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How They Spin Definitions: The Trump Tax Cut Hit

How They Spin Definitions: The Trump Tax Cut Hit

One of the favorite ways in which media outlets (like CNN and The Washington Post, see below) spin the news for us is by REDEFINING the terms to prove the opposition wrong.

If you think we mean that certain outlets ALWAYS spin, then you are missing our point. We are all given to spinning because of our biases; however, certain news organizations clearly spin more than others. True?

SPIN 

EQUALS

PROPAGANDA

Remember that spin = propaganda. “In public relations and politics, spin is a form of propaganda, achieved through providing a biased interpretation of an event or campaigning to persuade public opinion in favor or against some organization or public figure. While traditional public relations and advertising may also rely on altering the presentation of the facts, "spin" often implies the use of disingenuous, deceptive, and highly manipulative tactics.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spin_(propaganda)

Media have continued to enter into the domain of politics by taking a slant on the news in order to influence public opinion. Redefining terms is a favorite tool of all spin-meisters.

Let’s start with a pretend scenario to understand the game. Imagine you simply want to find a flaw in what someone says in order to write about it. In this case, you don’t like Trump saying he is the oldest president to be sworn into office. While on the surface it’s true, since he was 70 at the time of his inauguration, it gets a spin like this,

Trump’s Claim: “I’m the oldest person ever sworn in as president.”
Fact Check: While it’s technically true, it needs some context.

Donald Trump was sworn in at 70 years of age, but relative to life expectancy, he is actually among our youngest presidents. Trump was 70, but life expectancy at the time was 78 years old in the United States. In contrast, consider Abraham Lincoln, who was 52 years old when he became the president. The life expectancy in 1861 was only 40.5 years in the United States. Relative to the population, Abraham Lincoln was much older than Donald Trump, therefore Trump’s point of accomplishment is nothing much to write home about.

Now, do you get the idea? A term is REDEFINED to suit an argument or analysis to support a bias or slant in the ‘reporting’ or opinion piece. You’ll notice it often once you start paying attention to this tactic.

Here’s an example from the world of news.

2019 – Pence & Tax Cuts

(CNN March 4, 2019) While praising President Donald Trump during his remarks at CPAC, Vice President Mike Pence listed off some of the accomplishments he believes the administration has made in its first two years. Among them, of course, was the 2017 tax reform.

"With the support of this generation of conservatives, President Trump signed the largest tax cut and tax reform in American history," the Vice President said. "That's promises made and promises kept."

CNN and the Washington Post (and others) took exception to this claim and called it false in early 2018.


2018 – Pence & Tax Cuts

CNN – The biggest tax cut in history? Not quite.

“The Treasury measured the sizes of tax cuts by looking at the revenue effects of the bills as a percentage of gross domestic product -- in other words, how much federal revenue the bill cuts away as a portion of the economy. Reagan's 1981 cut was 2.9% of GDP. Obama's tax cut extensions in 2010 and 2012 were 1.3% and 1.8%, respectively. https://www.cnn.com/2017/12/15/politics/is-trumps-bill-largest-tax-cut-in-history-no/index.html

Washington Post - Fact Check: Biggest tax cut in U.S. history?

Trump repeatedly claims he passed the biggest tax cut in U.S. history, but it’s just not true. He’s earned Four Pinocchios for this claim before — but repeated it 57 times in his first year as president. The best way to compare tax cuts (or spending plans) over time is to measure them as a percentage of the national economy. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2018/live-updates/trump-white-house/fact-checking-and-analysis-of-trumps-state-of-the-union-2018-address/fact-check-biggest-tax-cut-in-u-s-history/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.5f4ce69e7666

So, these two outlets rely on the Treasury measurement based on the GDP or as compared to the national economy. It’s fine, of course, to measure it however you’d like, but it isn’t addressing the fact-claim. The writers should be asking, “What did Trump and Pence mean when they said, ‘We gave the largest tax cut in history.” This goes to determining meaning in communication. As Stephen Covey points out in his 7 Habits book, “First understand, then be understood.” I frame it as, “First understand, then disagree.”

