Cambridge Analytica may be guilty of being too successful

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, March 19, 2018)

{Send comments to:; the SPSS dataset used in this article can also be provided upon request}

According to whistleblowers, a voter profiling company, Cambridge Analytica, started collecting private information in 2014 from more than 50 million Americans through their Facebook profiles. This unauthorized “data breach” represents one of the social media giant’s largest data leaks.

Facebook claiming it was unaware of Cambridge Analytica’s exploitation of Facebook users for the Donald Trump campaign’s targeting of potential voters is a bit like Captain Renault in the movie Casablanca saying, “I  am shocked…shocked! find that gambling is going on in here!”

Facebook is equally phony. By its own admission in a statement last Friday, the company knew, as early as 2014, what Cambridge Analytica was doing with Facebook users’ profile data and chose to ignore it.

Why? Because it was good for business. Facebook’s business model is built on the premise that the personal information it collects on its users has considerable market value.

Furthermore, any attempt to call what Cambridge Analytica did with its access to Facebook profile data a “data breach” is cynical misuse of the term.

“There was no unauthorized external hacking involved, meaning that Facebook databases were not breached by an outside malicious actor,” according to Ido Kilovaty, a Cyber Fellow at the Center for Global Legal Challenges and Resident Fellow at the Information Society Project, Yale Law School.

Cambridge Analytica simply exploited the Facebook profile data for maximum value. Its innovation was to pull in your Facebook friends to expand its analytic base.

The Trump campaign’s voter targeting firm may have pushed boundaries by harvesting 50 million Facebook user profiles to build its own database for communications targeting, but its methods were well-known within Facebook.

Why? Because Hillary Clinton’s campaign was doing something similar in building their own voter targeting algorithm, Ada, which also relied on social media content to build its models.

The current hand wringing by the mass media about Facebook’s role in helping the Trump campaign appears to be nothing but another poorly veiled partisan attack on Trump.

Had Clinton won the election, Ada’s algorithms would be legend. Instead, Ada is a monument to Clinton’s over-reliance on Moneyball-inspired data for its decision-making.

In contrast, Cambridge Analytica, because it aided the Trump campaign, is a digital age boogey man meant to instill fear in every red-blooded America who has ever re-posted an anti-Hillary meme on Facebook or ‘liked’ a group page dedicated to protecting the Second Amendment.

The unacknowledged truth is that all of these sophisticated data algorithm’s are somewhere between profound data-driven insights and modern versions of a kabuki dance — a stylized ritual meant to convey legitimacy to the data firms promoting the superior value of data analytics.

Does that mean data analytics are a fraud? No, of course not. It does mean that assigning excessive value to data analytic methods undervalues the real mechanisms behind how people decide their vote preferences.

Too frequently in today’s social science, personified by Cambridge University psychologists, Michal Kosinski and David Stillwell, who helped build the psychological profiling algorithms employed by Cambridge Analytica, interesting correlational relationships substitute for sound insight.

Stillwell, specifically, developed an app for Facebook where users would take a short personality quiz and get a score on five personality traits — Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism. In exchange for their cooperation, Facebook users would agree to give Stillwell access to their Facebook profiles.

By 2015, Cambridge Analytica, who had signed a contract with Facebook to gain access to Facebook’s users, would leverage Stillwell’s app to develop personality profiles for millions of Facebook users.

Among the unique insights from Cambridge Analytica was that people who liked ‘I hate Israel’ on Facebook also tended to like Nike shoes and KitKats.

Those types of findings are a tell-tale sign of pseudo-intellectual bullshit.

There is no causal social theory that links the purchase of Nike shoes and KitKat bars to antipathy towards Israel. Those types of relationships are “spurious” in that they represent statistically significant correlations in data that fail to account for the true causal factors actually linking variables.

We repeat. Buying Nike shoes or KitKat bars is not a subconscious indicator that you are anti-Israel.

In all probability, the relationship Cambridge Analytica found in their data was either a product of random chance or an artifact of the targeting used in marketing Nike shoes and KitKat bars that may correlate with social subgroups prone to anti-Israel sentiments.

Either way, suggesting a substantive relationship between KitKat bars and anti-Israel sentiments is shitty social theory and bad business practice.

Cambridge Analytica and other mainstream data analytic firms will argue they aren’t in the business of developing solid social theory. What they care about are the deep correlations in data, not the true causal mechanisms behind them. They will defend their methods with the oft repeated academic canard that we are “data rich and theory poor.”

No kidding.

Unfortunately, throwing one’s arms up and giving up on developing good theory does not justify findings like, “the purchase of Nike shoes and KitKar bars correlates with anti-Israel sentiments.”

It is an intellectual cop-out that may explain why so many sophisticated modeling algorithms, like the Clinton campaign’s Ada algorithm, fail in practice.

But there are other reasons supporting skepticism about the big data analytic models like the ones employed in the 2016 presidential campaigns.

The 2016 presidential election results were predictable months in advance of the election itself. In some cases, months before a single general election ad had been purchased by the Clinton or Trump campaigns.

Contrary to the popular myth promoted by the mainstream media, the polls and econometric models were exceptionally accurate in their predictions for the 2016 popular vote. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by about 3 percentage points and that is very close to what the polls and econometric models predicted on the morning of November 8th.

What failed in 2016 were the prediction markets (i.e., “the experts). The econometric models, which generally rely on economic data gathered months prior to election day, performed particularly well — as usual (see Figure 1 below).

Figure 1: Forecast Errors in 2016 presidential election by forecast method (Source: Andreas Graefe,

What shocked the system was the degree to which the Clinton vote clustered along the American coastal states and under-performed in the American rust belt.

Had the Clinton campaign recognized her vulnerability in states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, the outcome could have been very different. Robby Mook should never be allowed to present himself as a political expert in any forum. Hillary Clinton lost because he was not good at his job.

And it is that type of strategic intelligence that Cambridge Analytica may have maximized using its own data models. Cambridge Analytica identified marginally conservative Americans most vulnerable to voting for Clinton and targeted them for anti-Clinton campaign ads. has previously shown in its analysis of 2016 American National Election Study (ANES) that older conservatives most engaged in using social media (e.g., Facebook and Twitter) for sharing political information were particularly negative towards Hillary Clinton.

Older conservative voters that used social media for sharing had noticeably different attitudes in the 2016 election

In rating Hillary Clinton on a 0 to 100 favorability scale, on average, “slightly conservative” adults aged 40 or older who used Facebook or Twitter to share political information gave her a rating of 20.7, compared to 32.1 among otherwise similar adults who had not used Facebook or Twitter for sharing political information (see Figure 2 below). A similar relationship emerged among “conservative” adults (aged 40 or older). This pattern did not appear however among adults under 40 years of age, regardless of political ideology.

Figure 2: Favorability Towards Clinton by Ideology and Facebook/Twitter Use (aged 40+); Source:

“Slightly conservative” and “conservative” Americans accounted for 25 percent of the U.S. vote eligible population according to the 2016 ANES. And within that 25 percent, just under half of them said they used Facebook or Twitter to share political information during the campaign.

That is still almost 12 percent of the population that had a distinctly more negative view of Clinton by the end of the campaign, compared to other eligible voters with otherwise similar demographic and attitudinal characteristics.

We believe something unique happened to this group during the campaign. We may have prematurely called this evidence of “Russian meddling” but we feel comfortable in calling it the “social media effect” (SME).

When we looked at the relative difference in favorability towards Clinton and Trump (see Figure 3 below), the same older conservatives appeared to stand out. “Conservatives” (aged 40 or older) that used Facebook and Twitter to share political information were significantly more positive towards Trump, relative to Clinton, than those in the same demographic category but did not use Facebook or Twitter for political information sharing.

Figure 3: Favorability Gap by Ideology and Facebook/Twitter Use (aged 40+); Source:

When assessing the honesty of the two presidential candidates, “slightly conservative” and “conservative” adults (aged 40 or older) who used Facebook or Twitter for sharing political information thought Trump was much more honest than Clinton than did otherwise similar adults who had not used Facebook or Twitter for political information sharing (see Figure 4 below).

Figure 4: Clinton-Trump “honesty” gap by Ideology and Facebook/Twitter Use (aged 40+); Source:

We believe these findings are tentative evidence of the Trump campaign’s intense targeting of conservative voters, particularly those most open to voting for Clinton, with negative campaign ads.

Within the 2016 ANES survey data, the relative favorability and honesty evaluations of the two candidates were highly significant predictors of actual vote decisions (see the SPSS output for a logistic model of 2016 vote choice in Appendix).

When we quantify our findings on the impact of Facebook/Twitter use for sharing political information, we get these results (see Table 1 below):

Table 1: Estimated population sizes (Source:

Based on the 2016 ANES survey data, we estimate over 28 million vote eligible Americans (or about 12 percent of the voter eligible population) were prime targets for the Trump campaign’s social media strategy. They were self-described as “conservative” or “slightly conservative” and used Facebook and/or Twitter for sharing political information. We consider this subgroup to be the primary source of any “social media effect” (SME) in the 2016 presidential election.

On election day, almost 16 million of these voters actually voted.

Table 2: Estimated impact of conservative Facebook-Twitter users on the 2016 vote (Source:

Using an admittedly ‘back-of-the-envelope’ method, we compare the actual vote totals with an alternative result had conservative Facebook-Twitter users held the same opinions as conservative voters that did not use Facebook-Twitter for sharing political information.

We estimate that, without the “social media effect” (SME), Trump would have lost the popular vote by 3.7 million votes and would have lost Michigan by 19,000 votes (see Table 2 above) He still would have won the electoral college in our estimate, but it would have been even closer than the actual 77,000 vote margin.

Keep in mind, we are not considering other subgroups (i.e., “middle of the road” and “slightly liberal” voters) that also may have been impacted by Trump’s social media efforts.

Nonetheless, the practical impact of an effective social media campaign can be the difference between winning and losing a presidential election. In our estimate, at a minimum a additional 1 million votes would have gone to Hillary Clinton had it not been for the Trump campaign’s (i.e, Cambridge Analytica’s) social media efforts.

More directly, we think Cambridge Analytica’s data insights were one of the decisive factors in Trump’s electoral victory, along with the mainstream media’s excessive gift of “free media” to the Trump campaign.

Did Cambridge Analytica pass its data to the Russians?

The big question becomes, did Cambridge Analytica pass its data (and algorithms?) on to the Russians? That is clearly where the mainstream media intends to take the Cambridge Analytica story.

The Twittersphere is flush with conspiratorial theories and some unverified evidence linking Cambridge Analytica to the Russians.

First reported by, reports in late-October 2016 surfaced about a server in Trump Tower connected to a bank in Russia (the Alfa Bank).

Soon after the initial reports, bloggers @TeaPainUSA  and @Conspirator0 analyzed server log data and suggested the Trump Tower server had been communicating during the 2016 general election period in a manner suggesting ‘database replication’ had occurred at distinct times by the Alfa Bank server. In addition, another server in the U.S., this one controlled by Spectrum Health, a company owned by the Devos family, which includes the current Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, was also communicating with the Trump Tower server.

In addition, a September 2017 blog post by another blogger reported that a Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) server was also “sending Cambridge Analytica data targeting and propaganda messages to Trump’s server, in order that they be washed with the voter registration and DNC databases that were being sent to and from Alfa Bank” during the 2016 campaign.

As one might imagine, conspiracy theories have blossomed regrading the Trump Tower server, which is now part of the Mueller investigation. But, in all fairness, some early reports have thrown cold water on the suspicious Trump Tower and Alfa Bank server connections, suggesting they are the result of normal spamming activities that are common between commercial servers.

It is also possible that the Russian’s hacked into the Trump Tower servers without assistance from the Trump campaign. I’ve heard the Russians are good at that.

Nonetheless, particularly since the latest Cambridge Analytica controversy, the Trump Tower server story remains a small cottage industry for some investigative reporters and will hopefully be resolved when the Mueller investigation is completed.

Until that time, the 2016 voter opinion data we have analyzed convinces us that the Trump campaign’s social media efforts — whether aided by the Russians or not — were a significant factor in the 2016 presidential election.


Appendix: Logistic Model of the 2016 Presidential Vote (American National Election Study)
Table 5: Based on 2016 ANES individual-level survey data; data are weighted to represent the vote eligible population; dependent variable coded as 1 = Trump vote / 0 = Clinton or other vote

{Send comments to:}

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

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Are we seeing evidence that Russian meddling impacted the 2016 election?

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, March 13, 2018)

{Send comments to:; the SPSS dataset used in this article can also be provided upon request}

“We conducted an election that had integrity,” said CIA Director Mike Pompeo and soon-to-be Secretary of State during a public event last October. “And yes, the intelligence community’s assessment is that the Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the election.”

Unfortunately, no U.S. intelligence agency has ever publicly addressed the question about whether the Russians affected the outcome, much less answered it to the degree Pompeo implied.

We still don’t know if Russian meddling affected the outcome of the 2016 presidential election and there is an excellent chance we will never know with certainty.

In past posts, we expressed skepticism that $30-40 million of Russian-backed social media advertising, no matter how well spent strategically, could alter a U.S. presidential election where the two major campaigns spent over a billion dollars. Even the releases of the DNC and Podesta emails, also products of Russian meddling, do not directly correlate with any changes in tracking polls or prediction markets. Obviously, the email leaks could still have been very important in that they drove daily news coverage for consecutive days and prevented the Clinton campaign from generating momentum.

“To drive a wedge between Democrats just as we were coming together after the primary, Russian hackers stole and selectively published files from the Democratic National Committee,” Hillary Clinton told one of her book tour audiences last October. “It was a virtual Watergate break-in. Later, to blunt our momentum, and distract from the Access Hollywood tapes, they released emails stolen from my campaign chair, John Podesta.”

Clinton’s contention has significant merit. The DNC and Podesta emails hurt her campaign. But as the election forecasts show in Figure 1, both the first release of the DNC emails (by DCLeaks in early July 2016) and the Podesta emails on Oct . 7, 2016 were followed by either stable or increasing poll numbers for Clinton. Only the Wikileaks release of the DNC emails in mid-July was followed by a decline in Clinton’s poll numbers, but even that trend started days before the Wikileaks release. The DNC and Podesta email leaks very likely changed the campaign’s dynamics, but it will be difficult to prove how they changed the final outcome.

Figure 1: 2016 Presidential (Polls-only) Daily Forecasts (Source:

Before identifying nuanced factors behind the 2016 outcome, it is important to identify the most potent factors first, and at the top of that suspect list is the $1.2 billion advantage in “free media” the major mass media gave Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.

Hours of unfiltered television coverage of Trump rallies in front of enthusiastic crowds, particularly during the primaries, were a priceless gift to the Trump campaign (see Figure 2).

Explaining Trump’s stunning election victory must therefore begin with the news media’s pursuit of an audience; and nothing attracted an audience during the 2016 campaign like Donald Trump. From earliest moments of the campaign the news media incubated and nurtured the Trump campaign with hours of unfiltered coverage of his campaign speeches and rallies. Through this coverage, Trump gained credibility and relevance.

According to media analyst Andrew Tyndall, by March 2016, Trump accounted for nearly a third of all election coverage and more than all Democratic candidates combined. And the mass media couldn’t have been happier as the Trump coverage translated directly into larger audiences and larger profits.

And nobody was happier than the cable news networks.

Ad revenues in 2016 for cable news reached $2 billion, a 15 percent increase over 2015,  with both Fox News and CNN earning profits over $1 billion for the year.

And the main attraction was Trump.

Figure 2: Media attention devoted to Clinton and Trump during the 2016 election (Source: Faris, Robert M., Hal Roberts, Bruce Etling, Nikki Bourassa, Ethan Zuckerman, and Yochai Benkler. 2017. Partisanship, Propaganda, and Disinformation: Online Media and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society Research Paper.)

Do you want to understand why Donald Trump won the election? Start your inquiry with the cable news networks.

But that doesn’t let the Russians off the hook.

Any attempt to measure Russia’s unique impact on the election must also contend with the multitude of competing campaign communications that flooded the daily news cycle. And it doesn’t help that the messages and social media tactics used by the Russians paralleled what was already coming out of the Trump campaign. To tease out a causal link attributable to only the Russians may be no more than the digital age version of a snipe hunt.

All the same, the Russians did lay down some markers during their social media campaign, most notably a series of Facebook group pages that may have generated collateral behaviors such as Google searches which may offer indirect evidence of the Russians’ impact.

And that is where the search for the Russians’ influence on the 2016 election begins.

Killary and the “Heart of Texas”

Using Google’s Trends service — which allows the public to discover trends in Google searches — we found two terms over the course of the 2016 campaign that we attributed to the American public’s interest in two Facebook group pages created by Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA): “Killary” and “Heart of Texas.”

Figure 3: Google searches on selected key words and phrases from the 2016 campaign (Source: Google Trends)

The terms “Killary” and “Heart of Texas” — shown in the Figure 3 with star markers (X) — barely registered in Google searches relative to the major campaign issues: Clinton emails, Clinton health, Clinton Foundation, Access Hollywood tape, and the Podesta emails. The index scores (which can range from 0 to 100) for “Killary” and “Heart of Texas” never exceeded 10 during the course of the election. In comparison, “Clinton emails” had a weekly index score over 40 four times during the campaign.

Even so, is there is a noticeable peak in “Heart of Texas” Google searches during the Democratic National Convention in late July and a peak in “Killary” searches in the last week of the campaign, which only proves the Russians had a barely discernible impact on Google searches.

The 2016 American National Election Study

Feeling slightly more confident after exploring Google Trends, we decided to leverage some of the public opinion data available online, more specifically, the 2016 American National Election Study conducted during every national election by The University of Michigan and Stanford University. Their data is available to the public here.

We must state upfront: The 2016 American National Election Study (ANES) was not designed to measure the impact of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

[A detailed description of this nationally-representative survey conducted by The University of Michigan and Stanford University during every national election can be found in Appendix A.]

Social science inquiry is hard enough when a study is specifically designed to measure precise empirical questions, but when they are not, conclusions are often heavily qualified.

That will be the case here.

The following analysis shows that over the course of the 2016 campaign there were attitudinal differences in specific segments of the population consistent with the hypothesis that Russia’s social media efforts, particularly the memes portraying Clinton in a negative light, targeted older conservatives otherwise open to voting for Clinton.

We cannot say for certain that Russian meddling is the cause of these attitudinal differences. And, in fact, the first suspect must be the overall partisan nature of social media itself. A recent Harvard study of the 2016 elections found Facebook and Twitter to be highly partisan social media platforms and a person’s ideological orientation largely determined what platforms they used and what information they consumed.

Before we blame the Russians for strengthening partisan differences in Americans’ evaluations of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, we must account for the broader impact of social media in general.

Furthermore, the objective evidence that the Russians even engaged in such detailed social media targeting is minimal and comes largely from Facebook’s internal analysis of Russian-sourced content during the 2016 election.

Nonetheless, it is interesting that older conservatives that used social media for sharing political information were significantly more negative in their attitudes towards Hillary Clinton.

Either they were unusually susceptible to negative information about Clinton found on social media, or they were targeted with negative political information about Clinton…or both.

In the 2016 election, older conservatives that used Facebook/Twitter for sharing political information had particularly negative views of Clinton

With those caveats in mind, our analysis of the 2016 ANES shows preliminary evidence that, among politically conservative adults over 40-years-old, the use of Facebook and Twitter for sharing political information during the 2016 election correlated with significantly more negative opinions and impressions about the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, both in absolute terms and relative to the Republican candidate Donald Trump.

In rating Hillary Clinton on a 0 to 100 favorability scale, “slightly conservative” adults aged 40 or older who used Facebook or Twitter to share political information, on average, gave her a rating of 20.7, compared to 32.1 among otherwise similar adults who had not used Facebook or Twitter for sharing political information (see Figure 4 below). A similar relationship emerged among “conservative” adults (aged 40 or older). This pattern did not appear however among adults under 40 years of age, regardless of political ideology.

Figure 4: Favorability Towards Clinton by Ideology and Facebook/Twitter Use (aged 40+); Source:

“Slightly conservative” and “conservative” Americans accounted for 25 percent of the U.S. vote eligible population according to the 2016 ANES. And within that 25 percent, just under half of them said they used Facebook or Twitter to share political information during the campaign.

That is still almost 12 percent of the population that had a distinctly more negative view of Clinton by the end of the campaign, compared to other eligible voters with otherwise similar demographic and attitudinal characteristics.

We believe something unique happened to this group during the campaign. We can’t call it a “Russian effect” but we feel somewhat comfortable calling it, for now, the “Facebook-Twitter effect” (FTE).

When we looked at the relative difference in favorability towards Clinton and Trump (see Figure 5 below), the same older conservatives appeared to stand out. “Conservatives” (aged 40 or older) that used Facebook and Twitter to share political information were significantly more positive towards Trump, relative to Clinton, than those in the same demographic category but did not use Facebook or Twitter for political information sharing.

Figure 5: Favorability Gap by Ideology and Facebook/Twitter Use (aged 40+); Source:

When assessing the honesty of the two presidential candidates, “slightly conservative” and “conservative” adults (aged 40 or older) who used Facebook or Twitter for sharing political information thought Trump was much more honest than Clinton than did otherwise similar adults who had not used Facebook or Twitter for political information sharing (see Figure 6 below).

Figure 6: Clinton-Trump “honesty” gap by Ideology and Facebook/Twitter Use (aged 40+); Source:

Again, this disparity in the honesty gap did not occur between Facebook/Twitter users and non-users for any other ideological or age group (see Appendix B for similar charts on those under 40 years of age).

It does appear older conservatives that used Facebook or Twitter for sharing political information experienced a different election than those that did not. More importantly, the implication is that, for conservative Americans, the election was a much more negative experience with respect to Clinton. By comparison, among liberals, use of Facebook or Twitter for sharing did not relate to their relative views about the two candidates.

As to why “extremely conservative” adults aged 40 or older didn’t show similar attitudinal disparities between Facebook/Twitter users versus non-users, it may be that once people pass a threshold in their dislike of a candidate, the heart can’t get any darker. Similarly, the lack of a social media effect on “extreme” conservatives may be that they were already exposed to so much negative information about Clinton outside of social media that anything else was redundant.

It is also puzzling that the social media effect was not significant with people that considered themselves ‘middle of the road’ ideologically, though directionally their attitudes were more negative towards Clinton if they used Facebook or Twitter for sharing.

Are these differences necessarily a function of Russian meddling?

It cannot be emphasized enough, these attitudinal differences are not necessarily a product of Russian meddling. In fact, from what we know about the differences in social media spending by the two presidential campaigns compared to the Russians, it is reasonable to question how the Russians could possibly have impacted the election.

