, the Washington Post's Carol Leonnig spoke by telephone with Lawrence O'Donnell as part of the MSNBC program, The Last Word.

The Post had just published a new report about this ongoing matter. Lawrence hurried to speak to Leonnig—and to his credit, he eventually told her this:

LAWRENCE (7/28/22): We asked the Secret Service about Director James Murray's text messages from January 6th. They said he didn't have any, but added this in their response: 

"By policy, Secret Service agents are not to conduct official government business via text for information security purposes  as well as government record retention."

So they are saying that the Secret Service are not supposed to have any text business messages on their phones.

As regular readers will know, Lawrence's initial statement was factually inaccurate. As we noted at the start of the week, the Secret Service actually told Lawrence that Murray did in fact have one text message on his phone for January 6—a message from the security company he hires for his private home.

We have no way of knowing if that statement was true. But this claim reinforces the basic claim the Service made in its response to Lawrence. That basic claim was this:

 Agents and other personnel are instructed not to conduct official business by text! 

We don't know if that is true, but that's what Lawrence was told. If true, that could of course start to explain why there seem to have been so few text messages on the phones of the 24 agents under review for the month-long period running through January 8, 2021.

Why have so few text messages been found on these agents' phones over that month-long period? Could it be because the agents don't conduct business that way?

We don't have the slightest idea, but the Secret Service told Lawrence that agents are so instructed. To his credit, Lawrence fleetingly raised the point. This is what Leonnig said:

LEONNIG (continuing directly): That is definitely a reasonable policy. The problem, Lawrence, from a rational standpoint with that is that the Secret Service gave employees instruction when they were resetting the phones and said, if you see that you have government business conducted on your phone, here is where you will archive and upload that information so we  preserve those records.

So it may be policy not to text and and conduct government business, but the Secret Service appears, as they've explained it to me, appears to have realized that some employees conducted government business that way.

With that, Lawrence ended the discussion. We'll offer these observations:

Did Leonnig confirm what Lawrence was told? Did she confirm the claim that, as a matter of policy, Secret Service personnel are told that they mustn't conduct business by text?

In our view, she neither confirmed nor denied the claim, nor did Lawrence push her on this point. Does Leonnig even know if such a policy exists? We have no idea.

From there, it seem to us that Leonnig put her thumbs on the scales in a pro-scandal direction. If that really is the official policy, it might explain why so many of the 24 agents in question had no text messages on their phones for the entire month-long period under review.

It could also suggest the possibility that no one was doing any texting on January 6. Instead of noting this possibility, Leonnig went in a different direction, suggesting that the Secret Service seemed to assume that some agents don't always follow the no-texting policy. So there should have been texts after all!

Citizens, can we talk? The matter of the Secret Service texts is already so complicated that there's little chance we will ever get clear on what actually happened.

This matter is technical and factually complex—and it's subject to constant novelization. Over the past two weeks, basic facts have persistently been reworked and/or disappeared. On our favorite cable channels, it's been factually jumbled Storyline pretty much all the way down.

Speaking with Colbert, Raskin baldly misled the public. Lawrence and Leonnig conducted a very brief discussion of what may be a significant claim.

Beyond that, you can be sure of this: You will never hear, ever again, about what Lawrence was told by the Secret Service. 

The reason for that seems clear:

The claim that agents are officially told that they mustn't text tends to undermine the sense that there must be a scandal here. It suggests a possible innocent explanation for the absence of texts on January 5 and 6.

In the end, true misconduct may have occurred. A genuine scandal may be involved in the matter of the allegedly missing texts.

But along the way, for-profit stations like MSNBC are aggressively selling our tribe the thrilling product called scandal. Thumbs will persistently land on the scales, with occasional flatly dishonest performances, perhaps for comedy crowds.

We've lost a lot of respect or Raskin of late. He strikes us as a camera hog and as a bit of a propagandist.

In our view, Monday night's performance with Colbert took him over the top. He baldly misled the Colbert crowd, was rewarded with applause and with laughter.

Dylan's fictional daughter came to believe that "no one would be true." According to experts, this is the way discourse has always worked within the street-fighting tribes and guilds of our human species.

We tend to think those experts are right. We're willing to go all the way back to I, Claudius—even to Claudius the God!


We've never understood the term "McGuffin!"

FRIDAY, JULY 29, 2022

"Recession" joins the list: We're going to make a painful admission:

We've never quite understood the familiar term, McGuffin (or MacGuffin)!

In the highly literate circles we frequent, the term is most commonly used in connection with films by Alfred Hitchcock. Why haven't we ever understood what a McGuffin is?

Mainly, it's because we've read and listened to Hitchcock's explanations of the term so many times! According to the leading authority on the device, "Hitch" explained the term this way in a lecture at Columbia:

It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men on a train. One man says, "What's that package up there in the baggage rack?" And the other answers, "Oh, that's a MacGuffin."

The first one asks, "What's a MacGuffin?" 

"Well," the other man says, "it's an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands." 

The first man says, "But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands," and the other one answers, "Well then, that's no MacGuffin!" So you see that a MacGuffin is actually nothing at all.

In fairness, that lecture was given in 1939—and the master's films had never made much sense up to that point either! 

(Back in those days, college kids didn't walk out of lectures like that.)

We've never quite grasped the meaning of "McGuffin." As of this week, we may be forced to add the term "recession" to this mystery list.

As of last week, we thought we knew what the term "recession" meant. We thought it meant that the GDP had recorded negative growth for two consecutive quarters. 

As it turns out, it's nowhere near that simple. The leading authority on the term starts its discussion as shown:

In economics, a recession is a business cycle contraction when there is a general decline in economic activity. Recessions generally occur when there is a widespread drop in spending (an adverse demand shock). This may be triggered by various events...

Although the definition of a recession varies between different countries and scholars, two consecutive quarters of decline in a country's real gross domestic product (real GDP) is commonly used as a practical definition of a recession. In the United States, a recession is defined by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) as "a significant decline in economic activity spread across the market, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales." In the United Kingdom and most other countries, it is defined as a negative economic growth for two consecutive quarters.

As it turns out, we were right in what we thought, but only when visiting England.

Here in this country, a group of faceless bureaucrats have come up with a more complicated definition of the term. And not only that—according to the leading authority, "The NBER is considered the official arbiter of recession start and end dates for the United States!"

Apparently, here's how it works:

The bureaucrats throw data from five economic indicators into a wide-brimmed hat. At some future date of their choosing, they declare that we were in a "recession" at some earlier point in time.

Their declaration means that we were experiencing "a significant decline in economic activity spread across the market, lasting more than a few months," at that earlier juncture. This declaration comes to us rather late, and out of a Waring blender.

It's hard to say what's really gained by the use of this well-known term. Consider:

Under the old rules, everyone knew what someone meant when he or she said we were in a recession. Under the new rules, no one quite knows what the term really means, and no one knows who was involved in making the declaration.

"We've experienced two quarters of negative growth." What would be wrong with simply saying that, then adding in whatever other economic data seemed relevant?

We humans sometimes craft magical terms. It's hard to say just what the words mean, but people are constantly using them.

One more thought: We'd like to see Alfred Hitchcock explain the relativity of simultaneity.

While we're at it, what the heck? The NBER too!


QUESTIONS REMAIN: Tobacco lawyer puts Trump on the couch!

FRIDAY, JULY 29, 2022

No specialists need apply: The January 6 committee has completed its first round of presentations.

Quite a few questions remain. Yesterday, we cited several unresolved questions. One of those questions was this:

Did Donald J. Trump engage in preplanning for the violence which occurred on January 6? 

It seems fairly clear that several groups actively planned to engage in violent conduct on January 6. 

Did Trump, or his orbit, take part in that preplanning? To this point, the committee has made no attempt to answer that question, one way or the other. (The refusal of major figures to testify complicates this task.)

Did Donald Trump know, in advance, that violence was being planned? Did he himself take part in such planning? 

Yesterday, we listed that as an unresolved question. Today, we'll tack another one on:

What was Donald J. Trump planning to do had he himself gone to the Capitol?

It seems fairly clear that Donald J. Trump wanted to go to the Capitol Building after finishing his speech on January 6. 

It seems fairly clear that the Secret Service wouldn't let him do that. But what in the world was he planning to do if he had actually gone there?

Quite possibly, there will never be a way to answer this question. (It's also possible that this matter had been discussed by Trump and certain associates.)

But what the heck was he planning to do? Was he planning to give a speech outside the Capitol? Was he planning to lead a mob into the Capitol? Right into the chamber where the certification of Biden's win was taking place?

What in the world was he planning to do? We've seen no one offer a speculation about this intriguing question.

For ourselves, we regard Donald J. Trump as deeply disordered. But how disordered is Donald Trump? What might he have had in his head?

We pose these questions as a way to approach another unresolved question. 

In truth, this question isn't simply unresolved. For the most part, it hasn't been approached or addressed. Because we aren't medical specialists, we'll pose the question this way:

Is "something wrong with" Donald J. Trump? Is something seriously wrong with Trump, in some literal / clinical way?