What did Trump/Pence mean? Were they thinking of the GDP and the national economy as a comparison over time? No, the Whitehouse told us exactly what they meant by the statement:

President Trump’s tax cuts are the biggest gross tax cuts in American history, cutting over $5.5 trillion in taxes over ten years.

The President’s tax law included substantial reforms to make taxes simpler and fairer, which helped offset the cost of the tax cuts and thereby limit the net tax cut to $1.5 trillion.

President Trump cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, the largest percentage point reduction of the top marginal rate in history.

President Trump’s tax cuts include the biggest increase in the child tax credit in history.

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/president-donald-j-trump-achieved-biggest-tax-cuts-reforms-american-history/

So, if Trump/Pence meant that it’s the largest dollar amount tax cut in history, then they are not factually wrong. They said and meant what they said and meant (though it can be it’s own spin, perhaps). For the Washington Post to give Trump four Pinocchio’s and then base it on ‘the best way to compare’ is a spin using redefinition. In other words, neither Trump nor Pence meant what the Washington Post or CNN said they should have meant.

UNSPUN VERSION:
Trump/Pence: "President Trump signed the largest tax cut and tax reform in American history."
Journalist: While it is true that Trump's tax cut is the largest dollar amount cut in history, it is doubtful that it will be the most impactful tax cut in history. The Treasury has a consistent way to measure a tax cut's impact...

SPIN-CHECK TIP:
Watch for it and keep asking, two basic question to avoid their propaganda-spin:

  • What did they say?
  • What did they mean by what they said?

That will guide you well through the brackish water of spin into the clear waters of the Gulf of Truth.

Immorality, Billionaires, and the Alabama Ringworm Epidemic

Immorality, Billionaires, and the Alabama Ringworm Epidemic

Sep 28, 2012; Medinah, IL, USA; Billionaire Michael Jordan smokes a cigar as he watches the afternoon matches during the 39th Ryder Cup on day one at Medinah Country Club. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports


The logic of immorality has taken a fresh turn in public discourse as US representative declares billionaires to be persona non grata 


CONGRESS MEMBER OCASIO-CORTEZ: “Yeah, I don’t — I’m not saying that, but I do think a system that allows billionaires to exist when there are parts of Alabama where people are still getting ringworm because they don’t have access to public health is wrong." https://news.grabien.com/story-ocasio-cortez-immoral-our-system-allows-billionaires-exist

THE FACTS
While we are not a fact-check site per se, it is important to notice that Ocasio-Cortez is asserting that there are people in Alabama who are contracting ringworm because they don't have access to public health.  There is so much wrong here it is confusing to even address. It might be surprising  to those from (ironically) the Empire State to learn that Alabamians actually have health care. It may not be in the top tier nationally, but by world standards it's certainly able to handle ringworm. Of course, she probably meant pinworms. Ringworm is a fungus that is contracted in numerous ways everywhere. When the fungus is between the toes it's called 'athlete's foot' and 'jock itch' when in that vicinity. It is commonly spread in public places and has nothing specifically to do with the quality of health care in a state (though flip-flops in a public shower may help). Oh, pinworms are everywhere too.

THE SPIN
Facts aside, what is the spin here? Ocasio-Cortez is offering a rhetorical way of reasoning that looks like this:

Either X or Y is true
Either fair or unfair
Either moral or immoral
Either billionaires or health care

This is known as a False Dilemma or the Either/Or Fallacy. She is saying that it is immoral or wrong for the system to allow individuals to have a billion dollars when there are injustices (like the Alabama Ringworm Epidemic) that could be erased with the money. While there are more complex nuances in saying something is immoral, the naive argument is that preventing individuals to amass wealth would guarantee solving real-world problems.

Either Billionaires or Ringworm

While sometimes things are either/or, it is pretty rare in the economic or political worlds. If money cures what ails us, then the lottery winners would all do exceptionally well. Sadly, they don't fair well and are far more likely to go quickly  bankrupt than the average American. 

The assumptions Ocasio-Cortez must have in mind are numbing. She must assume that there is only a limited amount of money in the world, that the money above the billion mark would find its way to the injustices in the world, and that someone (the government?) would guarantee the money got delivered to the right places in the right way. There are more assumptions, but...

