Shortest weekend of the year: Were here this morning, right on time, despite the way an hour was stolen, producing a 47-hour weekend.
How strange: To think that bureaucrats in a distant city can toy like this with our lives!
How THE HOWLER is saving civilization: Remember the way the Irish saved civilization? (According to Wikipedia, Thomas Cahills book of that approximate name argues a case for the Irish people's critical role in preserving western civilization from utter destruction by the Huns and the Germanic tribes.)
Here at THE HOWLER, thats the role were currently playing with regard to MSNBC.
Good God, how that new, improved liberal channel does love to shovel the bullroar! This tendency has become quite clear in its coverage of the Wisconsin budget fight. We liberals keep getting fed misinformation, as The One True Liberal Channel becomes more and more like Fox.
Consider what happened last Friday night when Lawrence ODonnell kicked off his evenings Wisconsin coverage. The analysts groaned and covered their eyes when they heard Mr. O say this:
ODONNELL (3/11/11): Tonight in the spotlight: Wisconsins most polarizing bill becomes law. Following weeks of protest and unprecedented legislative maneuvering that no one had ever seen and no one predicted, today Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed the bill that eliminates almost all collective bargaining rights from most of the states public employees.
The bill exempts police and firefighter unions who supported the governor in his election campaign. Its due to take effect on March 26.
Oof! There he went again, reciting that claim about the police and firefighter unions! (To see Politifact shoot down that claim, go aheadjust click here.) This time, though, a rebuttal was heard, just a few minutes later! The rebuttal was voiced by a Wisconsin Republican, state senator Glenn Grothman. This was Grothmans first point after being introduced:
GROTHMAN: You led off this segment by saying that the firemen and the police endorsed Governor Walker. You have to know thats not true, because we have corrected it so many times in the past.
The firemens union, probably next to the teachers union, is probably the most rabid Democratic union in the state. The Milwaukee police did endorse Governor Walker. But the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, the biggest police union in the state, supported his opponent.
So when you say things like we exempted firemen and police because they supported Governor Walker, thats just plain not true.
As far as we know, Grothmans statement is basically accurate, though liberals keep hearing the opposite.
Did ODonnell know his own statement was bogus? Unlike Grothman, we wouldnt assume that Mr. O would know such basic facts. But note ODonnells pathetic rejoinder to Grothman:
ODONNELL (continuing directly): Senator Grothman, could I go back? Certainly there was at least one police union that supported the governor.
GROTHMAN: I said, the Milwaukee Police Union.
ODONNELL: Are you saying that there were nothere was no firefighter support for the governors election?
GROTHMAN: One firefighter local, the city of Milwaukee again, perhaps because they knew Scott Walker because he was county exec. The vast majorityas far as I know, every other fireman in the state, their union supported Governor Walkers opponent, including the fire union where I represent.
So to say that is just plain misleading.
Truly, ODonnells response was gruesome. Rather than acknowledge misstatement or express doubt, he decided to play the sophist. But so it has gone on The One True Channel, right from Day One of this story. On that occasion, Ed Schultz interviewed Grothmanand he too fashioned a sad response when corrected on a blown fact.
On February 15, the fight in Wisconsin was just startingand Schultz had a basic fact wrong. How would state workers incomes be affected by Walkers requests for give-backs? People who earn $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 a year might have a 20 percent of their income just disappear overnight, Schultz said, incorrectly.
After being introduced, Grothman challenged that statement too. Note the way Schultz reacted:
GROTHMAN (2/15/11): I think you misled your audience a little bit in the buildup to my interview. I think maybe an average person, including myself, who makes about $50,000 a year, is going to see a cut in take-home pay of around 8 percent or 9 percent.
SCHULTZ: Wait a minute! I didnt mislead the audience. I said increase their obligationmeaning that they are going to have to pay more in. Thats exactly what I said. Increase their obligation to pay more in.
GROTHMAN: Right. Right.
SCHULTZ: So there is no mis
GROTHMAN: You used the figure 20 percent, Ed.
SCHULTZ: Excuse me?
GROTHMAN: You used the figure 20 percent. And that is misleading.
SCHULTZ: That is not misleading because that is the figure that we got.
Oof. And sad.
For the record, there was an apples-to-oranges problem here, at least on the surface; Schultz spoke about income, Grothman about take-home pay. But after his weak response to Grothman, Schultz instantly dropped his own statistic; for the rest of the program, through several segments, he referred to an 8 percent or 9 percent pay cut. Politifact reviewed Schultzs initial claim, giving him a rating of false (though we find an apparent typo in their report). Politifact noted that Schultzs staff failed to present any data supporting his initial claim.
