Cable excitement at its best!

SATURDAY, MAY 27, 2017

Though we'll add what the New York Times said:
Last evening's cable news excitement was excitement at its best.

At the appointed hour, the Washington Post had posted its latest blockbuster/bombshell. On CNN and MSNBC, everyone knew what to do.

Needless to say, this latest bombshell had come from unnamed sources behind a screen—from the unnamed people who now dole out our nightly dollops of "news."

In this morning's Washington Post, these unnamed people are described as "U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports." Increasingly, these unnamed people decide what tiny blips of alleged information we proles are allowed to hear.

On CNN and MSNBC, everyone knew what to do. A chase is on, and these highly unreliable cable savants stood in line to say the things we liberals were longing to hear.

More specifically, they spent the evening suggesting that Jared Kushner may be on his way to jail. They avoided all discussion of the the substance which lay behind the latest cable thrill.

Is Jared Kushner in legal trouble? Like all the hacks you saw last night, we have no idea.

We do know this. The Washington Post's exciting report was amazingly short on information, amazingly long on filler. This is the way it began:
NAKASHIMA, ENTOUS AND MILLER (5/27/17): Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.

The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.

The White House disclosed the meeting only in March, playing down its significance. But people familiar with the matter say the FBI now considers the encounter, as well as another meeting Kushner had with a Russian banker, to be of investigative interest.
That's pretty much all the Post had. The rest of the report is filler.

All last night, teams of pundits went to town on this blockbuster/bombshell report. Unfortunately, last night's excited discussions were about as fuzzy as any we've ever seen on cable. It was often quite hard to know what was being discussed.

In part, that was because the Post's report was so thin on content. Kushner wanted to set up a "secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin," the report alleged. The content ended there.

Did Kushner really propose such a thing? We have no idea. We're all relying on the good faith of the faceless people behind that screen—the unnamed people who now dole out our daily dollops of "news" in this peculiar fashion.

That said, we saw few attempts to discuss the possible reasons why Kushner (and Flynn) might have wanted to do some such thing. This brings us to the wonderfully ridiculous way Brian Williams ended last evening's Eleventh Hour program.

In his closing segment, Williams spoke with historian Jon Meacham about "backchannel" diplomacy of the past. Meacham praised a few such enterprises, then said, rather vaguely, that this effort was nothing like those.

It was what we all wanted to hear! Williams responded with this:

"No one is accusing this of having anything to do with diplomacy, at least at this early hour."

In fairness, Brian was almost right. As he spoke, it was a few minutes short of midnight. We'd seen no one discussing any possible "diplomatic" reasons for this apparent attempt at backchannel work, except to the extent that speculations could be launched about Kushner going to jail.

Then, this morning, we read the New York Times. Its opening paragraphs put Brian's snark in context.

As with the Post, this topic topped the Times front page. But the Times' report started like this:
HABERMAN, MAZZETTI AND APUZZO (5/27/17): Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, spoke in December with Russia’s ambassador to the United States about establishing a secret communications channel between the Trump transition team and Moscow to discuss strategy in Syria and other policy issues, according to three people with knowledge of the discussion.

The conversation between Mr. Kushner and the ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, took place during a meeting at Trump Tower that Mr. Trump’s presidential transition team did not acknowledge at the time. Also present at the meeting was Michael T. Flynn, the retired general who would become Mr. Trump’s short-lived national security adviser, the three people said.

It is unclear who first proposed the communications channel, but the people familiar with the meeting said the idea was to have Mr. Flynn speak directly with a senior military official in Moscow to discuss Syria and other security issues. The communications channel was never set up, the people said.
As with the Post, so too with the Times. There was no way to identify the nameless people doling out these claims.

That said, these nameless, faceless people presented a motive for Kushner's alleged request. Williams' scripted snark notwithstanding, this effort did have something to do with diplomacy, these nameless people had said.

According to these nameless people, Kushner had been seeking a way to discuss "Syria and other security issues" with the Russkies. Last night, we heard no one advancing such speculations. Williams closed the evening haughtily saying that no one had.

Sad! Even as Brian spoke, there was the Times on-line report, saying something quite different. But this is the way corporate "newsmen" like Brian perform when a chase is on.

(In 1999 and 2000, no one was more upset by Candidate Gore's troubling clothes. At the time, Brian's owner was Jack Welch. It made that owner proud.)

Why might Kushner, Flynn and them have wanted to do something like this? Let's return to the topic of Michael Flynn's geopolitical views.

Remember the bromide we recently coined? "Crazy people get to be overpaid lobbyists too?"

Wellsir, crazy people also get to pursue diplomacy! That's especially true after thirty years of press corps misconduct have helped put Trump where he is.

The ineffectual people who helped place him there were prattling hard last night. They were pursuing an insider war they've already manged to lose through their relentless past misconduct.