The spin is to set up an apparent contradiction to force a choice that is patently unnecessary. It's a very common problem in politics because of the emotional nature of locking one's identity into a cause or person. Are you a Never-Trumper or an Always-Trumper? In a False-Dilemma there is never a third option (sometimes Trumper).

When Ocasio-Cortez says the system shouldn't allow people to make a billion dollars, she is specifically talking about removing one's freedom. Of course, the billion mark is arbitrary. It could be a million or one hundred thousand just as easily. It's a perfectly anti-freedom, pro-socialism, spin that ignores both the reality of problems like the Alabama Ringworm Epidemic or the truth surrounding how much the wealthy contribute to things like the growth of the economy and humanitarian efforts (see Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation).

Don't fall for this spin: It's immoral to allow people to keep their money because that money would otherwise be solving problems.

Instead, inquire about the discrepancy:


If we prevented billionaires from existing,
why would that mean the Alabama Ringworm Epidemic would go away?

This question exposes the dilemma and invites clearer thought surrounding 'how it works'.


Was Hillary Clinton So Exhausted That She Could Barely Give A Speech?

"

      "I’m so exhausted, I can barely stand here... " 



Since the Wall Street Journal is pointing to another run for Hillary Clinton in 2020, it seems only fair to get ahead of the spin on her as a viable candidate [see https://www.wsj.com/articles/hillary-will-run-again-1541963599]

This past summer, Kyle Olsen declared concerning her acceptance speech for the AFT Woman's Rights Award that, "Hillary begins her speech: ‘I’m so tired, I can barely stand.’'

While his quoting her is innocent enough, he goes on to claim, "The failed presidential candidate started her speech to the American Federation of Teachers Union on Friday in a bizarre way: by telling everyone how tired she was." 

Nothing is factually errant about her statement, but Olsen spins the statement with a disregard for context. In my theological training, it was commonly said in interpreting the Bible that "A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text." The logical fallacy is called Quoting Out of Context [http://www.fallacyfiles.org/quotcont.html]. Olsen's assertion that Clinton is being bizarre misses the context of her statement.

While Olsen did quote some of the context, he left out a couple of things.

Clinton: “Well, I’ll tell you,” she said, “I’ve been back there listening to Randi (Weingarten) and I’m so exhausted, I can barely stand here.”

So, we can see that she was referring to an exhaustion from listening to a speech, rather than some health related (implied) issue. She goes on to say,

Clinton: "That was an amazing speech."

Is Hillary Clinton being bizarre or is she complimenting Randi Weingarten? Clearly she is praising the prior speaker.  There is simply nothing bizarre, or even slightly odd, for a speaker to observe that the energy and excitement of a speech can be a 'drain' emotionally and physically on an individual.


When I was a kid I found a way to connect with my dad by watching boxing (both in the Olympics and in a Friday Night boxing  show on TV). I consistently felt exhausted after a bout, as though I too had been in the ring. We commonly assert this same notion after watching a close football game involving a team we love.

Of course, it simply needn't be true. Hillary didn't have to be exhausted and unable to speak after hearing an introduction for her award. She was probably just speaking in hyperbole, exaggerating the point to complement Weingarten. 

"

     "Well, I’ll tell you, I’ve been back there listening to Randi and I’m so exhausted, I can barely stand here.
That was an amazing speech...”



In learning how to discern and think, we must constantly look at the context rather than to accept a passing editorial headline as the gospel-according-to-the-writer. 

Context matters, and Hillary Clinton was simply misrepresented in the spin.  She may actually be exhausted, but she went on to talk energetically for about 25 minutes in her acceptance speech.

Enough said. 

Did Trump Promise To Pay 1 Million Dollars If Elizabeth Warren Took A DNA Test?

Did Trump Promise To Pay 1 Million Dollars If Elizabeth Warren Took A DNA Test?

THE HILL wrote:

Trump denies offering $1 million for Warren DNA test, even though he did


CONTEXT

"President Trump on Monday denied that he offered Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) $1 million to take a test proving her Native American heritage, even though he did just that."

