Friday, July 28, 2017

Exultation and Glory

"Republicans Try to Regroup After Health Care Failure; Democrats Exult" reads the headline to Matt Flegenheimer's report in the NYT.

But did Dems exult? The story shares no evidence, no quotes from Democratic leadership indicating exultation. At this point, after taking so many shots against the ACA, you would expect Democratic leaders to feel temporary relief perhaps, but exultation would suggest misplaced overconfidence.

Is this another one of those "balanced" stories? You know, the headline that ignores context, and, when a side does not lose, they win and therefore, they exult or are "gleeful" - another favorite line in mainstream stories.

Does a soldier in a foxhole exult each time a bomb drops nearby, but fails a direct hit?

This particular instance would be harmless enough, but the problem is the extent to which the mainstream political reporters stick so strongly to their expectations for story lines, rather than react accordingly to the evidence when the playing field shifts under their feet.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Puppet Master

One element of the deny, deflect, distract, accuse tactic when employed by Trump is his instinct for the accusation against his opponent to tie back to the original denial that he has done anything wrong. See The Trumpian Way for details.

For example, in denying wrongdoing with his slippery accusation about Obama's place of birth, Trump progressed to an accusation that Hillary Clinton was responsible for the accusation. That accusation served an important role - to replace the frame of whether or not Trump made the accusation with Clinton and whether or not she made the accusation. After that point, no amount of fact checking can remove the frame. At worst, the accusation can leave an open question - maybe it was Trump, but maybe it was Clinton.

Trump has been rather desperately applying his customary tactics in the current Trump/Russia investigations. His current DDDA tactic resorts to accusing HRC of working with the Russians. No surprise there. But during the 2016 campaign, the playing field was a bit different. Though Clinton her campaign accused Russia of meddling and the U.S. intelligence agencies made that finding, the fact of Russian interference had not caught on in the popular imagination as much as it has today. So Trump's on-the-fly reaction during the final debate is telling:

"TRUMP: That was a great pivot off the fact that she wants open borders, OK? How did we get on to Putin?
...[back and forth and other topics]
Now we can talk about Putin. I don't know Putin. He said nice things about me. If we got along well, that would be good. If Russia and the United States got along well and went after ISIS, that would be good.

He has no respect for her. He has no respect for our president. And I'll tell you what: We're in very serious trouble, because we have a country with tremendous numbers of nuclear warheads -- 1,800, by the way -- where they expanded and we didn't, 1,800 nuclear warheads. And she's playing chicken. Look, Putin...

WALLACE: Wait, but...

TRUMP: ... from everything I see, has no respect for this person.

CLINTON: Well, that's because he'd rather have a puppet as president of the United States.

TRUMP: No puppet. No puppet.

CLINTON: And it's pretty clear...

TRUMP: You're the puppet!

CLINTON: It's pretty clear you won't admit...

TRUMP: No, you're the puppet.

CLINTON: ... that the Russians have engaged in cyberattacks against the United States of America, that you encouraged espionage against our people, that you are willing to spout the Putin line, sign up for his wish list, break up NATO, do whatever he wants to do, and that you continue to get help from him, because he has a very clear favorite in this race.

So I think that this is such an unprecedented situation. We've never had a foreign government trying to interfere in our election. We have 17 -- 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyberattacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin and they are designed to influence our election. I find that deeply disturbing.

WALLACE: Secretary Clinton...

CLINTON: And I think it's time you take a stand...

TRUMP: She has no idea whether it's Russia, China, or anybody else.

CLINTON: I am not quoting myself.

TRUMP: She has no idea.

CLINTON: I am quoting 17...

TRUMP: Hillary, you have no idea.

CLINTON: ... 17 intelligence -- do you doubt 17 military and civilian...

TRUMP: And our country has no idea.

CLINTON: ... agencies.

TRUMP: Yeah, I doubt it. I doubt it.

CLINTON: Well, he'd rather believe Vladimir Putin than the military and civilian intelligence professionals who are sworn to protect us. I find that just absolutely...


TRUMP: She doesn't like Putin because Putin has outsmarted her at every step of the way.

WALLACE: Mr. Trump...

TRUMP: Excuse me. Putin has outsmarted her in Syria.

WALLACE: Mr. Trump...


TRUMP: He's outsmarted her every step of the way.

WALLACE: I do get to ask some questions.

TRUMP: Yes, that's fine.

WALLACE: And I would like to ask you this direct question. The top national security officials of this country do believe that Russia has been behind these hacks. Even if you don't know for sure whether they are, do you condemn any interference by Russia in the American election?

TRUMP: By Russia or anybody else.

WALLACE: You condemn their interference?

TRUMP: Of course I condemn. Of course I -- I don't know Putin. I have no idea.