They discussed little except the possibility that Kushner might end up in jail. That's the only way they know how to play. Their haplessness helps explain why Donald J. Trump's where he is.

By way of background, we thought you might want to understand the worldview behind this affair. Two days ago, the New York Times provided a bit of that background in a front-page news report.

For better or worse, crazy people get to have geopolitical views! Flynn strikes us as semi-crazy, but this is a taste of the worldview which was banging around in the Trump transition effort:
ROSENBERG, GOLDMAN AND APUZZO (5/25/17): Mr. Flynn's ties to Russian officials stretch back to his time at the Defense Intelligence Agency, which he led from 2012 to 2014. There, he began pressing for the United States to cultivate Russia as an ally in the fight against Islamist militants, and even spent a day in Moscow at the headquarters of the G.R.U., the Russian military intelligence service, in 2013.

He continued to insist that Russia could be an ally even after Moscow's seizure of Crimea the following year, and Obama administration officials have said that contributed to their decision to push him out of the D.I.A.
By all accounts, Flynn favored a global realignment in which the United States and Russia became allies in a north-versus-south battle against various parts of the Islamic world.

You may think that worldview is crazy. We liberals should have thought of that before we did three hundred things in the past few years to help get Trump elected.

At any rate, the Times expounded further on Flynn's outlook and behavior. In our view, this passage suggests that The Semi-Crazy isn't just found Over There:
ROSENBERG, GOLDMAN AND APUZZO: American officials have also said there were multiple telephone calls between Mr. Flynn and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, on Dec. 29, beginning shortly after Mr. Kislyak was summoned to the State Department and informed that, in retaliation for Russian election meddling, the United States was expelling 35 people suspected of being Russian intelligence operatives and imposing other sanctions.

American intelligence agencies routinely tap the phones of Russian diplomats, and transcripts of the calls showed that Mr. Flynn urged the Russians not to respond, saying relations would improve once Mr. Trump was in office, officials have said.
That's what officials have said! At any rate, let's try to understand the strangeness of that passage.

We liberals have spent the past several months complaining about the fact that Flynn allegedly urged the Russians not to retaliate against the U.S. after those sanctions were imposed! We haven't quite been able to see how strange it may sound to register such a complaint.

Instead, we've pleasured ourselves with dreams of the Logan Act. Flynn might have to go to jail for urging the Russkies not to respond!

At any rate, we liberals have spent the past thirty years paving the way for Trump. The gentleman is now in the White House. He and his associates have certain irregular views.

By all accounts, Flynn and Bannon were strongly inclined to the view that future diplomacy should ally the United States with Russia against the Islamic world. In a report it first posted last evening, the New York Times suggested that Kushner wanted to discuss such possibilities through the backchannel he allegedly sought.

Last night, we saw no one discuss or raise any such possibility. Instead, a gang of hacks swarmed two cable channels, making the statement we long to hear: The Others are going to jail!

Inevitably, it fell to Williams to make the perfect gong-show summation. No one is talking about diplomacy, he said, sending us happily off to bed at an hour when the New York Times was doing that very thing right in its opening paragraphs.

Crazy people get to pursue backchannel diplomacy too! In a related fact, Williams worked quite hard, down through the years, paving the way for Trump.

Our team still sits dumbly around refusing to discuss the real world. On cable last night, they skillfully restricted the things we were allowed to hear.

They were dumbing it way way down. Do we actually like such dumbed-down cable porridge?

Concerning that gong show from Maddow: Rachel Maddow's latest gong show was delivered on Thursday night. For background, see yesterday's post.

The sheer pomposity of her performance was a thing to behold. As usual, MSNBC is ten days behind on posting transcripts, so we can't link you to a printed record of her endless report.

You can watch the interminable segment here. You'll be watching a classic high-pomposity effort from Our Own Cable News Clown.

Cable host reports mystery solved!

FRIDAY, MAY 26, 2017

News orgs succumbed to "Telephone," cable host declares:
It started with this dramatic tease midway through last night's program:
MADDOW (5/25/17): On top of that, though, there is one mystery about James Comey's firing and the question of whether or not that was the president trying to obstruct justice in the Trump-Russia investigation.

There's one piece of that that we think we've solved tonight. We've got that exclusive, next, right after this break.
The Maddow Show had solved a mystery concerning James Comey's firing! Maddow was going to have that exclusive right after the break!

After a commercial break, Maddow began an interminable, 15-minute segment with this nugget statement:
MADDOW: So we've got some new information in the Trump-Russia investigation. It is not a blockbuster revelation, but I think it's important and clarifying. It's about a key part of the behavior of the Trump administration with regard to the FBI since Trump has been in office. So, not during the campaign, but since the inauguration.

