Dear Tucker: About NATO and Montenegro…

Tucker Carlson created quite a stir on show on his Wednesday night show last week. He criticized the North Atlantic Treaty Organization welcoming Montenegro into the fold, and criticized the mutual defense pledge that would have America defend Montenegro in the event they are invaded by Russia.

American President Donald Trump in an interview with Carlson talked about potentially-aggressive Montenegrans creating World War III. Tucker asked “Why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack?”

Now, at least Carlson knows that Article V (the mutual defense provision of NATO) has only been invoked once, and that was after the United States was attacked. I am not sure Trump knows that.

Why does that matter? Because the notion that the tiny nation of Montenegro is going to trigger Article V (and a potentially world-destroying war) is ludicrous. But the threat that we might respond to such aggression against them is what has kept the peace in Europe since the end of World War II.

The Soviet Union never invaded a NATO country during the Cold War, because they knew the probability was high that the United States would respond. Of course the Soviet Union is no more, but Russia’s territorial ambitions have not changed. Those Eastern-European countries that were Soviet satellites in the Cold War are countries that Russia still sees as their territory. Russia has menaced or threatened economically into subservience many of the former Soviet republics.

And if you don’t think NATO can still deter Russia, consider the case of Ukraine and of pre-NATO Montenegro. In Ukraine in the previous decade, agents connected to Russia’s spy services poisoned a presidential candidate that was viewed as anti-Russia. In this decade, encouraged by the fecklessness of the President Obama’s administration, Russia annexed Crimea and fomented a pro-Russian revolution in eastern Ukraine. When Montenegro started to take steps towards joining NATO and possibly the European Union, Russian agents tried to assassinate the country’s prime minister.

Now, would any of that occur if Ukraine or Montenegro were members of NATO? Has anything like that happened in Poland, for instance? Or Bulgaria? Or Romania? Or any former Warsaw Pact member that’s now in NATO? No.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sees a greater Russia, one more conforming with the country’s peak in the days of the czars. So forget Montenegro; if Latvia, Lithuania, or Estonia get attacked, all of us had better hope the USA and the other members of NATO are ready to defend them. If you don’t stop Russia in those countries, or in Ukraine, then you won’t be able to stop them in Belarus, Moldova, or Poland. It is staggering to imagine the blood and treasure the USA would have to invest to stop Russia from taking over Eastern Europe.

So, yes Tucker Carlson, if Montenegro is attacked, we had better stand ready to defend them, even if it means sending your son over there. If you don’t do it, then he will end up in Europe defending our allies anyway, along with hundreds of thousands of American troops in a war. And that war will probably see the use of nuclear weapons. I’d rather not find out. Would you?

Trump, 2018, and Sessions

Fresh off a victory in the tax reform fight, President Donald Trump has a rare precious commodity in hand. Momentum. After a slow start for his administration, he can use that momentum to deal with three big issues looming in 2018. Success on two of the three will make 2018 very good for him, and very good for Republicans in November. Let’s take a look at these three: a deal for the DACA (Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals) kids, a large infrastructure bill and potential repeal of Obamacare.

DACA


President Trump put a clock on DACA issues last year and told Congress to put together a solution so that kids affected can stay here. The president indicated that he would like to see the kids stay in the US, so there is the basis for a good deal that can make both sides happy. And if Democrats turn down a good deal that keeps DACA kids and young adults here for the sake of “La Resistance”, they will have constituencies that will be very angry with them in a year where enthusiasm is going to be critical to victory in the mid-term elections.

The key will be the border-security end of the deal. Neither the President nor the Republicans can make a deal with no certainties on border-security measures in return for something that keeps the DACA kids here. Illegal immigration was the central issue that propelled Trump to victory, and betraying his core support on that is electoral suicide. Similarly, Congressional Republicans who already are facing unpopularity in their own party will only further stoke anti-establishment feeling if they completely cave on this issue.

The “Big Beautiful Wall” Trump campaigned on is a potentially major bargaining chip. There are already laws on the books for a border fence; all that is needed is money to finish it. If the President uses that chip, he could ask for more border patrol and national guard on the border, along with more money for immigration enforcement measures like E-Verify. Border security is a lot more than a wall. If the President is canny he can use the wall to get the border measures most Republicans want, avoid a blanket amnesty, and perhaps even set the table for reforming the rest of the immigration system next year.

Infrastructure

It is this issue where Trump and the GOP can box in Democrats the most. “La Resistance” will demand no cooperation with them, but rarely if ever can Congress resist a potential orgy of spending and pork-barrel projects that a bill like this one can bring. I’d like to see Trump focus as much on the electrical grid as on roads and bridges. The president and the Congressional Republicans must moderate the impulse to overspend and demand that the money be tightly focused on crumbling roads and bridges that need the most urgent repair/updates. A successful bipartisan bill here also might go a long way to reducing the chasm between Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C., and that could help on the final big issue of 2018.

Obamacare Repeal

In the tax reform bill the individual mandate tax (fee/fine/etc.) was repealed. So the system that the mandate was at the heart of is collapsing (and contrary to what Democrats say, this was true in 2015 and 2016 before Trump ever got elected). Now, the messaging on this was botched in the rush to try and repeal this bill. So this time let’s get it right.

Let’s have a Congressional hearing where all the people who got thrown off their insurance and were hurt badly or even lost loved ones because of Obamacare have their say. There are thousands if not millions, who have horror stories about that and how inadequate the insurance they purchased on the exchange turned out to be. Remind Democrats that what they did was wrong, and that the system will collapse without action.

Perhaps then they will be willing to negotiate, and a lasting reform can be made law. Whatever the GOP decides to do, getting rid of insurance mandates that drive up prices and force people to pay for things they don’t want or never use ought to be the central of any reform. Also, a good proposal could include allowing insurance to be purchased across state lines and allowing people to pool their resources (families in a neighborhood, churches, whoever) to get cheaper insurance.

Should Jeff Sessions stay or go?

In the last week I’ve seen a growing call for Jeff Sessions to resign as Attorney General. And not from the left, but from conservatives that range from friends of mine on Facebook to former Congressman Jason Chaiffetz and Mark Thiessen. Some are angry with Sessions that he recused himself. Some are angry that his Department of Justice has been slow to open up investigations on things like the Clinton Foundation, Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, and Fusion GPS. Others are angry about his decision to rescind the rule that allowed states to work there will on marijuana legalization.


Let me take those in reverse order. Sessions’ marijuana decision is a disgrace in my view, but well within his purview. Now, I believe in federalism as much as anyone, and if you want an object lesson in why it’s necessary and vital for nearly all issues (take note Democrats) it’s this one. Marijuana is not nearly as dangerous for a person to use as the hard drugs like cocaine, heroin, ecstasy nor is it a drug causing as much crime and death as opioids like Oxycontin.

It should not be the federal government’s business what states decide to do with regards to marijuana. If certain people in Congress can calm their outrage long enough, they can actually do their job and prevent Sessions from carrying this out. In fact there is a bill already, (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/1227/cosponsors?pageSort=alpha) so Congress can get off its duff and send this to the President’s desk. Perhaps they and others can convince him to sign it.