WALLACE: I'm not asking -- I'm asking do you condemn?

TRUMP: I never met Putin. This is not my best friend. But if the United States got along with Russia, wouldn't be so bad.

Let me tell you, Putin has outsmarted her and Obama at every single step of the way. Whether it's Syria, you name it. Missiles. Take a look at the "start up" that they signed. The Russians have said, according to many, many reports, I can't believe they allowed us to do this. They create warheads, and we can't. The Russians can't believe it. She has been outsmarted by Putin.

And all you have to do is look at the Middle East. They've taken over. We've spent $6 trillion. They've taken over the Middle East. She has been outsmarted and outplayed worse than anybody I've ever seen in any government whatsoever.

WALLACE: We're a long way away from immigration, but I'm going to let you finish this topic. You got about 45 seconds.

TRUMP: And she always will be.

CLINTON: I -- I find it ironic that he's raising nuclear weapons. This is a person who has been very cavalier, even casual about the use of nuclear weapons. He's..."

Sure, Trump often uses repetition for effect and, in the debate, provides several examples of areas where "Putin outsmarted Clinton or Clinton+Obama", but if, at the time, Trump knew that Putin was responsible for the hack of the Clinton campaign in 2016 and the distribution of the emails, then the accusation fits perfectly into the frame of blaming the Democrat because she and her campaign were outwitted by Putin every step of the way - not only by being vulnerable to the hack, but by not being able to prove that Putin was also responsible for the distribution of the emails.

Though this analysis is not proof of anything, the instinctive Trump pattern of tying the accusation he makes against Clinton back to the subject of the original denial (No puppet, no puppet) suggests that Trump knew,which, of course, would mean that he and his team were guilty of collusion with Russia on the hack and distribution of Clinton campaign emails in the 2016 election.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Working the Frame

George "Don't Think of an Elephant" Lakoff writes often about the Republican use of framing issues for tactical advantage. He advised the Clinton campaign of this tactic and recommended tactical response, but says that his arguments fell on deaf ears.

We need to pay attention to the way an argument is set forth, whether in response to a question or as advocacy for a position.

Donald Trump, Jr. is innocent of any wrongdoing. Why?  "Democrats are upset that Hillary Clinton lost the election." Notice the deflection together with reframing in terms of that horrible woman. In the preferred case, the reframing is made in terms of the hated black man, Obama, the hated woman, Clinton, or, in the ideal case, Loretta Lynch as a black woman. Susan Rice works for the same reason.

Now, the statement "Democrats are upset that Hillary Clinton lost" could logically be expressed as Democrats are upset that Donald Trump won", but removing Trump from the frame of reference is important to the art of deflection.

And more today as reported by Buzzfeed:
'“Somebody said that her visa or her passport to come into the country was approved by Attorney General Lynch,” Trump said at a press conference in Paris. “Now, maybe that's wrong. I just heard that a little while ago, but a little surprised to hear that. So, she was here because of Lynch."

Almost immediately, a spokesperson for Lynch put out a statement insisting that she had no authority over whether or not the Russian lawyer was allowed to enter the country.

"Lynch, as the former head of the Justice Department, does not have any personal knowledge of Ms. Veselnitskaya's travel,” the statement said."

But those are all details. The point of deflection is to place blame on a prime target.

What does Fox News make of this?

The banner headline and pics on the website right now is:

Russian lawyers entry into US
touches off federal finger pointing

Hmmm. Why is there an older white man in this trio? Oh. Forgot. The vaguely French man who was not a true American hero in Foxworld. Not a patriot like the current true Americans who work vigorously to improve relations with Russia.

But is it even possible for this twisted deflection and accusation to work as a tactic? Sadly, yes. For the true believers, work continues behind the scenes to forge the "set-up" story. The Obama administration and Clinton campaign conspired to make it look like the Trump administration conspired with Russia to tamper with the American election.

Their version of "the best defense is a good offense" uses the tactic "accuse your opponent of doing the terrible things that you are doing,"

Just as the campaign strategy to make Trump palatable to Republican moderates required extreme demonization of HRC in 2016, so the defense strategy to protect Trump and his family in 2017 requires accusations that the Obama administration conspired against them.

We can expect the preposterous convoluted attack on Obama/Clinton and other Democratic leaders of the past to continue during the Trump administration even as the new friendship of the American government and the Russian government flourishes.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Framing the Issue in Fox World

Chris Matthews led with the latest on the Russia probe last night, as did his compatriots at MSNBC, but, per usual, Chris showed his penchant for roundabout framing of the issues. With so much focus on Donald Trump's successive story changes, followed by a "forthcoming" release of the full email exchange after the NYT informed him they were about to release, Matthews felt the need to talk about Chelsea Clinton. Several times on the program, Matthews said that if Chelsea Clinton had done anything like this, the Republicans would be all over the place trying to impeach Hillary Clinton.