MSNBC has devoted many evenings to the fight in Wisconsin. In the course of that coverage, its anchors have routinely misstated basic facts while failing to clarify basic issues. Liberals watching The One True Channel have heard a drumbeat of ungled claims. This is the way it works for conservatives when they tune to Fox.
Liberals watching MSNBC have repeatedly heard these claims:
As Grothman noted, that last claim has been corrected many times. But last Friday, ODonnell was still reciting it. And here was Rachel Maddow, just one night before, pretending to scold Walker:
MADDOW (3/10/11): If the existence of unions themselves was so expensive, then why did you exempt the unions that supported you in the last election? Those unions have some of the most expensive benefits of any in your state. But you let them off.
As we all know, Maddow loves correcting her own mistakes. Based on her work in the past few weeks, she also likes to repeat them.
At one point, the Irish saved civilization. Thats the role we now find ourselves playing. At times like this, do corporate progressives need false facts to make a case against GOP policies? Our view: People like that will never succeed in building a winning politics.
Civilization may hang in the balance. Are we all ditto-heads now?
WHERE PIFFLE CAN POSE AS DEEP THOUGHT (permalink): Well admit it! Last Friday, we bungled our treatment of David Brooks most recent columns. In one of those columns (last Tuesdays), Brooks laid out the premise behind his new book, The Social Animal.
Blame it on the bossa nova? This time, well blame it on the columnists longing for additional metis and limerence. (Real words, though just barely. This longing was voiced in last Tuesdays piece.) The analysts quickly began writing limericks, attempting to mock this foppish desire. Hoping to gather our thoughts about this strange column, we resolved to wait before offering comment. But the foolishness of Brooks column last Friday provoked usand we wrote too soon.
No limericks today, not even about the columnist raised near the Village/Whose affect allowed no emotional spillage. Instead, lets look at Brooks column from last Tuesdaythe piece which gives an overview of his insightful new book.
Truly, this piece was astounding. Consider the first half of the column, in which Brooks lists four major American policy failures, then describes the single failure from which all these failures derived.
First, Brooks listed those policy failures. Truly, David Brooks has seen rivers. Heres how his column began:
BROOKS (3/8/11): Over the course of my career, Ive covered a number of policy failures. When the Soviet Union fell, we sent in teams of economists, oblivious to the lack of social trust that marred that society. While invading Iraq, the nations leaders were unprepared for the cultural complexities of the place and the psychological aftershocks of Saddams terror.
We had a financial regime based on the notion that bankers are rational creatures who wouldnt do anything stupid en masse. For the past 30 years weve tried many different ways to restructure our educational systemtrying big schools and little schools, charters and vouchersthat, for years, skirted the core issue: the relationship between a teacher and a student.
Truly, Brooks has seen rivers. In that passage, he lists four policy failures he has covered. Lets set aside the post-Soviet policy failure, which is obscure to most Americans. Behaving charitably, lets ignore what he says about public schools, since hes merely reciting the latest cant on a topic he doesnt understand.
That leaves two of Americas greatest modern policy failures: The massive bungling in Iraq, and the recent financial meltdown. Why did these policy failures occur? Continuing, Brooks offers an astounding explanation for all the policy failures he lists. What follows may be the weirdest explanation weve ever seen in a newspaper:
BROOKS (continuing directly): Ive come to believe that these failures spring from a single failure: reliance on an overly simplistic view of human nature. We have a prevailing view in our societynot only in the policy world, but in many spheresthat we are divided creatures. Reason, which is trustworthy, is separate from the emotions, which are suspect. Society progresses to the extent that reason can suppress the passions.
This has created a distortion in our culture. We emphasize things that are rational and conscious and are inarticulate about the processes down below. We are really good at talking about material things but bad at talking about emotion.
When we raise our kids, we focus on the traits measured by grades and SAT scores. But when it comes to the most important things like character and how to build relationships, we often have nothing to say. Many of our public policies are proposed by experts who are comfortable only with correlations that can be measured, appropriated and quantified, and ignore everything else.
As Brooks continues, things only get worse. But please note what he says in that passage! According to Brooks, all those major policy failures spring from a single failurefrom an overly simplistic view of human nature. According to Brooks, the faulty financial regime which collapsed in 2008 sprang from the following failure: We are really good at talking about material things but bad at talking about emotion.
Go aheadjust try to believe it! Just try to believe that a major nations most important newspaper could publish such consummate piffle!
Did the failure in Iraq and the failure on Wall Street really spring from this single source? Who could possibly think so? This simplistic explanation is amazingly strange, for reasons well note below. But as we continue, lets note two effects of Brooks odd explanation:
Were all responsibleand thus, no one is: Who created these policy failures? Note how vague Brooks is on this point. He does acknowledge a sphere called the policy world; tangentially, he acknowledges that there are many other spheres in our society. But mainly, he discusses the things we dothe things we say, the things we believe. No one is singled out; all are included. This wipes away any question of who has created these failures.