The next is the lack of fervor from DOJ in investigating the things I mentioned above. But if you want an example of Sessions’ integrity (and a contrast to the staggering lack of integrity of the previous two Attorneys General), this shows that. Just because Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch weaponized DOJ to help President Barack Obama does not mean that is the right or proper thing to do. The federal government can’t become an instrument of revenge or this Republic will fall. And a lot of the investigating of these matters can and should be done by Congress.


Now to the recusal. I am not going to belabor the point about Sessions’ integrity or the fact that it’s not the AG’s job to protect the President (again imitating the previous administration is not a good idea here). And yes, Sessions was cleared four days after he recused himself and that is incredibly frustrating. But when you have such fidelity to the office and the law that Sessions has, you can’t blame him for recusing himself. The last thing Sessions wants to do is to compromise the integrity of his office or the Department, and naming a special prosecutor was the right move.

And the final reason Sessions shouldn’t resign is a political one. You saw what a circus his confirmation was. This Russia story will die if the President and Republicans let it. But if Sessions is forced out and another person has to get confirmed, you will not only give that issue life; you will ensure that the next person will be viewed as someone that can’t run the department in a fair and impartial manner. And that makes that person’s ability to be effective virtually nil. Plus, if there are career people at the DOJ trying to actively undermine the administration and the Attorney General, can we show him a little trust that he and his team will identify these people and get rid of them? How about we try that?


Leave Jeff Sessions where he is. After years of mismanagement and corruption at the Department of Justice, he is exactly the tonic the department needs.

The Palace Mouse and the Country Mouse

The Trump administration is in chaos. The Trump administration is doing a fairly good job. Can both of these statements be true, depending on where you sit?

Right-leaning people, pick your narrative:

1) The Trump administration is in chaos. The press office/spokespeople merry-go-round, the failed attempts at passing health care reform, the approval ratings in the 30s, the lukewarm statement following Charlottesville, the special prosecutor – all these things are very bad and indicate the Trump administration is failing.

2) The Trump administration is doing a fairly good job. North Korea is backing down from belligerent language, regulations are being rolled back, unemployment is down, the Dow and consumer confidence are up, Gorsuch’s nomination was confirmed – all these things are pretty good, and point to a Trump administration that is getting some important things done.

These wildly different ways of looking at the administration’s record to date appear irreconcilable, separating the right into at least two major camps. The contrast in perspectives has led to conservatives getting crosswise with each other, often in very public forums, such as this exchange between Stephen Gutowskiand Jack0Spades that my friend Leslie brought to my attention. (click on the tweet’s date to see the entire exchange and follow their conversation)

Stephen appears to be saying that the administration is a disaster, and cites examples; and Jack appears to counter that by saying that the folks outside the Beltway are pretty pleased, and cites his own examples. Taken together, the comments seem to indicate that the further you get from the Beltway perspective, the less things look as though they’re burning down. And there’s probably some pretty good reasons for that. If you find yourself agreeing with one of these more than the other, keep that in mind as we examine the viewpoints of the other.

I’m going to make some assumptions that could be wrong; but if they’re right, they may explain where the rift is coming from, and perhaps ultimately how it can begin to be bridged. I’ll refer to Stephen and Jack’s perspectives on the issues they cite, but any generalities I use in describing their perspectives are just that – generalities, and I don’t intend to try to speak for either of them.

Before we get to the conflict, a disclaimer. I’m a twenty-year veteran of active political involvement, and have held leadership positions in the Republican party at various times and levels. I’m coming at this from the perspective of an insider, someone embedded in the party system, able to be defined easily as part of the ‘establishment’.

During the Republican primaries, I was one of the people concerned about how Trump was affecting the process. I laughed off his candidacy as a publicity stunt at first, and I kept waiting for the people supporting him to get serious and move to a REAL candidate. His was the Boaty McBoatface candidacy, I thought, and he’d get bested by another candidate that I could take seriously, and we’d all move on while he built his media arm of his entertainment empire.

I’m still eating crow.

But while I was wrong in predicting how things would play out, I don’t think I was wrong to be concerned. As a part of the GOP establishment, I’ve looked at the party as a vehicle for advancing policies and values that I support. It hasn’t been the most effective vehicle, granted; but it was better than all the other ones on offer, closer to my views and beliefs.

And parties are meant to provide a support system for ideas that will last beyond personalities, something that prevents ideas dying with the people championing them. Ideological conservatives like me noted how tenuous that party strength was when it was turned solely in support of a personality, as in the case of the Democrats and President Obama. We saw Trump as a mirror image of Obama, and also a wrecking ball careening through the structure we’d spent years building and working on, and also a threat and a danger to the apparatus we relied on for the advancement of our ideals and values.

That’s the way I saw it.

But as people lined up behind Trump in state after state, it was pretty clear they didn’t share my concerns. Why, they might have thought, should anyone care about the health or structure of the Republican party, when the Republican party clearly didn’t seem to care about them or listen to them? The Republican party leaders talked about a lot of things, but did the party actually fight for the folks in the heartland? There was a lot of talk from the Republicans, but were any of those words used to defend and support the regular Joe? If Trump was going to come in and bust up the DC cocktail party circuit, well, the people in the heartland weren’t going to cry over it. And they just might jump on the bandwagon for a good seat from which to watch the establishment bonfire.

I understood that dichotomy as well as I could from where I sat. Leslie reframed it this way for me when she noted the Twitter battle:

Palace intrigue is hugely important, deadly sometimes; but only really to the people in the palace, or the ones trying to get into the palace. Maybe for the folks in DC and those who make their money from DC, it seems like the kingdom is burning down. The courtier class would naturally be quite worried about the state of events in the palace. But for folks who don’t live and die by news cycles, folks outside the palace living their everyday lives with little thought to political parties or decorum or protocol, things probably appear to be looking up.

The two camps have very real concerns about very different things. Life for the DC class doesn’t change too much whether the economy is good or bad, whether this or that regulation is added or repealed, or whether consumer confidence is up. However, those things are felt intimately (often harshly) by the country class. Likewise, the country folk don’t experience much of an impact to their lives when a special prosecutor investigates the administration, or when the president’s approval rating drops, or when the media parses words and statements from the president over tragedies and ugly sentiments of racists. But these things have huge (often far-reaching) ramifications and import for the DC class; it is on things such as these that careers and fortunes turn.

This could easily account for the differences of opinion seen within the right. Had Stephen and Jack been talking to each other directly, perhaps they would have realized they were talking about two different worlds: one in which everything is chaos, and another where life is decent to good.

And even then, the chaos the courtier class sees could be the subject of debate. See Game of Thrones’ Varys and Peter Baelish debate whether chaos is a pit of destruction (which it is to some courtiers) or a ladder for advancement (as it is proving to be for others).

We wanted to test this palace v. people theory, so I set up a survey to get a very rough idea of which issues people we knew were focused on. We knew it wouldn’t be scientific, but it would at least give us some responses and comments to sift through. The survey asked respondents to grade the importance of ten issues, taken from the Twitter exchange, when thinking about how to evaluate the performance of the Trump administration. The scale was 1 to 5, with 1 indicating that the issue was not important at all, and 5 indicating that it was extremely important.

