Questioning assumptions, left and right - We lead off with a pair of recent books, one striving desperately to undermine our confidence, and the other trying just as hard to snap us out of our fu...
23 hours ago
Donald Trump is giving a raging, rambling speech with accusations against everyone and everything. But there's one thing he flagged that everyone needs to understand the details about.
Here's what he said ...
Wikileaks also shows how John Podesta rigged the polls by oversampling democrats, a voter suppression technique. That's happening to me all the time. When the polls are even, when they leave them alone and do them properly, I'm leading. But you see these polls where they're polling democrats. How is Trump doing? Oh, he's down. They're polling democrats. The system is corrupt, rigged and broken. And we're going to change it. [ Cheers and applause ] ...
There are several levels of nonsense here. Let me try to run through them.
You'll note for starters that that the email is from 2008 and Podesta is neither the sender nor the recipient. But that's just a footnote. More importantly, what Tom Matzzie is talking about is the campaign/DNC's own polls. Campaigns do extensive, very high quality polling to understand the state of the race and devise strategies for winning. These are not public polls. So they can't affect media polls and they can't have anything to do with voter suppression.
Now you may be asking, why would the Democrats skew their own internal polls? Well, they're not.
The biggest thing here is what the word 'oversampling' means. Both public and private pollsters will often over-sample a particular demographic group to get statistically significant data on that group. So let's stay you have a likely voter poll with 800 respondents. The number of African-Americans in that sample is maybe going to be 100 people, maybe less. 800 people is a decent sample for statistical significance. 100 is not. So if you're trying to draw conclusions about African-American voters, levels of approval, degree of opposition or support of a candidate, demographic breakdowns, etc. you need to get an 'over-sample' to get solid numbers.
Whether it's public or private pollsters, the 'over-sample' is never included in the 'topline' number. So if you get 4 times the number of African-American voters as you got in a regular sample, those numbers don't all go into the mix for the total poll. They're segmented out. The whole thing basically amounts to zooming in on one group to find out more about them. To do so, to zoom in, you need to 'over-sample' their group as what amounts to a break-out portion of the poll.
What it all comes down to is that you're talking about a polling concept the Trumpers don't seem to understand (or are relying on supporters not understanding), about polls that are by definition secret (campaign polls aren't shared) and about an election eight years ago.
There's a new conspiracy theory rapidly gaining traction among Trump supporters about the origin of the 'Access Hollywood' Trump tape which triggered days of new allegations about Donald Trump's alleged history of sexual abuse. The conspiracy theory is rapidly taking on an explicitly anti-Semitic character. As far as I can see it has not been pushed by the Trump campaign itself, at least not publicly. But it's catching fire with numerous supporters and surrogates - most notably Jerry Falwell Jr, a key Trump supporter among evangelicals and President of Liberty University, the school founded by his father.
The claim is also being pushed by Breitbart and David Duke in various neo-Nazi web forums. Notably, in recent months Breitbart, with which the Trump campaign has now effectively merged, has itself more openly embraced anti-Semitism.
You can see the details of the story in our write up here. The claim is that Dan Senor, a prominent GOP political operative, who is Jewish and married to former television reporter Campbell Brown, is behind the tape disclosure and part of a plot of "GOP elites" to destroy Donald Trump. In other words, in this conspiracy theory, Senor is now cast as the Jewish "traitor" working for the conspiracy of political elites, international financiers and the media who Trumped railed against today in his speech.
I've written before about the radicalizing tendencies of the Trump campaign. Avowed anti-Semitic supporters are brought into the mainstream. Trump bellows about conspiracies of traitorous elites and global financiers - charges which don't mention Jews explicitly but which closely follow the themes, vocabulary and villains of traditional anti-Semitic agitation. Then rabid Trump supporters who may not previously have thought in anti-Semitic terms or may have held only latent hostility toward Jews get swept into embracing and propagating anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and political agitation.
At this point there is no doubt that Donald Trump is the single worst major party presidential candidate in living memory, almost certainly the worst since the Civil War, and arguably the worst in the history of this nation. He is boastful and ignorant and petty, disdainful of the Constitution, a racist and a sexist, the enabler of the worst elements of society, either the willing tool of, or the useful idiot for, Vladimir Putin, an admirer of despots, an insecure braggart, a sexual assaulter, a man who refuses to honor contracts, and a bore.
He is, in sum, just about the biggest asshole in all of the United States of America. He’s lucky that Syrian dictator Bashar Hafez al-Assad is out there keeping him from taking the global title, not that he wouldn’t try for that, too, should he become president. It’s appalling that he is the standard bearer for one of the two major political parties in the United States. It’s appalling that he is a candidate for the presidency at all.