We've asked these questions before. Is it possible that Trump has a serious personality disorder, or a serious psychiatric condition? Is it possible that he's a "sociopath?" Does some other such serious condition obtain?

Our mainstream press corps has steadfastly agreed that questions like these must never be asked. In doing so, they have refused to interact with a major part of the basic science of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Last Thursday night, our own blue cable was having a crowd-pleasing time imagining dastardly possibilities. On MSNBC's The Last Word, excited analysts were floating the notion that [someone in] the Secret Service had plotted to kidnap Vice President Pence on January 6. 

The next morning, presidential historian Michael Beschloss went them one better. He suggested that [someone in] the Secret Service had been plotting, with Donald J. Trump, for "intended assassinations" of Pence, and possibly Nancy Pelosi, on January 6.

It was a glorious time on blue tribe cable; the lurid speculating was good. Meanwhile, on that same Friday morning, multimillionaire tobacco lawyer George Conway appeared on CNN's New Day. 

Conway rattled off angry claims about Trump's behavior on January 6. In our view, his easily memorized fury helped showcase the emptiness of the press corps' long-standing approach to this matter.

The previous night, the January 6 committee had presented testimony about Trump's behavior during the violent riot on January 6. After being returned to the White House, Trump sat in his private dining room and watched TV coverage of the events.

He made no attempt to cause the violence to stop. He refused to call in the National Guard. He refused to urge the rioters to stop.

He even posted a tweet increasing the rioters' murderous fury at Vice President Pence. None of this was new information, but it was a fairly thorough summary of the president's behavior over the course of more than three murderous hours.

The following morning, Conway appeared on CNN. His first exchange with John Berman started exactly like this:

BERMAN (7/22/22): George, you've now seen all of this. And last night was a moment the committee was building up to. What did you see as the most important part of what we heard last night?

CONWAY: Well, I think it was the entire package. I don't think it was any one element.

I think what we saw was a picture of not just dereliction. I mean, the theme last night was dereliction of duty, but it was depravity, it was utter depravity in Trump's not just failing to do something, but failing to do his duty in the context of a situation that he created and he glorified it. He—

You know, he not just—it wasn't just that he didn't talk to the Secretary of Defense, and didn't talk to anybody about getting security up on the Hill. He didn't talk to his vice president. He affirmatively launched a tweet attacking the vice president that led the crowd to want to storm the barriers even more. And the fact that he showed absolutely no remorse about it. He absolutely showed no caring whatsoever about the fate of his vice president, of the fate of our democracy, the fate of the officers on Capitol Hill. And, at the end of the day, when he went up to go to the residence, all he could say was, Mike Pence let him down. 

That's all he cared about. He only cared about himself. He didn't care about the duty that he undertook when he raised his right hand on January 20, 2017, to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution...

"He only cared about himself," Conway rather pointlessly said. From there, he moved to the key building block of blue tribe punditry—the desire to get Trump charged with a crime and locked up. 

(For the full transcript, click here.)

We were struck that day by the general emptiness of Conway's presentation.  

By the time of Conway's appearance, the idea that Trump "only cares about himself" was older than any known hills. Pundits had been making that statement for years. 

Conway had nothing new to offer this day. But in his second statement this day, he went pseudo-psychiatric:

CONWAY: You know, it's just a reflection of his pathological narcissism. 

As one of the White House aides whose emails was, or texts were quoted last night, he can't bring himself to criticize the rioters, the insurrectionists, because they were for him and he would be thereby criticizing himself. He can't do that. He identifies with them because they supported him, and it was all about him. It wasn't about the Constitution. It wasn't about the oath. It wasn't about fairness. It wasn't about right. It wasn't about wrong. It wasn't about facts. It wasn't about law. It was all about him and his desire to retain power.

And since those people were supporting him, he couldn't bring himself to criticize them and talk about them possibly breaking the law. And he certainly wasn't going to admit that he lost the election because that's the ultimate blow to his narcissistic, delicate, fragile, pathetic ego.

It was all about Trump's "pathological narcissism," Conway heatedly said. 

As far as we know, that might be the actual clinical case. But we were struck by the emptiness of a psychiatric / mental health / medical analysis coming from a multimillionaire tobacco lawyer.

In fairness, it isn't fair to single Conway out. Within the confines of blue cable, every non-specialist on the face of the earth has offered some such analysis of Trump over the past five years. 

What anchors like Berman haven't done is speak to medical specialists—people who might have some real idea what they're talking about.

Is it possible that Donald J. Trump is a sociopath? According to standard medical texts, a significant percentage of adult men can be so diagnosed.

Is it possible that he's psychotic? Is it possible that he actually continues to believe that he really did win the election?

There are medical specialists in the world who could bring actual expertise and experience to such obvious questions. But the upper-end press corps has steadfastly agreed that such specialists mustn't be brought on the air. 

Instead, they've spoken to the tobacco lawyers. They've found their analyses there. 

These non-specialists speak, somewhat metaphorically, about Trump's apparent psychiatric condition. For ourselves, we wonder how disordered he might be in the literal, clinical sense. And knowing what little we think we know about what sociopaths will do in a pinch, we wonder what he might have ended up doing had he gone to the Capitol that day, along with his angry supporters.

Back in the 1990s, Conway clowned around with Coulter and Drudge, trying to make the discourse concern Bill Clinton's (imagined) "defining characteristic."

Today, because he's anti-Trump, he's become a blue tribe hero. Along the way, the defining characteristic of blue tribe discourse is becoming its studied dumbness. We dream up tales about kidnapping plots and assassinations, and we invite multimillionaire tobacco lawyers to deliver psychiatric assessments.

Conway had nothing new to offer this day. It was Storyline all the way down.

Meanwhile, to what extent is "something (seriously) wrong with" Donald J. Trump in the literal / clinical sense? To what extent might his behavior that day have been the perfect, textbook expression of some underlying clinically-defined condition?

Berman's producers didn't send him a medical specialist. They sent him a lawyer instead. He only cared about himself! After all these many years, this is all we want to hear.

At this point, we'll say some things we've said in the past:

For starters, we feel sorry for people who are severely disordered. If Trump is in the grip of a serious clinical disorder, we feel sorry for the loss. "There but for fortune," we'd say.

The question here is a political question. How did someone as transparently disordered as Donald J. Trump manage to win the support of so many millions of people? 

Also, what might our own blue tribe be doing to help him win that support? Over Here, on blue tribe cable, we rarely ask such questions. Within the rules of our current media system, it simply isn't done.

Our blue tribe cable was really rockin' as of last Thursday night:

A kidnapping plot was underway. No, it was a plot of "intended assassinations!" Then the tobacco lawyer came on, cast in the role of the shrink.

Also, Trump only cares about himself! This is the state of our flailing blue discourse as our nation, such as it was, keeps sliding towards the sea.

A final point: As we've noted before, it's almost surely just as well that our journalists stay away from medical specialists concerning such matters as these.

Almost surely, a discussion like that wouldn't turn out well. Simply put, we wouldn't be up to the task.

Still, that leaves us with an amazingly childish public discussion. Is Trump some (clinical) version of "mentally ill?" Does that explain what he did that day?

Inquiring minds don't want to know. We just want to hurl standard insults!


First encounters with The Overtly Crazy!

THURSDAY, JULY 28, 2022

When did The Crazy appear?: American life has been wracked by assertion of The Crazy, and belief in The Crazy, over the past few years.

That said, it didn't start with Pizzagate! This phenomenon was already well underway when Gary Aldrich's book hit the best-seller lists in 1996.

Gary Aldrich wasn't a Secret Service agent. The leading authority on his life and times describes him as shown here:

Gary Aldrich was a special agent with the FBI for 26 years investigating white-collar crime. He spent the latter part of his career working in the White House as a background investigator providing clearances to White House staff during the George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations.

Aldrich retired from the Bureau in 1994. He wrote the 1996 book Unlimited Access: An FBI Agent Inside the Clinton White House (published by Regnery Publishing), which was highly critical of the Clinton administration.

Aldrich wasn't a Secret Service agent. But it was the same rough idea.

In 1996, Aldrich hit it big with a major New York Times best-seller. In October 2016, when people were still assuming that Hillary Clinton was going to win the White House, Amanda Marcotte recalled one  part of the lunacy in this report for Salon:

MARCOTTE (10/24/16): Decorating the Blue Room Christmas tree with penises and coke spoons might seem like an ill-advised move even for someone who is having crazy pagan sex orgies nightly in the Lincoln Bedroom. But many people on the outer fringes of the conservative movement apparently believe Hillary Clinton's freakiness was so overwhelming she simply couldn't help but desecrate a Christmas tree for the sheer hell of it.