Combined, Clinton and Trump spent $81 million on social media advertising. That is substantially more than the $1.5 million spent per month by the Internet Research Agency (IRA) in the year or two prior to Election Day, as detailed in the indictment of 13 Russians by the Robert Mueller -led investigation.

However, $1.5 million per month isn’t just pissing in the wind either.  And through IRA’s use of Twitterbots and other impression-seeding and multiplier techniques, that $1.5 million per month may well have had a much bigger impact than the reported monthly spending figure indicates.

And while we want to think social  media have become decisive in national elections, the campaign ecosystem is too massive and interdependent to assign that much power to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

A comprehensive media study of the 2016 election by Rob FarisHal RobertsBruce EtlingNikki Bourassa, Ethan Zuckerman and Yochai Benkler shows that the media’s “coverage of Trump overwhelmingly outperformed coverage of Clinton.” Where Clinton’s coverage was focused on scandals, Trump’s was focused on his core issues (immigration, trade and jobs). To what extent Russian trolls contributed to that phenomenon is difficult (if not impossible) to assess using their data (..but we are trying as you read this). You can access their data here.

So, we are extremely cautious about reading too much into some attitudinal differences within a small segment of the vote eligible population (25 percent, approximately). It is too soon to assign differences to Russian meddling.

Yet, the attitudinal differences we are seeing in the 2016 ANES related to social media use are proving to be robust. Though not included in this article, in trying to explain candidate favorability ratings and assessments of their honesty, we ran numerous linear regression models controlling for factors such as age, ideology, sex, education, interest in politics, race, and Hispanic heritage. And, across the various models, the impact of social media use (Facebook/Twitter) among older conservatives never lost statistical significance.

We believe something unique in the social media sphere happened among older conservatives affecting their views of Hillary Clinton.

But we remain skeptical of our own results. And there are three additional reasons why we are so skeptical:

First, social media is already so partisan and negative that it didn’t require the Russians to make it worse. Facebook and Twitter are already virtual cesspools of hate, negativity, distrust, and unhinged hostility. Those platforms didn’t need the Russians’ help to make them repositories of society’s lowest forms of political dialogue.

Besides, the Russian meme’s were often more absurdist than negative, and sometimes even funny. We highly recommend, if you haven’t visited already, an anonymously authored blog on that is warehousing the Russian 2016 election memes.

Given the already negative nature of social media, the attitudinal differences seen in the 2016 ANES are likely due more to the overall nature of social media than anything the Russians did. But we have seen no evidence to help us decide what was the cause of these differences.

Second, to determine the effect of Russian meddling on attitudes, we would need to know  what respondents actually saw on Facebook or Twitter, including both the Russian-sourced content and other content. The 2016 ANES tells us about sources and channels of communication used during the election, but tells us little about the specific content. Without that information, it is impossible to definitely conclude the “Russians caused it.”

And, third, there is the problem of self-selection. Perhaps older conservatives that use Facebook or Twitter for sharing political information are distinguishable from otherwise similar adults on a factor that was not measured. And if that factor correlates with political attitudes and opinions, we could see the same results shown in Figures 1 and 2 without being the result of the Russians.

Next steps and final thoughts

The relevant questions to vote eligible Americans about the 2016 presidential election and the Russian-sourced social media effort are simple:

  • What did the eligible voter see on social media during the campaign and when did he/she see it?
  • What Russian-sourced content did he/she see on social media and when did he/she see it?
  • Did his/her candidate evaluations change over the course of the campaign and, if so, when did the evaluations change?
  • Did changes in his/her candidate evaluations relate to his/her social media exposure?

Simple to ask, but hard to answer.

A comprehensive media study of the 2016 election by Rob FarisHal RobertsBruce EtlingNikki Bourassa, Ethan Zuckerman and Yochai Benkler shows that the media’s “coverage of Trump overwhelmingly outperformed coverage of Clinton.” Where Clinton’s coverage was focused on scandals, Trump’s was focused on his core issues (immigration, trade and jobs). To what extent Russian trolls contributed to that phenomenon is difficult (if not impossible) to assess using their data (..but we are trying as you read this). You can access their data here.

So, we are extremely cautious about reading too much into some attitudinal differences within a small segment of the vote eligible population (25 percent, approximately). It is too soon to assign these differences to Russian meddling.

Yet, the attitudinal differences among older conservatives are proving to be robust across our analyses of the 2016 ANES. Though not included in this article, in trying to explain candidate favorability ratings and assessments of their honesty, we ran numerous linear regression models controlling for factors such as age, partisanship, ideology, sex, education, interest in politics, race, and Hispanic heritage. And, across the various models, the impact of social media use (Facebook/Twitter) among older conservatives never lost statistical significance.

Is it the Russians? Not too long ago we would have said, emphatically, no way. Now we are not so sure.

We believe these attitudinal differences within older conservative Americans warrant closer examination if we are ever to find how Russian meddling affected the 2016 election.

The 2016 USC Dornsife / LA Times Presidential Election Poll and the RAND 2016 Presidential Election Panel Survey (PEPS), both of which implemented panel designs to allow for assessing the impact of specific events and media exposures during the campaign, may offer an opportunity to merge Facebook, Twitter and Instagram behaviors to specific individuals in their surveys. If so, those two research instruments may represent the best (and only) chance we have to answer the question, “Did the Russians affect our presidential election result in 2016?”

As of today, we believe the Russians did target older conservatives who were more vulnerable to their anti-Clinton memes and messages. The result is that these conservatives became significantly more negative towards Hillary Clinton than they would have been otherwise without Russian meddling.

 Appendix A – Methodology

The 2016 American National Elections (Time-Series) Study is sponsored  and managed by the University of Michigan and Stanford University.

The national survey is designed to assess electoral participation, voting behavior, and public opinion as it relates to eligible U.S. voters. In addition to the political content of the survey, it also measures media exposure, cognitive style, and personal values.

Data collection for the ANES 2016 Time Series Study began in early September and was completed in January, 2017. Pre-election interviews were conducted with study respondents during the two months prior to the 2016 elections and were followed by post-election re-interviewing beginning November 9, 2016. Both face-to-face interviewing and Internet-based data collection was conducted independently, using separate samples but substantially identical questionnaires. Web-administered cases constituted a representative sample separate from the face-to-face.

The SPSS dataset we used for our analysis combined the face-to-face and Internet samples which can be summarized as follows:

Analytic survey weights, provided by the ANES researchers, were used in all of the quantitative analyses presented in this article.

A complete description of the ANES 2016, including datasets, questionnaires, and supporting documentation, can be found here.

Appendix B – Other Tables and Figures
Figure 7: Favorability Towards Clinton by Ideology and Facebook/Twitter Use (< 40 yrs. old); Source:


Figure 8: Favorability Gap by Ideology and Facebook/Twitter Use (< 40 yrs. old); Source:


Figure 9: Clinton-Trump “honesty” gap by Ideology and Facebook/Twitter Use (< 40 yrs. old); Source:


{Send comments to:}

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.


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Trump Is Turning the Foreign Policy World Upside Down

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, March 9, 2018)

You are forgiven if you are feeling a little confused about President Donald Trump’s accepting an invitation for direct talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sometime in the next two months.

On one side, pundits are effusive about this breakthrough.

“Donald Trump’s acceptance of Kim Jong-un’s invitation to meet is a master stroke. It’s exactly the kind of thing Ronald Reagan liked to do,” writes  for The Spectator. “Reagan announced his pursuit of a missile defense system in March 1983 on national television without alerting his advisers beforehand. Liberals went crazy. Then he decided to end the Cold  War by reaching out to Mikhail Gorbachev. Conservatives went bonkers. Reagan, we were told, had become a useful idiot. Today he is hailed as a visionary by all and sundry.”

I don’t quite remember it that way, but I will defer to others on what exactly brought down the Soviet Union.

Heilbrunn’s drawing the parallel between Trump and Reagan is still apt. “All along Trump, like Reagan, has been dismissed as a buffoon by the regnant foreign policy establishment. He now wants to show that his much vaunted dealmaking prowess is for real. That he, and he alone, can solve the conundrum that has vexed his predecessors, dating back to Harry Truman.”

In contrast, there are foreign policy experts today that are more afraid than ever after the South Korea’s announcement of the upcoming talks:

“If…Trump actually succeeds in beginning the denuclearization of North Korea, he will be far worthier of the Nobel Peace Prize than Barack Obama ever was,” says Naval War College professor Tom Nichols. “The chances of this are roughly zero, but it’s not impossible. More likely is that this will all end in diplomatic disaster.”

“The White House is about to walk right into a trap the North Koreans have been laying for American presidents since the 1990s. A one-on-one summit between a U.S. president and one of the world’s weirdest and most irresponsible leaders would be a huge reward for a regime that has long chided other rogues and dictators for their weakness in dealing with the United States.”

Nichols points out that Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi’s decision to denuclearize his country followed by his unceremonious torture and death has decreased the chances any rogue nuclear power — like North Korea — will ever give up their nukes. We can thank Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for that epic foreign policy disaster and its only the ineptness of Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, that Obama doesn’t go down in history as the worst foreign policy president since Jimmy Carter.

Nonetheless, Nichols believes in the value of experts and when it comes to diplomacy. “A summit should be a reward for months, even years, of careful work and actual progress. Meetings at lower levels should progress to more senior principals, and then to the heads of state.”

So if you are willing to prolong low-level diplomacy long enough so North Korea will have time to finish work on miniaturizing its nuclear arsenal and putting them on reliable ICBMs, Nichols is your guy.

Many of us who have lived through eight presidencies since the taking of the U.S.S. Pueblo by the North Koreans in 1968 are beginning to think slow boat diplomacy is a trip to a nuclear North Korea with ICBMs.

That is why Trump offers some sense of relief from the status quo-preserving diplomatic strategies of the past. Of course, it brings risks…big risks…such as, an all-out land war on the Korean peninsula.

That is bad option, even if you believe, as some military analysts do, that the U.S. military is more than capable of neutralizing the North Korean military in a short period of time, especially if North Korea uses its numerous artillery batteries to shell Seoul, South Korea to the neglect its border defenses.

“An all-out bombardment of the South Korean capital might very well leave Pyongyang without the ability to actually capture it, while at the same time ensuring a U.S./South Korean counteroffensive that would spell the end of the regime of Kim Jong-un,” writes Kyle Mizokami, a defense and national security writer based in San Francisco. “Even if a million civilians were killed in Seoul it would ensure Kim’s untimely demise, and from his perspective that is still almost certainly a very bad trade.”

It is acceptable to believe a nuclear North Korea with ICBMs is the better option.

Has the Chance of War on the Korean Peninsula Gone Up or Down?

As diplomacy experts and scholars debate over whether Trump has made a brilliant strategic move or an epic blunder, it is possible both views are accurate.

If you see presidents as having different risk acceptance levels with respect to war with North Korea, you can begin to visualize how Trump is so dramatically different from his predecessors.

The graphic below shows a theoretical depiction of war/peace probabilities from Harry Truman to Donald Trump. The graph on the left shows all previous presidents before Trump, and the graph on the right shows the probabilities of peace and war under Trump.

Its an oversimplification, of course, but the chances under previous presidents of peace or war with North Korea was essentially zero, as they were all dedicated to preserving the status quo. And for good reason. Most presidencies had bigger foreign policy problems than North Korea. LBJ and Nixon had Vietnam. Carter had Iran. Reagan had the Cold War to win. And George W. Bush and Obama had Middle East conflagrations to worry about.

Trump does not operate like that. The Middle East is no less problematic and new concerns arise every day now in Africa, yet Trump has a different view of risk. Maybe because war with North Korea sounds better than being interviewed by Robert Mueller? Who knows. What we seem to see with Trump is a deep dedication to the high risk-high reward strategy of diplomacy.

The office of the presidency generally discourages that strategic approach to problems; but this president has a unique set of pressures on him right now that have may helped prompt this dramatic diplomatic move.

The result is, we have a risk-accepting president that’s has given us an inverted probability distribution for war and peace in North Korea. And it is both exciting and frightening. Before this presidential term ends, we may well see either the Asian land war we all dread or the nuclear-free Korean peninsula we all pray for. What isn’t going to stand under our current president is the status quo. Trump blows up status quos the way Stephen Curry blows up perimeter defenses in the NBA. You can try to stop them, but they find a way.

And Trump has found a way with respect to North Korea. Regardless of political party, we should all wish him luck accompanied with a sudden bout of good judgment.

– K.R.K.

Added note: We should never discount the diplomatic skills of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is playing a pivotal role in these direct talks. Even as his popularity has lagged, Moon is proving to be more forward-leaning than many observers previously thought possible. Some analysts go as far to say Moon has engineered this whole breakthrough, dragging Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump with him.

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About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.


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America’s Shock Brigade: The Students of Stoneman Douglas High School

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, March 4, 2018)

In Soviet Russia, where propaganda was indistinguishable from news, the shock brigades were promoted as idealized representatives of the people. They couldn’t be challenged because, to do so, would be to challenge the people themselves.

The students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, have become our modern version of a shock brigade.

As the label implies, shock brigades are designed to trigger people into action.

In the hands of today’s partisan media, it results more often in people being hurt.

The most recent example is a teacher at Stoneman Douglas High School that was originally portrayed by the media as a ‘hero’ following the tragic shootings at the school on February 14th where 17 people died.

Here are just some of the representative headlines from March 3rd…

Newsweek: Parkland Shooting Survivor Calls Teacher ‘Coward’ For Locking Students Out of Classroom During Attack

Yahoo News (whose first mistake is treating Inside Edition as a legitimate news organization): Parkland Teacher, Praised as a Hero, ‘Is Nothing but a Coward,’ Student Says.

Though the story never should have been run to begin with, at least Fox News tried to get the headline right: Protocol or cowardice? Parkland student slams teacher over locked door during shooting, report says

The gist of this story is that a Parkland student, in the teacher’s class at the time of the shooting, tweeted that the teacher was an “opportunist” and “a coward,” after he allegedly wouldn’t unlock his classroom door and let students in.

As with any story, the truth is more complicated, and certainly did not warrant headlines calling the teacher (by name) a coward. The man’s life is irreparably damaged by this attack from a junior in high school.

The explanation for the teacher’s behavior, which was consistent with protocols established by the school system after consulting with security experts, was buried at the end of the news stories published on March 3rd. Only a day later have the subsequent stories put more emphasis on the established protocols guiding the teachers behavior.

But in the era of hyperpartisan media, particularly within the cable news networks, it is not acceptable to challenge the shock brigades. If they say something, anything, no matter how baseless, Anderson Cooper will be there to report it, unfiltered. He might even cry.

After all, air time and compelling theater is far more important than the reputation of some high school biology teacher in Florida.

The right-wing conspiracy media is shameless and offensive, but they are not the problem

It didn’t take long after the Parkland shootings for the right-wing conspiracy peddlers to question the authenticity of the Stoneman Douglas High School students that became almost instant media celebrities.

“Crisis actors” they were called. And while the term is wholly inaccurate as applied to the Parkland students, it has become popular with Alex Jones and other right-wing media opportunists.

Unfortunately, the mainstream media, particularly CNN, by indulging in their own false narratives, facilitate the attractiveness of these right-wing conspiracies. When mainstream news outlets start losing credibility, alternative facts and conspiracy theories become more attractive.

The depth of the tragedy in Parkland — 17 innocent people were killed for no reason — did not require embellishment. Yet, somewhere, a decision was made to construct an heroic myth that the Parkland students, on their own initiative, sparked a national consensus to pass meaningful gun control legislation. What the Democratic Party and gun control activists have failed to do for all these years, these plucky kids from Parkland were able to do in a matter of days.

Since the shooting, CNN has been on a daily campaign to promote the Parkland students and their #NeverAgain movement as representing something bigger than just another collection of gun violence victims.

CNN and the mainstream media have consciously created a heroic myth tale, one of the hallmarks of propaganda campaigns, with the clear intention of pressuring Congress and the President Trump to support and pass gun control legislation. The false narrative of the Parkland kids creating the #NeverAgain movement on their own is a critical element of the story. Without the false narrative, the movement regresses back to the old and failed narrative of ‘just another partisan politics battle.’

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is built to win the old narrative. The ‘super kids of Parkland’ narrative makes the NRA very nervous.

How can you argue against making the NRA nervous for once?

Well, it is pretty easy, actually. And it is not because I support the NRA or its purest approach to the Second Amendment (I don’t). The problem is the lack of concern about major news organizations being active lobbyists on political issues, because that is what CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Miami Herald are doing when they uncritically accept, or even create, false narratives to advance partisan political goals.

The mainstream media, by misrepresenting what is really going on with the Parkland students, are engaging in advocacy work. Through agitation and propaganda, otherwise known as agitprop, they cease to be journalists and are in the lobbying business.

Truthfully, I don’t have a problem with CNN or MSNBC (or Fox News) from being partisan lobbyists. But they have to stop calling themselves ‘news organizations.’

They are not. They are lobbyists.

If you don’t think Parkland student David Hogg is the greatest human being ever, you are probably a Russian sympathizer

When journalists have a point of view and they filter information based on its support for that point of view, journalism ends and propaganda begins.

Since the shooting, Parkland students appeared on a CNN town hall broadcast, organized a pro-gun control rally in Tallahassee, and are in the process of preparing for a national “March for Our Lives” protest scheduled on March 24th.

Regardless of any help the Parkland students are receiving from professional activists, the rapid growth and scope of the #NeverAgain movement is impressive. News coverage of the Parkland students never required a false narrative to heap significant praise on them.

But it is a legitimate question to ask: who is helping these students? Are the Democratic Party and gun control activists leveraging the Parkland tragedy to achieve political aims beyond just gun control legislation?

Former Georgia congressman Jack Kingston, while appearing on CNN, asked, “Do we really think — and I say this sincerely — do we really think 17-year-olds on their own are going to plan a nationwide rally?”

The National Review’s film critic Armond White called them: “Parkland Puppets.”

The news media pounced fast.

“I talked to these kids before they knew the body count of how many of their friends had been killed. No one had talked to them yet,” Alisyn Camerota said during her CNN morning show broadcast on February 20th. “They hadn’t been indoctrinated by some left-wing group. They were motivated from what they saw and what they endured.”

Click on image to watch video

Camerota’s inflated posturing aside, her attempt to shame Kingston sent a clear message to those considering attributing the success of the #NeverAgain movement to anyone other than the Parkland students.

Kingston never suggested the Democratic Party or gun control activists were organizing these students on the day of the shooting (Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz had the good sense to at least wait a day before contacting the students). He never questioned the validity of their fear and anger. He just wanted to know how their movement had become so professionalized so fast.

Camerota’s shaming technique was not the only method used to shutdown debate. Some in the mainstream media willfully conflated the ‘crisis actor’ conspiracy theories (which were nuts) with legitimate questions like Kingston’s about whether or not national activists were co-opting the movement.


After conveying the story about an aide to Florida legislator passing a ‘crisis actor’ conspiracy video to a journalist, Vanity Fair writer Tina Nguyen decided to classify Kingston in the same category as other purveyors of the ‘crisis actor’ theory, suggesting even that CNN should ‘take action against’ Kingston.

Kingston never suggested David Hogg or any other Parkland student was a ‘crisis actor.’

Writing just two days after the shootings, The New York Times‘ Anne Applebaum even grouped pro-gun rights advocates on social media with Russian Twitterbots already spreading conspiracy theories about the Parkland shootings: “Over the next few days, many of these same kinds of accounts will invent a whole range of conspiracy theories about the shooting. If the past repeats itself, pro-Russian, alt-right, white-supremacist and pro-gun social media accounts will promote the same hashtags and indulge in the same conspiracy theories.”

If that is not virtue signaling, I don’t know what is. By throwing down the gauntlet early, Applebaum and The New York Times were letting everyone know they shouldn’t even think about questioning how the legitimate media will be covering this tragedy — if you do, its as good as working for the Russians.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone, therefore, that there was little reporting on how organized activists converged quickly on the Parkland students.

Its not like the evidence wasn’t there: Dozens of buses all over the state of Florida ready to transports hundreds of students to Tallahassee on just a few days notice;  millions of dollars in donations within days of the tragedy, including $500,000 from George Clooney;  Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu sharing in a tweet that he has a personal connection to David Hogg; the known political aggressiveness of Broward County’s teachers union.

“For two weeks, journalists abjectly failed in their jobs, which is to tell the public what’s going on,” writes forensic science expert David Hines for The Federalist. And any of them who had any familiarity with organizing campaigns absolutely knew.”

Why did the news media fail? Because news media celebrities, like Aliysn Camerota, are in the myth-making business, not journalism.

When Buzzfeed is leading the way, something is really wrong with the state of American journalism

The condemnation of the ‘crisis actor’ conspiracy promulgators was more than warranted.

It also reasonable that CNN and others would want to build a compelling narrative (‘those great kids at Parkland’) to attract viewers and readers. That is not necessarily good journalistic technique, but entirely understandable.

But what puzzles me is how the ‘journalists’ on CNN and MSNBC were so quick to censure people like Kingston for asking an obvious question that deserved to be answered.

Aren’t journalists supposed to be curious, by nature? Shouldn’t journalists be asking, regardless of how noble the cause, how the #NeverAgain movement is being organized and financed. Who did the heavy-lifting in building the website? Who opened the webpage? Where exactly is the money going? Who financed and organized the buses that took students from all over Florida to the Tallahassee rally?

The mainstream media has spent nearly three weeks ignoring the obvious professionalization of the #NeverAgain movement. Instead, stories have credited the organizing skills of the Parkland students as being the results of a good comprehensive education, and, like all teenagers today, their skills at using social media.

All true. But that doesn’t rule out a significant role for the Democratic Party or the organizers from other anti-Trump movements like the Women’s March or #MeToo.

And guess what? We now have reporting that offers credibility to suspicions that organized partisan and gun control activists are playing a large role in the #NeverAgain movement. But it didn’t come from The New York Times or The Washington Post. The first story came from Buzzfeed.

“Barely two weeks ago, the (Parkland) student survivors sat in a circle in the living room of one of their parents’ homes, planning a trip to Tallahassee to meet with lawmakers and handling nitty-gritty matters like which media outlets to talk to,” writes Buzzfeed’s Mary Ann Georgantopoulos and Brianna Sacks. “Since then, major players and organizations — including Everytown, Giffords, Move On, and Women’s March LA — told BuzzFeed News they are helping with logistics, strategy, and planning for next month’s March for Our Lives rally and beyond. Much of the specific resources the groups are providing to the Parkland students remains unclear — as is the full list of supporting organizations — but there are broad outlines.”

