Unless you missed it, WEALTH is different than INCOME.
The goal here is not to wade into the debate about taxation, but to simply call attention to words and statistics. Even though Elizabeth Warren, President Biden, and others are promoting a wealth tax (clear enough), most Americans don’t seem to completely grasp the nuance.
Two BIG spins are in play below:
In both instances, a small tweak or reframe of the discussion can mislead one’s conclusions (oh so subtly).
Here are Sen. Warren’s words:
Let’s be clear where we stand on taxes. The 99% in America last year paid about 7.2% of their total wealth in taxes. That top one tenth of one percent where Elon Musk lives, they paid about 3.2%. That’s less than half as much. If Elon Musk were paying at the same rate as the rest of Americans on their wealth, then Elon Musk and his kind could be funding a huge part of what we need in America.” Sen. Warren: Elon Musk is riding on the backs of hard-working families (cnn.com)
It is important to notice that the word ‘wealth’ is distinct from the word ‘income’. Wealth is your totality of net assets (what you own less what you owe), while income in the money you’ve brought in during a year. A wealth tax taxes all you’ve got, while income tax taxes what you’ve added.
The spin here is based on the way the public has understood taxation for generations. When Sen. Warren says that the 1% are paying almost ½ of what the 99% is paying, she is attempting to spin our understanding of income tax into an outrage. It’s not that she’s necessarily wrong (but it would be nice to see her math), it’s that she is talking like the wealthy are cheating the tax code by not paying their taxes.
So, if the sentence is changed to ‘income’, then it would read like this: “Let’s be clear where we stand on taxes. The 99% in America last year paid about 7.2% of their total income in taxes.” Of course, that would be patently false as the following displays.
In actual income taxes paid, the heaviest contribution is made by the wealthiest income earners. In the math of taxes paid compared to income, the lower 50% only pays 3% of all taxes; which means the top 1% is paying of 700% more then the poorest families and a significantly greater percentage than any other group (assuming the math is correct).
There’s more to the spin, but the key lesson is to realize that numbers can often be twisted to say what you want, and even more readily when the words are switch to play against the common understanding.
A wealth tax is different than an income tax, and in principle simply asks us to consider how much we want the federal government to slow our own accumulation of wealth and redistribute it in the a variety of causes (Warren is concerned with multiple universal solutions like universal healthcare, education, etc.
Now you know. Probably smart to keep the following quotes in mind:
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
-Lewis Carroll: Through the Looking-Glass
There are three kinds of falsehoods, lies, damned lies and statistics.
Spin-check is about preparing readers to discern the truth, which isn’t easy in a spin-happy world. PRESIDENT TRUMP ALWAYS LIES. Accusing people of lying is the quickest spin of all that groups embrace, and it misdirects us from seeing the truth of things.
Plenty of people out there think it’s true that President Trump always lies, but clearly this is suspicious unless they change the meaning of the words ‘lie’ or ‘always’. The energy to overreact seems to be without boundaries. Here’s a recent example:
Well, this looks obvious! He says he signed the CHOICE Act,
but we know he really didn’t. Ha! Liar! A few comments that immediately follow
this post found at #trumplies show the instant conclusion:
The Trump tweet is explained by considering Trump a
deliberate liar on one extreme, and a self-deceived (delusional?) liar at the
other extreme. Apparently, “We know Trump is lying, we just don’t know exactly
But is he lying? The simplest thing to do to avoid getting sucked into this spin-cycle is to begin with the assumption the other person might not be lying, that something else may be in play. This mindset will lead you to FIRST UNDERSTAND…and, of course, you can still condemn the sorry liar later.
We always try to ask, “Would Trump (or ________) really knowingly make such an outlandish statement that is blatantly false?” The answer is always, “Not likely.” So, we need to look at what the President actually said and compare it to what is claimed he said.
They say he said:
I signed the Choice Act, not Obama.
Last year I signed legislation that gives our Veterans CHOICE, through private providers, and at urgent care facilities! Today we fully funded this $10 billion a year effort that gets our brave Veterans care quickly, and close to home.
Now, first we can notice that he did not say he signed the Choice Act, but rather he signed ‘legislation’. From here we’d simple ask, “Did he sign legislation that does this?” With a little googling we can find that he did sign legislation:
So, he did sign legislation (referring to either story above?). He extended the Choice Act (and improved it, apparently). Is he taking credit for something he didn’t do? Is he misleading everyone? Is he a jerk anyway? Well, all of these are clearly important questions. And, of course, congress passed the law, so they can get credit too.
One might still want to call the President a liar anyway, but the legitimacy of the claim in this case needs some explaining…or…perhaps an admission that it’s just not true in this rabid instance. The overreaction to whatever Trump says makes both spinning and looking stupid rather easy.
As we like to note, if Trump were Shakespeare and said, “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun,” wouldn’t he be open to the accusation of being a liar? Juliet is not the sun; it’s a gaseous ball of explosions about 93 million miles from earth; Shakespeare/Trump is a liar.
Of course, always make sure you get the actual quote which is declared the ‘lie’. Next, to avoid getting caught up in group-spins like these, simply ask, “What did they mean?” and “Is it true?” In this way you’ll be fair-minded and call a liar a liar with accuracy, rather than getting egg on your face like those who buy spin in Costco-sized containers.