While most urban legends about the Clintons start somewhat small and then grow in the telling, this one appears to have sprung fully formed from the deranged imagination of Gary Aldrich, a former FBI agent who worked on the security team for the Bush and Clinton White Houses. Aldrich had an unending contempt for the Clintons, who he clearly viewed as a couple of dirty hippies with their Fleetwood Mac records and daughter named after a Joni Mitchell song. After he left, he decided to cash in on that hatred with a 1996 book entitled "Unlimited Access: An FBI Agent Inside the Clinton White House."

Unlike some Clinton haters of the era, Aldrich seems to have realized that accusations don't need to be plausible in order for them to be eagerly snatched up and believed by huge swaths of the conservative book-buying public. So he went hog-wild in his book, claiming that Hillary Clinton's Christmas decorating team decided to deck the tree with drug paraphernalia, condoms and cock rings.

Aldrich goes on at length about what is clearly an event that happened only in his head, but I've clipped some highlights from the book for your perusal.

You can click the link to Marcotte's report if you want to revisit this classic bit of lunacy from the "early onset" era.

In truth, this lunacy was already fairly well established by the time Aldrich's book appeared. The very reverend Jerry Falwell was already raking in bucks by selling his lurid film, The Clinton Chronicles—a film which chronicled the many murders committed by Clinton and Clinton or by members of their far-flung criminal gang.

The Internet barely existed yet, but partisan talk radio did. So did the lunatic supermarket tabloids which drove other conspiracy tales about Clinton and Clinton. Rush Limbaugh was already well established in syndication nationwide.

By the summer of 1999, Gennifer Flowers was running a subscription web site devoted to the Clintons' many murders. There were many fewer "cable news" programs at that point, as compared to the present day, but Hardball was one of them. 

In August 1999, Chris Matthews gave Flowers a full half hour on the frequently disordered program. During that time, he gushed and fawned about what a super-babe Flowers was, especially as compared to the much less attractive Hillary Clinton.

As for Flowers, her performance on Hardball was so absurd that she was instantly given a full hour on Hannity & Colmes, a Fox News program. During that time, she informed the world about what a giant lesbian Mrs. Clinton was.

No, Virginia, Hillary Clinton didn't decorate the White House Christmas tree with "drug paraphernalia, condoms and cock rings," as Aldrich claimed in his best-selling book. She didn't even decorate the tree with "penises and coke spoons."

That said, as with Pizzagate and the Clinton Chronicles, so too here. Many people were already so tribalized, and had surrendered so much discernment, that Aldrich's claims apparently didn't strike them as transparently crazy, inane or nuts.

So too with Flowers and her unsupported, apparently unsupportable claim that she had enjoyed a torrid, twelve-year love affair with the man she called "my Bill." She was never able to support the sweeping claim from which she had earned giant sums. But by the time of the Clinton impeachment, mainstream pundits were absurdly claiming that they now knew that she had been telling the truth. 

In the New York Times, Frank Rich's shaping of this standard though unsupportable script was especially comic.

The Crazy was already seeping through the nation's political culture. From that day to this, the mainstream press has betrayed little interest in exploring the mental mechanisms which lead some people to make such crazy claims, and lead many more people to believe them.

In other ways, it was the mainstream press itself which was inventing and selling The Crazy by the time of Campaign 2000. We recalled one such gong-show report from the front page of the New York Times as we watched two of the networks' "Sunday shows" just this past weekend. 

More on that phenomenon to follow.

Gary Aldrich wasn't in the Secret Service. Nothing he said or did should, in any way, be attributed to that agency, or to anyone in it.

But, correctly or otherwise, certain embarrassing claims were widely attributed to Secret Service agents during the early Clinton years. We wondered what planet Claire McCaskill was reporting from when she gushed, last Thursday night, about the way the Secret Service has never been associated with partisan behavior, even as she took the lead in pimping new unfounded claims about the agency.

The Crazy has been active in our political discourse for at least three decades now. It has come from the right-wing machine and from the mainstream press. More on this topic tomorrow. 

Number one nationwide: In the Summer of 96, Aldrich's crazy book was a major best-seller. 

According to this weekly compilation, it stood at number one on the New York Times best-seller list on four separate weeks that summer. In mid-September, it was finally knocked from the top spot for good by The Dilbert Principle.


QUESTIONS REMAIN: McCaskill couldn't restrain herself!

THURSDAY, JULY 28, 2022

A dangerous tribal regime: The January 6 committee finished its first round of presentations last week.

At that point, a long string of major questions remained.

One week later, it now seems that Donald J. Trump may be in the sites of the Justice Department. Even as "blue tribe cable" celebrates that apparent fact, a long string of questions remain:

Will Donald J. Trump be charged with a federal crime? If so, what would that federal crime be?

Also, what kind of federal crime would it be? Would it be the kind of crime which can be explained to the average person? 

"Shooting someone on Fifth Avenue" would be that type of crime. "Committing a fraud against the United States" might be harder to parse.

Here at this incomparable site, other major questions remained after the committee finished its initial round of presentations. 

(We're inclined to avoid the term "hearings" in referring to these efforts. Given the structure of these events, they were more like the type of presentation offered in an occasionally one-sided term paper. That may be a thoroughly valuable type of work, but it differs in various ways from the standard congressional hearing.)

Here are two questions which remained after the committee finished its first round of presentations:

Did Donald J. Trump, or the "Trump orbit," engage in the preplanning for the (plainly preplanned) violence which occurred on January 6? 

It seemed to us that the January 6 committee had teased this possibility during its session with Cassidy Hutchinson. But when the committee offered its next presentation, there was no attempt to address this possibility. 

(Needless to say, this omission was mention by no one across the sweep of blue cable. Under current media arrangements, such things simply aren't done.)

Needless to say, it may be that Donald J. Trump did engage in this preplanning. If so, the committee has apparently failed to establish that fact, at least up to this point.

Also this:

Is it possible that Donald J. Trump believed, and still believes, his various unfounded and / or false claims about the 2020 election?

This second question leads to the most salient unaddressed question of all—the question of Donald J. Trump's cognitive or psychological state. 

Under general terms of the so-called Goldwater Rule, the mainstream press has steadfastly agreed to avoid considering any such question—to consult no medical specialists. 

In that way, the corps has conducted a thoroughly childish analysis of these potentially existential events. They've happily restricted themselves to the intellectual level of the 8-year-old child, in which Trump's endless battery of howling misstatements are pleasingly rejected as "lies."

Is it possible that Donald J. Trump still believes his wild claims? Beyond that, what might explain the bizarre behavior of such major players as Giuliani, Powell and Flynn?

Could Donald J. Trump believe his claims? We'll return to this question tomorrow when we look at What (George) Conway Said.

Conway, the multimillionaire tobacco lawyer and past co-conspirator with Coulter and Drudge, is now a major hero in our blue tribe's eyes. Tomorrow, we'll look at the silly things he said on CNN last Friday morning, the morning after the committee's final presentation.

For today, we continue with a very serious "question which remains."

To some extent, this question encompasses some of the work of the January 6 committee itself. But in a very major way, it's a question about the devolving behavior of high-end Blue Tribe Cable:

Can a modern nation expect to survive our current, wholly "segregated" media regime? Can our nation hope to survive under current arrangements? 

Can our nation hope to survive under current arrangements? Under those arrangements, red tribe pundits misinform and proselytize red tribe voters. Meanwhile, blue tribe pundits increasingly perform the same misshapen functions for us in the blue tribe crowd.

This question takes us back to the hopeless blue tribe pundit behavior which followed last week's final presentation. All of a sudden, these questions were at issue:

Had "the Secret Service"—presumably, someone in the Secret Service—plotted to kidnap Vice President Pence on January 6? Also, had "the Secret Service"—presumably, someone in the Secret Service—plotted with President Donald J. Trump to create an "intended  assassination" of Pence?

Let's stick with that first question. Had "the Secret Service"—presumably, someone in the Secret Service—really planned to whisk Pence away from the Capitol Building and then refuse to bring him back, thereby making it impossible for Candidate Biden's victory to be certified?

It wound have been a wonderful episode of 24. But had it actually happened? Did "the Secret Service" actually do that?

Yesterday, we showed you the way Jill Wine-Banks pushed this unfounded theory on last Thursday evening's Last Word. Today, we'll show you what former senator Claire McCaskill said after Wine-Banks was done.

In part, Wine-Banks seemed to be basing her lurid speculations upon a factual error. To her, it was obvious that someone in the Secret Service had deliberately erased a bunch of texts—and it seemed that someone in the Service Service had conspired with Trump to whisk Pence away.

No one corrected the apparent factual error on which her lurid speculations were based. And when Wine-Banks was done, McCaskill chimed in with the statements shown below, following a highly slanted feed from Lawrence O'Donnell:

MCCASKILL (7/21/22): And why was Pence so adamant about not going with them, Lawrence? Think about that. Think about what was going on in Pence's mind.

Uh-oh! Just like that, we were being asked to "think about"—to imagine—what was going on in Pence's mind at a given point in time.

Major aides to Vice President Pence had explained his thinking on several occasions. They'd done so before the January 6 committee, in one of their televised hearings. 