The results seemed to be right in line with Leslie’s observations. In order of importance, and taken directly from the Twitter exchange (with links to the comments from each):

See the survey results in full HERE 

If you listed the examples Jack and Stephen cited and noted whose issues ranked higher, you’d see that you have to get to number 5 for even one of Stephen’s concerns to make it into the ranking. Stephen’s examples seem to matter to the (smaller) courtier class like me, Jack’s examples seem to matter to the (larger) country class. Instead of the classic tale of the town mouse and the country mouse, the gap is even wider: the palace mouse and the country mouse.

Side note: this also might account for the reaction of Alisyn Camerota’s panel of Trump supporters in their reaction to rallies and confrontations in Charlottesville. Check it out; the video is fascinating.

Again, the survey isn’t scientific, but it is an indication that we could be on to something. Leslie noted that if these two camps listened to each other, rather than each striving to be acknowledged as correct, maybe they would discover that they were still conservatives with similar goals, just different points of focus. And maybe their best course of action would be to find a way to discuss both worlds in a way that brings conservatives together, rather than arguing past each other, leading them to unfollow each other and decide they have nothing to talk about.

There might be wide differences of opinion, but there’s a strong possibility that they are due to differences of perspective, not differences of intelligence. And that’s key; assuming the other side is stupid, and telling them so, leaves you no room to persuade them to listen to you, and inspires no desire on their part to hear you.

If they did stop and talk, we might see establishment Republican folks like me understand that the country class likely feels ignored and betrayed by the ‘traditional’ Republican politicians, and that they were willing to take a gamble on Trump. We might be able to imagine how bad it must have seemed to them that they could buy what Trump was selling on no evidence, simply because they saw him as something different from, and destructive to, Republicans as usual.

And the folks who supported him, or who at least have decided to give him some time before passing judgment, might understand and acknowledge that Trump concentrates more on the perception than the reality of any particular issue. They might also consider that many Republicans are concerned that their issues are not advancing at all under Trump, and that he is throwing grenades not only at Republican politicians they dislike, but also at the unity of the only viable vehicle available to oppose leftist and socialist initiatives that frighten them, too.

This isn’t the era of serious discussion, though; of listening to people who disagree with you to better understand their position. Leslie and I hope the discussions start to happen, but we both are afraid it might be too late already. We just hope we’re proven wrong.

Politics By Mosquito Bite

How do you have serious discussions about important issues, when all you can see are snarky comebacks, comical memes, and one-line zingers?

So much of my feed is ‘politics by mosquito bite’ now; zingers that sting for a moment, then fade, and then occur again somewhere else, accomplishing nothing but making people uncomfortable. It’s a sign of how political discourse is changing, and I don’t know how you talk seriously about issues or consider tough questions when snark and memes and the political equivalent of ‘Yo Momma’ insults make up 90% of the discussion.

I mean, I DO know: you get off social media to do that.

But that’s also ceding ground in a way. Do you really want to see all the other people – folks who aren’t merely amusing themselves, or insane, or sycophants, or scoring shallow points – gone from social media? Doesn’t that just lead to a place where we say ‘Oh, nobody takes Twitter/Facebook/Instagram seriously.’ and ignore it? Meanwhile, a lot of people will still be there, peddling fake news and shallow takes; and worse, abandoning the platforms leaves all the apolitical users there almost wholly influenced by whatever trash is pushed at them.

Most people aren’t going to read white papers or long articles in conservative idea discussion forums. I get that. But maybe what we’re doing is allowing a widening gap between the idea-focused people and the general half-interested person. Maybe we aren’t translating these ideas as thoroughly as we ought to be for people who don’t follow politics much, if at all. I mean, for instance, I think I laugh at some Go Remy videos because I’m already informed enough to get the joke. And the Keynes v. Hayek rap battle videos are amazing, especially since I kind of understand the language and have read econ texts for fun.

What are we offering, though, to the half-interested, busy, regular person who wants to know what’s going on, but has only a little time?

They are worth talking to, worth going after, worth influencing. If you’re looking at it through the political lens, you know you need these people in an election, preferably with more than a passing allegiance. But the very sad thing about this cycle right now is that all the focus on Trump is going to eventually run its course. And then, what? The man can engender some loyalty and affinity, but he isn’t doing it on behalf of the Republican party or conservative ideals.

And we knew that. We knew electing him was not going to automatically turn his fans into ideological adherents to conservative values. For him, it makes sense to have people say ‘But He Fights!’ with both Democrats and Republicans. It supports the ‘Drain the Swamp’ narrative.

And while I do believe there’s a Swamp, there will one day be a Post Trump Era, in which we must still operate, regardless of the status of said Swamp. Sowing allegiance to the man gets you only so far. People are fickle. New personalities emerge all the time. And get knocked down, too. Nobody knows this better than Trump, who has lasted decades on the covers of magazines and the celebrity shows and his own show.

But people are less fickle when they have allegiances born of ideas and values and concepts that they can understand AND defend. That was always supposed to be the value of the political parties: to hew people to common goals and principles, form a team that outlasts themselves. We’ve been overlooking the stickiness of people who have been reached by ideas, ones they can grasp easily and defend thoroughly as their own.

Test yourself: can you articulate what the RNC stands for? Or your state Republican party? Or your local one? Isn’t it getting harder?

In business they talk about the ‘elevator pitch’, the concise explanation of what you want to accomplish. We don’t do that much. American Enterprise Institute comes closest, with their videos covering an issue in 60 seconds, and Prager University has released topical videos in the five-minute range. And conservatives share those around a bit in agreement. But do we learn how to do it ourselves? Or you could say that the images and meme wars are the obvious equivalent, but it isn’t true, not remotely. Challenge one factually and see how quickly it can fall apart.

In the Christian mission field, they don’t send missionaries out without some thorough training in discussions about Christ. The goal is the same for Christianity as for conservatism: conversion. But in the political world, we focus on everything BUT the message on the conservative side. I can recount many Get Out The Vote and door-knocking trainings I’ve attended. All of them were based on ‘turning out our own side.’ But not one training have I ever encountered that spoke to persuasion, conversion, to talking to people in everyday situations about ideas.

I think, as a practical matter, it’s important to ask whether people are content to let a color, or an animal, or a man serve as the thing they will follow. Where does that actually get us? If that’s what people are identifying with when they vote Republican or vote for a ‘conservative’, how sticky are they to the cause?

(There are about 3 smirky libertarians reading this and about to go off on how *they* adhere to ideas just fine, thank you very much. To them: Are libertarians any better at selling what *they* believe in to regular people? Are the numbers of libertarian voters growing steadily? Honest questions.)

I know libertarians CAN be persuasive and inclusive. I went from a red meat right-winger to the Conservatarian Zone, all because a libertarian or two took time to patiently educate me and answer my questions, and talk through issues with me. But that doesn’t seem to be common, either among libertarians or conservatives. It usually involves a lot more insults and sneering. I speak from experience on both sides, when you leave a bad taste in someone’s mouth with your posturing, that impression lasts. And lasts.

Bad impressions and bad encounters with political people are REALLY sticky. Undoing those is almost impossible. I’ve got a front row seat to some local political messery that is causing some rifts that will affect state politics for a long time, and I think if I traced the origin of it back, it would land on the shoulders of some people who were ‘right’, but not kind about it.