And I think what is widely believed to have happened, what is widely believed to have—actually, widely reported to have happened at this key point in time—what we think we know about it I think is wrong. And I think we can correct that record tonight.

So just settle in for a second and follow this through with me.
In fact, we would have to settle in for almost fifteen minutes. But if we just settled in in for those many minutes, Maddow was going to correct the record on something which had been widely reported!

The analysts were catatonic by the time she was done.

We've just been informed that this is a holiday weekend, so we're going to wait until tomorrow to lay the whole thing out. But Maddow went on to tell the world that, based upon her program's reporting, she now believes that James B. Comey did not request more resources for the Russia probe shortly before he was fired.

Based upon her staff's reporting, she now believes that congressional sources engaged in a game of "Telephone," which ended up with people making misstatements about what Comey had actually done.

You're right! We specifically warned you about this possibility in real time. We didn't have to do any "reporting." We simply read the Washington Post and the New York Times, noting the weakness of their sourcing on the morning of May 11, the morning when this exciting report produced a banner headline across the front page of the Post.

(The exciting report topped the Times' front page too. Over the subsequent two days, it seemed to us that the Washington Post was walking its banner claim back.)

We discussed this report in detail, warning you that this is the sort of thing which happens when a chase is on. Last night, Maddow spent fifteen minutes telling us that her staff's reporting had broken this case wide open.

She forgot to say that she herself was one of the people who had "widely reported" the claim she now believes to have been mistaken. She did that because she chose to report this pleasing claim on Wednesday night, May 10, about ten minutes after it hit the web.

That's what happen when people rush, at times when a chase is on, to feed us the stories we'll like.

Wednesday evening, May 10! That was also the night when Maddow spent twenty minutes telling us that Andrew McCabe had "joined the Trump disinformation campaign" last February. Where did she get that explosive report, which she has never mentioned again? For unknown and unreported reasons, Maddow was accepting the word of Reince Priebus for this otherwise unsupported but highly dramatic claim.

Just for the record, Maddow produced no particular new "reporting" during last night's segment. She merely said that her staff had received a new statement from the Justice Department, in which the spokesperson we cited two weeks ago vehemently denied the claim in question again.

The analysts were catatonic by the time Maddow finished last night. Tomorrow, we'll show you the text of what she eventually said, after roughly ten minutes of laborious, trademark time-wasting.

For now, you can observe an instance of high pomposity in the service to strange ascot-covering! To do so, just click here. You'll be observing the sort of thing which happens when the press is conducting a chase.


Somewhat comically, that's what the signage behind the cable host said.

FLYNN FACTS: What the heck is a foreign agent?

FRIDAY, MAY 26, 2017

Part 4—Exploring a scary term:
Today, let's start with a basic premise:

Crazy people get to be overpaid lobbyists too.

Crazy people get overpaid by firms right here in the United States. That doesn't mean that they're "on the United States government payroll," even if the work they're doing supports the policies of a sitting president.

Crazy people can also be overpaid by firms based in foreign lands. That doesn't mean that they're on some foreign government's payroll although, at exciting times like these, it can be fun to say so.

The "crazy" person of whom we speak is Michael Flynn. Last year, he was overpaid for three months by Inovo BV, a Dutch-based firm operated by Ekim Alptekin, whoever he may actually be.

In this morning's editions, the Washington Post again asserts that Alptekin is "a Turkish American businessman close to top Turkish officials." For whatever it may be worth, that would mean that Alkptekin is an American citizen, though we have no idea if the Post knows what it's talking about.

At times like these, when a chase is on, our newspapers sometimes don't bother.

In President Lincoln's time, we were "engaged in a great civil war." Today, in the reign of President Trump, we are engaged in a newspaper war, and in a very large chase.

Increasingly, our daily newspapers are being scripted by unnamed figures who are, in fact, breaking the law through their carefully parceled, often quite murky disclosures.

This may or may not be a good thing. But at times like these, your newspapers will often serve you novelized tales rather than hard information. In all honesty, these tales are designed to further the chase, not to inform the public.

Michael Flynn, who seems to be crazy, is the object of one such chase. Perhaps for that reason, we're now being exposed to various "Flynn facts"—inaccurate or misleading claims which further the corps' preferred novels.

One such claims was voiced Wednesday night as Brian took a drink. Millions of people heard the New York Times' Glenn Thrush say that Flynn "was on the Turkish payroll" during his lobbying days.

As far as we know, no one has ever produced any evidence in support of that imprecise claim. The claim does support the current novel, in which the apparently crazy Flynn is the object of a chase.

At times like these, exciting claims of that type sell newspapers and attract eyeballs. They don't produce a well-informed public. We can't have it all, it would seem.

Was Michael Flynn "on the Turkish payroll" during his overpaid days? We know of exactly zero evidence in support of that exciting claim.

