by John Holbo on June 20, 2018

Well, I suppose we can take ‘Tender Age’ Jail as a test of my Epistemic Sunk Costs hypothesis.

For example, here’s Ben Shapiro.

“We’ve heard that the Trump administration has heartlessly sought to rip toddlers from the arms of their weeping mothers in order to punish illegal-immigrant parents who are merely seeking asylum. But the truth is more complex …”

Not that it isn’t true, mind you. But there’s … more to it. (For example, toddler jail is a great way to trigger the libs. I’m triggered. They got me.) Something-something. Ah!

“In other words, this isn’t a Trumpian attempt to dump kids in hellholes. It’s a longtime problem that has yet to be solved.”

What happened to complexity? Why can’t it be both?




John Holbo 06.20.18 at 4:14 am

I think Republicans are working their way around to a semi-excuse. Concentration camps? The guy just doesn’t have the attention span to call them that.


J-D 06.20.18 at 9:30 am

The only ones who lose out are the American people.

I can’t help feeling that somewhere in this situation there’s another group of people losing out. Maybe even people mentioned in Ben Shapiro’s article? If we all put our minds to it, perhaps somebody will be able to spot the omission. Maybe even Ben Shapiro, though I wouldn’t want to have to count on it.


Asteele 06.20.18 at 10:04 am

He’s a hack. They are not illegal immigratints because seeking asylum is legal. There maybe guilty of entering US jurisdiction illegally but that’s not the same thing.


Lee A. Arnold 06.20.18 at 10:59 am

American Academy of Pediatrics President Dr. Colleen Kraft @AAPPres says it is child abuse. Separation from mother even for a short period of time causes toxic stress, brain underdevelopment and lifelong trauma. Reporter @elisefoley reported that lawmakers encountered two 1-year-olds in child detention facilities who have been separated from their families for over a month. Ex-head of ICE told a reporter it’s likely that a couple of hundred of these children will never find their parents again, just lost in the system. Kirstjen Nielsen should ask what good can come of doing things this way when it destroys her soul.


Lee A. Arnold 06.20.18 at 11:04 am

As with many youngsters, Shapiro begins in media res without knowing much history. For many years the Democratic Party has offered the Republicans various legislative packages with enhanced border security (including even more fencing) in return for a path to legal status for the illegals already here — a compromise the GOP has stoutly obstructed for its own electoral purposes. Now that the ball is in the GOP court, suddenly the press and the Democrats are to blame? In the midst his boilerplate press-bashing & Democratic-bashing, Shapiro lets out a nugget of truth: “Republicans are best off doing nothing, since [if they do] they’ll earn… the undying enmity of many in their base…”


politicalfootball 06.20.18 at 1:25 pm

I’m onboard with the Epistemic Sunk Costs hypothesis, but I think Shapiro just likes Trump. Shapiro isn’t rationalizing to defend a policy he would otherwise oppose. He is lying to misrepresent a policy that he supports:

Yes, Trump is enforcing the laws against crossing the border illegally more harshly than the Obama administration did. But he didn’t create the separation policy.

Shapiro knows this isn’t true. At most, he is engaged in O’Brien-style doublethink.


JanieM 06.20.18 at 2:13 pm

suddenly the press and the Democrats are to blame?

Of course the Democrats are to blame. What’s worse is that the next phase is going to be (actually already is) President Clickbait and the Congressional GOP offering to stop the policy in return for something they couldn’t get otherwise, and then blaming the Democrats some more. Ad nauseam, and ad other things as well.

It appears to be Clickbait’s lifelong MO, why stop now?

Also, Ben Shapiro can do complexity just fine when it involves layers of dishonesty, as in “We’ve heard that the Trump administration has heartlessly sought to rip toddlers from the arms of their weeping mothers.”

“We’ve heard”? Like, we’re not sure it’s happening…?