That is nearly everything above the water in the political iceberg right now. People who think they are right, and are unkind in it. No need for engagement, they think. ‘The other guy should accept that I’m right, or accept that he’s stupid.’

As Andy from The Party Of Choice puts it, they don’t actually value other people. They value other people’s AGREEMENT. And devalue dissenters. And you should be aware, people will smell that on you; when you only want them around when they agree with you, and banish you when you don’t.

It’s ugly.

I think the right is good enough by now at getting out the vote of people who agree. The Rove models get you enough marginal wins to sit in the seats. But if you want to build a vast consensus and a constituency that agrees with you and KNOWS WHY they agree with you, you have to do far more than a mere GOTV effort.

There isn’t a persuasion game of any note on the right. The few who try aren’t shared or supported. Bring it up, and eyes glaze over.

I do get that talking about principles and values can wrong-foot you in relation to this president at times. But if that is as far ahead as we’re thinking, we aren’t actually supporting an ideology or even a party. We’re merely protecting our positions. That’s not a foundation for anything. It’s surrender, actually.

If you believe in what you say you believe in, you’ll study how to sell it. If you believe in what you say you believe in, you’ll be eager to explain it to others, and discuss it in detail, persuasively; instead of mocking and sneering at them for not getting it, and proclaiming that they’re stupid. You’ll listen to why they believe what they do, and thus learn better how you might address your differences.

There’s an opportunity right now that the right hasn’t had in a long time, if ever. Trump has fragged the political landscape. The media is talking about so many things that matter so little, and their eyes are trained on all things Trump. There’s an opening. While all eyes are watching the show, the right could be refining core values and training armies of sales people in supporting them.

Or we could do what we’ve always done; walk the same blocks, knock the same doors, robocall the same landlines. And hope it’s enough. But the math IS going to catch up to us if we stay the GOTV-only course. A day will come when there won’t be enough of ‘us’ to get out to vote. And if the local, state, and national GOP won’t take the lead, who will? Pundits? TV personalities? Radio hosts?

Or us?

I think we’ve overdosed on outrage and gotchas and sick burns. Those aren’t things to be FOR. And if that’s all a person has in their quiver, they’re next to useless to the cause.

Fighting sometimes doesn’t look like fighting. Sometimes fighting looks like having a conversation with someone who doesn’t understand something very well. Sometimes fighting looks like proudly and clearly explaining a position you hold on an issue. Sometimes fighting just looks like listening to someone else, and trying to understand where they’re coming from. That’s a far more productive battle than snark and yelling, and harder than creating good walk lists and mail pieces.

If I had to guess which way party leadership on the right would go, I wouldn’t bet on selling and listening. And the thought leaders and influencers on the right are snarking up a storm because that, not actual thought leadership, is what gets hits, clicks, likes, book deals, and even TV gigs.

No, in the end it’s up to us, to reject the GOTV models, to refine our sales pitches, to expand our sales territory, and to begin to dominate our own local markets. And it’s up to us to sell not a logo or a man or a team color, but solutions to problems our country faces.

Why Don’t Regular People Talk Politics?

In spite of 24 hour cable news channels and the internet at our fingertips, the average person seems to feel less informed, not more. Why might that be?

I’ve been talking about the issues and values I believe in since forever, since it was just my mom and me staying up late during the first Gulf War to solve all the world’s problems. I’ve been a voter since I turned eighteen, and been politically active far beyond voting for going on twenty years, talking about and working for good policy, values, governance, and so on. I’ve been embedded in the Republican party on and off for nearly that long, attending meetings, sitting on committees, training and educating people on how to get involved.

I’ve been in the arena a long time.

And one of my greatest frustrations has been how few people seem to be engaged on the issues. The last few election cycles have taught me a lot about why that might be.

There’s so damned much government to keep track of, for one thing. A voter used to be able to understand much of the government over him in this country. He could see his local government up close, and he could understand the few things it did. Now there are so many elected officials for offices most people don’t even know about, they can barely get through the ballot. Not to mention the layers upon layers of committees and bureaucrats and public employees and public unions and bonds and ordinances and on and on. There is way too much for me to follow myself, so normal people are at a huge disadvantage.

And trust is an issue, too. When the corporate media outlets seem to take sides, everyone trusts them less. Instead of merely worrying about getting the details on the news of the day, now news consumers have to be concerned about whether or not they are getting the whole story. It’s hard to feel fully informed when perspectives are left out, or stories are framed in a way to imply one side of a political issue is bad or evil. It’s difficult to keep coming back for news to a source that directs scorn and ridicule at a large portion of its audience.

And for another thing, the people (like me) who eat and breathe and live politics and government have trouble imagining how other people can’t be similarly engaged and informed; and I think we tend to broadcast our confusion and disbelief (and perhaps superiority a little) to those who we are trying to reach. We’ve learned that normal people don’t care about the minutiae the way we do, and quite a few don’t take any of it into account when they vote. We devote so much time to knowing things that couldn’t matter less to them. For instance, a citizen in Texas has had to sue a state representative to be able to record his open committee meetings. People like me think that’s much more important than most things going on in Washington or Hollywood, but those places are where all the attention is.

And why WOULD they be more engaged if they have people like me around? On one hand, if they trust people like me, they might feel comfortable outsourcing the fuss to us, letting us stay in the fray and giving them an occasional update.

And on the other hand, if they ask questions, they might think we would look down on them a bit for not knowing enough; or if they voice an opinion, they might find one of us overwhelming them with facts and histories, and thus subtly telling them they don’t know enough to be able to talk about the issue.

(I have to pause here to say that I hope I’ve never made people feel that way, but I very much fear that I have. And I owe anyone who has been made to feel that way a huge apology.)

But there it is – there’s so much government that you can’t keep track; and if you could, even in one area, you’d find it difficult to find trustworthy sources, and you’d occasionally learn that it doesn’t pay for the normal person to voice an opinion.

So with that background, let’s look at where we are today.
  • There’s a gazillion dollar health care bill being debated in Congress.
  • There’s a lot in the news about Russia, and investigations.
  • There are many other foreign and domestic issues to deal with.
  • And Mika and Trump are throwing down over Twitter.

The news media is covering all of these things, to varying degrees. But it hit me today, what if the reason people are talking about Mika/Trump (or Kardashians, or The Bachelor or whatever is on) is that they’ve been walled off from really weighing in on the issues of the day?

What if the media and people like me have disincentivized normal people from talking about these complex problems like the nation’s health care crisis?

What if they feel out of their depth with all there is to keep track of, or they feel that their opinion is unpopular and so they’ll get trashed for it?

What if we’ve shoved all but a small percentage of manic news junkies and policy wonks out of the discussion entirely, curating the news and polls and social media experiences for those who’ve decided to opt out, sending them the message that they should just leave it to us?

And what if… what if the result of all of that is that public discourse has become mostly ABOUT things like Mika/Trump… because that is a situation that people can actually relate to, and understand, and grasp?

What if the trivia and the schoolyard spats and the online junk food is the only arena left in which they feel safe in weighing in?

And if all THAT is true, how do we come back from that?