As the Buzzfeed story notes, the funding and scope of this help is unclear. Why? Because very few journalists are going to the effort to find out. CNN and MSNBC won’t. But where is The New York Times or The Washington Post?

Trying to understand the details behind the #NeverAgain movement in no way diminishes what the Parkland students did in the first weeks after the shooting. They were media-ready, not because Tom Perez and the Democratic National Committee were pulling the strings, but because these kids are well-educated and confident.

That is undeniable.

These students built a social media following numbered in the millions on their own effort (though, even there, there were national opinion leaders that helped them). But that is how social media works. That is why you want celebrities to follow you on Twitter.

But the fingerprints of the Democratic Party is also all over the #NeverAgain movement — which makes the effort a partisan one, which means partisan divisions are quickly activated across the country, and we are subsequently stuck, once again, with dozens of innocent dead people and little chance of seeing substantive gun control legislation.

Partisanship infects our news media organizations and we are paying a price for it

It does matter if partisan forces are driving the #NeverAgain movement, if only for the historical record. More importantly, hiding the partisan nature of the movement only strengthens the partisan opposition to it.

And that is not what this country needs.

After a 5-minute search on Twitter regarding the #NeverAgain movement, found clear evidence that at least one Florida Democratic Party activist was critical in the planning and execution of the February 20th Tallahassee rally of the then-nascent #NeverAgain movement.

Seventeen-year-old Parkland student Jaclyn Corin’s Facebook and Twitter posts on Feb. 18th acknowledged the critical organizational role played by Kathryn Casello, the Director of Political Affairs for the Florida State University Democrats, who was also the “creator” of the “Florida’s March on Gun Control” website.

As Buzzfeed, again, discovered before anyone else, “Democratic US Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Broward County resident for nearly 30 years…has been in touch with students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas since the day after the shooting, helping them connect to state legislators and plan their trip to Tallahassee last week.”

That is not unethical or inappropriate on Wasserman Schultz’ part. What is distressing is that the national media has shown no inclination to find the facts behind the rise of the #NeverAgain movement and has shouted down anyone that suggests someone should.

And, frankly, wouldn’t it have been refreshing if Wasserman Schultz had included a fellow Republican when she contacted the Parkland students?

If Wasserman Schultz’ true motivator was passing substantive gun control legislation, an issue where a majority of Americans (and NRA members) side with the Democrats, casting the #NeverAgain movement as a bipartisan effort would not hurt the cause.

But when your motivator is to use the tragedy in Parkland as another cudgel against the illegitimate Trump administration, bipartisanship doesn’t enter Wasserman Schultz’ calculus.

Hyper-partisanship damages policy. Obamacare, as an example, passed only because of partisan support, and dies (though not as fast as some hope) for the same reason.

Medicare included interests and support from the Republican Party (or at least its now defunct liberal wing) and survives today.

Instead, we get CNN’s wall-to-wall coverage of the impetuous but earnest Parkland kids and their fight to save America. Because it is now just a partisan effort, the students’ good intentions are starting to wear thin partisan-weary Americans.

The hashtag movements are the new agitprop

Many journalists and academics just want to refer to our current state of affairs as partisan media. Nothing radical or even that new. Just good old-fashioned partisan politics working its way through the news media. It might even be good for hammering out issues in the public sphere.

Sadly, partisan media is much more hazardous to our democracy than previously understood. So dangerous, in fact, I prefer to call it for what it is: institutionalized agitation and propaganda — or agitprop.

In general, agitprop is a political strategy where agitation and propaganda are used to influence and mobilize public opinion. That definition makes it seem benign. But when weaponized, as it was in the 1920s in Soviet Russia, it destroys societies as it turns criticism into treason, neighbors into spies, and citizens into serfs.

CNN’s use of the Stoneman Douglas High School students as their shock brigade is not a criticism of the students. They are victims of gun violence on a level none of us should ever experience. Sadly, they have that experience and now, for good reason, they are activists demanding meaningful gun control legislation.

What is alarming is how quickly partisan forces and their collaborators in the mainstream news media co-opted and manipulated the Parkland students to advance a partisan agenda that has more to do with damaging the Republican Party and the Trump administration than actually passing substantive gun control legislation. The news media isn’t covering the #NeverAgain movement, they helped create it and are active participants in its growth trajectory.


In just the last year, the news media has covered the Women’s March, #TheResistance, the #MeToo and other anti-Trump movements, and through them we have learned the names of activists like Teresa Shook, Billy Wimsatt, Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, Bob Bland, and Linda Sarsour.

Since the Parkland shootings, according to CNN, its news producers have been in daily contact with the Parkland students’ parents and activists as they prepare for the ‘March for Our Lives’ on March 24th. To what extent CNN is coordinating with the Parkland students is unclear. At a minimum, CNN is facilitating the #NeverAgain movement by giving its organizers generous access to CNN air time.

Some will argue that CNN should be facilitating this movement. And I would agree on this point: CNN is breaking no laws by offering airtime to the Parkland students as they organize themselves into a credible, sustainable national movement.

If CNN wants to organize a CNN Town Hall, help tighten a few of the Parkland students’ questions, give those students the resources to express their deep emotions surrounding this tragedy, and help the students in keeping their movement alive, I have no problem with that.

It is called advocacy. It is constitutionally protected speech. It is democracy in action.

But it is not journalism. It is not even advocacy journalism, which requires the same objective reporting standards as investigative journalism.

CNN appears to be actively shaping the political environment to not just feed a pro-gun control narrative, but to bring down a presidency and an opposition party.

Why now? Why after Parkland, but not after Sandy Hook or Las Vegas?

When people ask — Why did this gun control movement start after Parkland, but not after Sandy Hook or Las Vegas? — they deserve an accurate answer.

The answer will not be complete unless it includes how news outlets midwifed the Parkland student gun control movement through their generous access to broadcast airtime.

The next question is why didn’t the Sandy Hook or Las Vegas survivors get similar assistance? There may be no simple answer, but here are some possible candidates:

  • This latest assault rifle attack on children may truly be the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back.’
  • The Parkland students are good-looking, articulate kids and it was easy an decision on the media’s part to keep their focus on the Parkland tragedy. One audience research colleague of mine suggested Sandy Hook was too tragic and was more likely to drive cable news audiences away. Parkland is the perfect blend of tragedy and attractiveness.
  • CNN and the anti-Trump news media are gaining experience assisting and sustaining national movements since Donald Trump’s inauguration. The news media attempted something similar with Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico, but the public’s interest (i.e., audience ratings) never reached the critical mass necessary for the news media to devote significant resources to the crisis.

The organization and promotion of the ‘March for Our Lives’ on March 24th mirrors the methods used by the ‘Women’s March’ on Trump’s inauguration day and #TheResistance, further suggesting significant organizational resources are being provided to the Parkland students.

Again, this is not a crime and it is not an indictment of the Parkland students or their cause. And it isn’t necessarily an indictment of CNN either, except for one caveat.

The truth matters. If CNN and Democratic activists are providing ongoing, in-kind assistance to the Parkland students movement, it is important for the public to know.

The credibility of any social movement often rests on whether its energy source is organic (i.e., rising from the masses), or is contrived and sustained by well-funded, elite interests. The former confers authenticity, and the latter suggests manipulation.

Why do you think the U.S. government still denies its past interventions in political revolutions in other countries, such as the ‘color’ revolutions in post-Soviet Eastern Europe or the failed revolutions during the “Arab spring.” Any suggestion that a social movement is aided by external forces can delegitimize that movement, even if that assistance is minor.

CNN, MSNBC and Fox News are not news organizations, they are agitators and propagandists

The Washington Post recently changed its motto to: Democracy Dies in Darkness. Last I checked, the U.S. doesn’t devolve into a dictatorship between sundown and sunrise, but maybe I’m missing the point.

A more appropriate motto would be: Our collective understanding is degraded when news organizations publish information uncorroborated by other independent sources and selectively include information based not on its accuracy or relevance, but on its fit with a broader (often biased) narrative.

OK, its not very catchy.

But when our constitutionally-protected Fourth Estate becomes infected by a fraudulent cast of semi-journalists, partisans and political hacks claiming to carry the banner of objectivity and truth, we have lost an institution critical to our democracy.

No ideology or major news organization is spared from this criticism. From the New York Times to Fox News, this malignancy has found its way into every newspaper, news website, broadcast news organization, and journalism school in this country. Few people complain anymore that news organizations promote specific ideological or partisan points of view. To the contrary, most Americans seek out news that confirms their partisan worldview.

Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at New America and the author of The Business of America is Lobbying, argues in The New Republic that partisan media is a positive thing and it was only for a brief period in our country’s history when “objective” journalism was the aspirational norm (1950 – 1980). Partisan control of the media dominates other periods in our history and, when considered cross-nationally, is the norm in most democracies.

Drutman further argues that the partisan media doesn’t create division but merely reflects our nation’s diversity and, therefore, is a virtue, not a vice.

“Partisan media can amplify existing partisan divisions, but mostly they reflect them,” writes Drutman. “In a political system divided on fundamental questions of science, religion, and national identity, the question of what responsible media looks like will only get more pressing—but it can’t be answered in terms of ‘objectivity.’

Partisan media are vulnerable to a number of potentially dangerous biases:

  • Selection bias: Choosing information that fits a partisan narrative to the exclusion of relevant information that does not.
  • Single-source bias: Relying too heavily on single sources, with uncorroborated information, because they are partisan allies, insiders or have information that, again, fits a partisan narrative.
  • Anonymous source bias: Similar to the single-source bias, partisan media for the party in power will have unique access to government officials with critical information, often classified, that will help the party in power. But even the partisan media for the out-party will use anonymous sources as conduits of information from whistle-blowers and critics of the party in power.

As a quantitative social scientist, it is surprising that Drutman is not more sensitive to the problem of selection bias which looms over every social scientist when he or she engages in research. Drutman knows selection bias can lead otherwise scientifically rigorous studies towards deeply flawed conclusions. Does that sound like something good for American journalism or our democracy?

Besides, we are not arguing that there shouldn’t be partisan news and outlets. They do serve a purpose and losing them would harm the quality of this country’s political dialogue, not to mention its entertainment value.

We are arguing that there should be better defined lines between objective news outlets and partisan ones.

CNN, MSNBC and Fox News are the modern versions of Soviet agitprop and citizens need to protect themselves

An obvious by-product of agitprop is fake news and, not coincidentally, the Russians are masters of the technique. Unfortunately, according to liberal podcaster Bob Cesca, Americans are particularly susceptible to the new form of agitprop.

“Our widespread habit of blindly ‘liking’ and ‘sharing’ news without critical scrutiny was absolutely exploited by the Russians,” writes Cesca. “Millions of Americans on social media continue, to this day, to serve as middlemen for circulating fake news and agitprop, political or otherwise.”

Another vivid example of the new agitprop,, Hillary Clinton’s propaganda distributing website, is unapologetic about its mission to flood the news media with pro-Clinton stories.

But the most alarming example of modern agitprop is the mainstream news media itself.

CNN’s Town Hall following the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School has further lifted the curtain on the news media’s deceit and laid bare their tools and methods for disguising it as public service.

“This town hall was a theatrical production with the clear aim of advancing an anti-gun narrative, so it’s not hard to believe the network was prompting and even scripting questions,” writes Rachel Stoltzfoos, managing editor of The Federalist.

Stoltzfoos also points out that this is the same cable news network that recently “sent a reporter to an elderly lady’s front lawn to confront her about her role in Russian election meddling — because she reposted something on Facebook.” The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald nicely summarized CNN’s journalistic practices with a tweet:

Objectively speaking, the Trump administration has not been good for CNN’s reputation. It’s journalistic integrity has taken a severe hit in the past year as CNN has repeatedly been caught exercising poor journalistic standards in their coverage of the Trump administration.

The rule should be when a news organization is caught for the 10th time in one year disseminating misleading or false information, the “we-weren’t-using-our-highest-editorial-standards” defense should no longer be allowed. Even as a critic of the Trump administration, I view CNN’s coverage of the Trump-Russia investigation as frequently dishonest and an undisguised quest to ruin a president they helped elect.

It is ironic that CNN and the other cable news networks, through their gifting Trump a $1.2 billion advantage over Hillary Clinton in ‘free media’ during the 2016 election, are probably the single biggest reason Trump is president today. At most, the Russians invested $60 to $80 million in their attempt to meddle with the 2016 election, and majority of that was squandered on ad buys in the low-credibility arena of social media.

Like Drutman, though, I have no problem with CNN or MSNBC or Fox News being partisan tools. I do have a problem however with these cable networks operating under the pretense of being news organizations. They may hire former journalists or interview practicing ones, but that does not make them news organizations. They are agitators and propagandists and, by understanding that, Americans will take a big step in protecting themselves from them.

Agitprop is more watchable than objective journalism

By design, agitprop cloaks itself within legitimate journalism and trades on the Fourth Estate’s credibility as it pursues a political agenda informally coordinated with an established political ideology, party or administration.

Fox News has been doing this for over twenty years. While the rest of the mainstream media may have always served as propaganda garrisons for a leftist political ideology, their noticeable decline into partisan politics accelerated after their embarrassing complicity with the George W. Bush administration’s propaganda offensive in the run up to the Iraq War.

Objective journalism is hard to find anymore. Its a documented money loser that doesn’t entertain enough and includes too many shades of gray.

Agitprop, on the other hand, generates ratings and readers.

According to the Nielsen ratings, CNN’s Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action Town Hall broadcast crushed the competition.

Airing from 9 p.m.-11 p.m., the town hall drew 2.91 million total viewers, while Fox News averaged 2.45 million and MSNBC averaged 2.31 million in the same time period. More importantly, CNN won the coveted ‘adults 25-54’ demographic. On the digital side, the town hall attracted 1.9 million multi-platform live viewers, the largest such digital audience ever for a CNN town hall.

I am certain, out of respect for the 17 students that had died only a week earlier in Parkland, CNN executives only spoke of their ratings victory in somber, hushed tones.

New York Times columnist, Bret Stephens, contends today’s “opinion journalism is still journalism, not agitprop,” but watching CNN’s Town Hall with Parkland students suggests otherwise. Watching Florida Senator Marco Rubio squirm and sweat when asked if he would accept NRA campaign money in the future was great television. I don’t care what your politics are, if that moment didn’t grab your attention, nothing will.

The new agitprop, pioneered by Roger Ailes and Fox News in the mid 1990s, combines live television with a partisan political agenda to create a much more visceral and watchable form of television news. Where objective journalism mostly appeals to our brain’s analytic frontal lobe, the new agitprop goes right to the amygdala.

Strong emotions are good sometimes. But sometimes they are bad.

I met Harvard Professor Jennifer Lerner eight years ago when I worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and she was giving a presentation on the role of emotion in decision-making.

Her thesis that day was simple: emotion is a powerful predictor of behavior, especially in the area of politics and policy. More importantly, she noted that decision-making can be impaired by a specific type of emotion, incidental emotion, which is “triggered by a particular situation that carries over and influences your subsequent judgments and decisions.”

Lerner said fear is a particularly powerful emotion when it comes to decision-making, as it generates levels of confidence that have a direct impact on decision-making. Angry individuals are more likely to blame individuals over societal causes, and are more likely to take greater risks.

According to Lerner anger tends to simplify our thinking processes which, in the short-run, get us involved in the problem but, in the long-run, proves inadequate for making good decisions. It is in the absence of anger (or happiness) when our cognitive decision-making skills perform best.

That is the problem with event-driven policy debates. Triggered by intense tragedies, such as the Parkland mass shooting, emotions gets us engaged but suppress our more thoughtful cognitive abilities that would otherwise help us render better decisions.

Their good intentions notwithstanding, CNN’s Town Hall exploited the emotions of the Parkland shooting victims, including parents that lost children in that carnage.

That is not journalism. That is advocacy. That is propaganda meant to agitate others into action. That is the new agitprop.


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About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.


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Where is a progressive supposed to go?

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, February 22, 2018)

We have two political parties in this country. The Republican Party and the Other Republican Party (also known as the Republicrats). Both are pro-War, pro-Big-Banks, pro-Government-Spying-On-Its-Citizens, pro-Corporate-Welfare, pro-Big-Oil, and pro-Big-Government.

This is not the rant of a frustrated progressive. I am a libertarian, mostly. But if I were a progressive, I would be frustrated at how my natural home — the Democrats — is inhospitable to progressives right now.

Barack Obama’s choice for Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair, Tom Perez, started purging progressives from the party’s leadership last fall and the DNC is already rigging the congressional primaries to favor DNC-approved, establishment candidates.

And the progressive media has noticed.

“On the eve of the Unity Commission, Tom Perez purges the party of a bunch of long-time progressives who were delegates,” complained progressive radio host Jimmy Dore on his YouTube podcast which attracts 300,000 subscribers. “Tom Perez is the enemy of progressives…and the friend of corporations who are screwing America.”

Asked what choice progressives have other than to stick with the Democratic Party, Dore responded, “They (the Democrats) didn’t have me last time and they lost, and they’re not going to have me next time.”

On his podcast, The Humanist Report, Mike Figueredo argued that Perez cloaked the purge in identity politics presumably to mute any opposition to the move: “If you are going to have a diverse coalition of people serving in the DNC then you have to appoint people that are cognizant of the corporate policies that disproportionately harm people of color and marginalize minorities like the LGBTQ community.”

Figueredo noted the irony in Perez using identity politics to shut down the voices of progressives, many of whom belonging to those same identity groups.

“Just saying we are more diverse now is not enough,” said Figueredo. “(Perez) is hiding behind identity politics to promote (his) corporate agenda covertly.”

Across the progressive media landscape, the belief that progressives no longer have a home in the Democratic Party grows in numbers.

But if progressives aren’t welcome in the Democratic Party, “Where in the name of God is a progressive supposed to go?”

We are unlikely to see a viable third-party in this country. Our first-past-the-post electoral system suppresses the potential for one, and the co-opting of the political Left, first by FDR’s New Deal and then by the Clintonian Democrats, are the final kill shots to any chance of a progressive third party in this country.

The only way progressives achieve a meaningful seat at the political table is if they take back the Democratic Party. And that won’t be easy.

When its the Democrats beating the drums for war against Russia and Syria, you know the two-party system is dead

In fairness, the current two parties are ideologically distinct if identity issues are your primary concern. A vivid dividing line separates ideological Republicans and Democrats on gender pay equity, immigration, abortion, and LGBTQ rights, as well as other issues such as climate change.

But reality (as in, the quantifiable evidence) says this country continues to make progress on many of these identity issues, despite our dysfunctional political class. Advances in medical science will rapidly replace the country’s current pro-abortion consensus with one more aligned with pro-life sentiments. The status and rights of the LGBTQ community have advanced so far in the last 10 years that, today, gay married couples, on average, earn more than straight couples. As women increasingly graduate from college at higher rates than men, in the not-so-distant future we will see the gender pay gap all but disappear.

This evidence is not a way of saying we should stop being vigilant in protecting existing rights or not push to achieve the rights and equities enumerated in our Constitution. But it is dubious that identity issues have the long-term viability to be a consistent energy source for the Democratic Party. And Donald Trump won’t be president forever…right?…. RIGHT?!

Besides, far bigger issues loom on the horizon:

  • Economic inequality,
  • resource scarcity,
  • the impact of environmental degradation on the world’s most vulnerable populations,
  • meeting the growing energy needs of a planet largely dependent on relatively low-cost energy sources,
  • sustainable economic growth,
  • rising college costs,
  • a two-tiered health care system where half the people have a great health care plan and the other half whose health care plan is buying the generic equivalent of Vicks® NyQuil™ at Walgreen’s,
  • the worldwide proliferation of advanced military technologies,
  • and our country’s seemingly perpetual war status that never seems to solve any problems.

Did I say ‘loom’? Hell, those issues are already with us, front and center.

Forgive me, but it is hard to get worked up over transgender bathroom rights or 13 Russian dudes posting satanic Hillary Clinton memes on Facebook when we are less than 10 years away from Iran developing a nuclear bomb, and that is assuming we stick with the Obama administration’s Iran agreement.

If the U.S. bails on the agreement, a nuclear Iran will happen in the next five years, which will set off a cascade of other countries being “forced” to develop or purchase their own nuclear weapons capabilities. That list will include: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt. Add to that list, Argentina and Brazil, both technologically advanced societies capable of developing nuclear weapons, who may see Middle East nuclear proliferation as their opportunity to join the elite nuclear club.

And then there is North Korea. Unless some serious high-level negotiations occur in the next few years, Pyongyang will soon have a reliable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) platform ready to threaten not just the U.S., but the entire world.

And, yet, there is little daylight separating the two political parties on the best course of action regarding North Korea. Trump’s bombastic tweet storms directed towards North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may have startled the American public and the international community; but in practical terms, U.S. policy continues to demand pre-conditions prior to any direct talks with North Korea. That was G. W. Bush’s policy, Obama’s policy and now Trump’s.

It is only a few Democratic progressives, led by Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard, and libertarian Republicans offering a new strategy with respect to North Korea. A strategy where pre-conditions are dropped in return for face-to-face talks with the Pyongyang regime on the status of their nuclear weapons program.

More broadly, Gabbard fights a lonely battle, to the consternation of her own party, to move U.S. military and foreign policies away from the current neocon-inspired regime change strategies in Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea, towards more direct negotiations.

Gabbard, who remains persona non grata with the Democratic Party’s leadership over her endorsement of Bernie Sanders (and savage critique of Hillary Clinton) in the 2016 presidential campaign, persists in her campaign to move her party away from the disastrous neocon policies promoted by Clinton and other Democratic leaders throughout the last two decades.

“We have spent trillions of dollars, lost thousands of service members and seen hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians killed in the course of our counterproductive regime change wars, which are creating more devastation, human suffering, and refugees while strengthening terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda,” says Gabbard. “People are coming to realize the destructive and counterproductive nature of decades of broken foreign policy.”

Considering, prior to Trump, we had a Democratic president for eight years, Gabbard’s critique of U.S. foreign and military policy strikes some in her own party as a betrayal. Add to that Gabbard’s public skepticism of U.S. intelligence’s quick judgments regarding Syrian President Bashar  al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people, and the Democratic Party establishment couldn’t resist renouncing her.

Howard “Do You Remember When I Was Once Called a Progressive” Dean, who seems to be on MSNBC 10 minutes after the top of every hour, said of Gabbard’s call for more evidence before authorizing military strikes against Syria, “This is a disgrace. Gabbard should not be in Congress.” Hillary Clinton loyalist Neera Tanden, the President of the American Center for American Progress, suggested that Gabbard’s skepticism was grounds for voting her out of office.