Today, though, we stand to examine another claim—a thrilling claim which is plainly "technically accurate." We stand to examine the claim that Flynn worked as a "foreign agent" during his overpaid days—a thrilling claim which is technically accurate and also the source of much mischief.

The apparently crazy Michael Flynn worked as a foreign agent! This thrilling claim, which is technically accurate, has spawned other thrilling claims in the past few months.

On Wednesday night, it spawned the apparently inaccurate claim that he was "on the payroll of Turkey." Just last week, it spawned the claim, in a New York Times news report, that he "secretly work[ed] as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign."

Flynn was a "secret agent man!" To enjoy Johnny Rivers' 1966 hit of that name, you can just click here.

Today, let's explore that exciting "Flynn fact." Did the apparently crazy Flynn work as a foreign agent?

Technically, yes, he did. We know that because, on Tuesday, March 7, Flynn belatedly registered as a "foreign agent" under terms of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Needless to say, this produced a ton of excitement. As of this past week, that excitement had us hearing that Flynn was "on the payroll of Turkey" and had "secretly work[ed] as a paid lobbyist for Turkey," which sounds like much the same thing.

The apparently crazy Flynn worked as a foreign agent! The claim can be said to be technically accurate. For today, let's try to get a bit more clear on what this "Flynn fact" means.

For unknown reasons, the Washington Post and the New York Times didn't report Flynn's registration until Saturday morning, March 11. At the Post, Ashley Parker's front-page report started like this:
PARKER (3/11/17): Attorneys for Michael Flynn, President Trump's former national security adviser, informed the incoming White House legal counsel during the transition that Flynn might need to register with the government as a foreign agent—a phone call that raised no alarms within Trump's team, despite the unusual circumstance of having a top national security post filled by someone whose work may have benefited a foreign government.

The firm Flynn headed, Flynn Intel Group, was hired last year during the presidential race when Flynn was an adviser to the Trump campaign by the Netherlands-based firm Inovo BV,
which is owned by Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin. Alptekin has close ties to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Although the contract ended after the election, new details about the work Flynn did for Inovo resurrect the controversy over his short tenure as Trump's top national security aide.

The national security adviser is supposed to be an honest broker within the executive branch, pulling together military and diplomatic options for the president so he can decide what policy to pursue. But Flynn's work potentially benefiting Turkey meant he was representing the interests of a country other than the United States at the same time he was advising Trump on foreign policy during the election.
As is often the case with Parker's work, we're already in the conceptual weeds. Consider:

Parker notes that Flynn was hired by a "Netherlands-based firm," not by the Turkish government. (At the time, the firm's owner was said to be Turkish, not Turkish American, as he's described in this morning's Post.)

Parker says that Flynn's work "may have benefited a foreign government," not that it was done on behalf of a foreign government. She says Flynn's work "potentially benefit[ed] Turkey," not that it did benefit Turkey and not that it was done at the direction of Turkey.

But uh-oh! In the same breath, Parker says that Flynn "was representing the interests of a country other than the United States" through his overpaid lobbyist work. That makes it sound like the apparently crazy Trump adviser was working for the Turkish government, or something very much like that.

Already, we were in the weeds; Parker tends to be like this. As time goes on in a matter like this, you'd almost think that major journalists would try to bring more clarity to the discussion.

Pollyanna, please! That isn't the way our "journalism" works when a chase is on.

Parker's basic formulations here were rather muddy. Before long, she added this:
PARKER: On Tuesday, Flynn filed paperwork with the Justice Department identifying himself as a foreign agent who was paid last year to do work that could benefit the Turkish government.
Flynn had been paid to do work "that could benefit the Turkish government?" Do you understand what that means? Frankly, we do not.

Parker tends to be like this. Soon, though, she authored some surprising remarks—remarks which have gone down the memory hole as the chase has continued.

Hay-yo! Parker discussed the law under terms of which Flynn had registered as a "foreign agent." Breaking every rule in the book, she introduced a bit of nuance, even the hint of information:
PARKER: Dan Pickard, a partner at Wiley Rein and an expert in the Foreign Agents Registration Act, under which Flynn registered, said it is unusual but not unheard of for a senior campaign official to also be registered as an agent of a foreign government.

"I've been aware of people who are registered under FARA being involved at relatively senior levels of a campaign,
but in my experience that's more the exception than the rule,'' said Pickard, adding that the legal burden of complying with FARA "is relatively modest.''

FARA was passed in the run-up to World War II as a means of making pro-Germany activists acknowledge whether they were receiving financial support from that country.

For some in Washington, the political appearance of being a paid agent of a foreign government can be more problematic than the actual legal issues, according to others well versed in the law.
Is Parker allowed to do that? She quoted an expert who said it's "not unheard of for a senior campaign official to also be registered as an agent of a foreign government."