The ‘You’re Too Stupid to Understand’ Debate Tactic

Debate and discussion is a great way to refine our ideas. But there are people who want to shut down discussion. Learn how to spot this, and how to fight it.

I was skimming Twitter the other day when a conversation caught my eye. A reporter had tweeted out pictures of protesters at the Capitol dressed as characters from The Handmaid’s Tale, and another person poked fun at the protesters in reply.

“Let’s dress up like characters from a book that really has zero to do with the legislation we’re protesting.”

“YES!! Great idea!!” https://twitter.com/TaylorLorenz/status/879762656432992256 

What was interesting, though, was the conversation that followed. Numerous commenters flattered themselves that they engaged in some serious ‘debate’ by hurling insults or questioning RBPundit’s intelligence:

“Let’s dress up like characters from a book that really has zero to do with the legislation we’re protesting.”

“YES!! Great idea!!” https://twitter.com/TaylorLorenz/status/879762656432992256 

Are you literate? Have you read the book? Perhaps you might see the parallels if you did. Try the Cliff Notes if the real book is to hard.

“Let’s dress up like characters from a book that really has zero to do with the legislation we’re protesting.”

“YES!! Great idea!!” https://twitter.com/TaylorLorenz/status/879762656432992256 

If you don’t see how Handmaiden’s Tale relates to healthcare for women, you are in desperate need of college. 🙄🙄

“Let’s dress up like characters from a book that really has zero to do with the legislation we’re protesting.”

“YES!! Great idea!!” https://twitter.com/TaylorLorenz/status/879762656432992256 

Sorry this protest is over your head. Must be nice to start each day with the mind a blank canvas.

“Let’s dress up like characters from a book that really has zero to do with the legislation we’re protesting.”

“YES!! Great idea!!” https://twitter.com/TaylorLorenz/status/879762656432992256 

You haven’t read the book, or you are willfully ignorant. Or stupid.

“Let’s dress up like characters from a book that really has zero to do with the legislation we’re protesting.”

“YES!! Great idea!!” https://twitter.com/TaylorLorenz/status/879762656432992256 

@openculture has tons of free college classes, including English & literature classes to help better understand the allegory presented here.

Notice what else was common to almost all of these responses: not one of them tried to explain the parallel they were attempting to draw.  Not one of them used the opportunity to educate people on their arguments.  Over and over they merely implied that disagreement with the protest, or with tying it to the book, was born of ignorance or a lack of education.  It’s the ‘You’re too stupid to understand’ defense.

This is a ‘debate’ tactic that I see quite often, from people all over the political spectrum.  There are several reasons why it might be employed, among them:

  • To make the other person look stupid to bystanders reading the exchange
  • To make the other person feel stupid for not ‘getting it’
  • To show that they are in the ‘cool’ tribe and the other person is not
  • To signal that their assertion or opinion is the only acceptable one for a person to hold

Sometimes people who engage in debate this way aren’t even aware they are doing it – it’s a tactic they’ve learned, but not thought much about.  They see other people replying this way, with insults instead of evidence.  And they see that it gets some positive reinforcement, so they copy it.  But there’s a good response to it, and @RBPundit employed it:

“You’re so dumb. You can’t see how A Handmaid’s Tale relates to the health care bill?”

“No. Explain it to me.”

*crickets*

He asked several times for the other commenters to explain the parallel, to draw a map for him.  A few tried, but most went no further than hurling abuse at him.  It might be that they were never really taught to debate the way we understand it – an exchange of facts, ideas, and theories that can be discussed and dissected between people who attack the other person’s argument.  Or they might have merely heard the parallel somewhere and absorbed it, without really considering it enough to feel confident in their ability to defend it.

But there also may be some reluctance to list the parallels in the above example because then those points could be challenged.  And that’s dangerous, because then the bystanders watching these kinds of discussions could see those challenges as legitimate, with points that make sense.  So they opt instead to distract from the argument and the requests for explanation.  If they keep dodging, maybe people won’t notice that they’ve offered no support for their position, or will accept that it is a position that should not be questioned.

When debate and disagreement devolve into name-calling and distraction, it’s not good for us.  Ideas SHOULD be questioned, challenged, picked apart, and hashed out.  It helps us to understand other people’s perspectives, and teaches us to think harder about the serious issues we face.  One of the reasons we’re seeing so few problems being addressed is that this tactic is so pervasive.  Politicians get more mileage out of name-calling than problem-solving.  We shouldn’t let them get away with that.  And we should take the opportunities we find to call it out, and support healthy, rigorous exchanges of ideas.

So when you see this tactic being used, when someone seems to be ducking the details and merely calling names, you should ask for details or an explanation.  And keep asking.

Because if the dodgers DO respond, then you can talk about their points and arguments, and have a real discussion.

And if they DON’T, then you can point their evasiveness out to all the bystanders following the conversation.  And THAT is where people are persuaded.  THAT is where converts are made.

We’ve let lazy or disingenuous debate tactics rule for far too long, whether in the press, on social media, or in political life.  Let’s get back into the simple habit of challenging each other, sharpening our arguments, and bringing real substantive debate back to the national conversation.  Let’s focus on attacking each other’s arguments, and while we’re at it, expose those who don’t offer an argument at all.

Image: By Daniel X. O’Neill (CC)

Media Coverage Comparison 2: Seattle Minimum Wage Study

We decided to compare the media coverage both in headlines and content from several sources as they report on a new study of the minimum wage in Seattle.

Today we’re going to take a look at the headlines around a recently released study on Seattle’s minimum wage.  As we did with the coverage of the killing of Nabra Hassanen, we’ll feature the lead paragraphs or significant portions of the articles, one after the other, so you can see how (or whether) they differ.  And as before, we’ll provide links to all the stories, so you can judge for yourself how the coverage differs, and compare the tone and detail in each piece.

First, the details.  Seattle implemented a minimum wage increase plan in April of 2015, with the goal of getting all affected workers to $15 an hour by 2021.  Varying predictions have been made by multiple sources since the plan was put in place, but the latest research by the National Bureau of Economic Research has delivered preliminary conclusions that suggest that workers are worse off under the new policy.  Early criticisms of the study have emerged as well.

Now let’s look at how various news and information sources treated the news of this study in their headlines:

And the articles themselves:

Five Thirty Eight

In January 2016, Seattle’s minimum wage jumped from $11 an hour to $13 for large employers, the second big increase in less than a year. New research released Monday by a team of economists at the University of Washington suggests the wage hike may have come at a significant cost: The increase led to steep declines in employment for low-wage workers, and a drop in hours for those who kept their jobs. Crucially, the negative impact of lost jobs and hours more than offset the benefits of higher wages — on average, low-wage workers earned $125 per month less because of the higher wage, a small but significant decline.

ABC

Seattle’s $15-an-hour minimum wage law has cost the city jobs, according to a study released Monday that contradicted another new study published last week.

A University of Washington team studying the law’s effects found that the law has boosted pay in low-wage jobs since it took effect in 2015, but that it also caused a 9 percent reduction in hours worked, The Seattle Times reported ( https://goo.gl/G1Vr64 ). For an average low-wage Seattle worker, that’s a loss of about $125 per month, the study said.