Of course, none of this has anything to do with Chelsea Clinton and a pox on Matthews from bringing her name into the frame. So much of the news cycle has been filled with "what's out there", especially in the Trump era. Shame on Matthews for not understanding how this works. He misses two important points.

First, Republicans' most trusted news source Fox is already going full throttle against Hillary Clinton. This serves as a welcome distraction from the truth about the Trumps and casts a spotlight on claims of "double standard".

Second, If Clinton had won, Fox would have joined the Republicans in Congress (with Chaffetz still a member rather than a Fox contributor) working toward impeachment of Clinton with endless "investigations" in the House. If Matthews feels the need to reframe the issue based on an alternate universe that does not exist, why not the one that includes the relentless pursuit by inspector Chaffetz instead of the imaginary universe where Chelsea Clinton, who is not accused of wrongdoing in the campaign, does something wrong in the campaign.

The larger point is that we need to address the world in which we live instead of constantly looking for  an alternate universe that does not exist. The issue of the Trump's collusion with Russia is not just a campaign issue. The big question is whether U.S. domestic and foreign policy is now subject to the approval of the Russian dictator.

Meanwhile, Chris Matthews, rest assured that in the alternate reality of Fox News, both Chelsea Clinton, and her mother, are indeed subject to ongoing scrutiny.

The top story on Fox home page is "'Disgraceful!' Trump unloads on Hillary, Media Over Collusion Double Standard' Amid Reports Dems also got foreign help."  Always innocent of any wrongdoing and if caught in a lie, well, the Democrats are just as guilty every time. Everybody does it.

On some level, you have to admire the tenacity even while being appalled by the world where Trump is innocent no matter what happens because, well, he is "Our President".

As I was writing this, the Chelsea Clinton story in the prominent "Features and Faces" dropped off the home page- "Writer claims Chelsea Clinton stole book idea".

In Fox world, the war on prominent Democrats is constant, including any person who by their actions gives them aid and comfort (think Comey).

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Shouts of "Stay Weak Susan!"

Back home in Maine over the July 4th holiday, Susan Collins was not hearing any shouts of "Stay Weak Susan!", but she should have been. Instead, the chant was "Stay Strong Susan!". Really? How exactly does it take guts to vote against the Senate health care bill that is so unpopular and especially unpopular in Maine?
Source: nymag

Many Mainers understand they have much to lose with the proposed legislation. But voting against the bill achieves nothing if the legislation passes because Collins and Paul vote no and 50 Republicans vote yes while Pence breaks the tie. That would mean that Collins succeeded in jockeying for position for one of the two available "No" vote spots and maintain the optics of "doing everything she could" on behalf of her constituents. But that is only optics, not reality. Collins could do more.

Collins could change parties. She could join the Democratic Party as a true conservative. This would send a loud message to Mitch McConnell that moderate Republicans are not going to put up with all of his shenanigans and he would have to reassess the metrics he currently uses to craft legislation. The Trump administration is incredibly extreme in every respect. Collins could use this moment in history to send a clear message that with Trump as the head of the Republican Party, she can no longer be a "Republican", but she is still conservative and will be a conservative Democrat. Switching party allegiance would give her leverage with the Democrats if they regain the Senate anytime soon. Granted, such a tactic might not have much chance if no moderates join her and Democrats continue to struggle at the polls.

As a moderate, willing to go along to get along, Collins would never do anything like joining the Democratic party.  But she could also change parties by becoming an Independent in the Senate for the same reasons. Challenge McConnell's leadership. Challenge Trump's

New England has a tradition of moderate Senators who change parties for a variety of reasons. Arguably switching parties in New England is more palatable to the constituents than in other parts of the country where it may be unthinkable, like Ohio. And certainly Mainers like to think of themselves as independents.

Collins need look no further than fellow Maine Senator Angus King(I) who caucuses with the Democrats. King has explained that he caucuses with the Democrats because Maine already has a Republican Senator and this gives Maine the best chance to have their interests represented. I am not sure I believe that is the reason, but it may be a reason.

Joe Lieberman comes to mind as someone who traveled in the opposite direction, from (D) to (I), technically Independent-Democrat) along a convoluted path that had him still caucusing with the Democrats, but operating always with the threat to go over to the Republicans at any moment. Anyone who watched the Vice Presidential debate in 2000 between Cheney and Lieberman could be forgiven for wondering if they were running against each other or on the same ticket.

The Jim Jeffords switch in 2001 from Republican to an Independent who caucused with Democrats provides one model of a successful switch. The Jeffords switch shifted the balance of the Senate. It works better the closer the Senate is to 50-50. With the VP a Republican, three Senators would need to cross party lines.