It's "more the exception than the rule," the expert unremarkably said. But he's been aware of this in the past!

The expert's comments made this matter sound a bit less nefarious. Meanwhile, though, did you notice what happened there?

In that passage, it suddenly sounds like Flynn has "registered as an agent of a foreign government." But when did Parker ever show that Flynn had done that?

This jumbled work is very typical of our floundering "press corps." For today, let's try to get clear on what a "foreign agent" actually is under terms of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, hereafter known as FARA.

We aren't experts about that act, but we do have access to Google. For that reason, we were able to visit FARA's web site, where we were able to peruse the act's basic provisions.

The basic fact you should know is this. If a person registers as a foreign agent under terms of the FARA, he is not necessarily declaring that he worked for a foreign government. The FARA site starts like this:
FARA SITE: The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) was enacted in 1938. FARA is a disclosure statute that requires persons acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities. Disclosure of the required information facilitates evaluation by the government and the American people of the statements and activities of such persons in light of their function as foreign agents.
You see a reference to "foreign principals," not to foreign governments. But doesn't that mean "foreign governments?"

We're sorry, but no, it doesn't. Here's an official Q-and-A from the FARA site:

The term also includes foreign political parties, a person or organization outside the United States, except U.S. citizens, and any entity organized under the laws of a foreign country or having its principal place of business in a foreign country.
In registering as a "foreign agent," the apparently crazy Flynn wasn't saying that he'd worked for a foreign government. Unless you're exempt under certain provisions, you have to register if you worked for a wide array of foreign entities or persons.

Back in the fall of 2016, Flynn had registered as a lobbyist under terms of the Lobbying Disclosure Act. It seems that he and his lawyers were later convinced that they had to register under the stricter terms of the FARA. Belatedly, they did so on March 7.

At that time, Flynn's lawyer made several murky statements about the technical reasons requiring this registration. One such statement has been quoted at various times, but no one has actually tried to explain the legalities of this matter. Things like that simply aren't done when a chase is on. As Journalists Ken and Barbie once said, "Explanation is hard."

We're making a small tiny point here. In registering as a "foreign agent" under terms of the FARA, Flynn wasn't saying that he had worked "on the payroll of Turkey."

On the other hand, he had associated himself with a wonderfully scary term. As Parker had murkily seemed to say, this can create "the political appearance of being a paid agent of a foreign government." And indeed: at times like this, when a chase is on, the actors who are cast as our "press corps" will have a grand old time with that term. Everyone will gain from this, except the American public.

Several times, we've mentioned the fact that Flynn is apparently crazy, with lots of semi-crazy ideas. We've done so for a reason.

At times like these, the haplessness of our liberal world tends to get exposed. In a wide array of contexts, we don't explore the crazy ideas of our political opponents.

Instead, we look for ways to say that our opponents have committed crimes. Either that, or we run to the courts, begging them to give us the wins we can't achieve on the ground.

In the case of Flynn, the press corps got busy embellishing the facts involved in his registration. "Foreign agent" sounds especially scary, so the phrase gets repeated a lot. The clowns you see on cable TV were soon repeating inaccurate claims, including the wonderful claim that Flynn was "on the Turkish payroll."

At times like this, few attempts are made to develop real facts. Instead, we're handed pleasing partisan novels.

We liberals have little skill at winning political debates. Rather than confront this problem, we tend to pray that The Others will get into legal trouble.

We're thrilled when a GOP candidate body-slams a reporter; it might let us win a campaign! We exult when the criminal figures behind the screen instruct our hapless newspapers to print the claim that Jared Kushner is now a "person of interest." However murky this claim may be, it lets us suggest that he is involved in crimes.

We love love love love love that stuff! We love it because we're lazy and dumb and are thereby born to lose.

To what extent are we inclined to play it this way? Consider:

Yesterday, two "stories" emerged about Kushner.

In an investigation for the New York Times Magazine and ProPublica, Alec MacGillis presented horrific facts about Kushner's life as a giant slumlord. Also, shadowy figures behind a screen directed our newspapers to print a fuzzy claim about an investigation in which Kushner is now said to be a "person of interest."

In the latter case, those shadowy figures were coming close to conducting a smear of Kushner. In the former case, dogged reporting showed that Kushner had engaged in widespread reprehensible conduct.

Which of these topics was being bruited all over "cable news" last night? Dearest darlings, please!

With compliments to the Times editorial board, did you have to ask?

Drum suggests Homer was right all along!

THURSDAY, MAY 25, 2017

Why we can't have nice things:
Friend, do you find yourself thinking that Homer may have right all along?

Do you find yourself thinking that we human are toys of the gods? That the gods stage-manage human events for their own amusement?

We considered this possibility when we read Kevin Drum's tough-talking post about health care. His tough-talking headline said this:

"Health Care Systems Are Expensive. Deal With It."