Needless to say, their explanations may not have been fully accurate. As far as that goes, their explanations may not have bene accurate at all!

That said, viewers of Lawrence's program weren't told what Pence'a aides have said. Instead, McCaskill began instructing us to imagine "what was going on in Pence's mind."

This was pure speculation—and the speculation pleased the great god, Lurid:

MCCASKILL (continuing directly) Because if Pence believed this was just about his safety, I think he might have gone, even temporarily, to another location. But you have to think, maybe Pence was thinking what we're thinking. That there is an effort here to get me out of the building and keep me away from the building so I cannot certify these votes. Because that's obviously the goal of the day for Team Trump.

Warning warning warning warning! McCaskill was now telling us what "you have  to think." She was telling us what you had to think about what someone else had been thinking at a given point in time. 

According to McCaskill, you had to think that Pence was thinking that he was about to be kidnapped. That's what the pundits were thinking on The Last Word—and for some reason, you had to think that Pence had been thinking the very same thing!

In fact, a person doesn't have to think any such thing at all. More importantly, if a prominent person considers such a possibility, she doesn't have to go on  TV and bruit this imagined possibility all around her tribe.

That's especially true when Pence's team has offered a different explanation of the decisions he made that day. And yes—under traditional rules, responsible journalists would have reported what Pence's top aides have said.

Responsible journalists would have done that. McCaskill and Lawrence didn't.

McCaskill was spreading a lurid theory, one that would thrill our tribe's viewers. We were being offered an episode of 24—and McCaskill continued from there:

MCCASKILL (continuing directly): And you know, the sad thing about all this is that of all of the institutions that Donald trump has degraded during his time, I remember thinking of the Secret Service, the times that I've been around them, and I've been around them many times in my career, how reassuring it was that they were not political. 

This is real serious, corrosive damage that has been done to this institution. There needs to be a cleanup here. There needs to be a new set of management. There needs to be a new set of ethics. And there needs to be a new commitment to this agency not being political.

We agree that there needs to be a cleanup, a new set of ethics. That said, we'd suggest that the cleanup in question should be conducted within the hallowed halls of red and blue tribal cable, a deeply corrosive institution which is doing great harm to us all.

That said, is it true? Has the Secret Service never been political in the past? 

Dearest darlings, please! Early in the Clinton years, there was a great deal of consternation about the behavior and attitudes of certain Secret Service agents, even of the agency's director. 

(That director was John Magaw. Even then, his last name began with MAGA!)

We won't try to take you through all the pain and the turmoil. We won't attempt to judge the questions which arose at that time—but in her book about the Secret Service, Carol Leonnig offered this:

LEONNIG (pages 185-186): The Secret Service culture is steeped in deference and discretion when it comes to the First Family. But many agents had a very negative reaction to the Clintons and didn't work to conceal it from friends and co-workers. Politically, most Secret Service agents leaned Republican and law-and-order, so they didn't see eye-to-eye with Clinton on his Democratic social agenda. Most of the agents had also served Republican presidents of the past twelve years, two presidents they very much admired.

Leonnig goes into substantial detail about the apparent problems which developed—problems involving some of the agents, but also Director Magaw, who Clinton found a way to replace. 

We can't judge the ultimate truth about these widely-discussed events. But we wondered what planet McCaskill was on as she assured our blue tribe crowd that the Secret Service has never displayed a hint of partisanship at any time in the past.

At any rate, blue tribe cable was really hopping by last Thursday night! Our tribunes were assuring us that (someone in) the Secret Service had deliberately erased a bunch of text messages from January 5 and 6. 

As we noted yesterday, it seems to us that this claim hasn't yet been established. But by the end of last week, this assumption had quickly led to explicit, unfounded suggestions that (someone in) the Secret Service had been planning to kidnap Vice President Pence on January 6.

O'Donnell, Wine-Banks and McCaskill pleasured themselves, and us, with these conspiracy musings. The next morning, presidential historian Michael Beschloss took The Crazy one step further, saying on Morning Joe that someone in the Secret Service may have been plotting with Donald J. Trump to have Pence assassinated that day.

He was speaking about an "intended assassination," the handsome historian said.

No one questioned or challenged Beschloss's lurid speculation that morning. Indeed, no one challenged Beschloss last night, when he pushed his explicit "assassination" musing once again on—what else?—Lawrence's show, The Last Word.

A month from now, MSNBC will let you see the transcript of last night's program. As we await that glorious day, we're left with the following question:

Can a modern nation expect to survive a  media regime in which segregated gangs of excitable pundits offer unfounded, dueling conspiracy theories to segregated gangs of viewers? Borrowing from Lincoln's famous admonition, can our sprawling, continental nation survive half red and half blue?

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but blue tribe cable is spinning downhill. There's no end to the dumbness which can result when the great gods, Speculation and Rumor, are given free rein in such ways.

McCaskill couldn't help herself last Thursday night. She couldn't help thinking that Pence must have been thinking what she and Lawrence were thinking. Nor did she restrain herself from sharing these speculations with a waiting tribal world.

There is no end to where this can lead. If you doubt that claim, just look at red tribe "cable news" any night of the week!

Tomorrow: Childishly, Conway speaks


Why do people believe the "big lie?"

WEDNESDAY, JULY 27, 2022

Marc Thiessen's explanation: Marc Thiessen is a conservative columnist for the Washington Post.

To his credit, he doesn't seem to believe that Donald J. Trump won the last election. He says this in his latest column, though not in so many words.

That said, millions of people do believe that Donald J. Trump won the last election. Online, Thiessen's new column for the Post appears beneath a headline which offers his explanation:

Why do people believe the ‘big lie’? Because Americans don’t trust the media.

People who believe the "big lie" no longer trust the mainstream press. That's why they wouldn't listen to reason about the last election—on January 6, 2021, for example. Or so goes this explanation.

It's true that millions of Trump supporters don't trust the mainstream media. It's even true, as Thiessen claims, that the mainstream press has arguably, on occasion, given them reason for holding that view.

That said, the main reason why these people believe that Donald Trump won is because Donald J. Trump keeps telling them that. 

(Is it possible that Donald J. Trump actually believes this claim? We expect to re-examine that question before the week is through.)

Thiessen's explanation strikes us as highly selective, but he's asking the most important question of the modern political age. Why do so many people believe this wholly unsupported, apparent falsehood? Why do so many people believe other unfounded or inaccurate claims?

Why do millions of people believe that Trump won? As our nation splits in two and slides toward the sea, it seems to us that very few questions are more important.

To some extent, Thiessen's thesis is true. People believe that Donald Trump won because they don't believe a single thing they hear from the mainstream press corps. Early this morning, we thought we may have seen a slight hint of one reason why that's true.

On Way Too Early and Morning Joe, the usual suspects were discussing The Only Subject They Care About—Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump and How To Get Trump in Prison.

We briefly flipped to the Fox News Channel. They were discussing inflation and the pain the current inflation is causing regular people.

Our blue tribe's cable news crowd is a heavily cosseted, wealthy elite. As a general matter, if your spouse has never run the World Bank, it's hard to get on Morning Joe.

Our blue cable crowd hails from the high end. They care about what they care about and they occasionally seem to care about no one and nothing else. 

Some of the Others may have noticed this fact. We'll guess that this fact, which is unattractive, may not especially help.

To his credit, Thiessen was asking a large, existential question. In our view, his analysis may have come up a bit short.  


QUESTIONS REMAIN: Lawrence lets the (apparent) errors go!

WEDNESDAY, JULY 27, 2022

Wine-Banks seems to make a mistake: Uh-oh! Last night, in the last segment of the Last Word, Lawrence O'Donnell delivered some (potentially) discouraging words concerning the Secret Service.

Last week, when the speculatin' was good, Lawrence posed a formal question to the embattled agency. His question concerned James Murray, the agency's embattled director. 

Lawrence asked if the embattled director had deleted his own text messages from January 6, 2021. Last night, at the start of his program's last segment, he reported the answer he got:

O'DONNELL (7/26/22): The Secret Service has replied to my question: "Did Secret Service director James Murray delete his January 6 texts?"

In an email reply to us, the Secret Service spokesperson said, quote, "The only text messages on Director Murray's phone on January 5 and 6 were notifications from his alarm company at his residence."

So far, the answer wasn't that bad! But then, Lawrence read the rest of the reply from the Secret Service spokesperson:

O'DONNELL (continuing directly): "By policy, Secret Service employees are not to conduct official government business by text for information security purposes as well as government record retention."

Joining us now is Jim Helminski, who served as deputy assistant director of the United States Secret Service until 2015...

As it turned out, Helminski was largely incoherent. He also seemed to be highly under-informed about the current state of the discussion concerning Secret Service texts. 

In keeping with standard cable practice, Lawrence let Helminski's apparent errors go. Aside from that, uh-oh:

According to what Lawrence was told, Secret Service personnel are instructed not to text! Also according to what he was told, the only texts on the director's phone came from the security service he maintains at his home.