But note well: Donald Trump is not a black swan, an unforeseen event erupting upon an unsuspecting Republican Party. He is the end result of conscious and deliberate choices by the GOP, going back decades, to demonize its opponents, to polarize and obstruct, to pursue policies that enfeeble the political weal and to yoke the bigot and the ignorant to their wagon and to drive them by dangling carrots that they only ever intended to feed to the rich. Trump’s road to the candidacy was laid down and paved by the Southern Strategy, by Lee Atwater and Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove, by Fox News and the Tea Party, and by the smirking cynicism of three generations of GOP operatives, who have been fracking the white middle and working classes for years, crushing their fortunes with their social and economic policies, never imagining it would cause an earthquake.
Well, surprise! Here’s Donald Trump. He is the actual and physical embodiment of every single thing the GOP has trained its base to want and to be over the last forty years — ignorant, bigoted and money-grubbing, disdainful of facts and frightened of everything because of it, an angry drunk buzzed off of wood-grain patriotism, threatening brown people and leering at women. He was planned. He was intended. He was expected. He was wanted.
But not, I think, in the exact form of Donald Trump. The GOP were busily genetically engineering the perfect host for their message, someone smooth and telegenic and possibly just ethnic enough to make people hesitant to point out the latent but real racism inherent in its social policies, while making the GOP’s white base feel like they were making a progressive choice, and with that person installed, further pursuing its agenda of slouching toward oligarchy, with just enough anti-abortion and pro-gun glitter tossed into the sky to distract the religious and the paranoid. Someone the GOP made. Someone they could control.
But they don’t control Trump, which they are currently learning to their great misery. And the reason the GOP doesn’t control Trump is that they no longer control their base. The GOP trained their base election cycle after election cycle to be disdainful of government and to mistrust authority, which ultimately is an odd thing for a political party whose very rationale for existence is rooted in the concept of governmental authority to do. The GOP created a monster, but the monster isn’t Trump. The monster is the GOP’s base. Trump is the guy who stole their monster from them, for his own purposes.
At a rally in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, Trump spoke while holding a document in his hand. He told the assembled crowd that it was an email from Blumenthal, whom he called “sleazy Sidney.”
“This just came out a little while ago,’’ Trump said. “I have to tell you this.” And then he read the words from my article.
“He’s now admitting they could have done something about Benghazi,’’ Trump said, dropping the document to the floor. “This just came out a little while ago.”
The crowd booed and chanted, “Lock her up!”
An email from Blumenthal—a confidant of Hillary Clinton and a man, second only to George Soros, at the center of conservative conspiracy theories—turned up in the recent document dump by WikiLeaks. At a time when American intelligence believes Russian hackers are trying to interfere with the presidential election, records have been fed recently to WikiLeaks out of multiple organizations of the Democratic Party, raising concerns that the self-proclaimed whistleblower group has become a tool of Putin’s government. ...
The evidence emerged thanks to the incompetence of Sputnik, the Russian online news and radio service established by the government-controlled news agency, Rossiya Segodnya.
The documents that WikiLeaks has unloaded recently have been emails out of the account of John Podesta, the chairman of Clinton’s election campaign. Almost as soon as the pilfered documents emerged, Sputnik was all over them and rapidly found (or probably already knew about before the WikiLeaks dump) a purportedly incriminating email from Blumenthal. ...
The Russians were quoting two sentences from a 10,000-word piece I wrote for Newsweek, which Blumenthal had emailed to Podesta. There was no mistaking that Blumenthal was citing Newsweek—the magazine’s name and citations for photographs appeared throughout the attached article. The Russians had carefully selected the “of course” paragraph, which mentions there were legitimate points of criticism regarding Clinton and Benghazi, all of which had been acknowledged in nine reports about the attack and by the former secretary of state herself. But that was hardly the point of the story, “Benghazi Biopsy: A Comprehensive Guide to One of America’s Worst Political Outrages.” The piece is about the obscene politicization of the assault that killed four Americans, and the article slammed the Republican Benghazi committee, which was engaged in a political show trial disguised as a congressional investigation—the 10th inquiry into the tragedy. ...
Of course, this might be seen as just an opportunity to laugh at the incompetence of the Russian hackers and government press—once they realized their error, Sputnik took the article down. But then things got even more bizarre.
This false story was reported only by the Russian-controlled agency (a reference appeared in a Turkish publication, but it was nothing but a link to the Sputnik article). So how did Donald Trump end up advancing the same falsehood put out by Putin’s mouthpiece? ...