As if we needed more evidence, today’s mainstream Democratic Party and its propaganda garrisons, CNN and MSBNC, have zero tolerance for opinion diversity and their treatment of Gabbard and other progressives reinforces this fact.

Sanders, Gabbard and other progressives refuse to be blamed for the Democratic losses in 2016, but DNC Chair Tom Perez and many big Democratic donors continue marginalize that wing of the party and give Perez a few more months to work up some dossiers and those remaining progressive resistance fighters may be gone too.

Calling Donald Trump stupid, insane, dangerous and cruel is not a plan — Lets talk about some real issues

Increasingly, it is apparent the Democrats still lack a coherent agenda for the 2018 midterm elections, beyond being the anti-Trump party. And its not like that strategy won’t work for them. The GOP is headed for a historic defeat in nine months due to chronic Trump’s incapacity to alter his own behavior for the good of his own party.

Tibetan monks pouring through Trump’s speech manuscripts 24-7 for 10 years couldn’t discern every falsehood, half-truth and lie he has coughed up in just his first year as president. And, frankly, its not worth their effort. A third of the public will support Trump no matter what he says, and another 15 percent will always be open to supporting the Republican Party as long as the Democratic Party refuses to address their core concerns (immigration, taxes, and the size of government).

It is not helping the Democrats that its own social justice warriors persist in a full-metal jacket meltdown over Donald Trump while greater threats to our country gather strength. And, no, none of those threats are pussy-chasing Hollywood and East Coast liberals.

The Rise of China and Our National Debt

Lets start with the semi-cordial but still adversarial relationship that will define the remainder of this century: The U.S. and China.

China is this country’s greatest threat since the British and the War of 1812. The Chinese, however, won’t be sending their Navy up the Potomac. The Chinese are an economic threat, not a military one. Not yet at least.

In 2014, Frank Kendall, the former undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics in the Obama administration issued a warning to the defense and intelligence community that U.S. military superiority relative to China was being “challenged in ways that I have not seen for decades,” adding, “This is not a future problem. This is a here-now problem.”

Unfortunately, the U.S. cannot afford to fight five potential wars in the Middle East and Asia and also confront China’s increased power projection in the South China Sea. Our defense budget, as large as it is, isn’t built to fight more than two land wars. With a significant occupation still ongoing in Afghanistan, a growing presence in Syria, and a number of looming threats in North Korea, Iran, on the Arabian peninsula, and on the African continent, any kind of military confrontation with China is off the table. Strategic containment is the only viable option.

So, we might as well just welcome our future Chinese landlords and be happy if they provide our kids and grandkids with meaningful employment. Consider it a moral victory if they don’t lock the factory’s exit doors.

And why accept China’s ascendancy?

First, China is too large and integrated into our own economy for us to stop their rise.

Second, the Chinese do not present themselves as an existential threat to the U.S.  They are cautiously open to American culture’s intrusion into Chinese life, even as they work hard to protect and promote their own cultural dominance. Their unspoken but palpable sense of ethnic superiority aside, they have great food, great cultural arts, aren’t all religiousy like some people, and have two Disney parks. China circa 2018 bears no resemblance to Soviet Russia circa 1958, despite sharing a Communist ideological heritage. There is simply too much that binds the U.S. and China for all-out war to ever break out between the two countries.

Third, if our political and business leaders didn’t want the Chinese rising to dominance in the 21-st century, they wouldn’t have let our national debt balloon to $20 trillion, of which $6 trillion is owed to foreign countries, and over $1 trillion of that to the Chinese alone.

This country is drowning in long-term debt and our hyperpartisan-induced gridlock renders us unwilling and incapable of addressing the issue. To leaders in both Republican parties, the cries of deficit-hawks like Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT) are background noise. Their predictions of economic ruin if we don’t end the large government deficits never materialize. Instead, the economy marches forward and the deficit-hawks are simply ignored.

That will change. The economists don’t know when, but when it does, without a viable progressive party to represent those most defenseless, this country’s annual federal budgets will become nothing more than a defense budget, debt financing payments, and dramatically reduced Social Security* and Medicare programs.

[* The Social Security Trust Fund has never been “put into the general fund of the government.” But if you think Social Security will survive a serious federal government debt crisis untouched, you will be gravely disappointed.]

We face so many potentially calamitous issues that, if this country doesn’t build a genuine political alternative to the wine and brie set that own the current two-party system, we will not recognize this country 50 years from now.

I admire Bernie Sanders. I voted for Bernie Sanders. But I don’t think Bernie Sanders has workable answers to these massive structural problems. I wish he did. I trust his character and intentions, we just don’t have the money for his solutions. And some of his solutions would never work if fully implemented. For example, there is credible evidence — though not conclusive — that raising the minimum wage lowers employment levels for low-skilled workers, the very people Sanders and the progressives want to help.

But this country still needs Sanders, and people like him, fully engaged in the middlemost of the toppermost political battles that are going to determine our national trajectory going forward.

I am not a progressive, so I shouldn’t be giving advice to them I suppose, but if progressives don’t fight the establishment Democrats that hijacked the party in 1992 and haven’t let go since, we will all, liberals and conservatives alike, be forced to pick through the smoldering wreckage of what was once the world’s greatest power.


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About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

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If not for the mainstream media’s obsession with Trump, Clinton would be president right now

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, February 21, 2018)

With special counsel Robert Mueller indicting 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities last week for allegedly meddling in the 2016 presidential election, charging them with conspiracy to defraud the United States, the news media and their pre-approved pundits promptly delighted themselves with conjecture about how the Russians were the difference in the 2016 election.

“Friday’s indictments strongly suggest that the millions of Russian rubles spent to support and give credibility to Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-black activist themes had to have had an impact in such an extremely close presidential election,” wrote CNN legal analyst Paul Callan soon after the indictments were announced. “Given what the indictments reveal, there is a strong probability that Russia’s surreptitious and illegal support handed Trump the presidency.” (I guess James Comey is off the hook.)

The major news outlets (except Fox News) are increasingly accepting the conclusion that the Russians tipped the election in Donald Trump’s favor. Unfortunately, the facts implicate the major news outlets as the primary force behind Trump’s election. Had the mainstream news media balanced their political coverage in 2016 Hillary Clinton would be president right now.

An Alien’s View of the 2016 Election

Imagine that somewhere in our galaxy there is a colony of alien jurists who conveniently appear on isolated planetary objects whenever their inhabitants are confused about some big question and they need an unbiased judgment.

Did the Russians change the 2016 election result?

If these aliens appeared now on earth, with no prior knowledge or biases about the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and were asked to decide if the Russians changed the outcome, their answer would likely be (in translation):

The American news media made Donald Trump a star, far beyond his merit or capabilities, and effectively ensured his electoral competitiveness and, ultimately, his victory.

Before rejecting this conclusion, consider (as the alien jurists would) the content, scope and duration of the Russian effort, as described in the Mueller indictment. The Russian operation pales in comparison to what the American news media did to help Trump.

Here are the relevant facts…

The February 16th Mueller indictment details Russia’s complex web of phony social media accounts, internet memes, Facebook ads, Twitter bots, and use of intermediaries (cut-outs) to enlist the services of “unwitting” Americans, all in an effort to achieve Russia’s operational goal of “spreading distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.”

The Russian project, named Lakhta, had “multiple components, some involving domestic audiences within the Russian Federation and others targeting foreign audiences in various countries, including the United States,” said the Mueller indictment.

As to the impact of these intertwined efforts, Mueller’s team doesn’t go there. But they do offer interesting information on the budget and timeline of the Russian information operation. Through a Russian organization, the Internet Research Agency LLC (IRA), the indictment contends that IRA “employed hundreds of individuals for its online operations, ranging from creators of fictitious personas to technical and administrative support,” with an annual budget in the millions of dollars.

The money sums cited in the indictment are modest, but not insignificant. Reads the indictment: “By in or around September 2016, the Internet Research Agency‘s monthly budget for Project Lakhta submitted to CONCORD exceeded 73 million Russian rubles (over 1,250,000 U.S. dollars), including approximately one million rubles in bonus payments.”

Whether that monetary sum represents most of the Russian election meddling is unknown. But even if we are generous and assume the Russians spent $1.5 million-a-month for two years up to election day, that would only amount to $36 million dollars in total spending. Double that amount to account for the lower labor rates in Russia, and we are still only looking at around $80 million in equivalent spending.

And what did they get for $80 million?

  • Created hundreds of fake Facebook accounts and bought advertisements which ran between June 2015 and May 2017, primarily focused on divisive social issues of which roughly 25 percent were geographically targeted;
  • Created approximately 3,000 Facebook adverts that were possibly seen by 126 million Americans;
  • Created fake Twitter accounts and, with the help of botnets, propagated and amplified fake news stories regarding the election;
  • Through intermediaries and phony business fronts, helped fund some pro-Trump signage marches prior to the election.
  • Though not specifically linked to IRA in the Mueller indictment, the Russian military intelligence service (GRU) most likely organized the hacking of the servers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the personal Google email account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and forwarded those emails to WikiLeaks, which released them in early and mid-October 2016;
  • And undoubtedly more…

In comparison, the independent media analytics firm, mediaQuant, estimated in the year prior to the 2016 election day, Trump received $4.96 billion in “free media” compared to $3.24 billion for Clinton (see chart below).

Source: mediaQuant (2016)

Unfortunately, mediaQuant’s numbers are contaminated by the Russian factor. Thankfully, mediaQuant separates out “free media” by source which allows us (or the alien jurists) to deduct Trump’s “free media” advantage on social media (“blogs & forums) and Twitter. We are subsequently left with Trump having a $1.2 billion advantage over Clinton in “free media” within the news realms of online, broadcast, and print media.

However, what was the value of the GRU-hacked DNC and Podesta emails to the Trump campaign? According to mediaQuant’s sentiment analysis of the 2016 campaign’s “free media,” Trump’s media sentiment skewed more negative (23%) than Clinton’s (11%) in the last month of the campaign when the Podesta emails were released. Would it have been worse for Trump without the Podesta emails? Perhaps, but Trump’s coverage skewed negative relative to Clinton’s long before the release of the Podesta emails, according the Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy (see two charts below).

Source: Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy
Source: Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy

“The daily dump of stolen emails has uncovered Clinton’s lucrative Wall Street speeches, lists of 39 potential vice-presidents and 84 potential campaign slogans, fresh questions over a conflict of interest with the Clinton Foundation and alleged advance warnings of debate questions…but there have been few revelations likely to alter the course of the race for the White House,” concluded The Guardian’s David Smith towards the end of the campaign.

Clinton supporters would disagree, but the Shorenstein Center data shows Trump didn’t close the media negativity gap until the release of FBI Director James Comey’s letter in late October. Blame Comey if you must, but Clinton supporters are barking at the wrong moon if they assert the Russian-hacked Podesta emails played a significant role in Clinton’s loss.

Instead, we are left with this simple comparison: $80 million in Russian efforts to disrupt the 2016 election, largely through memes and ads on Facebook and Twitter, versus $1.2 billion advantage in “free media” given to Donald Trump by the mainstream news media.

However, even that large monetary gap probably understates the superior impact of “free media” versus social media.

On Credibility, Print and Broadcast Media Still Trump Social Media

A communication channel’s credibility helps determine information’s likely impact on voters. Even in an age where people are getting more and more of their political information from social media, the credibility of the traditional news media still outpaces social media. According to a Pew Research Center study in February 2016, 76 percent of U.S. adults have a least some confidence in information they receive from national news organizations. In contrast, only 34 percent have at least some confidence in information garnered from social media.

Source credibility matters a lot as to whether information impacts opinions or vote preferences. In their study of economic voting in Denmark (hey, it’s country. Its relevant.), James Alt, David Lassen and John Marshall concluded, “It is primarily the objective credibility of a source and the sophistication of voters, not prior partisanship, that matters most for explaining when new information will affect political behavior.” Unsophisticated voters, as they put it, are not as likely to alter their opinions for any source, regardless of how credible the source might be.

In the final analysis, the Russians spent most of their money on an information platform people still don’t trust as much as the mainstream media. They may rely on social media more than ever for their news consumption, but the credibility required to move public opinion and behavior still resides with traditional news sources. The Russians would have spent their money more effectively bribing senior executives at the news divisions of the major TV and cable networks.

The Mainstream Media, Not the Russians, Created President Donald Trump

Answer this question: If you were a presidential candidate and God gave you the choice between receiving $80 million for a sophisticated social media campaign or $1.2 billion worth of media coverage by the major broadcast networks, online news sites, and print newspapers, what would you choose?

There is only one rational choice.

Take away the “free media” advantage CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News gifted Trump during the 2016 election, and the potential Russian contribution doesn’t come close to getting Trump elected.

That doesn’t mean the Russians didn’t try. They did. And that doesn’t mean they weren’t successful. On many levels, they were.

But they didn’t get Trump elected.

The mainstream media couldn’t turn away from the Trump phenomenon, and once they saw their ratings and readership numbers rising (as they did throughout 2016), the Trump “free media” advantage was hard-coded into the media agenda.

Where is the outrage at CNN and MSNBC for their role in the Trump victory? Why aren’t the Democrats and other Never Trumpers demanding congressional hearings on why the news networks would allow such a massive advantage in airtime and print space  for one candidate over another? Why aren’t there marches in front 10 Columbus Circle in New York City demanding answers? Where are the special prosecutors? Subpoenas? Indictments?

At most, the Russians played in the margins. Sure, in an election where 70,000 votes tipped three states into the Trump column, those margins can make a difference. But professional reviews of the Russian-created Facebook ads and internet memes suggest the Russians were not very good at using Facebook and their ad copy was more often sloppy and unprofessional than compelling and persuasive.

“They’re shitty, they’re not done super well,” says Michael Bolen,’s senior social editor, about the Russian Facebook ads. “If I wanted to influence an actual election, this isn’t what I would do.”

Another executive, Rachel Kelly, says the Russia-made ads she’s seen put too much text on the photos, a mistake commonly made by advertising novices.

One Russian-created meme that didn’t make that mistake was also my favorite among those released by Facebook: Hillary versus Jesus.

Where the Russians seemed to do well, however, was in syncing their social media messages with the Trump campaign’s — and that wouldn’t require any formal coordination between the Russians and the Trump campaign, just a small team in St. Petersburg to track daily content on the Trump campaign’s website and social media platforms.

From what has been revealed so far by the Mueller investigation, the Russian-sourced election content is not likely to have changed votes overwhelming in one direction. If it changed any votes, it probably changed them in both directions. More likely, the Russian meddling reinforced opinions that already existed and caused an indeterminate number of Americans to become even more disengaged with the American political system.

Instead, Clinton voters should turn their gaze towards CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and the rest of the mainstream news media for the surprise outcome on November 8, 2016.

Frankly, if the IRA’s $80 million media campaign had determined the election outcome, instead of indicting them on conspiracy charges, the two American political parties should start a bidding war to hire them for 2020.

What the Russians definitely did in 2016 was engage in some sophisticated spycraft and they caught the Obama administration flat-footed and unprepared. Even Podesta, among other Clinton operatives, has suggested the Obama administration was negligent in its early detection of the Russian meddling and too timid in its response.

And it is not just the Russians fooling around in other nations’ internal business. The U.S. has done it as well; in fact, in 85 countries since 1945. Ask the Israelis…and the Iranians…and the Venezuelans…and the Chileans…and…you get the picture.

Once the partisan-powered hyperbole and posturing subsides and Americans have some time to dispassionately reflect on the 2016 election, most will realize our democracy wasn’t irreparably damaged, our democratic institutions, manipulated by powerful interests as they were, remained intact, and our citizens didn’t lose faith in what our founding fathers created 223 years ago.

That’s the optimistic view…

We also may have just seen the Russians win the first major battle in what will become a perpetual worldwide cyber war where every social institution and individual citizen is positioned on the front line of this new battle space.

For now, I’m going with the optimistic view, but I’m preparing for the worldwide cyber war.


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About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

















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Increase the U.S. House to 6,000 members

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, February 19, 2018)

“The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at least one Representative.”

         U.S. Constitution: Article I, Section 2, clause 3

It says a lot about our democracy that our Founding Fathers were worried more about too much representation than too little.

For the U.S. House of Representatives, the “people’s chamber,” the Founders set a limit on representation: a ratio of one representative for over 30,000 citizens (1:30,000). They designed a representative democracy, but not too much of one.

For a comparison, in a theoretical direct democracy, where citizens vote directly on major policy questions, that ratio would be 1:1.

Today, the average House member represents 575,000 vote eligible adults living in 290,000 households. If, when Congress is out of session, members devoted 8-hours-a-day to door-knocking, it would take almost 15 years for a House member to visit every household in their district.

If we do not expect our elected representatives to possess a deep, personal connection to a wide breadth of their constituents, there is no reason to increase the size of the House. If, however, we believe our representatives are too detached from their constituents, such as by space, interests or social hierarchies, then we need to consider changing that relationship.

In his treatise, Politics, Aristotle noted that increasing the number of people in a political unit affects relationships within that unit. With greater numbers come greater levels of individual variation. Sociologist Louis Wirth, in his seminal 1938 article, “Urbanism as a Way of Life,” inferred that such increases in individual variation “give rise to the spatial segregation of individuals according to color, ethnic heritage, economic and social status, tastes and preferences.”

Over a century before Wirth’s scholarship, a similar social dynamic weighed on our Founding Fathers as they debated and created the U.S. Constitution.

James Madison, the fourth President of the United States and the “Father of the Constitution,” dedicated much of his attention in the Federalist Papers to the belief that our national government need not worry about the heterogeneity of interests and preferences in the American federal structure.

In Federalist Paper No. 55, James Madison articulated the basic argument for limiting the number of U.S. House members: “The number ought at most to be kept within a certain limit, in order to avoid the confusion and intemperance of a multitude. In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever characters composed, passion never fails to wrest the sceptre from reason. Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates; every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.”

James Madison, the co-founder along with Thomas Jefferson of the Democratic-Republican Party, the precursor of today’s Democratic Party, believed it necessary to keep the decision-making powers of representative government in the hands of the few, not the many.

However, despite his siding with Alexander Hamilton and other federalists arguing for a smaller, constitutionally limited number of representatives, a prescient Madison identified in Federalist Paper No. 55 the potential problems associated with too few representatives:

  1. First, that so small a number of representatives will be an unsafe depository of the public interests;
  2. Second, that they will not possess a proper knowledge of the local circumstances of their numerous constituents;
  3. Third, that they will be taken from that class of citizens which will sympathize least with the feelings of the mass of the people, and be most likely to aim at a permanent elevation of the few on the depression of the many;
  4. Fourth, that defective as the number will be in the first instance, it will be more and more disproportionate, by the increase of the people, and the obstacles which will prevent a correspondent increase of the representatives.

Every one of his four points has materialized since the formation of our representative democracy in 1789. And with the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929, which fixed the number of House members at 435 and created a procedure for automatically reapportioning House seats after every decennial census, it was ensured that as the country’s population grew, the House would not.

The result is our elected representatives are increasingly distant from the people they represent. The chart below shows the average House district’s population size since 1789 (Note: the chart uses total population, including vote ineligibles such as minors):

As district populations get bigger and often more heterogeneous, it becomes more difficult for House members to stay connected with their constituents. Modern communication technology may increase the ability of a member to communicate with his or her constituents, but such technology does not change the social distance between them.

Can elites represent the interests of the masses? Yes. That is not the problem

Being, or having been, a member of the House is to be part of an elite club. Of the 545 million Americans that have ever lived, only 10,945 have served in the House.

And it requires significant financial resources to get the job. According to, the average 2016 House candidate in spent approximately $465,736 and to win it typically required three times that amount. While not every House member is a millionaire, without either considerable personal wealth or access to other peoples’ wealth, to run for the House is simply impossible for the vast majority of Americans.

Yet, the problem isn’t that half of our national representatives are millionaires. A good argument can be made that our elected representatives should be drawn from the most successful in our society. No, that is not our fundamental problem.

The problem is, instead, that our government’s policies increasingly represent the interests of affluent Americans at the expense of the majority. Our best and brightest aren’t going to Washington to represent their constituents. They go to Washington to represent the political donor class.

In their widely-praised 2014 study, political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page found that American policymaking is dominated by the interests of powerful business organizations and the wealthiest segment of American society.

Using 1,779 policy disputes between 1981 and 2002 in which a national survey of the general public asked a favor/oppose question about a proposed policy change, Gilens and Page assessed opinions on these policy changes by income level (e.g., poor, middle class, affluent).

The following graphs from their paper summarize their findings:

Source: Gilens, M., & Page, B. (2014). Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens. Perspectives on Politics, 12(3), 564-581.

The near horizontal, black line in the first graph indicates the policy preferences of the average American voter do not relate to actual policy outcomes. In contrast, as seen in the upward sloped black lines in the next two graphs, there is a strong relationship between policy outcomes and the policy preferences of economic elites and interest groups.

“Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise,” conclude Gilens and Page. “But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.”

Whatever the Founding Fathers intended in setting the maximum ratio of U.S. House representatives to constituents, the result is a federal government responsive to the policy preferences of the most privileged Americans, and unresponsive to average Americans.

If we, as a country, are comfortable with such influence disparity, then changing the size of the U.S. House from the current 435 members is unnecessary. If, however, this imbalance is incompatible with our expectations and requirements for representative democracy, it is time to seriously consider increasing the number of members in the U.S. House.

Canadian novelist John Ralston Saul articulates well the practical goals of representative democracy:

“The strength of representative democracy is its ability to slow down those in power who wish to govern by blank cheque, but also those not in power who wish to yank the state about on the sole basis of their self-interest,” he writes.

Based on Gilens and Page’s research, the American state doesn’t get yanked very often by the average American. Without some structural change, the American democracy is stubbornly skewed towards the interests of the elite. And, if we agree this is a problem, we need to find the essential institutional change that most directly offers a remedy.

Per Madison’s insights in Federalist Paper No. 55, the simplest answer is to make congressional districts significantly smaller.

A Rationale for Increasing the Size of the U.S. House to 6,000 Members

Lets start with what the U.S. Constitution itself. With a current voting eligible population of 250,056,000, the Constitution limits the size of the U.S. House to 8,335 members — which is roughly two-thirds the size of the average crowd at a Big Ten men’s basketball game. At that numerical size, the House chamber would need to be the size of the MCI Center in Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown district or Michigan State University’s Breslin Center.