Seattle Times

Seattle’s minimum-wage law is boosting wages for a range of low-paid workers, but the law is causing those workers as a group to lose hours, and it’s also costing jobs, according to the latest study on the measure passed by the City Council in 2014.

The report, by members of the University of Washington team studying the law’s impacts for the city of Seattle, is being published Monday by a nonprofit think tank, the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Washington Post

The city is gradually increasing the hourly minimum to $15 over several years. Already, though, some employers have not been able to afford the increased minimums. They’ve cut their payrolls, putting off new hiring, reducing hours or letting their workers go, the study found.

The costs to low-wage workers in Seattle outweighed the benefits by a ratio of three to one, according to the study, conducted by a group of economists at the University of Washington who were commissioned by the city. The study, published as a working paper Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research, has not yet been peer reviewed.

A new study reveals Seattle’s minimum wage increase to $15 an hour is actually having a negative impact, with low-wage workers earning on average $125 less a month due to the minimum wage hike.

‘Bar Rescue’ host Jon Taffer said the wage increase led to fewer hours for some, and unemployment for others.

“So here’s the result, employment growth was at 6%-7% in the restaurant sector for employees, it’s now down to 1.2%,” Taffer told FOX Business Network’s Stuart Varney. “A lot of restauranteurs have cut back staffing by 10%, reduced employees to part time, the employees lost on this.”

Associated Press

A new study of Seattle’s $15-an-hour minimum wage law says it costs jobs, contrary to another new study released last week.

The Seattle Times reports a University of Washington team found the law boosted pay in low-wage jobs since 2014 but that it also caused a 9 percent reduction in hours worked. For an average low-wage Seattle worker, that’s a loss of about $125 per month.

The study says there would be about 5,000 more low-wage jobs in the city without the law.

Market Watch

A sharp increase in Seattle’s minimum wage may have cost low-income workers in the restaurant business as much as $125 per month even though they got paid more per hour, a study suggests.

The study by the National Bureau of Economic Research is the latest to examine Seattle’s aggressive steps since 2014 to raise the minimum wage to the highest levels in the U.S., adding to a growing debate over whether such an approach is helpful or hurtful to the workers meant to benefit.

After Seattle jacked up the minimum wage by a combined 37% over nine months, restaurants cut the average number of hours each employee worked by 9.4%, the study estimated.

Mother Jones

The authors suggest that Seattle lost about 10,000 low-wage jobs when the minimum wage increased from $11 to $13. If this is confirmed in subsequent studies, it suggests that a minimum wage of, say, $12 per hour, has a minimal effect on low-skill employment. But $15 will have a significant effect.

The effect on hours worked is similar. At $11, the reduction in low-wage jobs is small and probably illusory anyway: “It appears that any ‘loss’ in hours at lower thresholds is likely to reflect a cascade of workers to higher wage levels.”

U.S. News

Not all is rosy in Seattle as the city gradually pushes to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, according to a new study that suggests hiring and the number of hours worked among lower-wage employees took a hit last year as minimum pay rose.

The National Bureau of Economic Research unveiled a working paper on Monday that found the number of hours worked in low-skill professions dropped more than 9 percent in Seattle during the first three quarters of last year, while low-wage jobs declined by 6.8 percent, or by more than 5,000 positions.

The Blaze

In a city with the highest minimum wage in the country, Seattle workers are increasingly unemployed and underemployed, according to new research from the University of Washington.

Seattle hiked its minimum wage from $11 to $13 in January 2016, marking the city’s second minimum wage increase in less than a year. Economists found that a $13 minimum wage resulted in declines for low-income workers as well as fewer hours for those who kept their jobs. Higher wages didn’t mitigate losses for these workers, with the study finding that “total payroll fell for such jobs, implying that the minimum wage ordinance lowered low-wage employees’ earnings by an average of $125 per month in 2016.”

A new study by the University of Washington has found Seattle’s increase of its minimum wage to $13 an hour, part of a planned hike to $15, has left low-wage workers worse off.

The study found the increase led to reduced employment for those workers and cut hours for those who kept their jobs. That undid the effects of the higher wages.

LA Times

A much-anticipated study released Monday by a team of researchers at the University of Washington is likely to intensify that controversy — just as Los Angeles heads toward its own minimum-wage increase for large businesses,from $10.50 an hour to $12 an hour on July 1.

The new study has found that jobs and work hours fell for Seattle’s lowest paid employees after the city raised the minimum wage to $13 last year.

The analysis shows that jobs and hours for those workers declined faster in Seattle than in surrounding control areas, where the minimum wage did not increase.

National Review

A working paper released today improves on prior research and suggests that there are indeed substantial employment losses as you approach the Left’s target of $15 an hour — and that those losses far outweigh the higher wages paid to the workers who stay employed. Economists at the University of Washington were given access to administrative data that include the earnings and hours of individual workers in Washington State, allowing them to precisely identify workers by the wages they made. (Previous studies usually relied on more roundabout methods, like looking at stereotypical low-wage workers such as teens or those in the retail or restaurant industries.) They were able to see what happened to low-wage workers — defined as those making up to $19 an hour — as Seattle’s minimum wage grew from $9.47 to $11 in 2015 and then to $13 the next year.

Zero Hedge

Of course, no matter how much anecdotal and/or hard evidence is presented to liberals on the negative consequences on higher minimum wages they simply can’t be convinced it’s a bad idea. Somehow, the basic economic concept that raising the price of good (i.e. wages) would somehow destroy demand (i.e. employment levels) for that good just does not compute in the minds of progressives.

Never the less, below is yet another study from economists at the University of Washington that reveals some fairly startling takeaways about Seattle’s minimum wage. Per the chart below, minimum wages in Seattle increased from $11 in 2015 to $13 in 2016 and $15 in 2017 for large employers.

 

Just as in the last comparison, we’re interested in your thoughts.  After looking at the different headlines and quotes and reading the different articles, what do you think?

  • Was the coverage wildly different, or was it mostly the same?
  • Did any one source seem to cover the story better than the others?
  • Which stories seemed to contain more bias of any sort?
  • Were important details left out of any coverage?
  • Did anything about the story or the coverage surprise you?
  • What questions do you have that might not have been answered in the reporting?
  • What other sources would you recommend people seek out to get more information?
  • Did it help you understand the story (or the media) better to see the articles side by side?

Media Coverage Comparison 1: Muslim Teen Kidnapped & Killed

There isn’t a good place online to compare the coverage from different news outlets covering the same story. We decided to give it a try ourselves. 

It’s hard to navigate the media landscape these days. Charges of ‘fake news’ are hurled back and forth, bias is present everywhere you look, and the explosion of available information sources makes it more difficult than ever to find relevant news stories that are as complete and factual as possible.

Often when a story breaks, news consumers have their opinions shaped by the first few sources they encounter. And when consumers choose sources with viewpoints that tend to agree with their own, they can easily miss corrections or close themselves off to different perspectives that might provide more context.  It’s a good practice to read stories from multiple sources.  But there isn’t really a place online where people can go to compare coverage from different sources on the same topic.