Elizabeth Warren's DNA analysis revealed that she can claim some native ancestry, however, the Boston Globe put it in perspective:

"The inherent imprecision of the six-page DNA analysis could provide fodder for Warren’s critics. If O.C. Sarah Smith were fully Native American, that would make Warren up to 1/32nd native. But the generational range based on the ancestor that the report identified suggests she’s between 1/64th and 1/1,024th Native American. The report notes there could be missed ancestors." https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/politics/2018/10/15/warren-addresses-native-american-issue/YEUaGzsefB0gPBe2AbmSVO/story.html


There are two important things to note for context:

1. Elizabeth Warren's results appear to make her about as Native American than the average Native European (American). Here's the average according to the New York Times, "The researchers found that European-Americans had genomes that were on average 98.6 percent European, .19 percent African, and .18 Native American." https://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/25/science/23andme-genetic-ethnicity-study.html

2. The requirement for being consider a Native American is commonly considered between 1/16 and 1/4 genetically, "To give you a clue, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians a minimum of 1/16 degree of Cherokee blood for tribal enrollment, while the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Higher Education Grant expects you to have the minimum of ¼ Native American blood percentages. That’s 25%." https://www.powwows.com/much-percentage-native-american-enrol-tribe/


THE SPIN

The spin here isn't concerned with the facts exactly, but with the writing within the article itself. The claim is that Trump offered to pay if Warren 'took the test' ---but that is also contradicted in the article. In fact, contradiction and incongruence is often a sign of spin.

THE HILL: "Trump spoke after Warren responded to the president's challenge and released the results of a DNA test showing she has a distant Native ancestor. '
I didn't say that. You'd better read it again,' Trump told reporters at the White House when asked about his $1 million offer."

In other words, "We gotcha!" But The Hill writer Jordan Fabian goes on to give the exact promise Trump made in contrast to the headline:

"I will give you a million dollars, to your favorite charity, paid for by Trump, if you take the test and it shows you’re an Indian," Trump said at the time. "I have a feeling she will say 'no.' "


SHE DIDN'T SAY, "NO." BUT, SHE'S ALSO NOT A NATIVE AMERICAN.

Fabian/The Hill is asserting that Trump promised 1 million if she took the test, but later notes that 'SHOWS YOU'RE AN INDIAN' is a necessary condition. The spin is that she 'merely' need to take the test to call Trump out, but that isn't Trump's offer, despite Fabian's claim.

By any standards of genetics or common sense, Elizabeth Warren is not a Native American. In fact, statistically speaking, Trump himself may actually be more Native American than Elizabeth Warren.

While this could be a fact-check issue, it's really about spin. The spin here is that a conclusion is asserted based on one part of a statement while looking past the other part of the statement. Often when we dig in the same article, we can find the spin on the truth. This isn't about facts or ideology, liberal or conservative; it's about framing the known information in such a way as to guide the reader to a certain conclusion. Trump clearly was not saying, "Take a DNA test and if you have any amount of Native blood, I'll donate a million dollars." 

He said what he said, "I will give you a million dollars, to your favorite charity, paid for by Trump, if you take the test and it shows you’re an Indian."

Senator Warren took the test and is not a Native American, so the promise isn't violated.

Nothing to see here folks.



UPDATE - Posted Online After Elizabeth Warren Indicates She Will Run For President (early 2019)

Did The Senate Reject The #MeToo Movement?

Did The Senate Reject The #MeToo Movement?

Did The Senate Reject The MeToo Movement When It Voted Brett Kavanaugh In As A Supreme Court Justice?

The headline reads,
“Brett Kavanaugh Confirmed To Supreme Court As Senate Rejects Me Too Movement” (click to see Huffington Post Article).

Clearly this is a spin which pitches a false dichotomy. Either you support the #MeToo Movement by voting against Kavanaugh OR you reject the #MeToo movement by voting for Kavanaugh. This is a little nightmarishly amateur, but since we are in the process of learning about spins on this site, this seems a good place to start.