Breslin Center, Michigan State University (East Lansing, Michigan)

But, before deciding on the ideal size of the House, let us establish an ideal goal towards which to aim.

Here is one idea:

At the House level, an elected representative should have the ability to meet most vote eligible person in their district within a legislative term (2 years). And if the representative can meet his or her constituents, so could any other person living in the district that may want to run for Congress.

Is that asking a lot? What is representative democracy if not the principle that elected officials should represent a group of people with whom they are personally familiar?

Bringing Democracy Back to the People

Representation is a tangible intra-human interaction, not an abstraction. So, let us build a U.S. House of Representatives with that in mind. Let us create House districts small enough that a representative can meet every eligible voter within a reasonable amount time.

How small would congressional districts need to be for a House member to have a feasible chance, if they so choose, to meet most of their constituents within a two-year term? That is a hard question to answer.

Madison may be right again: “No political problem is less susceptible of a precise solution than that which relates to the number most convenient for a representative legislature.”

But he is wrong.

Generally, Madison and the Federalists feared if the House chamber was too populated, it would become unruly and incapable of rendering decisions. Madison writes in Federalist Paper No. 55, “The number ought at most to be kept within a certain limit, in order to avoid the confusion and intemperance of a multitude.”

The Federalists were obsessed with preventing mob rule.

However, it is not clear where the Founding Father’s came up with the 1:30,000 ratio in the Constitution or how that would avoid the formation of mobs. After reading Madison’s “Notes of Debate” from the Constitutional Convention in 1786, apart from their general desire to keep the House chamber small enough to avoid unruly cliques, the Founding Fathers offered no concrete rationale for the 1:30,000. It appears to be nothing more than a realization that only 55 men participated in the Constitution Convention sessions and that number represented roughly 1 in 30,000 citizens in 1787.

The number we are going to compute here will try to be more rigorous.

As we’ve argued, today’s House districts are too large (in population) for a House member to have a plausible chance of meeting a large percentage of their constituents during a two-year term, much less meaningfully represent the multitude of interests in their district. So, what is the number of House members that will make congressional districts small enough for those outcomes to be more likely?

I estimate the number is somewhere around 6,000 members, which is the point where each House district would contain around 20,000 households (or about 40,000 vote eligible constituents). To talk to all of them it will require meeting with 27 households per day for two years. Combine door-knocking with a healthy number of large audience events and it will be possible (but not easy) for congressional incumbents and candidates to talk to a sizable percentage of their constituents.

Wouldn’t Voters Prefer to be Left Alone?

The circumstantial evidence does not seem to support the electoral value of political candidates meeting voters face-to-face. In the age of mass media, the internet, and highly-targeted direct mail campaigns, a candidate doesn’t need face time with voters to get his or her message to them.

A good example is the 2016 presidential election. Republican primary candidates, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, visited New Hampshire for more days than any other Republican candidate, including Donald Trump. Yet, neither garnered more than 16 percent of the primary vote; whereas, Trump gained 35 percent of the vote.

However, there is substantial empirical research confirming the critical importance of door-to-door canvassing by candidates. Using a field experiment in a 2010 local election, George Mason University professors Jared Barton, Marco Castillo, and Ragan Petrie, found that personal contact between candidates and voters was more persuasive than literature drops where the candidate did not meet the voters.

They concluded:  “Voters are most persuaded by personal contact (the delivery method), rather than the content of the message. Given our setting, we conclude that personal contact seems to work, not through social pressure, but by providing a costly or verifiable signal of quality.”

What possibly could go wrong (or right) with a 6,000-member House of Representatives?

This essay’s argument for a larger U.S. House is predicated on these findings and assumptions:

  1. Policy outcomes from the current U.S. House misrepresent the interests of the majority of Americans and is biased towards the interests of the wealthy.
  2. This policy misrepresentation is a function of the selection bias associated with U.S. House elections, where only wealthiest can run for office, and the money required to win excludes segments of society lacking access to significant monetary resources. The result is U.S. House elections that are prohibitively expensive, non-competitive (incumbency bias) and unrepresentative.
  3. Personal, face-to-face contact between legislator and constituent is superior to indirect contact, such as through direct mail, TV/radio advertising, and mass emails. Voters, all else equal, will prefer candidates they’ve met.
  4. Smaller House districts will encourage candidates to spend more face-to-face time with constituents.
  5. Smaller House districts will make individual House races less expensive and within the realm of possibility for people of relatively modest means to win House elections.
  6. Therefore, with smaller House districts, the interests of average Americans are more likely to be considered during the policymaking process.

Is there empirical evidence supporting this last point? We could compare the world’s largest legislatures to smaller ones in the democratic world today. For example, in absolute numbers, the European Parliament is the largest with 751 legislators (one legislator per 656,527 people), followed by the German Bundestag with 709 legislators (one legislator per 104,109 people).

But the proper comparison is based on the relative size of the legislature vis-a-vis the population size. A U.S. House with 6,000 members, for example, would have one House member per 54,000 people. That would be comparable to the United Kingdom’s House of Commons (650 members) with one House of Commons member for every 45,000 people. Finland and Sweden have one lower house legislator for every 27,000 people.

On the other end of the spectrum is the U.S. House, with the lowest ratio of members to people (1 to 733,000). The U.S. is on par with countries like Pakistan (1 to 574,000), Bangladesh (1 to 554,000), and Nigeria (1 to 492,000).

Sadly, very little cross-national or intra-national research exists on the effects of legislature size on public policy or political representation. However, what research does exist is generally mixed regarding the benefits of large legislative bodies.

In 1971, the Citizens’ Conference on State Legislatures (CCSL) described the New Hampshire House, with 400 members for a population of 700,000 people, as a place “where 15 people made all the decisions, and if you were among the other 385, you just watched, part of an onlooking audience rather than a full- fledged member.”

Writing for Governing magazine years later, Alan Ehrenhalt noted that in 2000, among the 400 New Hampshire citizens voted into the state house, one was a convicted forger and another advocated violence against police.

While that result may argue against enlarging legislature, it actually reinforces its central benefit: larger legislatures bring in a wider of range of citizenry backgrounds. What, you don’t want forgers in your U.S. House of Representatives? You are convinced our current House members are significantly above such behavior? Please feel free to check out this sobering website that ranks the most corrupt U.S. Congress members in history: (Spoiler alert:) It is a long list.

But other problems have also been found with larger legislative bodies.

In their 1999 study of state spending, University of Southern California professors, Thomas Gilligan and John Matsusaka, found that the larger Senate (upper house) chambers, spend more money and raise more revenues: “The more seats in the upper House of the legislature, the more the government spends and the more revenue it collects,” they concluded. “A one-seat increase in the upper house is associated with a 0.38 percent increase in total spending.”

Other potential problems with enlarging the size of the U.S. House from the current 435 to 6,000 members would be:

  • Where is the office space to accommodate 6,000 House members and their staffs?
  • Where will they meet when the full House is in session? The current House chamber only seats a fraction of that number.
  • The cost of governing (member and congressional staff salaries, office space, etc.) could be as much as 15 times higher
  • Even if smaller districts translates into lower campaign expenditures per House race, the overall cost of House elections would skyrocket.
  • It will put more power in the hands of the House leadership.
  • House members represent more than just the best interests of their district, they also represent the country — a larger House size might make members more parochial and lessen their attention to broader national interests.
  • For all the effort of increasing the House to 6,000 members, policy outcomes might remain biased towards wealthy interests.

There is no question, there are advantages to small legislatures and some of those benefits should be not be given up lightly. Summarizing years of their organization’s research, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) lists some of the benefits of small state legislatures:

  • Fewer legislators does not mean less responsive legislators. Using modern communication mechanisms, a legislator can easily reach, and be reached by, many more constituents.
  • Legislative elections will be more competitive and encourage greater voter participation.
  • In a smaller body, the role of a legislator will be more prestigious and more satisfying. A smaller legislature increases the responsibility of each member. Individual legislators have more opportunity to influence decisions. Each legislator should be more visible and therefore more responsive to the voting public.
  • With a smaller legislature, there will be better discussion and clearer debate. There is more opportunity for each member to make his or her views known, to have his or her voice heard.
  • Larger legislatures tend to have more committees. Too many committees result in overlapping and fragmentation of work–making it more difficult for a legislature to formulate coherent, comprehensive policies on broad public questions.
  • Large legislative bodies cost more.

But the NCSL also offers some potential benefits from large state legislatures:

  • The more the members, the fewer the constituents. With fewer constituents, a legislator is more likely to have face-to face dealings with them.
  • One political party can more easily dominate a smaller-sized legislature. A smaller-sized legislature also may increase regional rivalries, particular between rural and urban areas.
  • Relatively few political positions are well known by the general population. Reducing the number of legislators probably will not change this fact.
  • The legislative process was not intended to be neat and efficient. The legislature is designed to provide a cross-section of all points of view. Legislators are to study, debate and argue, and finally reach a compromise position that is acceptable to a majority of members.
  • A large number of members allows for a more effective division of labor and specialization. The oversight of administrative agencies is greater among larger legislatures.
  • There is a greater correlation between a state’s population and legislative costs than between legislative size and cost.
Preliminary Cross-national Evidence on Size of Legislatures

While little cross-national research exists on the effects of legislature size on representation, political participation and policy outcomes, there is some.

The World Bank has been consistently tracking income inequality (as measured by the GINI Index) for over two decades. One hypothesis on the effect of large legislatures is that they will better incorporate the economic interests of middle- and lower-income citizens, which should result in economic policies that reduce income inequality. In fact, in a simple cross-sectional, cross-national analysis, we do see evidence that countries with relatively larger legislatures (i.e., fewer people represented per legislator) have lower levels of income inequality (see chart below):

Of course, the causation could be in the opposite direction. That is, countries with low income inequality created larger legislatures because a broader cross-section of society was consulted during the democratic founding process. Nonetheless, there is correlational evidence that the size of a country’s legislature does relate to levels of economic inequality.

There is also evidence that relatively larger legislatures encourage stronger voter participation and turnout. Using voter turnout data provided by political scientist Mark Franklin, we see a strong negative correlation between the number of people each legislator represents and voter turnout for lower house elections (see chart below):

The arguments in support of small and large legislatures elicit a wide range of research questions that would need to be answered before we muck around with the size of the U.S. House.

For example, would a 6,000-member House lead to a geographically-dispersed, hierarchical structure where only “senior” House members (e.g., the current 435 members) would maintain offices on Capitol Hill, while the remaining “backbenchers” would remain in their home districts and participate in committee meetings, floor deliberations and votes through teleconferencing or other remote services?

Is there a benefit in not having all House members residing in the nation’s capital? Could the geographic dispersal of House members constrain the influence of lobbyists and special interests?

Without a doubt, a significantly larger U.S. House of Representatives will require brand new thinking on the design and function of legislatures.

A small U.S. House is not working — Let us consider making it bigger

We know the policy implications of small U.S. House, and it is set of policies that reflect the interests of the few over the many. Therefore, this country should seriously consider a major structural overhaul of its national lower house.

This essay is not attempting to outline in detail the mechanics required to increase the size of the House. Instead, it is offering a theoretical rationale for not just increasing the size of the U.S House, but to do so on a transformational scale.

Allowing the House to increase incrementally over time (as it did before 1929) will probably not address the policy bias problem. To do that, individual House members must be spatially closer and more accountable to all of their constituents. A larger U.S. House needs to be large enough (i.e., much smaller districts) so that people of modest means can at least contemplate the idea of running for Congress.

Advertising, social media and direct mail campaigns won’t go away just because House districts are smaller. But with small House districts, expensive broadcast television and radio ad buys become less attractive.

For example, in my home state of Iowa, the 1st U.S. Congressional District covers two local TV markets (Cedar Rapids/Waterloo, and Dubuque). Their coverage areas correspond fairly closely to the 1st District’s boundaries. Today, it makes sense for a congressional candidate to spend a lot of money on broadcast TV ads. And only well-funded candidacies can do that. On the other hand, if Iowa had 60 U.S. House districts, district boundaries would be roughly the size of an Iowa county. At that size, expensive broadcast TV/radio buys make much less sense.

Instead, small district will increase the potential for an underfunded but hardworking doorknocker to beat an entrenched incumbent. In a 6,000-member House, hard work will be a legitimate substitute to campaign money and that will scare the hell out of current House incumbents. If incumbents aren’t able to connect with their constituents on a personal level, the days of 90 percent re-election rates will be over.

And any idea that scares the hell out of incumbents, can’t be all bad.




I did’t address the U.S. Senate in this essay, which likely contributes to the elite bias in national policymaking. Therefore, any effect of changing the size of the U.S. House will be muted by the current structure of the U.S. Senate. Nonetheless, changing the size of the U.S. House should still bring an increased level of accountability and responsiveness of that chamber to the opinions of average Americans.


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About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.



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Advice to Republicans: Nominate women

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, February 12, 2018)

“Where are all the Republican women?” Politico’s David Bernstein asked in a 2016 article.

The solution to Bernstein’s question is simple: the Republicans need to nominate more women for the 2018 congressional races. If the GOP wants to keep control of the House, it is imperative.

While recent opinion trends have brought some tentative optimism to Republicans, few analysts believe the Republicans will keep control of the U.S. House after the midterm elections.

PredictIt, a prediction market, gives the Democrats a 63 percent chance of taking control of the House in 2018.

If disposable personal income growth accelerates as expected and Donald Trump’s job approval remains around 42 percent,’s Midterm Election Prediction Tool predicts the Republicans will still lose 34 House seats and 4 Senate seats. In other words, under current conditions, they will lose control of both congressional chambers.

We’ve already seen 22 Republican House members announce their retirements, many because of their dimming re-election chances. In contrast, only 9 House Democrats are retiring (as of February 8, 2018).

While Democrats’ Trump-dementia may wear thin by November, leading voters to recoil back into the arms of Republicans, the GOP can’t rest their chances on that hope. Instead, the Republicans need to acknowledge the seriousness of the public’s mood right now and, in particular, the anger many women feel towards the current president.

If the GOP adopts Laura Ingraham’s argument that “women have never had it this good,” keeping control of the House and Senate is a lost cause. As Ingraham certainly knows, when it comes to voting, facts often aren’t as important as feelings.

Many women are angry right now at a president they see as an unrepentant serial abuser of women.

“The average difference in Trump’s approval rating between men and women was 12 percentage points in 2017, roughly double the differences for the three presidents who served immediately before him,” according to Megan Brenan from the Gallup Organization. “Trump’s annual average approval rating for his first year in office was 45 percent among men and 33 percent among women. These sub-50% ratings for a president’s first year in office are unprecedented, as is the 12-point gender difference.”

The Atlantic and the Gallup Poll recently completed extensive polling in 13 battleground states and found Trump’s job approval among college-educated white women exceeded 34 percent in only four of those states.

College-educated white women are the vanguard of the anti-Trump movement, but even among white women without college degrees, one of Trump’s core voting blocs in 2016, his approval ratings have dropped precipitously.

In the 2016 election, Trump carried 61 percent of white women without a college degree. But in a yearlong 2017 study, SurveyMonkey found this group evenly split, with 49 percent approving and 49 percent disapproving of Trump’s performance as president.

Why this drop in Trump’s approval among white women without college degrees? Beyond the overwhelmingly negative news coverage given to the Trump presidency, in general, there is also circumstantial evidence pointing to the rise of the #MeToo movement and society’s heightened sensitivities to sexual harassment and abuse issues.

In a January 2018 Washington Post-ABC News Poll, 79 percent of white women without college degrees believe sexual harassment is a nationwide problem, and this was before Trump’s tone deaf defense of former top aide Rob Porter, who is accused of abusing his two ex-wives and an ex-girlfriend.

As NPR’s political reporter Danielle Kurtzleben observantly points out, the gender gap for congressional Republicans paints a slightly better picture. The current Republican gender gap is not unusually large compared to recent congressional election polls (see chart below), but it does portend large Democratic gains in the 2018 midterms, similar to 2006.

Accordingly, congressional Republicans are keeping a close eye on the mood in their districts. According to The Cook Political Report (as of February 8th), six open House seats, previously held by the Republicans, are ‘leaning’ Democratic and 18 incumbent Republicans are in toss-up races.

Furthermore, despite Kurtzleben’s accurate observation, congressional Republicans should be looking for ways to reduce the gender gap.

“The future is female,” writes Alan Jude Ryland of

Supporting Ryland’s broad assertion,’s research on the 2016 Iowa state legislative elections found that among candidates challenging incumbents, on average, women outperformed men, even after controlling for other factors such as party affiliation and campaign expenditures. The candidate gender effect was no more than 3 percentage points; but in a close election, that is the difference between winning and losing.

Perceptions of candidate ‘honesty’ and ‘trust’ were a major factor in undecided voters’ selection decisions at the presidential level in 2016; but, as we know, that didn’t help the woman at the top of the Democratic ticket. Nonetheless, research consistently shows that women are viewed as more trustworthy than men (recent examples of this research can be found here and here).

It is not conjecture anymore that women may have a distinct advantage as political candidates with American voters.

If our Iowa finding applies to the nation, and we are confident it does, Republicans need to nominate as many women as possible for the 17 open House races considered ‘leaning’ or ‘toss-ups,’ if that strategy tips the balance in just half of those races, it will prevent the Republicans from losing control of the House.

It is mere speculation at this point, but given the raw size of the women’s marches and the #MeToo movement, it is not far-fetched to suggest women in the future are going to be more inclined to vote for other women.

Undeniable is how the Trump presidency has energized millions of women in this country, not just to march and organize voter registration drives, but to also run for elective office.

As of now, 2018 is shaping up to be another 1992, billed then as “The Year of the Woman.” In that election, the number of women in Congress doubled when 27 new women were elected to Congress. Women have not seen gains like that since, and while 2018 probably won’t double the number of women in Congress, we will see a significant percentage increase from the current 19.4 percent.

Are the Republicans prepared for this? What do you think? They just ran creepy virgin chaser Roy Moore for the Senate seat in Alabama. If the Republicans want to cede Alabama to the Democrats, run more Roy Moores.

If the GOP wants to consistently win elections in the Deep South again, find more Nikki Haleys and Joni Ernsts. Unfortunately for the GOP, however, Haley and Ernst can’t run in all 435 House and 33 Senate races.

Its not that the Republicans aren’t represented by other strong women. Despite fewer GOP women in the House, the past 10 years has seen the influx of younger female Republicans that bode well for the party’s future:

Martha McSally (Arizona – 2nd District),  Mimi Walters (California – 45th District), Jackie Walorski (Indiana – 2nd District),  Susan Brooks (Indiana – 5th District),  Lynn Jenkins (Kansas – 2nd District),  Vicky Hartzler (Missouri – 4th District), Elise Stefanik (New York – 21st District), Claudia Tenney (New York, 22nd District)*, Kristi Noem (South Dakota – At Large),  Mia Love (Utah – 4th District), Barbara Comstock (Virginia – 10th District)*, Jaime Herrera Beutler (Washington – 3rd District), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Washington – 5th District)

[* denotes incumbents in toss-up races, according to The Cook Political Report]

But the Republicans need more candidates like these women. Clone them if they know how. Women need to start filling the GOP’s new candidate training pipelines. The Democrats are recruiting women candidates at hyper-drive speeds right now and will reap the benefits in 2018 if left unchallenged.

As with many other social equity trends, the U.S. trails Europe in the advancement of women in the political arena. You won’t read any new Bild or Der Spiegel articles on whether the Germans are ready for a female Chancellor. Women politicians are so established in the United Kingdom that when Prime Minister Theresa May is routinely criticized for being “weak, indecisive, and vacillating” nobody screams  “misogyny” or “sexism” in her defense.

At least 30 percent of lower house members are women in most European countries, the exceptions being Ireland (22 percent), Poland (28 percent), and Luxembourg (28 percent). At current trends, however, these percentages will approach 50 percent in the next 20 years.

That trend is slower but equally definitive in the U.S.

In the not-so-distant future, when 50 percent of all U.S. House and Senate members are women, that will mean the electorates in 134 House and 28 Senate districts, now represented by men, will have elected a woman.

Republican Party, are you prepared for that? Seriously, do you have enough quality women candidates to account for at least half of those new women in Congress?

GOP, that is your challenge.


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About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

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Are we going to destroy our democracy to save it?

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, February 7, 2018)

It was on this day in 1968 that Peter Arnett, reporting for the Associated Press on the Vietnam War, sent out his now famous dispatch concerning an American counter-insurgency operation in the provincial capital of Bến Tre:

“‘It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,’ a United States major said today. He was talking about the decision by allied commanders to bomb and shell the town regardless of civilian casualties, to rout the Vietcong.”

While the source and accuracy of the quote has since been disputed, the near complete destruction of Bến Tre during the operation cannot.

Is the American political establishment doing the same thing to, in their view, save our democracy from Donald Trump?

That possibility is palpable when you read the latest rumor being pumped by the online #TheResistance concerning the Trump-Russia probe.

Social media-based and self-proclaimed Trump-Russia collusion maven,  @briankrassenstein, is promoting the newest theory regarding former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page:

I confess, I was intrigued when I read Krassenstein’s opening tease. Plus, it gives me another reason to keep Carter Page in my life, for a little longer at least.

Wow! Even being forced to pretend I know how to pronounce Buryakov, Vnesheconombank, Podobnyy, and Sporyshev, I could not stop reading Krassenstein’s theory on Page. It sounds like Page is…well, just read on:

After reading this I wouldn’t blame you if your inner Jed Clampett belt out a loud “Well doggie!” There you have it. Carter Page is on our side. He’s not a Russian stooge. He’s an FBI stooge. But, wait, there is more…

Yes, Brian, you should feel a bit guilty. You just wasted five minutes of my Twitter feed reading time on the goddamn stupidest theory ever shared on Twitter. And, believe me, the competition is fierce for that distinction.

In fairness, the Krassenstein theory on Carter Page isn’t total bullcrap. Like any good theory, the ‘Carter-Page-as-FBI-informant-against-Trump’ is built on some actual facts.

The FBI’s interest in Carter Page as far back as 2012 was reported by The New York Times in April 2017. The article also reported that Page helped the FBI in getting Evgeny Buryakov plead guilty to covertly working as a Russian agent in the United States.

So, yes, Carter Page is probably not a simple buffoon (in the vein of a drunken, Aussie-diplomat-speaking-to George Papadopoulos). His central role is indisputable in the Devin Nunes memo. And will be as well in the ‘Intel-Committee-Democrats-Deserve-A-Memo-Too’ memo.

But even Krassenstein acknowledges a flaw in his theory:

Yes, Brian, I do wonder why the FBI would waste a FISA court’s time as part of a counter-intelligence deception effort.