Today we’re going to give it a try. We’ll do a little media comparison on a single story: we’ll take a look at the headlines, and point out interesting language or word choice in the coverage when we find it. And we’ll provide links to all the stories, so you can judge for yourself how the coverage differs, and whether those differences are material or not.

The story we’ll look at is a horrific murder of a teenage girl in Virginia. First the basic facts:

A seventeen-year-old girl was walking with friends to a mosque after having a meal nearby. A man in a vehicle stopped near the group, jumped out, and started swinging a metal bat. The girl’s friends reported that they scattered, and they reported her missing when they couldn’t find her. Police believe the driver hit her with the bat, then put her in the car and drove away with her. Her body was found later that day in a pond.

Now let’s take a look at the headlines from some major news and opinion outlets. I’ve included the links below in the quotes so you’ll be able to find the stories themselves.

And some representative quotes:

Sun:

Islamic leaders are now questioning detectives’ claims that the beating appears to have been a case of road rage, saying the attack looks more like a hate crime.

Darwin Martinez Torres, a 22-year-old from El Salvador thought to be in the U.S. illegally, was jailed without bail on a murder charge after the girl’s body was pulled from a pond near his apartment.

ABC:

A man charged with murder in the death of a Muslim Virginia teen who was attacked near her mosque became “enraged” by a traffic argument with one of the girl’s friends and hit her with a baseball bat before abducting her, police said Monday.

Though the slaying of Nabra Hassanen — whose body was found in a pond — raised concerns that she was targeted because she was Muslim, Fairfax County police spokeswoman Julie Parker said at a news conference that police have no reason to believe that the killing was a hate crime.

CNN:

Police in northern Virginia say a man fatally beat a Muslim teenager with a bat during a weekend road-rage incident.

But there’s no evidence the death of Nabra Hassanen, 17, who was attacked early Sunday as she and a group of teenagers walked back to a mosque, was a hate crime, authorities in Fairfax County said. Police said they could file appropriate charges if they later find the crime was motivated by hate.

NPR:

Police in Virginia’s Fairfax County say that preliminary investigation suggests that road rage, rather than racial or religious hatred, led to the killing of 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen.

“It appears the suspect became so enraged over this traffic argument that it escalated into deadly violence,” Julie Parker, director of public affairs for the Fairfax police, said at a news conference Monday evening.

NBC:

The murder is currently not being investigated as a hate crime “based on the totality of the information gathered by detectives” at this time, a police spokesman told NBC News. However, because the investigation is in its early stages, if more information comes to light, that could change, the spokesman said.

NYT:

A 22-year-old man accused of killing a Muslim teenager with a baseball bat in Virginia on Sunday is an undocumented immigrant who entered the United States illegally, federal authorities said on Tuesday.

Daily Mail:

The death of a Muslim teen who was assaulted after she left a mosque early Sunday morning was the result of ‘road rage’ with no indications of a hate crime, police said.

Darwin Martinez Torres, 22, appeared in court on Monday to face a murder charge after he got into a dispute with the 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen and a group of her friends in Sterling, North Virginia, the Fairfax County Police Department said.

BuzzFeed:

Shortly after finding her remains Sunday afternoon, officers arrested 22-year-old Darwin Martinez Torres and charged him with murder in connection to the case. Police said Monday evening that “the autopsy results show Nabra suffered from blunt force trauma to the upper body after a road rage incident.”

Mosque officials said Hassanen and her friends were coming back from eating during a break from Ramadan prayers when a car pulled up and a man with a baseball bat jumped out and started swinging at the group of girls.

Many stories used Hassanen’s murder as a lede to foray into a greater narrative about the collective crisis of violence against Muslims. But then actual facts and details around the case emerged. First, the Fairfax County Police Department publicly ruled out a hate crime as a motive, announcing that they were looking more closely into extreme road rage. Then, the Daily Caller reported that the murderer, Darwin Martinez Torres, was an illegal immigrant from El Salvador, with ICE confirming that it had issued a detainer request against him.

The Guardian:

A Fairfax county police statement said: “An investigation determined she was walking outside with a group of friends when they got into a dispute with a man in a car. It appears the suspect, Darwin A Martinez Torres, 22, of Sterling, got out of his car and assaulted the victim. Her friends could not find her and police were called to help.”

Nabra was reported missing about 4am. A police helicopter, patrol officers and search and rescue teams joined the hunt. “While searching, one officer saw a car driving suspiciously in the area and stopped it,” the statement added. “The driver, later identified as Martinez Torres, was taken into custody as a suspect.”

Business Insider:

A 17-year-old American Muslim girl was beaten and abducted after leaving a mosque in Virginia on Sunday by a man who the police later arrested on suspicion of murder after her body was found dumped in a pond, authorities said.

The attack happened early Sunday after the victim and several friends walking outside the mosque got into a dispute with a motorist in the community of Sterling, the Fairfax County Police Department said in a statement.

 

After looking at the different headlines and quotes and reading the different articles, what do you think?

  • Was the coverage wildly different, or was it mostly the same?
  • Did any one source seem to cover the story better than the others?
  • Which stories seemed to contain more bias?
  • Has enough time passed from the original incident for most of the facts to have come out?
  • What questions do you have that might not have been answered in the reporting?
  • What other sources would you recommend people seek out to get more information?
  • Did it help you understand the story (or the media) better to see the articles side by side?

The (Latest) Push to End Gerrymandering

Democrats have finally noticed how many seats the Republicans have won in the past few elections, and are laying the blame squarely on gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering is back in the news again. Just like the weather, it’s one of those topics everyone mentions, but nobody does anything about. After the changes in the political makeup of Congress and various statehouses over the past few years, however, that may be changing; especially since the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case from Wisconsin on the subject.

Plenty of other outlets are breaking down the details of the case, or trying to analyze what could happen, or explaining the importance of the upcoming decision. And for those who need a refresher on gerrymandering, good videos on the subject can be found HERE and HERE.

I’d rather talk about what’s going on tactically outside of the courtroom, because I think there are some interesting aspects in the publicity campaign developing around the issue. For instance, in my search for information about the court case, I came across this tweet and image on redistricting.

Now, if you have some knowledge of political history, you will note that gerrymandering is almost as old a practice in Congress as Congress is itself. And you’ll also note that both parties have a long and full history of engaging in gerrymandering that benefits one party at the expense of the other.

But this image is about distilling down one idea: gerrymandering is unfairly benefiting Republicans. Simple. Clear. Effective. And nobody selling this actually wants to dig into how long this practice has been in effect, or the history of it. They don’t want their audience to look deeper into the idea at all. The entire purpose is to use this powerful visual image to drive home that one idea…

Gerrymandering is unfairly benefiting Republicans.

You might think ‘Well, how else can you explain the huge change in the number of Republican elected officials?’ That’s a legitimate question, but one with many more factors involved than who is drawing the district maps. For example, Nate Silver has studied swing districts over time, and points out that the bluest Democrat districts are blue to a much greater degree than the reddest Republican districts, signaling that voters may be clustering more and more with like-minded peers, and thus gerrymandering themselvessomewhat.

And there’s a lot more red land on the electoral map than blue land, in part because blue voters have consolidated themselves into denser urban areas, leaving fewer of them available to be drawn into red areas to make those districts more competitive. Redrawing districts to distribute Democrat voters more evenly would require – shockingly – the precise partisan redistricting schemes that Democrats are attempting to stop via this case before the Supreme Court.