We have no way of knowing if those statements are accurate. Sometimes, people make statements which aren't.

Also, if Secret Service agents are instructed not to text, some agents might text anyway. That said, consider this:

The message Lawrence received from spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi might be seen, at least in theory, as a bit of a narrative buzzkill. 

Are Secret Service agents instructed not to text? (We've noted the fact that Joyce Vance said something to that effect last week, in real time.)

Are agents instructed not to text? We can't say for certain. But if that statement is accurate, that might explain why so few text messages appeared on any agents' phones during the monthlong period leading up to January 6, 2021. 

Beyond that, it might suggest that we need to apply the brakes before we assume that we understand this matter—and before our pundits start spinning exciting theories about kidnapping plots and intended assassinations, directed by unnamed persons within the Secret Service.

Last week, Blue Tribe Pundits took a tiny bit of information and ran with it very hard. Below, you see Watergate figure Jill Wine-Banks, speaking with Lawrence on last Thursday night's show. 

In this passage, we highlight an apparent factual error. If we wait another month, MSNBC might let us rubes see a transcript:

WINE-BANKS (7/21/22): The fact that the Secret Service, who has the technical expertise, could possibly have accidentally lost these records is totally incredible. It's so incredible—

You know, I look back on the days of the 18-minute gap in Watergate, and this was a two-day gap. That is 144 times longer. But it's also obviously deliberate. 

There's no way, I think as Claire said—you just can't believe that this just  happened by chance. It had to be done deliberately and if it can't be recovered, it had to be done by real professionals who could get into the cloud and delete all other copies of it, the "To" and the "From."

The fact that it was just on those two days is really suspicious...We know from the timing that January 5th and January 6th were days when there would have been a lot of messages about protecting, or not protecting, the president and the vice president.

Sad. Wine-Banks seemed to believe that Secret Service texts were "missing" for only two days—for January 5th and 6th. 

She regarded that fact as "really suspicious." It seemed to inform her claim that the absence of texts on those two days was "obviously deliberate"—that the (presumed) deletion of texts from those two days "had to be done by real professionals."

In fact, it had been reported that very few text messages could be provided for an entire month-long period, starting in early December 2020. According to those reports, it wasn't just on those two days that texts were (suspiciously) AWOL.

Reportedly, the Inspector General had found no texts for a full month-long period. But as the excitable stars of the Blue Tribe Cable embellished and spun on cable TV, many performers had made it sound like the Secret Service texts were "missing" for those two days only.

As of last Thursday night, that seemed to be Wine-Banks' basic understanding. In classic "cable news" fashion, no one corrected or challenged her apparent error, and she proceeded directly to this lurid conspiracy formulation:

WINE-BANKS (continuing directly): And I think not enough attention is being paid to what was going on with the vice president, and the fact that it was possible that the Secret Service was going to whisk him away, at the direction of James Murray—two words that I won't forget, I promise you, Lawrence—that they were going to whisk him away, never to let him return to fulfill his constitutional responsibilities to oversee the counting of ballots. 

That is something that we need to know. Who made that order to get him out of there? Was it James Murray? Was it the president to James Murray? Was it the president directly to [Trump aide Anthony] Ornato? We just don't know.

Based in part on her apparent misunderstanding of basic facts, Wine-Banks moved ahead to a lurid conspiracy theory. 

"It was possible," Wine-Banks said, "that the Secret Service was going to whisk [Pence] away, at the direction of James Murray...never to let him return." 

Before she was done, she was even picturing President Donald J. Trump delivering an order directly to former agent Ornato "to get Pence out of there."

Given the fact that everything's possible, these lurid speculations were surely "possible" too! That said, Wine-Banks seemed to be basing her various assessments on the apparently mistaken belief that texts were "missing" on only two days—on January 5th and 6th.

Had that been an accurate fact, it would have seemed highly suspicious! But that seems to have been a mistaken belief—and, in classic "cable news" fashion, no one stepped in to correct or challenge this apparently bogus assumption.

At any rate:

Based on this apparent misunderstanding, Wine-Banks said the inability to recover texts from those two days was "obviously deliberate." Plainly, Secret Service texts had been disappeared "by real professionals." They'd even gone into the cloud!

Late last night, O'Donnell floated a very different possibility, rushing it onto the record in the last few minutes of The Last Word. 

(Needless to say, the bulk of the show had been devoted to the latest source of pleasing tribal excitement. Corporate cable has been selling this product for roughly the past five years.)

Tomorrow, we'll show you what Claire McCaskill said last Thursday night when Wine-Banks was done. By the next morning, presidential historian Michael Beschloss had even "sewn the fourth button on." He'd turned the lurid speculation about a Secret Service kidnapping plot into an even more lurid speculation about "intended assassinations," with Trump and the Service involved.

We leave you today with this observation:

When our Blue Tribe Cable Stars function this way, it's the end of American discourse. 

This is often, though not always, the way the stars function on Red Tribe Cable. Increasingly, this is the behavior to which we're exposed on Blue Tribe Cable too.

As we wait to see if Donald J. Trump will be charged with a crime, at least one one major question remains:

Can American culture, such as it is, survive this type of segregated, totally partisan, nutcase media regime? Can a giant modern nation possibly hope to function in the grip of dueling speculation / misinformation regimes—in the face of dueling regimes of epistemic closure?

Tomorrow: What McCaskill said last Thursday night

Friday: George Conway, still pointlessly shocked

"Just a political class talking to itself?"

TUESDAY, JULY 26, 2022

Hillary, Illing and Klein: Over at the New York Times, Ezra Klein has conducted a long interview with Sean Illing of Vox.

Needless to say, the interview is tied to Illing's new book. The book concerns media culture. At one point, Illing tells Klein this:

ILLING (7/26/22): The information space has been shattered into a zillion pieces thanks to the Internet. And the audience is so fragmented and self-sorted, a huge chunk of the country doesn’t really trust public institutions or the mainstream media. And they’re not listening, and a lot of it feels like it’s just a political class talking to itself. And I know that’s kind of depressing, but that has been my experience.

It's certainly true that "a huge chunk of the country doesn’t really trust...the mainstream media." 

For better or worse, that's mainly true among denizens of the red tribe. On the right, complaining about "the liberal media" has been a major project for a very long time.

For many people, does "a lot of it feel like it’s just a political class talking to itself?" We don't know, but that's exactly the way it feels to us when we watch Deadline: White House, Nicolle Wallace's two-hour daily program on MSNBC.

Essentially, Wallace's program is a group of "favorite reporters and friends" endlessly talking to themselves about the possibility that they can get Trump locked up. 

Trump's legal status is an actual topic, but they seem to care about little else. They surely don't care about the situation described in this report from page B5 of this morning's New York Times, headline included:

‘I’m Always Worrying’: The Emotional Toll of Financial Stress

For Ellie Alvarado, a teacher and mother of three in Elgin, Ill., figuring out how to pay the bills has become a source of anxiety and tension, especially when she and her husband argue over how to cut back.

“When I say, ‘OK we cannot buy anything this week or else we’ll go into overdraft’—he says, ‘No, what are you talking about? We’re both working. That shouldn’t happen,’” Ms. Alvarado said.

Soaring food costs have meant no more impromptu trips to McDonald’s. Name-brand cereal and other little luxuries are out, too. Gas prices, which recently hovered around $5 a gallon, are also eating into their budget.

“Every time I fill up our van I’m flabbergasted,” said Ms. Alvarado, who sometimes sees as little as $100 in her family’s checking account. “I’m always worrying,” she added.

Ellie Alvarado is a teacher. Her husband works an overnight shift in a factory because it pays a higher hourly wage. 

Still, they aren't able to keep up. The quote from Ellie Alvarado recalls this statement by the principal character in one of Woody Guthrie's greatest songs:

I mined in your mines and I gathered in your corn
I been working, Mister, since the day I was born
Now I worry all the time like I never did before
'Cause I ain't got no home in this world anymore
.

Deadline: White House is the classic example of a vastly overpaid elite talking to itself. You don't have to feel that the program's like that. That's what the program, and much of blue cable, actually is.

Wallace has perfect teeth, excellent hair, and a very engaging manner. She and her favorite friends don't discuss problems like those of the Alvarados. It simply isn't done.

Nor are you allowed to know how much Wallace or her favorite friends are paid. This is TV news of and by a private, high-end elite.

Returning to Klein and Illing's interview, Illing soon says this:

ILLING: The story I glommed onto in the piece I wrote was the, I guess the 2017 story about Hillary Clinton selling Uranium One to the Russians or something like that. I mean, it was complete horseshit but it was a story that Bannon had fed to the press and it kind of took off.

According to Illing, the story he glommed onto was about Clinton selling Uranium One to the Russians, "or something like that."

In extemporaneous speech, anyone can make a mistake about a date. Obviously, though, the Uranium One story didn't hit in 2017, the first year of the Trump presidency.