You can scratch off the first explanation.

If the FBI is using the FISA court process as a decoy for ‘an incredibly successful’ foreign surveillance program on fear the Russians might be privy to those hearings, then this country is in big, BIG trouble.

Was the judge a possible Russian agent? Or maybe one of the agents representing the FBI in the FISA court? Perhaps the stenographer? Perhaps the Russians had a listening device in the judge’s gavel?

Besides, there are far easier ways to get deceptive information into Russian intelligence’s blood stream than waste a FISA court’s time.

The second explanation as to why the FBI might make four applications to the FISA court to surveil Page is equally problematic. If the FBI didn’t trust Page while he was acting as an FBI informant on the Trump/Kushner organizations, they already had the authority to surveil him. They didn’t need a FISA warrant. If Page stopped being an FBI informant and subsequently joined the Trump campaign (in March 2016), then the FBI would need FISA court authorization, but how is that really different from what we already know?

And while Krassenstein’s Page-as-FBI-Informant-Against-Trump theory has other holes, it is not inconceivable that Carter Page was (and is) on the FBI side of the ledger in the Trump-Russia collusion probe.

That is plausible.

However, the biggest problem with Krassenstein’s theory is not its plausibility, its the possibility that its true!

[As an aside, if the FBI and U.S. intelligence community had enough concern that Trump was compromised by the Russians to plant an informant in his campaign and, while doing so, watched as the Russians hacked DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign emails, blinded social media users with millions of impressions of fake news, all that as Trump tallied up 306 electoral votes and now sits behind the Resolute desk — Jesus Christ! How incompetent is our intelligence community if that happened! We would have been better off letting Moe, Larry and Curly run our intelligence services.]

Back to reality..

If the FBI hired an informant to surveil the Trump campaign (and Jared Kushner’s real estate deals), this country will have a full-blown constitutional crisis on its hands.

Unbeknownst to most Americans, the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment does not put many restrictions on the government planting informants into our communities. If the government plants listening devices or taps our phones, they need reasonable cause and court-issued search warrants. If they want to hire your Uncle Joe to spy on you, not much is in their way to stop them.

“Americans may be surprised to learn that the Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution to impose few, if any, restraints on the government’s authority to plant or send covert informants and spies into our lives,” wrote legal scholar Tracey Maclin for the Washington University Law Review. “The Court reads the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable governmental searches and seizures to place no limitations on the government’s power to send informants to infiltrate our homes, businesses, religious organizations, or social groups.”

If you didn’t know that already, let it sink in. You might want to pat down Aunt Mimmie at the next Thanksgiving dinner.

That is what Krassenstein is talking about when he suggests Carter Page was an FBI informant being used to gather incriminating information on Donald Trump and associates.

If that actually happened (and it most likely didn’t). Game over. People will go to jail, but probably not anybody connected to the Trump campaign. That use of federal offices for a partisan intrusion into a presidential election will put members of FBI and Department of Justice senior management in jail. Indictments and convictions would go straight into the White House.

[To the Krassenstein theory’s credit, it would answer this question:  Why would the Dept. of Justice and FBI show so little interest in indicting Hillary Clinton on her misuse of classified information and destruction of subpoenaed emails? If Clinton had gone down on felony charges too, Bernie Sanders would be president right now…or Jill Stein?!]

Do not fear, Democrats. It is highly unlikely Obama’s Department of Justice thought it was OK to hire an informant to collect incriminating information on the Trump campaign (and ancillary associates). But that some Democrats are getting giddy over the idea is almost as disturbing.

Is Trump-hatred-syndrome frying Democrats’ brains? Have they no concern for the laws and norms governing our government’s intrusions into our lives? Are they so blinded by Trump-hate that they will consent to an administration discrediting the presidential candidacy of an opposition candidate through the use of federal informants?

That is what dictatorships do.

Krassenstein’s theory proposes that the Obama administration was so concerned that Donald Trump was compromised by the Russians that its agents were willing to shred our founding principles to prove it.

Even if Trump is compromised by the Russians (and there is no concrete evidence yet that he is!), using FBI informants to surveil his campaign is the WRONG way to go about gathering evidence.

If true, it would permanently destroy public confidence in our federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies. It would destroy our confidence in government in general.

Such an act would be a case of the cure being worse than the disease. It would be analogous to a destroying a town just to save it.


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About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.



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Why does the ‘Comey Letter’ still keep me up at night?

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, February 6, 2018)

In his new book, “The Unmaking of the President 2016,” former Bill Clinton lawyer and adviser Lanny J. Davis makes a strong argument that FBI Director James Comey’s October 28, 2016 announcement of a new investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails was the primary cause of her electoral defeat to Donald Trump.

“The visible tip of the iceberg was James Comey’s Oct. 28, 2016, letter to Congress,” writes Davis in The Hill. “All data proves that, but for that letter 11 days from Election Day, Hillary Clinton wins the presidency.”

Davis is not the first person to blame Comey for Clinton’s defeat, starting with the candidate herself. founder Nate Silver was one of the first analysts to use data to make the same argument. So, OK, I’m convinced. It’s Comey’s fault.

But, anyone familiar with W. Edward Deming’s process engineering principles knows that, until you identify a problem’s root cause, you haven’t solved the problem.

Comey was not the root cause of Clinton’s email problems in 2016. Hillary Clinton was the root cause of her own defeat.

Why? There wouldn’t have been a Comey Letter were it not for Clinton’s career long penchant for secrecy. Anthony Weiner doesn’t have Clinton’s emails on his laptop were it not for Clinton’s reckless use of a personal server while communicating — sometimes with the inclusion of classified information– with one of her top aides, Huma Abedin.

For understandable (but unethical) reasons, Clinton wanted to protect her work-related electronic communications from the subpoena powers of Congress and law enforcement. Some people are paranoid and some people really have enemies. Clinton had enemies.

Based on her long experience with aggressive special prosecutors and Republican-controlled congressional committees, Clinton felt justified in protecting her privacy. And I have no doubt she would do it all over again if she had the chance. And she would lose the election again.

It didn’t help Clinton that, for a month before the Comey Letter, Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe sat on the knowledge that Clinton emails resided on Weiner’s laptop. Why not blame him too?

I resist wasting more energy on answering ‘what really happened?’ in the 2016 election. There is no ground left to gain. Everyone is deep in defensive trenches and little will compel them to leave.

Yet, the Davis book reminds me of my own puzzlement over the Comey Letter. It never made sense why Comey would defy bureau precedent by issuing that letter to Congress, only to turn around a few days later and declare the second Clinton email investigation was completed and no indictments were necessary.

Davis’ final conclusion is that there was “a deep state campaign, comprising certain active or former FBI agents, mostly from the powerful New York City office, former NYC Mayor and pathological Hillary hater Rudy Giuliani, and the vast right-wing media complex (amplified by the Russian government and bots).”

Blaming “deep state” FBI agents out to get Clinton is laughable. After all, nobody, not even Davis, has accused these agents of planting her emails on Weiner’s laptop. They simply were doing their job and passed the information along to their superiors.

So, short of proving that FBI agents in the New York City office were involved in a conspiracy against Clinton, there is nothing gained by blaming them or anybody else for Clinton’s political defeat.

Instead, I believe a more interesting and profound story may exist underlying the Comey Letter drama. If only we had a free and independent press in America to find out.

One of the most troubling aspects of the past two decades of American journalism has been the news media’s over-reliance on anonymous sourcing and limited access to the underlying evidence that would corroborate those sources.

Journalists have become glorified stenographers.

This tender Twitter exchange between The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald and NBC’s National Security correspondent Ken Dilanian enunciates the issue:

Greenwald and Dilanian’s pissing match aside, American journalists largely rely on government bureaucrats, public relations offices and political partisans to provide and interpret the news for them. And sometimes they cut out the middle man and just talk among themselves to generate news stories.

That, of course, is a bad thing.

And that is why I have never accepted the news media’s final conclusions on the Comey Letter — which was the proximate cause of Clinton’s election loss and therefore deserves a complete and thorough investigation by the Fourth Estate.

The story has never made sense.

Why did former FBI Director James Comey issue his letter to Congress in late October re-opening the Hillary Clinton email investigation? And then just a few days later, declare it completed?

Rogue FBI agents loyal to Rudolph Giuliani is not an adequate explanation.

So, what really happened?

As she loves to remind anyone willing to listen, Hillary Clinton blames the Comey letter, which announced the re-launch of the FBI’s investigation into her use of a private server for work-related email communications, as the definitive factor in her defeat.

Proponents of Clinton’s theory (such as Silver and Davis) ignore that her poll numbers had been dropping in the days prior to the Comey Letter, likely due to news that, for many Americans, their health insurance premiums were increasing dramatically under Obamacare.

Nate Silver’s own graph on the issue lends support to the Obamacare thesis. Clinton was shedding support as early as October 18th. She was halfway through a sustained three-week decline in support when the Comey Letter was released:

Remember, this is the same issue that helped cause Democrats to lose 63 House seats in 2010. Apparently, it is an issue voters care about. But that is not the post-election narrative anyone wants to hear.

Nonetheless, there is no doubt that the Comey letter hit her campaign at the worst possible moment. But these same Clinton supporters use the Comey letter to defend Comey’s handling of the first email investigation because, based on what he did with the October 28th letter, he was not a Clinton supporter.

Their conclusion would be defensible if not for the unusually delicate treatment Clinton and her State Department aides received from FBI investigators during the first email investigation.

Numerous and generous immunity agreements, allowing Clinton to bring counsel to her FBI interview, and then not recording the Clinton interview, all point to the conclusion that the FBI was too passive in building a case for indicting Clinton and her associates.

All that hard work by rank-and-file FBI investigators and all they get to show for it is a James Comey press conference.

And then I think about the Comey letter being issued just 11 days before Election Day. Pundits in the mainstream media suggest its existence proves that the first Clinton email investigation was not a sham. What point is a sham investigation if you turnaround and club Clinton with a new investigation 11 days before the election?

What would be the point?

In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in May 2017, Comey responded to a question as posed by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) regarding his rationale for issuing the letter to Congress:

“I met with (my investigative team) that morning (October 27), in my conference room and they laid out for me what they could see from the metadata on this fella (former congressman) Anthony Weiner’s laptop that had been seized in an unrelated case,” testified Comey. “I sat there that morning and I could not see a door labeled ‘no action’ here. I could see two doors and they were both actions. One was labeled ‘speak’ and the other was labeled ‘conceal.'”

In short, Comey believed the integrity of not just the FBI, but of the presidential election itself, could be challenged if, after the fact, it was revealed that the FBI concealed its second Clinton email investigation.

The logic is sound, but it neglects one important factor. Clinton was viewed as all but certain to win the election. Comey’s rationale must have incorporated that piece of knowledge — even if he doesn’t admit it. Otherwise, given the Comey letter‘s awkward timing, why take the risk to his or the FBI’s reputation?

The Comey letter rationale, as told by Comey himself and repeated by Trump’s critics ever since, is also unconvincing for another reason. No doubt he cared about the election’s integrity, but the choice was never ‘speak’ or ‘conceal.’ This is the federal government we are talking about here. I.F. Stone famously said “All governments lie.

The more accurate statement is, “government’s don’t volunteer the truth, unless forced to.” It is why we have a FOIA law.

And that was one of Comey’s options, faced with the decision to notify Congress about the new Clinton investigation. He could have, without controversy, kept the information about the new email investigation away from the public for a long, long time.

Sure, those rogue FBI agents in New York could have leaked details about Weiner’s laptop to the press, but Comey has never been shy to respond to those kinds of leaks with the perfunctory reply, “I can neither confirm nor deny.”

He just needed to stonewall for 11 days. That’s all.

But, instead, Comey offered a false choice when responding to Senator Feinstein’s question. And why did he do that? Well, that’s the question.

Something made him fearful of not issuing the letter.

Who was on the investigative team that met with Comey on that October 27th morning? Was Peter Strzok part of that team? Or did just the duty of writing the letter fall into his lap?

What pressure could the FBI’s New York Office put on Comey to issue the letter? Threaten leaks? Comey wouldn’t have lasted as long as he did as FBI Director had he not been able to handle information leaks.

The recent revelation that the initial draft of the Comey letter was written by Strzok, who was found to have shared anti-Trump sentiments with another FBI agent while he was working on the Clinton email investigation, confirmed to some in the media that Strzok’s was an objectivity player in this drama.

However, the one-page Comey letter itself (which you can access 102816_FBI-Letter) was so terse and void of substance that it is unclear how it exonerates Strzok’s expressed political bias against Trump. The Comey letter simply states that additional evidence in the Clinton email investigation had been uncovered and required his office’s due diligence.

A more troubling theory is that Comey was under pressure from his team’s rank-and-file investigators who felt the original FBI investigation into Clinton’s emails was not conducted in good faith?

We have evidence of that dynamic from a May 10, 2016 Washington Post story that received very little coverage from the mainstream press at the time:

Source The Washington Post

It is improbable that an FBI agent would make that “mistake” on accident. It had to be a conscious decision by the agent to lodge, in effect, a small protest against the whole process. Think about it: The area where Clinton aide Cheryl Mills was most vulnerable legally — the decision rule and process by which Clinton’s personal emails were identified and deleted — is where she had cut a deal with the Department of Justice.

Isn’t that convenient?

Did the FBI’s New York City office assist (as opposed to lead) this symbolic mutiny of FBI investigators working on the Clinton email investigation?

Pure conjecture at this point. But we don’t know. There is been nary a murmur from Washington journalists on exactly how the Comey letter went down. We are forced to accept Comey’s congressional testimony on its face value and not question its implications, as determined by partisan interests.

If senior FBI management pre-ordained the Clinton investigation’s outcome, was the Comey letter a way for rank-and-file FBI investigators to give Clinton the middle finger and were Comey and Strzok just unwilling participants in this minor rebellion?

She was going to win anyway.

As members of Comey’s investigative team start retiring from the bureau, hopefully journalists will start putting the real story together on what happened during the Comey letter fiasco of October 2016.


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About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

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A non-partisan reaction to the release of the Nunes memo

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, February 2, 2018)

There is one clear conclusion from the House Intel Committee Chairman Devin Nunes’ memo which implicates the FBI in abusing FISA-based surveillance powers: Everyone involved in this hot mess looks bad and no institution will be spared.

The Nunes memo (which you can acccess here: FISA-Memo) is narrowly targeted at the FISA application to conduct surveillance on Carter Page. Nothing more, nothing less.

Yet, the national news media’s over reaction to the memo says more than the memo itself.

Former FBI director posted this puzzling message right before the release of the Devin Nunes memo:

Nice words, but drenched in irony. If there is any analogy to Joe McCarthy, it is the willingness of the mainstream media to provide a national platform to people suggesting anyone who defends the Trump administration may be a Russian operative, including Nunes and House Leader Paul Ryan. Here is an example of MSNBC doing just that: Video. Enough said.

That is textbook McCarthyism.

Thankfully, House Leader Ryan refuses to fall into the partisan trap surrounding the Nunes memo. “This memo is not an indictment of the FBI or Department of Justice,” says Ryan.

Ryan is correct.

In fact, now that the Nunes memo has been released, it begs the questions, what were the Democrats so afraid of and what were the Republicans so excited about?

Before going through the memo’s basic conclusions, it is important to emphasize that the memo is simply hearsay testimony about the FISA application to surveil Page. It is not even clear if Nunes himself saw the original FISA application.

Without the actual FISA application, it is impossible to verify if Nunes’ memo accurately describes what the FBI said to the FISA court. When the Democrats release their memo, the same problem will exist.

The bottom line is that the American people need to see the actual 50-page FISA application (with the appropriate redactions to protect sources and methods). Short of that, all we have is partisan posturing and noise.

Lastly, the FISA application at the center of the Nunes memo was for Carter Page –which makes it less interesting than a FISA application for someone else connected to the Trump presidential campaign.

The FBI already knew in 2013 that the Russians were trying to recruit Page as an agent. Getting a FISA court to authorize (or re-authorize) surveillance of Page did not require the Christopher Steele/Fusion GPS dossier. All the FBI needed to show the FISA court was (1) the original evidence of Russia’s attempted recruitment of Page and that (2) Page was connected at some level to a presidential campaign and still in contact with Russians (Note: The Steele dossier may have been cited in the FISA application for that reason). End of application. Period.

So, given these realities surrounding the Nunes memo, it is dangerous to ascribe too much relevance to its contents. Instead of proving the FBI had politicized a FISA application process, the Nunes memo begs more questions.

Nonetheless, we cannot dismiss the Nunes memo out-of-hand as many are trying to do. Underlying Nunes’ motive to write it  is a serious question: Did the FBI use political opposition research to justify surveillance of Trump campaign operatives and did they, by commission or omission, misrepresent the nature of this political opposition research to the FISA judge?

Why does this matter? Because in our democracy we cannot allow political parties or candidates to leverage the enormous resources of our federal government, in this case the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement community, for an electoral advantage. It is the same logic that makes it illegal for U.S. campaigns to receive services of financial value from foreign actors.

The credibility of U.S. elections is at stake.

Imagine a world where a billion-dollar presidential campaign can use its enormous resources to fund vast and sophisticated opposition research on its opponents and then magnify the impact of this research by using it to gain the services of the FBI (or any other federal agency) to further discredit a political opponent. That is what goes on in dictatorships.

This is why the Nunes memo is so important and why the Democrats are so eager to suggest Nunes has “cherry-picked” the facts.

He may have ‘cherry-picked’ facts (…what summary report doesn’t?…). However, not helping the Democrats’ argument are these two facts: (1) Trump campaign operatives were surveilled (at significant expense to the U.S. government) and/or unmasked by the Obama administration and, (2) as yet, there is no direct evidence that any Trump campaign operatives were engaged in a conspiracy with the Russians to “hack” the U.S. presidential election or pursued a quid-pro-quo arrangement with the Russians once Trump entered office.

Up to now, the public evidence of a possible conspiracy — Papadopoulos bragging to an Aussie foreign affairs official that the Russians have “Hillary’s emails,” Roger Stone predicting the release of the Podesta emails before they had been made public by Wikileaks, Donald Trump Jr. meeting a Russian lawyer in Trump Tower to discuss ‘dirt on Hillary,’ General Flynn and other Trump operatives meeting with Russia’s U.S. ambassador at various points during and after the election to discuss sanctions — is circumstantial. In other words, these facts are likely explained by more benign and legal intentions.

Robert Mueller’s team may have direct evidence, but the press hasn’t reported it and the American public hasn’t seen it.

With these major caveats in mind, here is what the Nunes memo claims:

  • According to a Republican summary of congressional testimony from Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, the Christopher Steele dossier, which McCabe admitted was only minimally corroborated, was central to the FBI’s FISA application to a federal FISA judge to conduct surveillance on Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
  • To the FISA court, the Steele dossier was partially verified through a Yahoo News article sourced anonymously by Steele and the wife of FBI deputy attorney general Bruce Ohr; who , in turn, worked for Fusion GPS, the source of the Steele dossier itself. In other words, the source of the Steele dossier was used by the press to lend credibility to the Steele dossier. [You don’t have to be a journalist to know that is very bad journalism. We are seeing a lot of that these days]
  • The FBI did not explicitly reveal in their surveillance application to the FISA judge the funding source of the Steele dossier (the Hillary Clinton campaign). It is possible (even likely) the FISA judge asked about the dossier’s funding, but we don’t know that.
  • Steele’s numerous encounters with the media and his known detestation of Donald Trump violated the cardinal rule of source handling.
  • There is no indication of a conspiracy between Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos and Carter Page.
  • Despite his dossier being unverified and some aspects discredited, Steele maintained a relationship with associate deputy attorney general Bruce Ohr, whose wife worked for Fusion GPS, the firm that generated much of the anti-Trump intelligence used to justify the FISA surveillance application.
  • The “unmasking” of U.S. persons as part of authorized U.S. intelligence collection activities was liberally (if not illegally) used by the Barack Obama administration, possibly for political reasons.
  • Nothing in the Nunes memo endangers U.S. national security.

The strengths and weaknesses of the Nunes memo aside, here are the institutions coming out of this kerfuffle looking bad. We must start with…

The News Media

Nobody looks worse in the Nunes memo controversy than the mainstream news media who uncritically parroted the FBI, Department of Justice and U.S. Intelligence Community’s warnings that national security is compromised by the release of the Nunes memo. In retrospect, their security concerns were bullshit.

So what are the congressional Democrats really concerned about?

From the start of the Trump administration, the mainstream media has had no compunction against publishing leaked classified information suggesting collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Yet, with the release of the Nunes memo, suddenly the mainstream media is outraged at the release of classified information.

That is textbook hypocrisy.

The mainstream media can no longer can be viewed as independent arbiters of information coming from the U.S. government. They are nothing less than the extension of the U.S. government’s public relations operations.

As a news-consuming public, we need to stop calling stories “news” when their core information derives entirely from anonymous government sources. Contrary to the popular myth, Woodward and Bernstein didn’t report Watergate that way…see for yourself here.

For once, President Trump’s words got it exactly right: “A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves,” said President Trump at the release of the Nunes memo.

No group should be more ashamed than the journalists connected to The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, MSBNC, and other news organizations.

For all of the propaganda directed against the Fox News Network, no news organization has covered all sides of the Nunes memo more than Fox News.

Why did Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein extend the surveillance of Carter Page under the FISA court approval? According to Fox News, the Nunes memo offers no explanation, but that is a question an objective news media should be pursuing.

But you won’t hear that question from CNN or MSNBC.

Instead, we get tired tropes about the Trump administration’s collusion with the Putin regime, despite no concrete evidence of such. Only speculation, innuendo and hearsay are offered by CNN and MSNBC as proof of this collusion.

Sure, Russian spymasters met recently with our nation’s spymasters. Typically, that has been done in the past in places like Vienna, Austria, not McLean, Virginia. However, in my brief time in the American intelligence community, I saw Russian intelligence officials on more than one occasion navigating the hallways of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Apparently, this type of interaction with foreign intelligence officials is only acceptable under New York Times-approved administrations.

In the real world, the Russians are a critical ally with the United States in the war on terrorism. Granted, the Russians are not easy to work with and, at some level, can never be uncritically trusted. But it was U.S. coordination with Russian interests in Syria that enabled the success of U.S. military-led actions against ISIS. We can convince ourselves that our success against ISIS in Syria and Iraq was independent of Russian interests, but we would be deceiving ourselves.

American journalists, however, have conveniently ignored our country’s substantial military achievements in the Levant since the Trump administration.