“…has heartlessly sought…”? Like he’s trying to do it but we’re not sure if he succeeded? And in fact, the very verb form (“has sought” rather than “has been seeking”) implying that maybe it’s not ongoing, either the seeking or the actual policy?



Glen Tomkins 06.20.18 at 2:17 pm

I would go with the too big to fail variant of the sunk costs idea.

Shapiro supports his side, the Rs, the conservative movement, etc., so simply can’t have a president who is on his side fail. Some random Senator or governor, even if they are among the leadership (such as it is), can be thrown overboard if they become too mush of an embarrassment to the cause. Media figures are more actually such leadership as their side has, so they are at least part way to too big to fail, but still are expendable. You don’t want to admit that anyone on your side did wrong because that involves the admission that the other side is right about something, but, hey, if the calculus says the damage from continuing to defend some conservative exceeds that of making him or her walk the plank, then it’s the old heave-ho for them. You pipe them overboard with some variation of the old standby, “conservatism can’t fail, it can only be failed.”.

You just can’t do this with the president. He’s too big to fail. We’ve let our political system become too president-centric, put all our eggs in that one basket.

It is even possible that a conservative might have thought it preferable to sabotage Trump when he was just their candidate, because, expensive as it is to forego your side’s shot a the presidency for four years, a failed presidential candidate soon fades from public memory. They become very small and shriveled figures the second the other guy gets to 270 EC votes. Not at all too big to fail. This is so because in their diminution, all links and ties to the wider organism of their party and movement also shrivel in public memory. Former supporters, even enthusiastic supporters, now enhance their reputation for sagacity by explaining how they saw the failure before everyone else. Oh, they soldiered on supporting the idiot, for the cause, but they knew the effort was doomed.

Trump drove a stake through the heart of that way out for them when the idiot went and won. Maybe the Congressional Rs could have gotten rid of him on that second day of the Congress, when they opened the EC tallies from the states. They could have just stolen it from him. That was their last chance. Since then, because they didn’t take that last chance or any of the chances before that to get rid of him, they have had to speak and act as if Trump knows what he’s doing. They can’t get rid of him now, however much the power of impeachment or the 25th gives them both the power and duty to do that, because they have let him assimilate them. The whole structure topples if they topple him. He’s too big to fail.

Sunk epistemic costs is the way you might phrase this if you’re looking at just the purely intellectual aspect of it, though Lord knows you should put “intellectual” in scare quotes when talking about these people. But sure, whether it’s BS or rationalization or spin, whatever you call it, it is the product of intellectual activity so you can talk about it as such, developing a sort of intellectual pathology. You’re dissecting Abby, Abby Normal, not Max Delbrueck, scientist and saint, as you might prefer to work with, but you take whatever materia medica that fate makes available in these degraded times.

But these people, of course, aren’t driven by intellect, they just use it to spin and rationalize and BS, because people demand at least the appearance that the lumbering hulk of their movement have a functioning brain. You miss what drives them if you analyze this in terms of their verbal output, so I prefer too big to fail.

The other reason I prefer to characterize this as too big to fail rather than sunk epistemic costs, is that it is driving and predictably will drive our side’s reaction to Trump every bit as much as it s hurtling the Rs to the brink. We haven’t sunk any epistemic investment into Trump or Trumpism. The opposite if anything. If you just look at this in terms of what our side is saying, right now, maybe the sunk epistemic costs thing can explain that. We’re comparing them to Nazis. Huzzah! Boo for their team and yay for ours!

But our politicians are absolutely not willing to topple what has to topple to bring Trump and ICE down. He’s the president. They “secure our borders”, and boy is that piece of spin BS way too big for our side to let topple easily. How do you go from saying that Trump and ICE are acting like the Fourth Reich has arrived, to anything but getting rid of both of them?