It landed in April 2015, early in Hillary Clinton's doomed 2016 campaign. We don't think we've ever heard that the story originated with Bannon, but we do know where it landed first:

It landed in the New York Times. The Times gave the story massive front-page play, then let the gremlins take over from there. In words and column inches, it was one of the largest "news reports" of the entire Trump-Clinton campaign.

As we noted in great detail in real time, the Times report was pure bullshit. The silly children we love on "cable news" never said a word.

The Uranium One report extended several decades of targeted bullshit in the Times about Clinton, Gore and Clinton. The silly children we love on cable have never discussed that recent history either.  It simply isn't done.

(For years, major figures from that long war—Chris Matthews, to name one especially central player—were major figures on MSNBC. Rachel would make a point of telling us how brilliant her colleague Chris was. Today, she's getting paid $30 million to create a film about Spiro Agnew. This is your press corps in action!)

Uranium One did a lot of damage. Obviously, it didn't happen in 2017—and somewhat weirdly, Illing goes on to say this:

ILLING (continuing directly): But that’s basically all it is, right? I mean, part of our business model is selling conflict. This is especially true on TV, and this is something that really comes into fruition in the ’90s with the birth of cable news and kind of horse race politics. Conflict just works. It’s politics is theater, politics is sport. And to the extent that media has profited from that model, we’ve also helped instantiate it.

We’ve also helped make politics in the minds of people who are consuming our content think that’s what politics is. And the thing that’s so crazy about flooding the zone is that it works because people are doing their jobs the way they’re supposed to, the way they’ve always been done. Something is out there and if it’s bullshit, you debunk it and you tell people why it’s not true.

But the problem is that, like we were just saying, in the process of debunking something, you are also amplifying it. You’re pumping it out there. It’s getting tattooed in people’s consciousness. And if you do that enough, it just becomes very dizzying and confusing to people.

You'd almost think, from reading that passage, that the fiery stars of the mainstream press set out to debunk the Uranium One bullshit. We have no idea where and when that occurred. 

The woods are lovely, dark and deep. We've all been living inside a constructed fantasy for at least the past thirty years.

Especially on cable TV, members of a journalistic elite spend long hours, every day, talking to themselves. We droogs are permitted to watch. It's almost suggested that we might be listed among the "favorite reporters and friends."

We're allowed to watch the reporters and friends as they talk to and about themselves. The things we're told are often wrong. The things we aren't told are right.

Concerning Guthrie's song: You can hear Bruce Springsteen sing it here. Repetition is powerful:

I mined in your mines and I gathered in your corn
I been working, Mister, since the day I was born

Now I worry all the time like I never did before
'Cause I ain't got no home in this world anymore.

Now I just ramble round to see what I can see
It's a wide, wicked world, sure a funny place to be.

The gamblin' man is rich and the workin' man is poor
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore.

Strongly recommended. People have to work even harder elsewhere in the world.

QUESTIONS REMAIN: Can our nation survive this media structure?

TUESDAY, JULY 26, 2022

In our view, that question remains: Should Donald J. Trump be charged with federal crimes? Subjected to prosecution?

As we noted yesterday, Charles Blow says he should be charged with such crimes. We can't say that Blow is wrong—but we also can't say that he's right.

For starters, it all depends on a fairly obvious question. Has Trump committed any such crimes? 

In his new column, Blow didn't say what those federal crimes are. Journalistic life becomes amazingly easy when such permissive rules obtain.

In our view, Trump's behavior became increasingly crazy and irresponsible starting in 2011 when he began inventing himself as the Mother of All Birthers. In our view, his behavior was increasingly crazy and heinous throughout, right on through January 6, 2021.

Did he commit a federal crime in the process? We'll admit that we still aren't  sure. 

That said:

If Trump is charged with federal crimes, that will present an unprecedented challenge to our rapidly failing American system. 

No former president has ever been charged with a crime. Even if the indictment is warranted, some such prosecution would result in massive pushback from Trump's tens of millions of supporters. 

This would put a tremendous strain on our American system—and that is especially true, given our current media / communication / information / argument / journalistic structures.

We can't survive half slave and half free, Abraham Lincoln once said. 

Today, can we survive half red and half blue? Consider a fairly typical news report in today's Washington Post.

The report was written by Amy Wang. As she starts, Wang writes this:

WANG (7/26/22): President Donald Trump didn’t want to disavow the rioters who had stormed the U.S. Capitol in his name on Jan. 6, 2021, and he removed lines from prepared remarks the following day calling for their prosecution, according to new evidence released by a member of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack.

Wang starts with a claim about what Donald Trump "didn't want." Within the world of blue tribe media, this claim is lovingly being reproduced wherever Blue Stories are told.

Question! Did Trump "remove lines from prepared remarks" on January 7? 

Yes, he certainly did.

That said, did he somehow refuse "to disavow the rioters" in the remarks he committed to videotape? We'd have to say that thumbs have possibly been on the scales a tad as our tribe has enjoyed versions of this pleasing claim in the past sixteen hours.

Wang's report is like every report on this topic which we've read and watched. It doesn't include the final text of what Donald J. Trump did say—of the lines he didn't remove—on January 7. 

To watch Trump's videotaped statement, you can just click here. As you will see if you watch the tape, here's how his statement began:

TRUMP (1/7/21): I would like to begin by addressing the heinous attack on the United States Capitol. Like all Americans, I am outraged by the violence, lawlessness and mayhem.

I immediately deployed the National Guard and federal law enforcement to secure the building and repel the intruders. American is and must always be a nation of law and order.

The demonstrators who infiltrated the Capitol have defiled the seat of American democracy. To those who engaged in the acts of violence and destruction, you do not represent our country. And to those who broke the law, you will pay.

Those are the words Trump actually said at the start of his videotaped statement. We can't necessarily say what he actually thought or felt.

(As far as we know, there is no basis for the claim that Trump "immediately deployed the National Guard and federal law enforcement.")

Those are the words Trump actually said. We can't necessarily tell you what Trump was actually thinking  or feeling as he said them. But did he somehow fail "to disavow the rioters" in his videotaped remarks? 

We can't tell you what he was thinking or wanting. We can tell you what he said:

As he started, he said the rioters had conducted a "heinous attack on the Capitol." He said that he was "outraged" by their violence and their lawlessness.

He said the rioters had "defiled the seat of American democracy." He said they "don't represent our country." For those who had broken the law, he said that they "will pay."

We have no idea what Trump really thought as he delivered those remarks. For ourselves, we aren't entirely sure that Trump ever thinks or believes anything in any traditional sense.

We can't tell you what he thought, but we can tell you what he said. In our view, thumbs may perhaps be on the scales a tad when someone opens a news report by suggesting that Trump had somehow failed to disavow the rioters and their violent conduct.

Lizard brains will rush to say that we're just picking nits. These lizard brains will urge us to say that Wang's report captures the essence of what occurred as Trump chose to drop elements of those "prepared remarks"—remarks which had been prepared by someone else, though Wang doesn't say who that was.

Are public officials required to repeat every word some staffer composes? We're going to say that they aren't.

Beyond that, we're going to say that journos like Wang should return to a more disciplined approach to their journalism. As part of that old-fashioned approach, they would include an account of what some public official actually said before they magically told us what that official supposedly "wanted."

Wang's report emerges from the Blue Tribe Journalism of the present day. Lizard brains will say that Red Tribe Journalism is much worse—and, in that particular claim, lizard brains may well be correct.

That said, our Blue Tribe Journalism is now working in deeply noxious ways, and the conduct is getting worse. Late last week, we saw major figures of our Blue Tribe Today deliver Conspiracy Theories From Hell as they speculated about plots to kidnap Vice President Pence on January 6—even to have him assassinated.

For the record, those deeply thrilling speculations were completely unfounded. No serious basis was offered for these speculations.

In our view, these speculations seemed to be straight outta an especially lurid episode of 24—and they seemed to show the direction in which Blue Journalism is going. 

This morning, with Joe and Mika away for a well-deserved rest cure, Jonathan Lemire was hosting Morning Joe. As the program began, he was accompanied by a Contingent of Six, each of whom was guaranteed to agree with Standard Blue Storyline.

Discouraging words would seldom be heard by people watching the program. For the record, two of the seven performers are currently selling books, though the other five are equally devoted to Standard Blue Narrative Line.

Late last week, this system was issuing unfounded but thrilling claims about kidnapping plots and intended assassinations. Major figures were pushing these tales. None of their colleagues pushed back.

Large parts of Red Journalism have long been insane, but our own Blue Journalism is closing ground. Whether Trump is charged with a crime or not, one major question remains:

Can our nation, or any other so conceived, survive this tribal arrangement? 

Tomorrow: The fruit of dueling closures

Quiet part out loud: Lemire is currently selling a book. So is the New York Times' Mark Leibovich.

At 6:16 this morning, Leibovich made the following wry remark to the Morning Joe panel. Here on our sprawling campus, several analysts screamed: 

"We all have books, right?"

In fairness, the scribe was making a wry remark. Arguably, he was also saying a bit of the quiet part out loud!