And yes, any such action by Collins is incredibly unlikely. She showed her true colors a year ago by maintaining the optics of reasonableness - as a Republican willing to meet with Merrick Garland following his appointment to the Supreme Court, while doing nothing within her power to change how the Senate operates.

So, instead of "Stay Strong Susan!", but being passive,  the chant should be "Become Powerful Susan!".  "Make a difference: while you still can.

Collins is expected to run for Governor of Maine in 2018. The current governor is very much like Trump. Collins would be leaving the Senate to save her state, which is laudable, but why not think big? Save your country first, or at least move your country in a better direction.

As times become more and more extreme, continuing to function as a moderate eventually turns you into a radical. If you refuse to consider all tools at disposal, others will be happy to employ all tools at their disposal to take advantage of that weakness.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Counting Lies

As a follow-up to What's Wrong With Calling Trump a Liar and posts about the problems with fact checking( here and here) , let's review the NYT Graphic in the Opinion category counting Trump's Lies.

What is the purpose exactly of this exercise? Many of us, likely a majority, already believe that Trump lies endless without inhibition. A lie count does not add value in support of that belief based on objective experience. Now, maybe if Trump suddenly stopped lying and started telling the truth all the time. Not sure how that would work at this point because, well, telling the truth would mean he would have to admit to prior lies and, if committed to full disclosure, would need to explain why he lied so much. No, not gonna happen.

Is the lie count intended to sway the Trump faithful? In case they missed it? Really? Of course not. If they did not believe he lies all the time, providing a lie count will not change any minds.

Maybe the "newspaper of record" believes that the lie count is necessary as public record. An objective record would survive as historical artifact of the Liar in Chief. But no. A public record would require an objective count of lies and NYT admits that they consider the lie count to be opinion, not news reporting.

So the intent is not clear.

I put the lie count in the category of fact checking. A tool, but one which does not tackle the core issues.

The lie count is almost a meta-factchecking or a fact checking squared.

Trump is a liar, maybe a pathological liar. Or at least a serial liar. That's a serious charge. Let's fact check that. So fact check each statement he has made since becoming president, whether or not the statement was significant and isolate the untruthful statements, then collect them in one place.
Source: nytco

But context matters too. David Leonhardt, in The Trump Lies Project: Next Steps, asking readers for advice on where to take this project, notes that:

"As for the project’s next stage: Some of the president’s defenders have argued on social media that his penchant for lying is no different than other recent presidents. We are skeptical of that notion, but we’re also open to evidence."

So, despite the overwhelming evidence of the current U.S. president representing an extreme case of behavior that many if not a majority of Americans find dangerous and much of it reprehensible, we should fact check his defenders by making comparisons with other recent presidents - as if the individuals raising that concern are really going to be swayed by the evidence suggested by a lie count.

Leonhardt's next reaction illustrates the problem:

"So if you can recall falsehoods that Presidents Barack Obama or George W. Bush told, send us an email with them. Documentation is ideal, but not necessary. (No need to email us about Obama telling people they could keep their health insurance or Bush claiming that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction; we’re aware of those claims.)"

The idea is that we need to go back in time according to this way of looking at the world. Yes, this is the fair and balanced approach. He said/she said journalism at the extreme. Pretend you have no prior knowledge or understanding. The only way to understand Trump is to look at him in the context of George Bush and Barack Obama, compile a list of lies without context. Are we supposed to count up the lies and compare totals?

If we need to relitigate the Bush and Obama administrations to start understanding Trump we are in big trouble.

Actually, when it comes to the Trump Lie Count, I would say it makes sense to leave it in the Opinion section where it resides and for those who disagree or want to count up what they claim are Obama lies (not expecting these folks to count up Bush lies) and leave it at that.

For the Trump lies, a better next step would be to put these in context - categorize the lies, don't count them. And, instead of checking all his public statements, focus on those that help tell an accurate story - what is he up to? Is he out of his mind? Suppose he is demented. Does counting statements by Obama or Bush that fall short on truthfulness help us decide if Trump is demented? Would it prove he is not in the pocket of Russia? Or that he is? No, of course not. Many of the Trump statements fall into the category of narcissistic personality disorder. Some of those statements are outright lies, but many might be rejected by Leonhardt's lie-counting machine. Let's check that.

Or let's go back to Trump's great defender, Vice President Pence, who spent the better part of last year's VP debate claiming that none of Trump's statements were lies. Maybe he can explain what he meant by that, because he did not adequately explain his reasoning in that debate.

Facts without context are not useful. Counting lies misses the point. And, not to belabor this point too much, but to take it from another angle, some of Trump's statements during the campaign that were called out by mainstream media as lies were not necessarily, in my opinion, definitive lies.