Drum was talking tough. After some back-of-the-envelope calculations, he said we could maybe have a single-payer health care system, but it wouldn't lower health care costs. In closing, he offered this:

"Short of some kind of legislative miracle, there's really no way around this. Health care is expensive."

So true! Health care really is expensive. So are health care systems!

We lunkheads should shut our traps and deal with this. These familiar facts help prove Drum's tough-talking point:
Per capita spending, health care, 2015
United States: $9451
Germany: $5267
Canada: $4608
Australia: $4420
France: $4407
Japan: $4150
United Kingdom: $4003
Finland: $3984
Italy: $3272
Spain: $3153
South Korea: $2488
As you can see, health care systems are expensive! Rather, our health care system is.

We're listing the standard OECD spending figures for the United States and the world's most comparable nations. We're throwing in miraculous Finland for the obvious reason.

In fact, health care systems aren't expensive; our health care system is! Among comparable nations, only Germany spends even half as much per person. But it was decided long ago:

In this nation, we aren't allowed to discuss this matter. We proles are here to get looted and conned.

The gods were laughing on Olympus when they read that recent post. In this earlier post, Drum staged a bit of self-frogmarch, apologizing for what he did, or failed to do, last summer.

Health care systems are expensive! Was a certain blogger placed on earth as a way to amuse the gods?

Ladies and gentlemen, deal with it! Homer was right all along!

Comey the God had little choice!

THURSDAY, MAY 25, 2017

Also, the Post seems to miss the point:
At times like these, you'll find yourself getting conned in a wide array of ways.

One such way appears in this morning's Washington Post. In a front-page report, the Post describes an apparent fake intelligence report by which James B. Comey—Comey the God—may himself have been conned.

Allegedly, the apparently fake document played a role in Comey's controversial conduct in the Clinton email probe.

Last July, Comey took "the extraordinary step of announcing the findings of the Clinton investigation himself without Justice Department involvement." So the Post correctly notes.

Along the way, the Post cites unnamed figures explaining why he did that—why he pretty much had to do that:
DEMIRJIAN AND BARRETT (5/25/17): Current and former officials have said that Comey relied on the document in making his July decision to announce on his own, without Justice Department involvement, that the investigation was over. That public announcement—in which he criticized Clinton and made extensive comments about the evidence—set in motion a chain of other FBI moves that Democrats now say helped Trump win the presidential election.


Current and former officials have argued that the secret document gave Comey good reason to take the extraordinary step over the summer of announcing the findings of the Clinton investigation himself without Justice Department involvement.

Comey had little choice, these people have said, because he feared that if Lynch announced no charges against Clinton, and then the secret document leaked, the legitimacy of the entire case would be questioned.
Warning! You're looking at part of the ongoing attempt to restore the godlike status of Comey the God.

James B. Comey "had little choice," these unnamed figures have said. Because of what the fake document said, he pretty much had to make the announcement on his own, without consulting with Justice.

Warning! You'll be assaulted with these attempts at restoration in the months to come. Meanwhile, did you notice that the Washington Post seems to have missed the point of last July's flap?

Readers, please! In the Post report, unnamed figures seek to explain why Comey "announc[ed] the findings of the Clinton investigation himself"—why he made "his July decision to announce on his own, without Justice Department involvement, that the investigation was over."

That said, no one complained about the fact that Comey "announced on his own that the investigation was over." People complained about the fact that, after announcing his legal judgment, he went on to make a long oration in which he stated his own highly negative view of Clinton's underlying behavior.

The Post report notes the fact that Comey did that. But we see nothing in the Post report which addresses the reason for that decision.

Why did Comey criticize Clinton in the course of making that announcement? That was the behavior in question—except on the Maddow Show, where Comey's behavior was hailed for two nights by guest host Steve Kornacki, then completely ignored by Maddow.

Why did Comey take that step? We see nothing in the Post report which speaks to that basic question.

In one way, today's report is embarrassing for Comey. The report implies that he got taken by fake intel from the Russkies. Oof.

On the other hand, the report includes the latest attempt to restore the gentleman's standing as an insider Washington god. You're likely to see many more such attempts in the weeks and months ahead.

On the third hand, we'd have to say that the Washington Post has missed the point of last July's dispute. Why did Comey—Comey the God—blast Clinton in that long, irregular oration?

That is where the god misbehaved. No one in the Post report seems to address that conduct.

The god was criticized last July for stating his highly negative views. Did Demirjian, Barrett and their editors understand this point?

FLYNN FACTS: The New York Times slips and slides down a slope!

THURSDAY, MAY 25, 2017

Part 3—Puts Flynn "on the Turkish payroll:"
Just last evening, we were surprised by what we heard at the start of The Eleventh Hour.