"Sleepwalking to disaster," Boot says!

MONDAY, JULY 25, 2022

Our own possible plans: We're inclined to agree with the sentiments expressed in Max Boot's latest column.

We've been expressing such sentiments for a long time. We're tired of hearing ourselves do it.

Boot is offering gloomy thoughts about this nation's future. "I used to be an optimist," he says. But, he says, "Not anymore."

BOOT (7/25/22): I used to be an optimist about America’s future. Not anymore. There’s a good reason that so many people I know are acquiring foreign passports and talking about moving somewhere else: The prognosis is grim.

As political scientist Brian Klaas just wrote in the Atlantic, given that the GOP has become “authoritarian to its core,” there are two main ways to save America: Either reform the Republican Party or ensure that it never wields power again. But a MAGA-fied GOP is likely to gain control of at least one chamber of Congress in the fall and could win complete power in 2024.

We seem to be sleepwalking to disaster. If we don’t wake up in time, we could lose our democracy. Just because we’ve avoided a breakdown in the past doesn’t mean we will stave it off in the future.

"We seem to be sleepwalking to disaster," Boot gloomily says. We've been expressing that view for quite some time. Here's one major difference:

Quite correctly, Boot notes the gruesome state of the red tribe's party. He's quite correct about that—or at least, he's quite correct about that party's officials. 

We'd always draw a sharp distinction between that party's officials and its rank and file. You can't walk away from your fellow citizens. 

Quite plainly, they aren't as brilliant or as perfect as we are. But they're still right here, in our cities and towns, and yes, they do belong.

Boot is appalled by the GOP's officials; we might almost agree with him there. Beyond that, we've been concerned, for at least thirty years, about the way our own blue tribe—including the bulk of the upper-end press—has persistently chosen to perform.

That said, we're tired of hearing ourselves say it—and plainly, it's pointless to do so. 

We'll continue to say it this week. Plainly, though, it does no good, and it may be time, in some way, for us to trundle along.

We want to discuss The Liar's Paradox, which is (absurdly) said to make the minds of academics crash. We want to discuss the way Bertrand Russell devoted those 700 pages to the task of proving that 1 + 1 = 2, in the book which was so huge he had to truck it around in a wheelbarrow.

We regard it as a beautiful, wonderfully comical story. We want to scale the slopes of Olympus and laugh right along with the gods.

We want to share that laughter with you. In our view, it's a big, good-hearted tale! People in red states could laugh at this tale, along with the people in blue.

A minor quibble RE Boot:  "If we don’t wake up in time, we could lose our democracy?"

"We could lose our democracy." That's the semantic framework our tribe has chosen to employ in the current non-discussion discussion. To our ear, it doesn't sound like the way we the American people have traditionally talked.

Is that the language with which us the bulk of the regular people actually speak and think? In our view, you have to know how to talk pork to the people or the people will mosey along.

Our tribe is disinclined to care about that. In truth, we don't seem to like large swaths of the regular people. We've been signaling that fact in various ways for well over fifty years, dating back to the street-fighting 1960s.

That doesn't mean that we're bad people. It could mean that we're not perfectly super-sharp—and given the way the modern world works, we have little room for arrogance, ego or error.

Good people live in our red and blue states. Barack Obama first said that! It's a good point to keep in mind.


STARTING TOMORROW: Questions remain!

MONDAY, JULY 25, 2022

Blow seeks prosecution: Charles Blow says that former president Donald J. Trump must be prosecuted—must be charged with a crime.

He advances this view in a new opinion column for the New York Times. His column appears beneath this headline:

We Can’t Afford Not to Prosecute Trump

We can’t afford to proceed without prosecuting Trump. Blow states his nugget here:

BLOW (7/25/22): With the conclusion of this series of hearings about the Jan. 6 insurrection, it has become ever clearer to me that Trump should be charged with multiple crimes. But I’m not a prosecutor. I’m not part of the Department of Justice. That agency will make the final decision on federal charges.

The questions before the Justice Department are not only whether there is convincing evidence that Trump committed the crimes he is accused of but also whether the country could sustain the stain of a criminal prosecution of a former president.

I would turn the latter question around completely: Can the country afford not to prosecute Trump? I believe the answer is no.

Blow says we have to prosecute Trump, apparently for one or more federal crimes. He goes on to explain why he feels that must happen.

We can't say that Blow is wrong—but we also can't say that he's right.

In the macro sense, our view is this. It isn't clear that we can incarcerate our way out of our current political problem—and our current political problem may be existential.

On the micro scale, we note this fact. At no point does Blow explain what crime or crimes Donald J. Trump has committed. In our view, it's easy and fun to insist on prosecution when you aren't even required to name the crime!

Has Donald J. Trump committed a crime? Had he committed a recognizable crime—a crime which can be defined in a way the wide range of people can understand?

At this point, we don't know how to answer those questions. We also fear that it's too late to solve our massive political problem. We suspect that our political and journalistic systems have fallen apart in ways which will be extremely hard to repair.

Here within our liberal tribe, the desire for prosecution is general. On MSNBC, highly-paid TV stars propagandize for this outcome on an hourly basis.

Seldom is heard a discouraging word about this proffered solution. As part of our journalistic breakdown, TV shows on our cable channels now feature—now brook—no dissent.

Everyone you see on these shows will agree with the host's point of view. No challenge to that preapproved view—no disagreement, question, or point of nuance—will intrude on the pleasures of these segregated "cable news" programs.

(You will be told that the members of these preapproved panels are among the host's "favorite reporters and friends." You will be told that these panels have been selected "to help us get smarter." This pabulum will be spooned to you on a daily basis. It's part of corporate branding.)

Trump may well end up being charged with a crime; as lunatic as his conduct has been, we don't know if he should be. But in our view, our nation—such as it is—is facing a political problem which almost surely can't be solved in that way.

That said, our own blue tribe is clamoring widely for prosecution. We can't say that this viewpoint is wrong—but in our view, a wide range of basic questions remain largely unaddressed. 

Two of those questions are these:

Unaddressed question: Is it possible that Donald J. Trump really believes that the last election was stolen? This takes us into the general area of Donald J. Trump's cognitive / psychiatric state, an area our upper-end press corps will never agree to address. 

Unaddressed question: Is it possible for any nation to survive our current media regime of wholly partisan talk radio shows; wholly partisan cable news channels; wholly partisan Internet sites; and crackpot social media? 

We'll return to the first of those questions tomorrow, then proceed onward from there. Other such unaddressed questions exist. Our general view would be this:

Round the decay of our nation's wreck, quite a few questions remain. The specific nature of Mister Trump's crime would be one such question. But there are quite a few others besides.

One thing seems dangerously clear:

Almost surely, we can't incarcerate our way out of our current political mess. Whatever you think of the proposed prosecution of Trump, it seems to us that it's very unwise to imagine that we can solve our political / journalistic / existential problem in that particular way.

Our nation—such as it was—has basically ceased to exist. Silent secessions are taking place. Especially given our media structure, it seems to us it will be very hard to patch things together again.

Could it be that Putin is right? Has the future, such as it might have been, already been lost to us?

Tomorrow: What George Conway said


Intellectual infrastructure...

SATURDAY, JULY 23, 2022

...and anthropological learnings: With apologies, we lost a lot of time yesterday morning. 

Indeed, we weren't able to apply ourselves to our award-winning mission until shortly after noon.

Still and all, we knew, after watching Morning Joe, what inquiring pundit minds wanted to know, at least over here in our tribe. Among inquiring (blue pundit) minds, the debate had resolved to this:

On January 6, 2021, was [someone in] the Secret Service plotting to kidnap Vice President Pence?  

Or:

On January 6, 2021, was [someone in] the Secret Service conspiring with President Donald J. Trump in an "intended assassination" of that same vice president?

On Thursday evening's Last Word, Claire McCaskill helped blue tribe members imagine that a kidnapping plot had been under way on January 6. 

The following morning, on Morning Joe, it was presidential historian Michael Beschloss who took that [unfounded] speculation to the next, more exciting level.

Again today, we urge you to internalize the basic learning which emerges from this disordered behavior:

Establishing facts can take lots of time. But especially at times of tribal stress, wholly unfounded speculations will emerge in the blink of an eye.

According to experts, our intellectual infrastructure is rapidly falling apart, especially on cable. These ranking experts describe that fact as an anthropological learning.

On cable, Riggleman speaks: What exactly is going on with that lack of Secret Service texts?

Establishing the facts may take some time. Yesterday afternoon, former congressman Denver Riggleman discussed the topic, rather opaquely, with cable TV's Nicolle Wallace.

According to Wallace, Riggleman has worked as a technical adviser to the January 6 committee. He'll be appearing tomorrow on Meet the Press.

Below, you see part of what he said to Wallace. We don't understand this either, but it helps us establish a point:

RIGGLEMAN (7/22/22): I want to say this right now...I think what people need to realize right now, somebody coming from a technology background like I am, I think we can say, at an over 70 percent clip, that there's no text messages really to get.