If our side’s politicos, the D Congressional leadership, wanted to actually do something right now, they would issue a simple statement that our side feels that the current policy is illegal, and that if we are returned to power, there will be consequences, up to and including legal consequences, for both the people who ordered the policy and the people who carried it out. Every day they fail to do this assimilates even them to the normalcy of the current policy as it is being enforced at the border. Too big to fail will encompass the Ds unless they decide rather quickly that Trump and ICE and the Rs, are not too big to fail, even if their fall brings down the presidency with it. It may already be too late.


bob mcmanus 06.20.18 at 2:34 pm

The only ones who lose out are the American people.

There is no longer any “American people,” and although certainly many people are suffering, there are also many who are materially benefiting and many deriving enjoyment from this particular spectacle. And not necessarily divided so cleanly and easily, the youngsters in the Mexican Restaurant had some fun, and Democrats think this will help get some nice jobs in November.


bob mcmanus 06.20.18 at 2:47 pm

Sorry, Trump, Sessions, and child broilers, allowed to happen and continue are pushing me toward peak misanthropy.

Bodies in motion are very powerful, and those better able to handle the types next to them in the linedance should head to South Texas and perform in the show.


Ben 06.20.18 at 3:18 pm

Seems like more of a gish gallop thing, spraying enough verbiage like shit out a duck’s ass to cover up the illogic. F’rinstance:

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that even accompanied immigrant minors must be released from custody within 20 days. That means that if their parents do not arrive at a point of entry to claim asylum, and instead violate the law by crossing the border illegally, they will be arrested — and their children must then be separated from them by the working of the law. The only possible solution, without a change to the law itself, would involve releasing illegal-immigrant parents along with their children into the general population.

In three sentences we have: undistributed middle (families arriving even at port of entries are being split up), assuming a predicate (20 day limit for holding minors =/= they must be separated from their families), assuming the conclusion (lots of policy solutions exist that don’t involve ‘releasing into general population’)

Also note the slippage from ‘asylum seekers’ to ‘illegal immigrants’, which is deliberate as accepting asylum is necessary under US treaty obligations, but putting them into the bucket of ‘illegal immigration’ allows asylum claims to go unrecognized


Whirrlaway 06.20.18 at 3:25 pm

Not to forget we are already not doing an adequate job of caring for internally displaced children removed from parental care for abuse and neglect, what with present austerity. If HHS knows how to find quantities of well-trained clinicians who know how meet kids’ needs … they should share. But they don’t.


Jim Harrison 06.20.18 at 4:03 pm

If you favor authoritarian politics, you end up defining ruthlessness as a virtue. “Hard things must be done.” You may claim that you do what you do regretfully, but “Womp! Womp!” is an expression of joy.


TM 06.20.18 at 4:21 pm

Why can’t we just say that people who support Nazi policies are Nazis? Have you totally given up on calling things what they are? American Nazis are creating concentration camps for brown skinned toddlers.


Whirrlaway 06.20.18 at 6:15 pm

False dichotomies are doing a lot of business these days. It’s a tragic flaw of “Rule of Law”.


john c. halasz 06.21.18 at 12:06 am

It’s amazing how many liberals have had their consciousness-raising experience with Trump. Meanwhile as they wax self-righteously sentimental over the trauma of some hundreds of immigrant children, they largely ignore the 8-18 million threatened with starvation in Yemen, according to the U.N., another policy begun under Obama and only just intensified by Trump.

No, this is not what-about-ism; it’s about proportionality as a basic principle and attending to root causes, rather than just manipulated media spectacle.


Omega Centauri 06.21.18 at 2:53 am

Jim @13 is onto the motivation. Its all about demonstrating just how tough and mean Trump can be. Thats what his supporters wanted, they mistake brutal bullying for strength, and worship at the alter of strength.

And his supporters have swallowed two or more decades of anti-immigrant propaganda. They are primed to think all immigrants are dirty, disease-ridden rapists, and you just can’t be brutal enough to them. So Trump is simply channeling the result of pre-programmed fear and disgust, as part of his reality-presidency. Its all about the optics, the kids are just collateral damage.


nastywoman 06.21.18 at 3:09 am

“In other words, this isn’t a Trumpian attempt to dump kids in hellholes. It’s a longtime problem that has yet to be solved.”