Brian Williams, our dapper host, started his first panel discussion by throwing to Glenn Thrush of the New York Times. The fellows shared the type of towel-snapping banter which sends a warning to sensible people.

"Warning," such repartee says. "You may be getting played:"
WILLIAMS (5/24/17): Glenn, we'll start with you. Tell us about what your colleagues have written tonight on Russia, and why it's important, while I take a drink of water.

THRUSH: [Laughs] Well, I think the president needs to take a drink too, Brian.
Basically, that's how Brian's program began.

Williams had had until 11 PM to think up an opening question. Despite the long preparation time, his opening "question" was simply an invitation to talk, accompanied by a wonderfully ironical bit of business.

Thrush chuckled at the star's witty ways, then directed some snark at Donald J. Trump. This is what our upper-end "journalism" starts to look like when a chase is on.

We were less than impressed by that Brianesque first exchange. The last time Brian went down this road, he ended up getting fired and "going away" for a couple of years.

That said, we were actively surprised by what Thrush said next. He spoke of his newspaper's "revelations," then seemed to dream one up:
THRUSH (continuing directly): Look, you know we have just, day after day, had these revelations. Today's revelation is that the Russians discovered the possibility of being able, as you said before, to influence Michael Flynn, who was then an adviser to the campaign, who was also at the same time on the payroll of Turkey and was being paid by RT, Russian television...
Masterfully, Thrush continued from there. Already, though, we were puzzled.

Was Michael Flynn "on the payroll of Turkey" during the 2016 campaign? Also, had the New York Times ever made that assertion?

You're asking excellent questions! Regarding the work of the New York Times, let's take a look at the record. What has the newspaper said?

The New York Times hadn't done much reporting on this matter until this March. At that time, Flynn registered as a foreign agent under terms of the rarely-explained Foreign Agent Registration Act.

"Foreign agent!" It's a wonderfully scary term, though it's also perhaps a bit imprecise. But on the New York Times' front page, Baker and Rosenberg reported such facts as these:
BAKER AND ROSENBERG (3/11/17): Michael T. Flynn, who went from the campaign trail to the White House as President Trump's first national security adviser, filed papers this week acknowledging that he worked as a foreign agent last year representing the interests of the Turkish government in a dispute with the United States.


Mr. Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, registered as a lobbyist last year but did not file papers with the Justice Department registering as a foreign agent, providing a fuller understanding of his role, until Tuesday. While he did not work directly for the Turkish government, the firm that hired him, Inovo, is owned by a Turkish-American businessman with links to leaders in Ankara and asked him to work on an issue important to the government.


On behalf of his firm, the Flynn Intel Group, Mr. Flynn signed a contract on Aug. 9 with Inovo, a Dutch firm owned by Ekim Alptekin, the chairman of the Turkish-American Business Council. Mr. Flynn's firm was to receive $600,000 for 90 days of work.
In that report, Baker and Rosenberg did not assert that Flynn had been "on the payroll of Turkey." Indeed, they explicitly said that Flynn "did not work directly for the Turkish government."

You're right! The word "directly" is doing a lot of work in that sentence. (Baker and Rosenberg never quite explained what that somewhat slippery word meant.)

At any rate, Baker and Rosenberg didn't say that Flynn had been "on the payroll of Turkey." Without using the exact formulation, they said he'd been on the payroll of Inovo BV, a Dutch firm owned by a Turkish-American businessman who had "links to leaders in Ankara."

As far as we know, Ekim Alptekin, the owner of Inovo, isn't Turkish-American. As we noted yesterday, our biggest and laziest, most famous newspapers haven't quite puzzled that out.

But in this report, Flynn was "on the payroll" of a Dutch firm, not "on the payroll of Turkey." Flynn was said to have done lobbying work for that Dutch-based firm.

(That same day, the Washington Post reported that Flynn's firm had been "hired last the Netherlands-based firm Inovo BV, which is owned by Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin...Flynn's firm was paid more than $500,000 by Inovo for public relations and research work." The Post believed that Alptekin was Turkish, not Turkish-American. But they too said that Flynn had been on the payroll of a Dutch-based firm.)

At times like these, when a chase is on, such facts aren't likely to stand. At times like these, reporters for newspapers like the Times may start massaging and shaving such facts, producing the stories they like.

Case in point:

The Times returned to this matter on April 2, one day after April Fools. In these passages, Mark Rosenberg's formulations had perhaps begun to slip and slide:
ROSENBERG (4/2/17): Mr. Flynn has faced fierce criticism for the Moscow speech and for his lobbying efforts for Turkey. But the work paid well, and the disclosure forms showed income of nearly $1.5 million, a sizable amount for a man who left the military less than three years ago.