American journalism, for lack of a better term, has become hopelessly partisan.

Nothing personifies the death of American journalism better than The Washington Post‘s Eugene Robinson’s essay, “Trump and His Minions Can’t Out-Leak the FBI.”

Even after regurgitating the many historical examples of how the FBI has abused its powers to conduct surveillance on American citizens, Robinson justifies the FBI’s extra-legal methods in pursuing evidence of the Trump administration colluding with the Russians.

Why does Robinson come to this conclusion? The only explanation can be that he is a partisan who will never accept that Donald Trump is his president. Unfortunately, the FBI bureaucracy he defends today is the same FBI bureaucracy that could someday turn its attention to leftist commentators like Eugene Robinson, who has over his career traveled overseas and met with more than a few critics of the American government. Sadly, Robinson does not address that possibility in his essay.

From what we know today, the Trump-Russia collusion story is nothing more than partisan politics. It is no more complicated than that.

Which brings us to the next group who does not come out of this Nunes memo controversy looking very good…

The Democrats

The Democrats, with their limitless enmity towards President Trump and a luxuriant belief in their own virtue, are now in the position of defending a federal law enforcement agency that has a long and well-documented history of occasionally abusing the privacy rights of Americans, sometimes for short-sighted, petty political reasons.

Suggestions by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Department of Justice, and U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) officials of “grave consequences” to the security of this country upon the public release of the Nunes memo says more about their belief in the primacy of government secrecy over transparency than their understanding of sources and methods.

The Nunes memo does not compromise national security, even slightly.

The United States has weathered many leaks of classified information, far more detailed and egregious than the contents of the Nunes memo. Truth be told, intelligence leaks often reveal the government’s abuse of power and are sometimes precursors to positive changes in public policy, such as the Church Committee (which coincidentally led the passing of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978), the Privacy Act of 1974, the end of the Vietnam War, and more recently, the ending of ‘enhanced interrogation‘ methods (torture) employed by U.S. agents in response to the 9-11 attacks and the Iraq war.

Leaking classified information is a serious crime and can do grave damage to this country’s security. Two top-of-mind examples are the leaking of U.S. spy satellite system to the Soviets (as was done by Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee) and the identification of CIA assets in the Soviet Union (as was done by the FBI’s Robert Hanssen).

The Nunes Memo, in contrast, contains classified information, but of a more benign variety. Most of its classified content is indirect through referencing the higher-level intelligence used to support the memo’s conclusions. It is still classified content, but not the kind that can do “grave” damage to this country’s security.

The Democrats, frankly, are hyperventilating over the Nunes memo for purely political reasons and are using the Justice Department and the IC’s concerns about the memo for strictly partisan purposes. Plain and simple.

The Republicans

Republicans, in turn, are forced to defend a former presidential campaign and now an administration that recklessly populates its ranks with too many people that are poorly-vetted and ill-equipped for government service.

What else can explain George George Papadopoulos and Carter Page?

As part of its insurgency against the “swamp,” the Trump administration offers an ersatz notion of competence based not on knowledge and real-world experience but on loyalty and an often creepy degree of obsequiousness towards the boss. Administration press conferences now are more likely to give off a shock-jock vibe than a sense of earnest intent and edification.

When you look at former and current operatives within Trump’s orbit, many are inexperienced and have little background (or interest) in the laws governing public servants. That they would cross some ethical and legal lines in propriety should surprise no one.

Case in point, there is no reason George Papadopoulos should ever be near, let alone in, a senior foreign policy meeting for a major presidential campaign. His most substantive foreign policy experience prior to working on the Trump campaign was attending a Model United Nations conference for college students.

Had the Trump campaign just done a Google-level background check on Paul Manafort, they would have found a man with too many business connections to some very sketchy people. And I don’t want to hear “What about the Clintons?” from Trump apologists. If the Clintons are your benchmark for judging the integrity of public servants, that’s just sad.

And Carter Page? The shifty sleezeball meter goes off the scale with this guy. He does have a genuine business background with Russian energy interests, but he also drew the attention of the FBI’s counter-terrorism unit when a known Russian spy tried to recruit Page in 2013. This is not a guy any competent or experienced presidential campaign lets near the inner circle of campaign operatives.

But Donald Trump did.

The Federal Government

Finally, we have the federal government itself and specifically the FBI.

Since the election of Donald Trump under the pretense of ‘draining the swamp,’ many of the federal government’s senior bureaucrats have aligned themselves against the incoming administration. This is not hyperbole. This is demonstrated through the mass resignations and retirements going on throughout the federal bureaucracy today.

As an example, almost all of the State Department’s senior leadership have retired or left office since the start of the Trump presidency. Many in the FBI’s leadership from the Obama administration have either left government service or appear on the verge of doing so.

Clumsily, and inaccurately, the Trump administration and ideologically aligned media have referred to these entrenched bureaucrats as part of the ‘deep state.’

That is a gross over-simplification and mischaracterization of reality.

To avoid repeating arguments made better elsewhere, I refer readers to an excellent essay by the National Review‘s Victor Davis Hanson on the underlying motivations behind many of these federal bureaucrats that actively attempted to prevent the election of Donald Trump.

In his article, “Hillary’s ‘Sure’ Victory Explains Most Everything,” Hanson offers a simple but compelling answer to why the permanent Washington, D.C. bureaucracy might have attempted to ensure Hillary Clinton’s victory in November 2016, even to the point of overkill.

Federal bureaucrats saw the inevitable Clinton victory as an opportunity to advance their careers and felt comfortable impeding the insurgent Trump campaign on the assumption that their extra-legal actions would never be exposed under a Clinton administration.

“The current players probably broke laws and committed ethical violations not just because they were assured there would be no consequences but also because they thought they’d be rewarded for their laxity,” writes Hanson. “Needlessly weaponizing the Obama FBI and the DOJ was akin to Hillary Clinton’s insanely campaigning in the last days of the 2016 campaign in red-state Arizona, the supposed ‘cherry atop a pleasing electoral map.'”

In my 20 years of working with and in the federal bureaucracy, what I saw on a day-to-day level was the subtle but profound art of professional advancement and self-preservation. Senior bureaucrats, in particular, were openly sensitive to the preferences of an incoming administration.

It doesn’t take a conspiratorial cabal within the permanent government to pursue nakedly self-serving outcomes, as often characterized in the deep state. It only requires career-minded bureaucrats that want to maximize their FERS retirement accounts.

Such is the real finding and relevance of the Nunes memo.


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About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.


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How the GOP can keep control of the House and Senate in 2018 (without bombing North Korea)

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, January 31, 2018)

One trade trick economic forecasters employ in their analytic arsenal is updating their forecasts on a frequent basis.

That is why, without apologies, is revising its 2018 midterm election forecasts regarding the partisan control of the U.S. House and Senate:

The Forecasts

Under current conditions — presidential approval at 41% and our forecast of a 2 percent average quarter-to-quarter change in real disposable personal income (RDPI) in the first half of 2018 — we predict the following:

  • U.S. House: Democrats gain 39 seats (+/- 27 seats).
  • U.S. Senate: Democrats gain 4 seats (+/- 6 seats).

As of now, the Democrats are likely to regain control of both chambers. Of course, these predictions have large margins of error and are subject to modification as presidential approval and RDPI change.

As for the statistical models used to generate these predictions, the U.S. House forecast model employs four variables:

  • Presidential approval (Gallup) — % approve
  • Quarter-to-Quarter Change in Real Disposable Personal Income (RDPI)
  • Seats held in U.S. House by President’s Party
  • Net change in U.S. House seats for President’s Party in previous election (2 yrs. prior)

Our U.S. Senate forecast model employs three variables:

  • Presidential approval (Gallup) — % approve
  • Quarter-to-Quarter Change in Real Disposable Personal Income (RDPI)
  • Indicator variable for a ‘lame duck’ president

Details on how we estimated our forecast model can be found at the bottom of this article. You can also access our online midterm prediction calculator here.

The Implications

The good news for the Republicans is that as presidential approval and the economy change, these forecasts can change. There is still time.

The bad news for the Republicans is that we lied about the good news. There really isn’t time to change presidential approval (or the economy) enough to save control of the House or Senate. Not for this president.

But the fundamental dilemma for the GOP is not low presidential approval, it is the nature of midterm elections themselves. Coming only two years after a presidential election, they almost inevitably result in the president’s party losing a significant number of seats. Since 1950, the president’s party has lost an average of 24 seats in the House and four seats in the Senate in midterm elections.

Dwight Eisenhower in 1954 saw his party lose 18 seats in the House even though he had a Gallup job approval rating of 62 percent heading into the election. More recently, Barack Obama had 45 percent job approval in October 2010, slightly more popular than Trump now, and watched his party lose 63 seats in the House and six in the Senate.

There are two recent midterm elections — 1998 and 2002 — where the president’s party did gain House and Senate seats. In the case of 2002, the nation was barely a year removed from the 9-11 attacks and poised for a land war in Iraq. That is an easy case to explain.

The 1998 midterms are more interesting, however, in that Bill Clinton had just been impeached by the House under the shadow of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Yet, in October 1998, Clinton enjoyed 68 percent job approval — arguably, a function of a congressional Republicans over-reaching on the Lewinsky scandal and eliciting sympathy for the president among many voters. If that doesn’t give today’s Democrats pause about the 2018 midterms, I don’t know what will. The American voters will turn on a party they perceive as doing an injustice to a president — even one they don’t otherwise like or agree with.

That was then, this is now

Back to the present, yes, the tax cuts will help the Republicans in 2018 by increasing voters’ disposable incomes. Our prediction model quantifies the electoral impact of changes to RDPI: For every 1 percent increase in RDPI, the Republicans will save 3 House seats and 0.4 Senate seats.

Likewise, for every 1 percent increase in presidential job approval, the Republicans save 1 House seat and 0.2 Senate seats.

To be frank, it will not be easy for the Republicans to keep control in either chamber. But if they did, how might it happen?

The easy answer is starting a war or getting attacked by a foreign entity. For this discussion, we assume those events are off the table.

Instead, our model focuses on two components: presidential approval and the economy. While the latter factor is affected by public policy over the long-run, the former is more variable in the short-term and is under more direct influence from political actors.

Political scientists have identified the major influences on presidential approval as:

  • Economic Events: Strikes, labor unrest, commodity price shocks, income growth, stock market movements
  • Administration Scandals: Congressional hearings, indictments, special prosecutors
  • Domestic Policy Accomplishments: Major tax legislation, civil rights protections.
  • Domestic civil unrest: Riots, protests, marches, crime
  • Foreign Policy Accomplishments: Peace treaties, trade agreements.
  • US-initiated Foreign Conflicts: First Gulf War, Iraq War, air strikes.
  • Enemy-initiated Foreign Conflicts: Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Iran hostage seizure, 9-11 attacks.
  • Escalation of Foreign Conflicts: Subsequent expansion of U.S. military involvement in an on-going foreign conflict (Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen).

Any one of these factors (or some combination) could change the dynamics of the 2018 midterms in a short period of time. In reality, however, large shifts in presidential approval on a scale the Republicans need by November 2018 are relatively infrequent and are, in many cases, short-lived.

For the past two presidents, George W. Bush’s approval had three significant spikes upward (9-11, the start of the Iraq War until “Mission Accomplished,” and Saddam Hussein’s capture). Obama experienced more gradual but sustained periods in approval growth (Osama bin Laden’s death in 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2016).

As yet, Donald Trump has not demonstrated he can sustain approval growth for more than a month (see chart below). More problematic for the midterm elections, Trump’s Gallup approval numbers have never exceeded 46 percent.

Source: Trump Approval Ratings (Gallup Poll)

To keep control of the House, our forecast model indicates President Trump needs a presidential approval rating near 49 percent, along with a quarter-to-quarter change in RDPI around 4 percent [the current economic expansion average is 2.1 percent]. Short of a hot war with North Korea, that increase in presidential approval between now and Election Day would be exceptional — though not unheard of.

More favorable for Trump is the economy. The Trump tax cut will increase RDPI, but to what extent? In the current 32-quarter economic expansion, 28 percent of quarter-to-quarter RDPI changes have exceeded 4 percent. With help of the Trump tax cut, averaging 4 percent RDPI growth in the first half of 2018 is within the realm of the possible, but far from certain.

As for keeping the Senate, presidential approval will need reach close to 50 percent with a quarter-to-quarter change in RDPI at a 5 percent rate. At Trump’s current 41 percent approval rating, RDPI quarter-to-quarter growth needs to be close to 9 percent for the GOP to keep the Senate.

The data looks very gloomy for the Republicans right now. An eight- to nine-point rise in presidential approval would require no more setbacks for the president between now and Election Day, and would benefit from at least one large-scale ‘rally-around-the-flag’ event.

Given the Robert Mueller investigation will wrapping up between now and November 2018, short of a complete exoneration of Trump and associates, it is doubtful the Mueller investigation will result in a net positive for Trump’s approval levels. But, again, not impossible. Recall Kenneth Starr’s investigation of Bill Clinton and how the American people actually rallied around their president when the House voted to impeach and the Senate failed to convict.

Foreign events are a more likely source for positive movements in presidential approval and Trump, in his short time in office, has already stoked a few fires worldwide that may yield positive results (Israel/Palestine? A new Iranian revolution? A further decline of radical Islamic forces?). Or it could all go horribly wrong…

Short of events of that magnitude, it is not likely President Trump can increase his approval or juice up the economy enough to save either chamber for the Republicans by Election Day.


{Send comments to:}

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

For those readers that want the forecast model details

Our prediction from last fall was that the Republicans would lose 25 House seats and narrowly lose control of the chamber to the Democrats. [We did not make a Senate prediction.]

Since then we have revised our U.S. House forecast model by explicitly modeling the tendency of large House majorities to be trimmed back by voters and for large partisan shifts in previous elections to be countered with shifts in the opposite direction in subsequent elections.

Our U.S. House linear model has only three variables: (1) Average presidential approval in October of the midterm election year, (2) the average quarter-to-quarter percentage change in real disposable personal income (seasonally adjusted) in the first two quarters of the election year, and (3) an interaction term for the relative size of the president’s party in the House and the number of House seats gained or lost for the president’s party in the previous House election.

Our U.S. Senate linear model also has three variables: (1) Average presidential approval in October of the midterm election year, (2) whether or not the president is a lame duck (i.e., not running for re-election), and (3) the average percentage change in real disposable personal income (seasonally adjusted) in the first two quarters of the election year.

We modeled seat changes for the president’s party since 1950 in the U.S. House and Senate (n = 17).

The model estimation equations and fit statistics are as follows:




Other model diagnostics available upon request to:


For those interested in our data, here is the dataset:

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The Megyn Kelly Interview With Vladimir Putin We Deserve

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, January 27, 2018)

In Europe and America, there's a growing feeling of hysteria. 

Conditioned to respond to all the threats. 

In the rhetorical speeches of the Soviets.

-- From the song "Russians" by Sting.

In 1985, when Sting wrote “Russians,” there was still a Soviet Union. Besides that difference, today’s Russia hysteria is familiar and, as long as the Trump-Russia collusion probe continues, it is not likely to subside.

The histrionic headlines on Russia’s election meddling are numerous:

Our democracy is under threat from Trump and Russia,” cries a headline from The

Russia and the threat to liberal democracy,opines The Atlantic‘s Larry Diamond.

And if you want the gory details about how the Russians attacked our democracy, there is an article by Wired’s Garrett M. Graff: “A Guide to Russia’s High Tech Tool Box for Subverting US Democracy.”

The American media see Russian meddling and interference everywhere, often where it doesn’t exist.

When the #ReleaseTheMemo hashtag exploded on Twitter earlier this month, Democratic leaders pumped up a story on the major news networks suggesting Russian twitterbots were promoting the hashtag, giving the appearance that Americans (on Twitter at least) wanted the release of the Nunes memo on FBI/Dept. of Justice malfeasance during the 2016 election.

The truth? According to Twitter, it wasn’t the Russians. It was normal, everyday Twitter users. Oh well, doesn’t matter in today’s media environment. Nobody needs to apologize. No politician loses credibility for launching a false narrative about Russian twitterbots. That’s the journalistic system we live in right now.

“So we got the story wrong. But what about that time Donald Trump lied about…….?” is now a common retort following acts of journalistic malpractice.  Move along citizens. Nothing to look at here. Trust us.

Now back to the Trump-Russia collusion story…

As the American media sautés in its own juices over the Russian threat, the American people dutifully fall in line. According the Gallup Poll, today, 70 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of Russia, compared to only 29 percent at the start of the George H. W. Bush presidency.

What happened?

Well, we know the proximate reason for this rise in anti-Russia sentiment: the hacking of the 2016 presidential election, the evidence of which is still based almost solely on government leaks and classified intelligence kept outside the public domain.

Again, our government and media elites tell us in near-unanimity: “Trust us, the Russians hacked our election. How do we know? Because sources we can’t reveal told us so.”

After a year of the FBI and journalists investigating the Trump-Russia collusion story, the only known felonies linked directly to the Trump-Russia investigation are the ones committed by (presumably) U.S. government sources who are leaking classified intelligence to the media.

Special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation has issued indictments for activities tangential to actual Trump-Russia collusion — none related to any conspiratorial act by the Trump campaign involving collusion with the Russians. That could change, but as of today, no conspiracy has been uncovered.

But, even the government and the news media have earned our skepticism, the public information that is available does paint a compelling, though incomplete, picture of what happened in the 2016 election.

The gestalt view is that the Russians mucked around our election through a combination of email hacks, social media botnets spreading ‘fake news,’ and, increasingly evident, the flooding the U.S. intelligence community’s human- and signals-based raw information reports with rumors, half-truths, and other deceptions. The Christopher Steele dossier being the most public example of these Russian efforts.

The Russians’ fusion of modern cyber tools with good old-fashioned, Cold War-perfected spycraft is impressive.

Equally impressive is Russia’s apparent long-game perspective. Russian intelligence’s interest in Donald Trump goes back three decades, according Politico and other reports. And it isn’t that Donald Trump was perceived as a ‘future U.S. president’ thirty years ago. He was just another wealthy American businessman traveling to Russia. And Russian intelligence was there to greet him and shower him with praise, prostitutes, and promises of business deals.

The Russians are known for throwing wave after wave of intelligence officers, social elites, businessmen and even prostitutes (whatever it takes) to get their hooks into a potential intelligence asset. It has less to do with sophisticated technology or spycraft and more to do with smart, long-term investing.

We will eventually learn how deep Donald Trump and his organizations are financially entangled with the Russians. It may be surprisingly little. It may be substantial. We won’t know until the Mueller investigation reveals what it has learned — and, even then, the conclusions will most likely include incomplete information and a lot of analytic hedging.

But, as we wait for Mueller, we can still piece together a fair assessment of what most likely occurred in 2016 and speculate on what Vladimir Putin would tell us if he broke out of character and came clean.

If only someday Russian president Vladimir Putin would sit down with Megyn Kelly (again) and tell the real story of the 2016 hacking of the U.S. presidential election.

It might go something like this:

Megyn Kelly: Thank you Mr. President for sitting down with me.

Vladimir Putin: (Through a translator) It is always a pleasure to talk to you Megyn.

Kelly: Let’s get right down to it, Mr. President. Did your country hack our 2016 presidential election?

Putin: Of course we did. We meddled. We hacked. But, probably not to the extent Donald Trump’s critics want to believe, nor as little as Trump’s allies suggest.

Kelly: How exactly did you meddle in our election?

Putin: Before I tell you how, you need some perspective. You must understand these facts. My country is surrounded by enemies, particularly on our western borders. All attempts therefore by the U.S. and her allies to penetrate, militarily or economically, our Soviet-era partners, is viewed by us as a hostile act. No less hostile than anything we may or may not have done during your presidential election.

Kelly: So you feel justified in attacking a U.S. election?

Putin: As justified as your country feels when it intervenes in the domestic affairs of the Ukraine or any other former Soviet partner. As justified as you felt when you helped Boris Yeltsin win the Russian presidential election in 1996.

Kelly: What the U.S. did in 1996 was out in the open.

Putin: Really? Did your country advertise that it sent California media consultants in the spring of 1996 to live in Moscow’s President Hotel and, behind a guard and locked doors, run Yeltsin’s media campaign? If it did, it did so after the election.

Kelly: The U.S. had a compelling national interest in Russia becoming a stable democracy.

Putin: Do you want to talk about national interest? Russia has an economy the size of Italy’s but with twice the population. An economy built largely around gas and oil exports, along with a first-world defense technology industry. The U.S. spends eight times as much on defense as we do. So we must do more with less when defending ourselves. We must also stay focused on the long-term, instead of wasting too much money and effort on short-term threats. America can afford overkill. We can’t.

Kelly: Cyber attacks are a relatively low-cost weapon, yes?

Putin: Cyber warfare is but one tool and useless without a long-term perspective and strategy. And if you don’t understand your enemy, even that won’t be enough. That is why we have studied your country’s greatest defensive genius and have used this learning in our long-term strategic planning.

Kelly: You studied Patton? Sherman? Marshall? Ridgeway?

Putin: No. Belichick.

Kelly: The Patriots’ coach?

Putin: Yes. And this is what we learned from him: You don’t need the most money or the best talent to win. Instead, first and foremost, you have to get into the head of your opponent. It is the ultimate force multiplier.

Kelly: A force multiplier?

Putin: The Patriots put 11 men on defense, just like everyone else; but when the Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has to make ONE decent offensive call from the two-yard line to win the Super Bowl, he’s calls a goddamn pass play?!

Kelly: It was the one-yard line.

Putin: That reinforces my point. You could see in Carroll’s eyes that Belichick was dancing on his cerebral cortex. Suddenly, Carroll thinks he has to out-think the thinker and thinks up the biggest mistake of his coaching career. An offensive call a 11-year-old, on simple instinct, would have gotten correct — go beast mode and send Marshawn Lynch straight off left tackle. How goddamn hard was that? But Belichick was in Carroll’s head. He was fighting more than 11 defenders at that point.

Kelly: So the paranoia many Americans feel about Russia is, in part, just in our heads?

Putin: Before I answer that, let me finish my football example. More recently, the Jacksonville Jaguars have the ball in Patriot territory, up 14 – 3, with less three minutes to go in the second half. After a timeout, the Jaguars can’t get a play off in time and, instead of first-in-ten inside the 30-yard line, they have a third-and-long. They end up punting and the Patriots score a touchdown to end the half. Score 14-10. What could have easily been a 17-3 score at half was now a close game. Why? Because the Jaguars were over-thinking during the timeout. Belichick, again, was in the head of the opposing coach. Jaguars lose and Patriots go to the Super Bowl.