– or in other words – as in other words the F…faces (plural) have lost this one -(in their words) – and we are now – thanks god at a stage where lots and lots of Americans cry ”shame” – at them – things are really starting to look – UP!!


J-D 06.21.18 at 5:17 am

Jim Harrison

It is important to notice that the cult of power tends to be mixed up with a love of cruelty and wickedness for their own sakes. A tyrant is all the more admired if he happens to be a bloodstained crook as well, and ‘the end justifies the means’ often becomes, in effect, ‘the means justify themselves provided they are dirty enough’.

George Orwell, ‘Raffles and Miss Blandish’


Jean Camp 06.21.18 at 5:29 am

Not only is it what-aboutism it a strange inability to copy and paste a url.

This is how to paste a url:

And the entire thread is wretched both-sides and what-aboutism that brought Trump to the White House. John Halasz stop supporting the Nazi’s because other people are flawed. This is a new policy (described well here ) and it is toxic.

Here is an example of a Democratic response:


politicalfootball 06.21.18 at 1:55 pm

No, this is not what-about-ism;

This answers one of my ongoing questions: To what degree are people like you just not very smart, and to what degree are you consciously lying. Score one for conscious lying.

You are smart enough to grasp the obvious objection, and you figured you could pre-empt it just by lying. Very Trumpian.

If the Yemen situation could be helped by ignoring Trump’s separation policy, then how did the Yemen situation arise in the first place, when the separation policy didn’t even exist?

The point of what-aboutism, as you and everybody else knows, is that we can use it to ignore every problem that isn’t the worst problem. Lousy healthcare in the US? Police shooting fleeing suspects? Sexual harassment? Erosion of democratic norms? Breakdown of international alliances?

What about Yemen?


Wild Cat 06.21.18 at 6:05 pm

Can you ask a clothed Yves Smith why Obama hasn’t taken away my naked company insurance away?
It was one of her major threats if the ACA passed.


phenomenal cat 06.22.18 at 4:52 am

“Score one for conscious lying.”

This is not particularly strong analysis. But supposing it were accurate, I’ll take a conscious liar over an unconscious liar any day of the week.
Epistemic Sunk Costs indeed.


john c. halasz 06.23.18 at 6:52 am


Evidently, one of the “norms” that Trump has eviscerated is Godwin’s law. I’m not only a Trump supporter, but pro-Nazi! According the your feeble inferential powers. Based on a deduction from crude binary logic, which is immediately to be identified with a procrustean electoral system. When the point I was actually making is that there is some considerable continuity between Obama’s policies (or putatively HRC’s) and Trump’s, with the latter only being an intensification of the same with the mask of deniability ripped off.

The case of Yemen, which is dire, is an illustration of such distractedness. Since the Saudi/UAE assault on that nation and its people fully depends on U.S. military support, including a naval blockade of desperately needed food and supplies, which began under Obama, (when it never should have begun in the first place), and has only intensified under Trump, who has cozied up to Prince MSB and Netanyahu in ways that Obama was just reluctant to acknowledge. The current attack on the port of Hodeidah amounts to a deliberate starvation strategy since the Zaidis, who have nothing to do with the Iranians anyway, can never be beaten militarily on their own ground. (The Ottomans tried for 2 centuries only to have been repeatedly chewed to bits before giving up the attempt). If successful, it could possibly be the greatest atrocity since WW2, (among many others) and it would be a universally acknowledged international war crime, (cf. WW2 Eastern front). And yet other than a few peeps from a few congresscritters and minimal mentions in the MSM, nothing is done about it. (The latest news is that the U.N. hopes to negotiate a cease-fire, but we’ve heard that sort of thing before). So yes, proportionality with respect to the focus of attention and concern (or the determined lack thereof) does apply.