The payments for lobbying work that Mr. Flynn did for the Turkish government—and did not disclose until March—were handled through the Flynn Intel Group, and are not listed separately on the disclosure forms. Mr. Flynn did not work directly for the Turkish government; the firm that hired him, Inovo, is owned by a Turkish-American businessman with links to leaders in Ankara and asked him to work on an issue important to the government.
In this report, the New York Times has headed down a slipshod slope.

Rosenberg was still willing to note the fact that "Flynn did not work directly for the Turkish government," whatever that was supposed to mean. But before he offered that disclaimer, he referred to Flynn's "lobbying efforts for Turkey," then to "the lobbying work that Mr. Flynn did for the Turkish government."

It had started to sound like Flynn had been "on the Turkish payroll!" Rosenberg hadn't said that in so many words. But he was humming the tune.

The New York Times returned to this topic last week. A prosecutor had issued subpoenas to Flynn, including a subpoena "for records about Ekim Alptekin, a Turkish businessman who is close to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and is chairman of the Turkish-American Business Council."

By now, the Times was saying that Alptekin is Turkish, not Turkish-American. Also, the basic facts had been massaged by the Times within an inch of their life.

Those basic facts had almost gone through a blender. By now, Rosenberg and Mazzetti were truly making it sound like a certain foreign agent had been on the Turkish payroll:
ROSENBERG AND MAZZETTI (5/18/17): Michael T. Flynn told President Trump's transition team weeks before the inauguration that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign, according to two people familiar with the case.


The investigation stems from the work Mr. Flynn did for Inovo BV, a Dutch company owned by Mr. Alptekin, the Turkish businessman. On Aug. 9, Mr. Flynn and the Flynn Intel Group signed a contract with Inovo for $600,000 over 90 days to run an influence campaign aimed at discrediting Fethullah Gulen, an reclusive cleric who lives in Pennsylvania and whom Mr. Erdogan has accused of orchestrating a failed coup in Turkey last summer.

When he was hired by Mr. Alptekin, Mr. Flynn did not register as a foreign agent, as required by law when an American represents the interests of a foreign government. Only in March did he file a retroactive registration with the Justice Department because his lawyer, Robert K. Kelner, said that ''the engagement could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.''
In these latest formulations, Flynn had been "secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign." He wasn't just a foreign agent. By now, he had become a secret agent too!

Inovo BV got mentioned again, but we were then told that Flynn had failed to "register as a foreign agent, as required by law when an American represents the interests of a foreign government." That's what Flynn had apparently done.

A few nights later, a wise-cracking journalist went on TV and made an inaccurate statement. In fairness, you almost can't blame Thrush for saying that Flynn had been "on the payroll of Turkey."

Who knows? Given the things his paper had published, Thrush may even have come to believe what he said!

In truth, nothing the New York Times has reported justifies the pleasing claim that Flynn was "on the payroll of Turkey." That isn't where his checks came from. His checks came from Inovo BV, a Dutch-based lobbying firm.

In truth, no one has ever shown that Flynn was "on the payroll of Turkey." But so what? At times like these, with a major chase on, such pleasing claims will emerge.

No, Petunia! As far as anyone has shown, Michael Flynn wasn't on the payroll of Turkey. He was on the payroll of a Dutch firm owned and operated by a man who is probably Turkish, though our big newspapers are too lazy and incompetent to find out.

Our mighty newspapers have never quite bothered to establish that basic fact. They've been too busy massaging and disappearing facts, the enterprises in which they tend to engage when a chase is on.

Was Flynn doing something "wrong" when he worked for Inovo? Not necessarily, no. He was advancing some unconventional views, but that is normally not a crime, and Flynn evinces many signs of being at least half-nuts.

The key to this conundrum may lie in the scary term, "foreign agent." The term is wonderfully scary, and that makes it potentially useful. It may seem to imply various things which it doesn't imply in the situation under review.

Tomorrow, we'll review the meaning of that term, which has of course gone unexplained by our most glorious newspapers. The reason for that lethargy is simple:

Michael Flynn had become so crazy a few years back that people began rolling their eyes about his unreliable claims. Those claims were referred to as "Flynn facts." There he goes again, his associates were wont to suggest.

We can't judge the various claims which got eye-rolled that way. But at times like this, when a chase is on, our upper-end press corps is strongly inclined to start inventing facts too.

They sand, massage, disappear and invent elementary facts. They fail to explore the most basic distinctions. They make no attempt to clarify even the most basic points.

In the process, they produce their pleasing group stories, the kinds of stories they very much like. They end up saying things like this:

Michael Flynn was on the Turkish payroll.

Pleasing though the claim may be, no one has ever shown that it's true. When you see performers like Thrush clowning with Brian, then going on to make such claims, you are seeing the same old turkeys inventing their own "Flynn facts!"

Your lizard brain will tell you it's great. As always, your lizard is wrong.

Tomorrow: What is a "foreign agent?"