Did Wall Street billionaires help create that sectors policy failure with their political contributions? Presumably, yes. But then again, so did some car salesman west of Dubuque! After all, he relies on that overly simplistic view of human nature, just like the Masters of the Universe! And the policy failure which led to that meltdown springs from that single failure, as does everything else.
The conduct of miscreants gets washed away in this ridiculous formulation. But then, so does all self-interest, including even criminal conduct:
Everything has been done in good faith: The policy failures in Iraq? The policies which led to that financial meltdown? According to Brooks, these failures spring from a single failure: reliance on an overly simplistic view of human nature. And since that view pervades our culture, it seems to follow that our policy failures have been created in basic good faith. All through the culture, we emphasize things that are rational and conscious and are inarticulate about the processes down below. Presumably, no one does this on purpose, not even the experts to whom Brooks refers at one point. Our failures all spring from this simplistic viewand this view bubbles up from our culture.
Luckily, Brooks new book will help us see past this simplistic view of human nature. But his formulation seems to wash away the self-interested conduct of extremely powerful players.
Can we talk? If Brooks really means what he says, his view of the policy world comes to us live and direct from somewhere on Sunnybrook Farm. Did this country suffer that financial meltdown because we arent good at discussing emotions? This morning, in that same New York Times, Paul Krugman discusses an ongoing part of that same financial meltdown. But how naïve this silly man is! As he describes the (ongoing) meltdown, Krugman seems to think that powerful players pursued their self-interest in immoral, perhaps criminal, ways:
KRUGMAN (3/14/11): the rich are different from you and me: when they break the law, its the prosecutors who find themselves on trial.
To get an idea of what were talking about here, look at the complaint filed by Nevadas attorney general against Bank of America. The complaint charges the bank with luring families into its loan-modification programsupposedly to help them keep their homesunder false pretenses; with giving false information about the programs requirements (for example, telling them that they had to default on their mortgages before receiving a modification); with stringing families along with promises of action, then sending foreclosure notices, scheduling auction dates, and even selling consumers homes while they waited for decisions; and, in general, with exploiting the program to enrich itself at those families expense.
Notice, by the way, that were not talking about the business practices of fly-by-night operators; were talking about two of our three largest financial companies, with roughly $2 trillion each in assets. Yet politicians would have you believe that any attempt to get these abusive banking giants to make modest restitution is a shakedown.
As Hector said of Paris, Strange man! Like Nevadas deluded attorney general, Krugmans still talking the silly old talk, in which powerful players deceive and exploit the masses. To this day, he just doesnt get it! He still doesnt see that these problems occur because people at our largest financial companies are divided creatures who arent comfortable talking about emotion! So too with the politicians who rush to defend thempols who have accepted big campaign cash from these other divided creatures.
As Brooks continued this column, he was soon explaining the need for additional metis and limerence. The night before, he had blubbered a bit with Charlie Rose about his own emotional state. Inevitably, these cris de coeur provoked rebuttal from our young, inexperienced analysts. But those cries accompanied one of the strangest columns weve ever perused.
Good grief! In yesterdays New York Times, Thomas Nagel reviewed Brooks book. Forget the metis and the limerenceBrooks needs may be more basic:
NAGEL (3/13/11): The main idea is that there are two levels of the mind, one unconscious and the other conscious, and that the first is much more important than the second in determining what we do. It must be said immediately that Brooks has a terminological problem here. He describes the contents of the unconscious mind as emotions, intuitions, biases, longings, genetic predispositions, character traits and social norms, and later he includes sensations, perceptions, drives and needs. A majority of the things on this list are conscious, in the usual sense of the word, since they are parts of conscious experience.
Good lord, is that error basic! As he continues, Nagel is reasonably kind, though he also offers this: Brooks seems willing to take seriously any claim by a cognitive scientist, however idiotic. (Weve noticed.) And this, with which he ends his review: Brooks is out to expose the superficiality of an overly rational view of human nature, but there is more than one kind of superficiality.
Nagel reviewed an entire book. Someone should explain the cultural world in which a column like last Tuesdays can appear in a major nations most important newspaper. The column offered absolute nonsenseand a full-bore airbrushing of the way the real world actually works.
Do we have trouble discussing emotion? Is that what caused the financial meltdown? Surely, it would be pretty to think soespecially if you dont want to say that very rich folk have their way with the world.
But how does someone like Brooks reach the point where hes willing to publish such piffle? More importantly, how does a nation reach the point where such piffle can pose as Deep Thought?