But if that’s too far afield for you, so that you might suspect an irrelevant distraction from the issues of urgent concern, let’s consider the history of Meso-America and the large continuities of U.S. involvement there. Military interventions and coups,- (the last coup being in Honduras under Obama, after which there were several high profile assassinations of environmental and social activists),- persistent support for violently repressive reactionary regimes, lop-sided FTAs, -(NAFTA stripped away subsidies for indigenous subsistence corn farmers while maintaining subsidies for U.S. corporate agriculture and since 1981 when Paul Volcker triggered the 3rd world debt crisis in 1981, the average growth rate for Mexico has been .6% and poverty has risen from 40% to 75%),- and a “war on drugs” that has greatly magnified endemic already endemic violence and corruption. As I said. attending to root causes.

Wittgenstein made a distinction between symptoms and criteria. Of course, he was dealing with semantic and epistemic issues of philosophic import. But I think it can be adapted to politics, since it’s already just a medical metaphor: syndromes, “root causes”, and symptoms. The supposed political issues of the day, to the extent that they aren’t just selectively confabulated by established media and its manipulators or outright fraudulent, are often hysterical displacements that distract from underlying syndromes. To take the NPR/BBC view of the world, i.e the propaganda of the corporate state, at immediate “face value” is self-complacently and willingly to be duped and duping, often for just petty partisan gain. Of course, it takes a lot of effort to escape from that media bubble and seek out some reasonable account of actual facts, with source criticism, reading against the grain, and comparative analysis, which time commitments don’t ordinarily allow, which is what such media bombardment counts on. But to simply accept in positivist fashion these manufactured appearances, without any application and effort at worldly and historical understanding is to actively collaborate in the “intended” perpetuation of the status quo and to substitute the merely palliative ad hoc treatment of symptoms, (in this case the temporary separation anxiety of some several hundred children), for addressing the syndromes that have delivered up such “results”, the “endemic” sufferings of hundreds of thousands, parents and children obviously included. No single individual, however observant, can do much to change the status quo. But resisting the temptations of conformist bad faith is at least a start. On the other hand, remaining fixated on the immediate present just perpetuates its evanescent evasions. Thermodynamics dictates that the arrow of time always points forward, so that the present moment will always be “transcended” by the next future moment. So much for the illusion of progress.

(Incidentally, I think it’s just barely possible that Melania’s fashion faux pas might have been dead-pan irony. Who knows what the woman actually thinks?)


Wild Cat 06.25.18 at 12:25 am

24. Answer my question:

Why do I still have health care provided by my company, despite Yves Smith’s warnings that a year after the ACA passed, corporations would eliminate health care for their workers?

You avoided it in your pathetic rant.

I know nothing about you or your beliefs.


Ikonoclast 06.25.18 at 1:20 am

john c. halasz,

Philosophically, I take your points. The USA, as a nation, has a set of pathological syndromes or a systemic pathology; an illness and impending failure of the whole system, morally and possibly even socioeconomically. The USA is not the only nation in this situation but we are talking of the USA in the present case.

However, we should not assume that people protesting about the Mexican immigrant children issue cannot walk and chew gum at the same time. One can be against the bad treatment of Mexican immigrant children and against US actions re Yemen and against Obama and HRC as failed liberals and finally against a system (US capitalism) which renders all politicians as servants and tools of elite plutocratic and corporate capital.

However, for the average person, changing the whole world or even changing the USA all at once is hard . That’s an understatement of course. Changing the situation of a sub-group of badly treated people Mexican immigrant children appears as more possible and indeed progress has been made on that issue.

If a revolution against against elite plutocratic and corporate wealth and power is ever to gain momentum it will occur from many smaller and local campaigns naturally linking up over time and networking up to a size and coherence where such grassroots or common people force can make a difference.

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