You know, I know Homeland Security individuals that text with the Secret Service, but they don't text. They use encrypted apps. They use Signal. It was years ago, but [MUFFLED].

This is a low-tech thing, so if you're not following the coms or the processes identified in your Standard Operating Procedure, there's sometimes no text to get. And it's much easier to guard your data on a specific device than people think. So if they're using personal phones, [BLANK] Signal rather than government phones, nobody would know anyway.

And I just, I just don't want individuals to think that, you know, that automatically the Secret Service is culpable for that, because it could be that in their SOPs that they have to use encrypted chats for security, or maybe they have to wipe their phones every week. We don't know.

Riggleman went on from there. In the end, we have little idea what he was talking about. 

Needless to say, Wallace made no attempt to find out. Instead, she threw to Neal Katyal, who quickly returned the conversation to pre-approved Storyline Stylings.

We're fairly sure that, in saying "there's no text messages really to get," Riggleman meant that there would are no text messages that could be recovered at this point, not that no text messages were ever sent in the first place.

All in all, we have little idea what Riggleman meant, and he did a very poor job explaining himself. That said, we think this murky presentation illustrates a few basic points:

Getting the actual information here may take a bit of an effort. Also, it may not turn out exactly the way reliable pundits have been suggesting as (poorly founded) Blue Storyline has spread far and wide.

Has [someone at] the Secret Service actually done something wrong? We can't answer your question today, but we can tell you this:

Establishing facts can take lots of time. But especially at times of tribal stress, wholly unfounded speculations will emerge in the blink of an eye.

As we type, additional information and analysis has been emerging at CNN, in this print report and on a program which aired at 12 noon. We'd only offer this bit of advice:

Stay away from unfounded speculation and Preferred Storyline. Try to wait for the actual facts.


IDENTITY RULES: Beschloss imagines assassinations!

FRIDAY, JULY 22, 2022

Joyce Vance pricks a balloon: It's fairly obvious that Michael Beschloss shares Identity Blue.

There's nothing automatically wrong with that; we're part of the blue tribe too! That said, Michael Beschloss, a good decent person, was caught last night on MSNBC scripting an especially lurid episode of the old TV show, 24.

By trade, Beschloss is a "presidential historian," not a Hollywood screenwriter. Biographically speaking, he holds every known advantage. 

After prepping at Phillips Andover, he graduated from Williams, then from Harvard Business School. Meanwhile, his Iranian-born wife is  a former treasurer and chief investment officer of a little ramshackle storefront  known as the World Bank.

Beschloss also has the advantage of his own intelligence—and of the fact that he's decent and good. That said, he was scripting a lurid episode last night, a lurid episode in which Michael Pence, and possibly others, had possibly been targets of Secret Service "assassination plots."

Beschloss was imagining hard and blabbing on network TV. We can't link to a transcript of what he said—had he said it on CNN, we could!—but before he started his cable meltdown, he had posted this rather strange tweet:

BESCHLOSS (7/21/22): If Pence was in danger of assassination on January 6, what could now be keeping him from testifying about his near-death experience that day—and about who he thinks was to blame?

Say what? Who on earth had ever said that Pence was "in danger of assassination" on January 6? And by the way:

"Assassination" by whom?

Before long, Beschloss would be offering a lurid speculation on "cable news" giant MSNBC. First, though, he appended this additional bit of weirdness to his original tweet:

BESCHLOSS: Does Pence now need to be offered a place in the federal witness protection program to get him to testify about who tried to kill him on January 6?

Say what? Was that tongue in cheek? It's hard to know when lifeforms like this are trying to be ironic.

Beschloss went to Andover, Williams and Harvard. In recent weeks, though, the stresses of blue tribe identity rites have had him saying and tweeting things which are possibly strange.

This morning, on Morning Joe, Beschloss kept pouring it on. Shortly before 6:20 A.M.,  he referred to the saga of the missing Secret Service texts.

Behaving in much the way that Donald Trump does, he referred to the (unfounded) "possibility that this involved intended assassinations" of such people as Pence and Nancy Pelosi. He seemed to say that the Secret Service might be involved with Donald J. Trump in these possible intended assassinations. 

For the text of his fuller statement, see below. So it goes when the posers of corporate news start coming wholly undone. 

Other stars of our failing blue tribe had been tossing kidnapping speculations around. The historian Beschloss took them one better. He was now plainly suggesting that [someone in] the Secret Service may have hatched a deliberate plan to assassinate these major figures.

He offered no basis for this claim. He was creating a 24 plot, but on a "cable news" channel.

Various people, Mark Twain included, have been quoted saying this:

"A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on."

According to the New York Times, that saying actually dates to Jonathan Swift. But in the modern context, the saying should really go like this:

"A wholly unfounded speculation is easy to pimp nationwide."

Michael Beschlosss should know much better—but the elites of our failing blue tribe have failed us again and again. 

In truth, Beschloss, who ought to know better, was imagining a very bad TV script. That said, this is the way crazed rumors start—and no one in the Morning Joe gaggle spoke up about Beschloss' conduct.

Had people in the Secret Service been plotting to assassinate Pence? By way of contrast, had they merely been planning to kidnap Pence so Trump could stay in power?

If so, which people in the Secret Service were doing such things? When it comes time to embarrass ourselves, does it even matter?

During last night's hearing, we heard about the way Pence's Secret Service agents were making farewell phone calls home as Donald L. Trump's lunatic mob spread through the Capitol Building. It didn't sound like those agents knew that they were involved in assassination or kidnapping plots.

That said, so what? The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but our highest-ranking "journalists" are often amazingly unskilled, unwise, unhelpful, self-involved, instinctively uncomprehending.

Joe and Mika continued the bullshit today; their various guests joined in. With that in mind, we'll mention something we think Joyce Vance may have said.

We think we may have heard her say it on MSNBC last night. We think we heard her say something like this:

Secret Service agents are told that they shouldn't engage in texting because texting isn't secure.

We can't tell you if she actually said it because of the transcript thing. We also don't know if the several parts of that statement are accurate. 

Nor do we know if some such state of affairs will end up playing a role in Secret Service Messagegate, if the basic facts are ever made clear about the allegedly missing texts.

We can tell you this:

The multimillionaire stars of our self-impressed tribe act more like Trump every day. They go on the air and speculate wildly. Whatever shit comes into their heads, they stupidily blurt it out.

In the meantime, we offer a bit of wisdom. That wisdom goes like this:

It takes time—sometimes a lot of time—to assemble the actual facts of some given case. In the meantime, under modern Identity Rules, every circus clown on the planet will show up on cable TV tossing unfounded bullshit around.

Beschloss was scripting a lurid episode of 24. We know that he's secretly better than that—but as we close, we'll say this:

On the real 24, the episode would have involved his wife, who would have been linked to some mullahs. This game is amazingly easy to play. Beschloss should take a step back.

At any rate, this is the world we now inhabit, thanks to people like Beschloss. Thanks to people like Mika and Joe. Thanks to the constantly spouting Lawrence and his various unrestrained guests, Claire McCaskill included. 

Increasingly, there's no unfounded speculation too lurid for our own failing tribe. Regarding the matter of the Secret Service, we will tell you this:

It will take a while lo learn the facts. It may be that we'll never learn them.

In the meantime, you'll hear every kind of unfounded dream being spewed by Joe, and by Nicolle, and by their "favorite reporters and friends." There's nothing these people won't do and say. They're more like Trump every day.

According to world-renowned anthropologists, this is what the elites of our species are frequently like. They've scratched and clawed to get to the top, and they don't intend to turn back.

Concerning the aforementioned Beschloss: Have you ever seen him say a word about the way his fellow insiders spent all those years trashing Candidates Gore and Clinton, thereby electing Bush and Trump and reinventing the Supreme Court?

Dearest darlings, use your heads! It simply isn't done!

Fuller statement by Beschloss: Starting at 6:19 A.M., Beschloss offered these remarks on today's Morning Joe:
BESCHLOSS (7/22/22): Everything we’re finding out suggests that [Trump] was at the center of a blueprint for a coup d'├ętat. It involved even the Supreme Court, Ginni Thomas was calling back and forth to Donald Trump’s chief of staff. He was calling members of Congress. 

We certainly know that the Secret Service was involved. There's a possibility, as you both have been saying, Mika and Joe, this morning, that this involved intended assassinations—never thought I’d say this about an American president—intended assassinations of the vice president of the United States, we certainly have that quote from Trump saying Mike Pence deserves to be hanged. And also, do we think that he would have been unhappy if someone, God forbid, had gone after Nancy Pelosi or other congressional leaders? You look at authoritarians in history who try to overthrow governments, there’s usually an assassination component. That, I think, is one question we’ve got to ask about the Secret Service.
We've got to ask if [someone in] the Secret Service was involved in intended assassinations! In our view, those to whom much is given shouldn't be spouting like this.

Beschloss is a decent person. In our view, he should stop acting like Trump.