Kelly: That’s football, not nation-state politics.

Putin: Perhaps, but think back to the 2016 election. Rumors of our involvement in the hacking of the DNC and Podesta emails were presented as indisputable fact by your media. Whatever their sources, strong inferences were being made. Not just ‘what ifs’ or ‘maybes.’ The U.S. media had concluded by October that we stole the emails and flooded your social media with ‘fake news,’ amplified by our botnets. The facts didn’t matter; the interpretation through the media is what mattered.

Kelly: So your hacking was more about disruption than any deliberate attempt to change people’s votes?

Putin: If we thought we could dictate your election outcome, Bernie Sanders would be president right now. We focus, instead, on what we know — on what we do well — spreading misinformation and chaos. Your own investigations found that 90 percent of the Facebook ads attributed to us were “issue” ads that didn’t endorse either candidate.  We were provocateurs trying to sow social discord, not choose your president.

Kelly: But some have claimed you employed very sophisticated market targeting methods with your Facebook ads and Twitter posts. Did you, in fact, target ‘battleground states’ with these Facebook ads and tweets?

Putin: You give us too much credit. Your own Senate Intelligence Committee said five times as many of our ads were sent to Facebook users in Maryland than in Wisconsin. If we were targeting battleground states, clearly we weren’t very good at it. Furthermore, according to Facebook itself, half the ad buys attributed to us weren’t even seen until AFTER the election.

Kelly: And your country was also implicated in the use of Twitter bots, correct?

Putin: Again, your own country’s analysis attributed about 202,000 tweets to our Twitter bot army between 2011 and August 2017. Is that a lot? Well, Twitter calculated that 1 billion election-related tweets occurred between August 2015 until Election Day. That means the tweets attributed to Russia accounted for 0.02 percent of all election tweets.

Kelly:  But if well-targeted, these tweets could change votes, yes?

Putin: If your election outcome was determined by 0.02 percent of all tweets, your country has bigger problems than Russian election meddling.

Kelly: Then why do it?

Putin: Because the Russia election hacking myth is more powerful than the reality. As long as you think we affected the election outcome, we win.

Kelly: But your cyber agents did steal the DNC and Podesta emails?

Putin: Of course. That was easy. And don’t think those are the only emails we have stolen. Our intelligence operatives steal emails all the time. As your GEICO commercial might say, that’s what we do.

Kelly: Those emails blunted any momentum Hillary Clinton tried to develop. A reasonable person could conclude that alone may have affected the vote.

Putin:  Pure speculation. To us, it simply doesn’t matter. The goal was disruption and having Americans, and the world, question the legitimacy of that election.

Kelly: Disruption is fine, but you still wanted Donald Trump elected, right?

Putin: That was our best case scenario. But we never thought that was actually possible. We just wanted to introduce chaos into the American election. To make the Americans see Russian influence even when it wasn’t there. To make Americans question the security and validity of their own election. To draw into question the entire concept of liberal democracies.

Kelly: Lets put aside the election meddling issue. Do you have kompromat on Donald Trump that you could use for blackmail?

Putin: It doesn’t matter. What matters most is that you think we do.

Kelly: But since you are clearly happier with Trump as president and not Hillary Clinton, I have to believe you have something compromising on Donald Trump?

Putin: As your intelligence services know well, we play all sides. You don’t think the Clintons have financial ties to us? As your Republican Party tries to push the Uranium One story, we sit back and laugh. We just wanted the very profitable Kazakhstan uranium mines. It is your toxic partisan environment that turned that story into more than it really is. As long we insert ourselves into the mix, your partisan politics does the rest of the work. We are the boogeyman, and as every kids knows, the boogeyman is everywhere.

Kelly: How can we protect against future Russian operations against U.S. elections?

Putin: You can’t. At least not in the way you think. As long as the internet exists and as long as we have a pipeline into every American home, we will be there. If you think the U.S. government working with Facebook or Twitter to censor internet content is the answer, you are doing our work for us. We couldn’t be happier that you think Facebook and Twitter can be trusted to censor the internet. When you lose freedoms, we gain power. All autocrats gain power when open societies start to trim their freedoms.

Kelly: You are saying we should do nothing?

Putin: We don’t care what you do. The Europeans have faced the same election-time attacks as the U.S., but somehow they have resisted turning those attacks into anti-Russia propaganda. Instead, they treat their voters like adults and expect them to educate themselves about Russian interference. Education is the best defense against Russian election hacking. Training people to distinguish good information from bad. To filter the noise on their own instead of relying on government bureaucrats and internet companies to do it for them.

Kelly: Education? That is not exactly a sexy idea that U.S. politicians can get behind.

Putin: No, it’s not. That’s why Americans will always be vulnerable to us, or anyone else with an internet connection. Rachel Maddow gins up the Russian scare, but the Chinese, the Saudis, the Iranians, the French, the North Koreans, and the U.S., of course, are all in the same game. And then there’s the Israelis. We’re even in awe of what they’ve done. But, at the end of the day, we’re all doing basically the same thing, some better than others, of course.

Kelly:  Are you saying, American elections will always be subject to external influences — meddling, if you will — and attempts to censor bad actor-sourced information will actually do more harm than good?

Putin: It’s like that whack-a-mole game you play at carnivals. Close down our twitter bots? We’ll find something else to do. Stop our Facebook ad buys? We will find other ways to get our messages out there. If an American voters wants to get their news from and tweet it out to their friends, how can you stop them and still call yourself a free country?

Kelly: In general, we believe the marketplace of ideas will sort out the falsehoods from the truth. But when we know there are bad actors out there, we owe it to our people to identify them and stop them.

Putin: Fine. And if you censor a few legitimate actors as well, what is a little loss of freedom in the big picture? I guess we will find out if your country really does believe in freedom of speech. Good luck.

Kelly: Mr. President, I thank you for your candor and your time.

Putin: My pleasure Megyn. Do svidaniya!


{Send comments to:}

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.


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Note to Tom Perez and the DNC: Tulsi Gabbard and the progressives aren’t going away

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, January 25, 2018)

Hawaii Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard doesn’t resort to name-calling, sticks to the known facts, and focuses on problem-solving through inclusion and compromise. In other words, she seems completely out of place in today’s partisan political climate.

She also provokes party elders when she exposes the Democratic Party’s hypocrisy, be it how the Obama administration helped in arming Islamic terror groups in Syria or the undemocratic super delegates the Democratic National Committee (DNC) includes in the selection process for the party’s presidential nominee.

“Gabbard has managed to put together a coalition that is unheard of for Democrats,” says The Hill’s Michael Starr Hopkins. “Never before have we seen a Democrat who has managed to receive praise from Bernie Sanders and Steve Bannon at the same time. Gabbard clearly has no fear when it comes to upsetting the leadership of her party.”

Underwriting her many qualities is her instinctive aversion to elite-sourced, media-propelled group-think. When the U.S. media was quick to condemn Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for chemical attacks in Khan Shaykhun, Gabbard said the U.S. needs to pull the reins before jumping deeper into another regime change war in the Levant.

Based on her suggestion the U.S. should get the facts before jumping deeper into a Middle East civil war, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean said she shouldn’t even be in Congress. So much for the Democratic establishment trying to mend the deep divisions in the party following the 2016 election debacle.

The establishment wing of the Democratic Party, led by Obama and Clinton acolytes and funded by Wall Street, Silicon Valley and Big Pharma power brokers, is on a poorly-disguised mission to excise the Bernie Sanders-inspired progressives from the party.

As for former DNC-chair Dean, he is nothing more than the establishment’s hatchet man who is funnel-fed talking points by his puppet masters before every CNN or MSNBC appearance — a political bottom feeder desperately seeking approval from an elite club to which he has never been fully accepted.

Yet, for all her criticism of the Democratic Party establishment, Gabbard is in truth a natural team player whose consensus building skills were honed as an officer in the U.S. Navy. She doesn’t just launch arrows at power elites for the sake of it, but instead seeks solutions to endemic problems. It is what any well-trained military officer or concerned citizen would do.

With an officer’s discipline and an outsider’s swagger, she doesn’t shrink when confronted by people like Dean. At the same time, she refuses to burn the house down in the same vein as Donald Trump’s populist takeover of the Republican Party.

Gabbard is a loyal Democrat more than willing to criticize her own party when she thinks they are going astray, but unwilling to discard the party’s post-Great Depression heritage as the party of the working class and socially dispossessed.

When in October 2017 the DNC chair Tom Perez announced the party would purge the apostates from its ranks (i.e., Bernie Sanders and Rep. Keith Ellison supporters), Gabbard called Perez out:

Click on picture to watch video

“Last year’s presidential primary revealed deep divides within the Democratic Party that went far beyond substantive issue differences,” said Gabbard as she outlined her differences with the Democratic Party establishment and its new chair Tom Perez. “Now I wish I could say things have gotten better, but its just not true. Recently the DNC chair, claiming diversity, removed a number of people from the Executive Committee, including Jim Zogby, the only Arab-American, while allowing lobbyists and consultants to keep their positions.”

What did those removed from DNC leadership have in common? They were supporters of progressives like Bernie Sanders and Minnesota’s Rep. Keith Ellison.

Unfortunately for Gabbard, her entreaties towards the Democratic Party have been drowned out by the angry mob forming around the Donald Trump administration.

Trump has sucked the oxygen out of the political atmosphere to the detriment of Democrats, like Gabbard, who still have meaningful issues with how their party is being managed.

The #Resistance provides the Democrats’ its juice right now, but Trump hysteria is not a substitute for real ideas. After two years of Trump-driven anti-immigrant tumult in the Republican Party, it is still easy to know what else the Republicans stands for: lower taxes, less government and a stronger military. You don’t have to agree with those ideas, but its hard to deny the Republicans’ ownership of them.

It is still hard to summarize the organizing theory behind the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign. Her campaign was built on a resume, not ideas. Bennie Sanders, in contrast, was all about ideas — even if some (most?) were fiscally infeasible.

At some point, the Democratic Party must open up an internal debate centered on ideas across many viewpoints. For the party to benefit from such a dialogue, the range of ideas considered cannot be artificially constrained using a top-down approach directed by the narrow priorities of Wall Street, Big PharmaSilicon Valley, health insurers and defense contractors.

The #Resistance does not — cannot — address that problem within the party. Nor can purging the party’s leadership of progressives.

“The most pitiful thing in the world is a mob”

Democrats would be well-served to reacquaint themselves with Mark Twain who wrote about the social disutility of mobs in Huckleberry Finn.

As a child of the pre-Civil War South, Twain was dubious of mobs. In fact, he saw them as largely populated by “laggards, frauds, hypocrites and cowards.”

In Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, a store owner, Colonel Sherburn, guns down a local drunk, prompting an angry crowd to gather outside his store.

As the mob grows larger and starts calling for the Colonel’s lynching, the Colonel emerges from his store with a shotgun in his hand and promptly delivers a pointed rebuke about the mob’s supposed courage:

“The most pitiful thing in the world is a mob,” chides the Colonel. “That’s what an army is, a mob. They don’t fight with the courage they’re born with. They fight with courage borrowed from their numbers and from the leaders.”

In the end, the leaderless mob in Twain’s story backed down.

But, in reality, mobs don’t always go away quietly and can sometimes change history, especially when manipulated by savvy political elites. Plato in fact theorized that all democracies will eventually turn into tyrannies once political elites learn how to control the mob’s passions.

Today, Plato’s warnings are ominously cited with the rise of Donald Trump. Whether Trump is exemplary of tyranny’s eventual rise is debatable, but it is impossible to deny his ability to capture the hearts and minds of millions of Americans.

But its not just Trump that can appeal to the masses. The Democrats have proven equally adept at it.

The #Resistance and #MeToo rallies across the U.S. marking Trump’s first year in office were large and passionate. It is not a phony outrage being expressed in these marches. And they certainly aren’t mobs, in the negative sense. These marchers are genuinely frightened about the person occupying the White House.

Women’s March rally, New York, USA – 20 Jan 2018 (Credit: Photo by Erik Pendzich).

However, lurking beneath the legitimate concerns of millions of Americans participating in these marches is a more cynical force, opposed by Gabbard and other progressives, that aims to co-opt the Resistance‘s energy and money for its own narrow partisan purposes.

Establishment (or corporatist) Democrats, represented by former Obama administration officials, former Hillary Clinton campaign operatives, and senior congressional leaders, are deeply wounded by the Trump presidency and determined to regain control of the government.

To do so, they believe they must first assert total control of the Democratic Party — except with one caveat — they can’t make it appear like that is what they’re doing.

Women (of all ages) and millennials are the fuel behind the #Resistance. While survey data is still sketchy on the political preferences of the #Resistance, it is a reasonable assumption that many are Bernie Sanders-aligned progressives.

The corporatist Democrats therefore have to be careful how they handle the progressive wing of their party — the wing that in 2017 raised much of the over $522 million taken in through the ActBlue fundraising platform.

Alienate the progressives and you may create a meaningful third party in this country, not large enough to win elections necessarily, but large enough to tip the balance in favor of the Republicans in electorally competitive states and congressional districts.

So when recent polling data shows Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in the U.S. — this fact does not go unnoticed within the Democratic establishment and its bureaucratic arm, the DNC. In a January 2018 Fox News poll, Bernie Sanders received a favorable rating from 61 percent of respondents (compared to only 32 percent that gave him a negative rating), giving him a net positive rating higher than all other politicians in the poll.

More distressing to corporatist Democrats is the knowledge that Bernie Sanders’ supporters in 2016 skewed young and did not turn out in numbers high enough to earn Hillary Clinton the presidency. They never loved Hillary the way they loved Barack Obama.

Therefore, how do you handle the progressive Democrats if you are part of the party establishment that needs their votes (and money), but not their attitude?

First, you purge their ranks from the party’s top leadership organs, including its Executive Committee and Rules and Bylaws Committee. Citing diversity issues, new DNC chairman Tom Perez announced in October 2017 the removal of:

  • Ray Buckley, the New Hampshire Democratic chairman and longtime DNC official who ran against Perez for chair before backing Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), from the Executive Committee and DNC Rules Committee;
  • James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute and prominent Sanders backer, from the Executive Committee;
  • Alice Germond, the party’s longtime former secretary and a vocal Ellison backer, from her at-large appointment to the DNC; and,
  • Barbra Casbar Siperstein, who supported Ellison and Buckley, from the Executive Committee.

The ‘diversity’ rationale for their removal is curious given two are women and one is an Arab-American. What they do have in common is their past support for progressive candidates, like Sanders and Ellison.

Soon after these dismissals, comedian-turned-podcast-pundit Jimmy Dore asked, “Imagine if Trump got rid of the only Arab-American on their executive commitee?” The Democrats would have launched a holy-crap-fest on CNN and MSNBC; but, Tom Perez and the DNC do it and there is silence, except for one congresswoman from Hawaii with a wolverine’s tenacity.

Even Sanders and Ellison were mostly quiet during Perez’ progressive purge.

“The DNC’s move to cast out those who haven’t fallen in line with the establishment and were actually demanding real reforms is destined for failure,” says Gabbard. “We must make sure our voices are heard now as we fight for a path forward that is more inclusive and actually strengthens our democracy.”

If purging Berniecrats from the party leadership wasn’t enough, Perez and the DNC have yet to rollback, much less eliminate, the undemocratic super-delegate system that has been so crucial to the anointment of the party’s past presidential nominees.

Perez has indicated his support for the Democratic Unity Reform Commission’s December 2017 recommendation to reduce the number of super delegates by 60 percent. However, as of late January 2018, the Democratic Party’s super delegate system remains in place and cynics can be forgiven if they believe Donald and Melania will sleep together before the Democratic Party gets rid of super delegates.

The disproportionate power of super delegates is hard to ignore.

In terms of all 2016 convention delegates  Hillary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders by 913 delegates (2807 to 1894, respectively). However, Clinton benefited from a 602 to 48 advantage in super-delegates, and while Clinton still would have won without her super-delegate advantage, their omnipresent status suppresses the fundraising potential of non-establishment candidates like Sanders who, otherwise, might  have a legitimate chance to secure the nomination.

“We need to get rid of the undemocratic system of super-delegates who literally have the power to swing an election, making up one-third of the votes any candidates needs to secure the nomination,” says Gabbard, who is calling for an “open, inclusive and transparent Democratic Party that best represents and serves the people.”

“Tulsi, good luck with that,” chides Dore, who has openly feuded with other progressive activists, like The Young Turks founder Cenk Ugyur, by advocating Berniecrats break from the Democratic Party altogether and form a third party.

Gabbard, to her credit, doesn’t entertain such self-destructive notions. She is a Democrat and fully intends to rise or fall, politically, as a Democrat.

Still, when DNC chair Tom Perez and the Obama-Clinton wing of the party continue to stonewall on changing the party’s closed, exclusive and secretive nature, even Gabbard must have doubts about her own role in the party’s future.

“Name-calling accomplishes nothing…lets focus on policy”

Gabbard’s distance from Democratic Party’s mainstream couldn’t have been more evident than during Trump’s “shithole” controversy when congressional Democrats were lining up on the cable news networks to call Donald Trump ‘a racist.’

When it was Gabbard’s turn to address Trump’s immigration-related comments, she didn’t parrot the Schumer/Pelosi-approved talking points. Instead, we heard this:

“Do you believe the President of the United States is a racist?” CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Gabbard.

“I think name-calling is beside the point and doesn’t actually accomplish anything,” Gabbard replied. “What (the American people) are concerned about is what do Donald Trump’s policies mean to them.”

Click on picture to watch video

Had that answer come from any other congressional Democrat, Blitzer would have pressed the issue, but in Gabbard’s case, he knew she wouldn’t take the bait. She’s not that kind of Democrat. Everyone knows that…even Wolf Blitzer.

Gabbard refuses to burn down the entire D.C. political house just for some short-term partisan advantage. In other words, she’s a not a good establishment Democrat.

As of today, Gabbard leads a lonely rebellion for the soul of the Democratic Party. Are the Democrats going to continue their allegiance to big donors from Wall Street, Big Pharma, Silicon Valley and Hollywood? Or will they become a genuine leftist party dedicated to representing the interests of working-class and progressive Americans?

Establishment Democrats are using misdirection to hide their true intentions

Magicians use misdirection to draw the audience’s eyes away from the trick that is actually going on.

Establishment Democrats are doing the same with the grassroots-driven #Resistance and #MeToo movements. These movements are being exploited by Democratic Party leaders in order to keep progressive voters solidly in the Democratic fold, even as the same leadership works day-by-day to expel progressives from prominent roles within the party.

As former Bernie Sanders operative Nick Brana says, “The Democrats would rather lose to Donald Trump than win with a progressive at the top of their ticket.” But Perez and the DNC have found a way to keep that fact away from rank-and-file progressives: Keep their attention focused on that shiny object called Donald Trump.

The #Resistance and #MeToo movements are also a convenient vehicle for establishment/corporatist Democrats to distract the party’s progressives from the substantive economic and foreign policy issues that still divide the party.

Even the collective horror of the Trump administration can’t make these divisions in the Democratic Party go away.

For example, Sanders’ push for a ‘Medicare-for-All’ health care system is getting effete, costless support from congressional Democrats, including likely presidential candidates Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Kamala Harris (D-CA), but there is zero indication that such a plan is embraced by the Democratic Party’s biggest donors in the insurance, health care, and investment bank industries. Bernie can slouch through a thousand CNN town halls on ‘Medicare-for-All,’ it won’t convince establishment Democrats that such a plan is feasible in today’s political and budgetary environment.

The New York Times opined a ‘Medicare-for-All’ proposal would sink the Democratic Party in the 2018 and 2020 elections and has suggested a more modest increase in Medicare coverage would be more feasible. And if the opinion comes from the editorial board of The New York Times, its as good as coming from Chappaqua, New York itself.

But its not just economic policy where the Berniecrats separate from their Democratic establishment sisters and brothers. When the Trump administration signaled that there would be an open-ended U.S. military presence in Syria until the Assad regime is overthrown, no Democratic congressional leaders voiced disapproval at this policy change. Of course they didn’t…Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama created the original policy!

If you loved the neocon-inspired regime change wars of the George W. Bush presidency (and their semi-reluctant continuation under Obama), the establishment Democrats are already lining up for a new one in Syria to be administered by the next Democratic administration.

Gabbard, not surprisingly, stands virtually alone in the U.S. Congress fighting our country’s bipartisan regime change policies in Syria and North Korea. Even Sanders takes a back seat to Gabbard’s vocal and consistent call for this policy change.

The #Resistance brings in the money, but will it unify the Democrats?

As small donor money rolls into the anti-Trump movement and to other grassroots Democratic organizations — though not to the DNC whose fundraising continues to lag seriously behind the Republican National Committee’s totals — Perez supervises the party’s progressive purge.

Gabbard’s calling out this DNC policy, as yet, has had little impact. Quite the opposite, it just prompts her critics to cycle through the old criticisms:

However, Gabbard’s real apostasy has nothing to do with her issue stances or how she identifies the world’s terrorist threat. She earned the ire of the Democratic elites when she supported Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic nomination race. That’s a sin that will never be forgiven by the Clintonistas. Never.

Besides her foreseeing the impending Clinton train wreck against Trump, Gabbard also had the audacity to question Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’ leadership of the DNC (which, given what Donna Brazile revealed about the party’s near-insolvency under Wasserman-Schultz’ guidance, was exceptionally observant on Gabbard’s part.).

“In this toxic political climate, rife with blind allegiance, Gabbard has made it clear that she is indebted to no one and unwilling to be just another Democrat,” writes Starr Hopkins. “Tulsi Gabbard is no snowflake. She is an enigma wrapped in a conundrum and could potentially be the future of the Democratic Party.”

Don’t worry Bernie fans. Bernie Sanders still carries the progressive banner for the Democratic Party. But, on principle, Sanders is not a team player. He continues to operate outside the Democratic Party establishment, which is one reason he is so highly regarded among many Democrats, Independents and even some Republicans.

But for the Democrats to finally ascend to their demographic-powered electoral supremacy, marginalizing Gabbard and other progressives is a grievous error. Pundits in the Huffington PostVox and Politico echo chambers have convinced themselves the Donald Trump horror show means the Democrats have little need to pursue working-class or Republican-leaning voters.

Such a strategy may work in 2018. In fact, it probably will work. But 2020 is the real prize and a Democratic Party that wastes energy on fratricide attacks against imaginary internal enemies is a party that would rather see a second Donald Trump term than allow progressives to compete for the party’s leadership.


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About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

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