In a 17 June 2019 article in USA Today titled, “Supreme Court upholds ‘double jeopardy’ standard that could blunt impact of potential Trump pardons,” the Mueller Mandate is redefined with the the phrase, “Russian Interference.”
A FEW JUST DEFINITIONS
1. Red Herring[from the practice of drawing a red herring across a trail to confuse hunting dogs] : something that distracts attention from the real issue].
2. Russian InterferenceA computer hacking conspiracy involving gaining unauthorized access into the computers of U.S. persons and entities involved in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, stealing documents from those computers, and staging releases of the stolen documents to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
3. Mueller Mandate(b) The Special Counsel is authorized to conduct the investigation confirmed by then-FBIDirector James 8. Comey in testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee onIntelligence on March 20, 2017, including:
(i) any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and(ii) any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and(iii) any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a).
THE ISSUESo, the red herring of ‘Russian Interference’ is being drug across the trail of ‘Russian Collusion’ in this USA Today article (and via other media outlets):
The case had gained attention largely because of the possibility that Trump could pardon one or more of his former associates convicted in federal court by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
In other words, Russian Interference in the 2016 election was an issue dating back to the Obama administration, but it was not about whether the Trump Campaign had colluded (secret conspiracy with the intent to defraud) with the Russians. Mueller was charged to specifically determine if there was coordination between Trump Campaign officials and the Russian government.
1. If there had been no Russian Interference in the 2016 election, it could still have been possible that the Trump (or Clinton) campaign could have conspired with the Russian government.2. But if Donald Trump had lost the presidency to Hillary Clinton, then there * WOULD NOT BE a Special Counsel or Mueller Report * WOULD STILL BE Russian Interference3. So, Russian Interference is not the same as Russian Collusion
The spin here is that USA Today is dragging a red herring across the trail to confuse (or conflate) the issues. Without discussing the ‘obstruction’ question, the Mueller Report and it’s confirmation by the Attorney General, the investigation was about whether or not members of the Trump campaign had conspired with the Russian government; which has been thoroughly investigated and established that there was no collusion. It is safe to assume (unless there is unintentional incompetence in play) that in order to keep the issue in the news, USA Today (et al) have muddled and conflated the Russian Investigation with the Trump-Collusion Investigation. It’s a red herring which continues to ‘mislead or distract from a relevant or important question’— which in this case is, “Did any members of the Trump campaign collude with Russian?” The Mueller Report ended the question with a specific, “No.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_herring
Watch for this common tactic called a red herring — whether it’s intentional or not, it’s a spin to check.
The simple fact is that Mueller did not find sufficient
evidence to charge or accuse President Trump of any wrong doing.
Mueller’s key words from his May 29, 2019 public statement were,
And as set forth in the report, after that investigation, if we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so. We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.
If we were sure the president didn’t commit a crime, we would have told you.
We did not determine the president committed a crime.
The convoluted wording alone should make us wonder about
spin. Clearly Mueller did not have a legal case against the president (or he
would have stated such), but spin allows him to make a political accusation; by
We can’t say the president didn’t commit a
crime; suggesting that maybe he did
We can’t say the president did commit a crime;
suggesting that maybe he didn’t
All of this leaves a cloud of suspicion, but rightly viewed,
Mueller is an agnostic rather than a true atheist.
Agnostic: I don’t know if there is a God or not;
suggesting not enough proof or evidence either way
Atheist: I know there is no God; suggesting
evidence and proof exists to show ‘no God’
By posturing himself as an agnostic, he leaves
room for speculation on the part of all the rest of us. To bend Robert Frost’s
We dance in a ring and suppose, Mueller sits in the middle and knows.
To Un-Spin this matter, we simply need to know if Mueller thinks
he had a case to indict Trump if he were not the president. If that were so,
his language would be something like, “While I know a sitting president can’t
be indicted, I believe there is sufficient evidence to prove he committed a
crime.” That would be provable and explosive if true. Indicting the president
is one thing, accusing him of committing a crime is another.
Of course, he says nothing close to an accusation since he
flatly states, “We did not, however,
make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.”
Mueller’s spin is to nuance the difference between these two statements:
a crime was not committed
did not determine a crime was committed
In either statement, there is nothing for the legal system
to do. If there was no crime or if no conclusion is reached that there was a
crime, it doesn’t matter legally; THERE IS NO CASE.
Mueller’s entire problem is one of INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE. He states this in the same public statement when he says,
[Volume One of the report] includes a discussion of the Trump campaign’s response to this activity, as well as our conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy.
the legal world, insufficient evidence mean you don’t have a case, especially
during a trial. When there is not enough evidence, then charges are dropped and
the person under investigation is cleared and freed.
n. a finding (decision) by a trial judge or an appeals court that the prosecution in a criminal case or a plaintiff in a lawsuit has not proved the case because the attorney did not present enough convincing evidence. Insufficient evidence usually results in dismissal of the case after the prosecution or the plaintiff has completed his/her introduction of evidence or, if on appeal, reversal of the judgment by the trial court.
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?
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
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.
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.
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.