What Was Said:

The essential statement in the article that points back to the headline is, “Kavanaugh’s confirmation flies in the face of the cultural and political Me Too movement, which has empowered women in all walks of life to speak out about sexual assault and harassment, especially by men in positions of power.” The thought is that the Me Too Movement is a cultural/political movement that is empowering women to speak out. Of course,

this is a good thing; in fact, it is a  wonderful thing to see women speak out about abuse. The problem, hence the spin, occurs when speaking out is equated with infallibility. Just because someone speaks out or makes an assertion, why does that mean they are in the right?

This leads us to how the spin uses a common logical fallacy.

The Fallacy: False Dilemma

A false Dilemma is accurately described as “When only two choices are presented yet more exist, or a spectrum of possible choices exists between two extremes.  False dilemmas are usually characterized by “either this or that” language, but can also be characterized by omissions of choices.” [Click to see LogicallyFallacious]

The dilemma here is that one simply is

A. For Kavanaugh and against #MeToo

B. For #MeToo and against Kavanaugh

This means that there are no other options. You love me or hate me, help me or hurt me, cheer me or curse me.

THE GOAL: THINK PAST THE SPIN

When we think past the False Dilemma, we can quickly ask a fresh question, ” If the Senate had rejected Kavanaugh, would it then be a supporter of the #MeToo Movement? Of course, the jury would be out and we’d only be ‘the next vote’ away from a fresh accusation.

The reality is that accusations themselves are valid or invalid until they are proved or support to be so. The spin in this discussion presumes that an accusation is valid; however, for that to be true then the accusers must be incapable of deceit, deception, or confusion. Said differently, we must believe that any woman who makes an accusation is 100% honest and accurate.

If you care to read both sides of the issue, then you’ll find that there is no proof that supported Dr. Ford’s allegations to the level of a preponderance of the evidence, or even more likely than not. In the cycle of spin, you can see in the same article that the authors claim that, “Some argued that Ford’s contemporaries couldn’t corroborate her story, despite Ford securing affidavits from four people ​who said she previously told them about Kavanaugh’s alleged attack. “Of course, corroboration doesn’t mean that she told her story to other people at sometime in her life; but rather, that witnesses to the event, contemporary to the moment, actually support her claims. If you say you saw a space-alien when you were ten and got affidavits that proved you shared this information with others when you were 18, 24, 33, and 40— none of this would corroborate the space-alien event. For that to happen you need someone to say, “Yes, she came to me the next morning when she was ten years old and told me the whole story.”Dr. Ford could be completely right or completely deceived. Women should be supported in sharing instances of abuse (as too men). However, to accept carte blanche an accusation as true is untenable and self-defeating. Had Judge Kavanaugh accused her of stalking-and-attacking him, then why wouldn’t he be believed? The spin here is that there is a false choice; you either are pro or anti, for or against, so there is no middle possibility or option.But there are other options:

1. There was not enough evidence to come to a conclusion

2. The Senate could be pro-MeToo, but still require adequate proof

3.The MeToo Movement could be anti-Senate, anti-government, and so claim the same state of rejection, no matter what

4. You want #MeToo women to speak up and be listened to, but you don’t want anything accepted as ‘true’ without proof (see the horror of the Duke lacrosse team members accused of rape by Ms. Mangam, who lied and was eventually convicted of murder. See https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/2013/11/22/crystal-mangum-duke-lacrosse-rape-accuser-guilty-murder/3680701/)

While there are other possibilities, these are sufficient to show that the spin in play was to remove all options from our thinking so that we too must conclude the MeToo Movement is flawless and the Senate is evil. This isn’t about facts exactly, but about how the authors are spinning the bits of data to make you conclude what they want you to conclude. Think for yourself.Finally, and not much mentioned in the media, the Senate’s approval of Kavanaugh itself came down to about four votes on this issue. Therefore, another spin in play is that the decision of a bare-majority dictates the conclusion (according to the HuffPo writers)) that the ‘Whole Senate’ is against the MeToo Movement.

Have we solved the issues surrounding the #MeToo Movement? No, not at all. However, here we are concern with the spin in the HuffPo article, not the weightiness of the issues involved.

See the HuffPo SPIN that the Senate as an entity has rejected the #MeToo Movement and move along.

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