But you won’t find much discussion about these other factors. What you will find is images like the one above that attempt to oversimplify the issue. This is how they’re now building up a case against gerrymandering, even as some of the very people complaining about it have long utilized it and fought for it.  What we seem to be encountering is the realization that gerrymandering has outlived its usefulness to Democrats, who now intend to try to eliminate it by creating the narrative that the process is a Republican ‘dirty trick’, that Republicans only hold so many House seats and state legislatures because they cheat.

And there is no leadership-level counter messaging I can find on the Republican side about it. I wouldn’t expect them to be defending gerrymandering – crazy-looking districts are a useful campaign issue at times. But I don’t even see them pushing back against the notion that Republicans achieved their majorities through cheating, or that this way IS cheating.  There is a strong case to be made that it isn’t.  As Kevin Williamson puts it, ‘Redistricting is not politicized. It is political.’

This is what happens when you end up on the wrong side of ‘Elections Have Consequences.’

Of course, elected officials of each party LOVE gerrymandered districts, even as they bemoan the polarization and division they claim results from creating so many ‘safe’ districts. Most of their time and money during a campaign are concentrated on their primary races. Once they have won their primaries, they can usually count on getting elected in the general election. But the Supreme Court’s eventual decision may complicate the lives of many elected officials, possibly in ways they haven’t calculated yet.

The tweeted image isn’t aimed at the Supreme Court justices to try to sway them; that would be a waste of time.  Its purpose is to highlight the issue as one of Republican shenanigans and convince people that this isn’t fair.  Then future endeavors will aim to build a groundswell of support for changing the way districts are drawn (presumably to favor Democrats again), and then return them to power over the next few elections.

It’s dishonest, and it’s one of the things people hate about politics when they learn that it’s going on.

My questions to anyone attempting to make hay with this issue are as follows:

  • If it was always wrong to rig districts for one party or another before, where have you been before this?
  • If it wasn’t wrong to do it before, why is it wrong now?
  • Do you recognize the danger in pointing out bad or wrong practices and policies only at the point when they cease to benefit you?

Forgive me if I’m still old-fashioned enough to favor some intellectual consistency on political issues.  I am still clinging to the quaint notion that one’s principles should remain constant regardless of whether one’s team appears to be winning or losing.  And that goes for the red team as well as the blue team.

Like many issues in politics, gerrymandering is a complex issue with a convoluted history to be considered, much of which is being swept away by using images like this.  That’s all the more reason to take some time and refresh your knowledge of the issue, and seek out multiple sources from different perspectives on redistricting.  There are still sources attempting to treat the issue more seriously; even Teen Vogue has a fairly detailed article about gerrymandering, something I did not see coming.

In fact, that’s probably a good reason to go lie down.

Side note for activists: I highly encourage you to follow the conversation in the tweet I mentioned above. Note the language used. Think about whether it is even possible to practically achieve the elimination of gerrymandering. And notice how much conversation and feedback is coming from this one image.   I may not agree with the shallow method used to persuade people in this tweet, but imagine something like that paired with links to more details.  A major takeaway should be this: making your case for a change in law or policy, no matter what the topic, is easier with good visuals. And make absolutely sure you have ACCURATE visuals, and that you can back them up with good research and data.

Real News, Fake Message

Images and memes are often created to leave a particular impression, whether true or false. It’s important to ask who might be trying to manipulate us.

I’m fascinated by how information spreads online, which is how I have ended up spending so much time arguing about, and writing about, how we consume online information. Whether it’s helping people learn how to fight fake news, or reviewing the media’s attempt at doing so, I’ve sort of backed into a study of the things people share online. Occasionally I find an example interesting enough to help illustrate a point I want to make, so today we’re going to dissect an image and see what we can learn from it.

I found this image on one of the social media platforms that I frequent, an image taking a jab at CNN. You might recall that President Trump called CNN ‘fake news’ in a press briefing, and so this image resonates with some of his supporters who enjoyed seeing CNN taken down a peg.  (I admit, I had a giggle at that when it happened, too.)

That image is good for a chuckle; it looks like CNN is all over the map on paid family leave, depending upon whether Trump is for it or against it. And that is probably the intent behind creating it. But let’s take a deeper look and find out whether that’s a legitimate assumption.

First, since the image is showing some headlines from CNN, it’d be a good idea to make sure they are actual headlines of actual articles. And when we search on the headlines we find the following:

Everyone should have a shot at paid family leave

Trump’s budget to include paid family leave

How paid family leave hurts women

So each of the articles actually exist on CNN’s website. That’s good, because occasionally someone fabricates a fake tweet or a false headline to stir people up or make a point. Now we know that we’re dealing with real headlines of real articles.

READ
Weigh In – College Degrees for Child Care Workers?

Next, we’ll check out the dates and see if the articles are in sequence.

Everyone should have a shot at paid family leave – April 4, 2017

Trump’s budget to include paid family leave – May 22, 2017

How paid family leave hurts women – May 30, 2017

Yep, the dates check out. So far this image is legit. Those three headlines were published in that order on those three dates. That’s really all the image tells you, or claims to tell you.

The implication, though, is that CNN first took a position that everyone should have the opportunity to take paid family leave. Next, CNN reported that the president added paid family leave to his budget. And THEN, after noting Trump’s apparent support, CNN then took the position that paid family leave hurts families. The idea being served up here is that CNN changed positions after seeing Trump propose a policy they supported. Naturally CNN had to now oppose the policy, and couldn’t be seen to be on the same side of an issue as the president.

This isn’t necessarily an unrealistic criticism, especially given the game of musical chairs played over the past year by political parties and the media when it came to the issue of FBI Director James Comey. It’s worth it to look into the articles a little further, just to see whether that same game is being played here as well.

And when we do look at the first and the third articles, we notice something interesting. Those two are opinion articles, written by different authors. The first is an advocacy piece by two activists from the left on women’s issues; one a former economist on Hillary Clinton’s team, and one an organizer for various liberal causes. The third is an opinion article written by a policy analyst from the CATO institute, a libertarian think tank.

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Apparently, in a surprise move, CNN actually decided to offer multiple viewpoints on an issue. But isn’t that what CNN’s critics have been calling for? An end to bias? More exposure of its audience to non-liberal ideas?

 

This drive-by meme-ing takes the positive of CNN providing multiple viewpoints, and turns it on its head, using it to manufacture further proof of CNN’s bias. I don’t know about you, but I find that extremely intellectually dishonest. Sure, it’s good for a laugh.  But it’s not a good example of a very real and legitimate criticism one could make about CNN.

I really do think CNN has displayed bias, many times. I think most news organizations do, and I’ve addressed that multiple times. My point is that if CNN is indeed that biased, surely legitimate examples are readily available. Why would people need to invent a false incident of bias, or one that really demonstrates the opposite idea?

That, my friends, is how you can tell someone is trying to play you. And if you take a few minutes like I did to dig into an issue, you can learn to spot it, call it out, and encourage people to think just a little bit more about the information they take in.

What could be wrong with that?