This is not funny. It is terrifying. The Russians engage in a sloppy disinformation effort and, before the day is out, the Republican nominee for president is standing on a stage reciting the manufactured story as truth. How did this happen? Who in the Trump campaign was feeding him falsehoods straight from the Kremlin? (The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.)
The Russians have been obtaining American emails and now are presenting complete misrepresentations of them—falsifying them—in hopes of setting off a cascade of events that might change the outcome of the presidential election. The big question, of course, is why are the Russians working so hard to damage Clinton and, in the process, aid Donald Trump? That is a topic for another time.
For now, though, Americans should be outraged. This totalitarian regime, engaged in what are arguably war crimes in Syria to protect its government puppet, is working to upend a democracy to the benefit of an American candidate who uttered positive comments just Sunday about the Kremlin's campaign on behalf of Bashar al-Assad.
The example often given is of how we can catch students cheating on a test: if two students turn in an exam with identical correct answers, it could just mean they both studied very hard and mastered the material well; if they have identical wrong answers, right down to the spelling mistakes, that tells you that someone has been slavishly copying someone else. For more examples of how the concept is actually used [in evolutionary biology], check out Plagiarized Errors and Molecular Genetics by Edward Max.
The nice thing about the plagiarized error concept is that it allows one to trace the history of the error. In the recent debate, Trump made an unusual error of attribution — he quoted Kurt Eichenwald (incorrectly, as it turns out, ignoring his conclusion) and claimed that it was a quote from Sydney Blumenthal. It was an odd combination of specific errors, and that makes one wonder where Trump could have gotten the same set of mistakes. It turns out that there is only one other media source that makes the same combination of errors, misattributing Eichenwald’s words to Blumenthal, and distorting the meaning of the piece in the same strange way, and that tells us exactly what source Trump plagiarized.
It came from “Sputnik, the Russian online news and radio service established by the government controlled news agency, Rossiya Segodnya“. Russian propaganda sources are feeding misinformation to the Trump campaign.
So how did a Russian propaganda goof or intentional error show up in the GOP nominee's speech?
But here's the thing. This isn't the first time this has happened. It's happened a number of times with Trump and his top level surrogates. Indeed, I examined the issue back in August.
We might speculate that there's some kind of mole in the Trump operation. Less conspiratorially, we might speculate that one of Trump's advisors with extensive ties to Russia is feeding Trump this stuff. The second option at least seems plausible. But there's actually a simpler explanation and it's one not based on speculation at all but things we know to be facts.
News from Russian propaganda sources are pervasive in the alt-right/neo-Nazi web. As a secondary matter we know from Adrian Chen's work that there are a decent number of faux 'pro-Trump' accounts on Twitter that are actually run from troll farms operated by Russian intelligence services. By whichever path, Russian propaganda is ubiquitous on the alt-right/racist web - particularly on Twitter, Reddit, 4chan and similar sites.
It happens that we know the Trump world is awash in the alt-right/neo-Nazi web. After all, that's where all the retweeting of #WhiteGenocide accounts and the like comes from. So anything is possible. Perhaps there's a more complex explanation. But the simplest one is that it's organic. Russian propaganda stories from outlets like RT, Sputniknews and other similar sites spread freely on the alt-right/white supremacist web. And that's where the Trump camp lives. So it's entirely plausible that that's why material that appears only on these Russian propaganda sites shows up so frequently in Trump's speeches.
In other words, don't worry. The Trump campaign isn't infiltrated by Russian intelligence (probably). They're just awash in neo-Nazi and white supremacist propaganda. See my piece from August for more details.
We can't say the emergence of this tape was predictable. But the behavior is not at all surprising based on what we already knew. Indeed, I would almost say this whole line of reasoning is offensive, in this sense: Sexual assault is terrible. But it's hardly the only terrible thing that has been dredged up by this election. What about the campaigns of hate and occasional violence spurred by this campaign? Just yesterday I wrote about how Trump has done more to normalize anti-Semitism in American public life than anyone in decades. I wrote about this because it is something I know from personal experience. But Trump's entire campaign has been explicitly about demonizing Hispanics and American Muslims - subjecting them to escalating campaigns of hate, harassment and in some cases actual violence. Meanwhile African-Americans have served as his stage props, sometimes being targeted with racist attacks and other times as powerless non-people who only Trump can save. Is all this stuff just a cost of doing business? Sexual assault and sexual violence of all sorts is one of the most pressing issues in our society today. But it is hard not to conclude that the revelation of this tape is considered a step too far because women are a critical demographic that is in play in the election and secondarily because the politicians have wives and daughters. Most of those wives and daughters aren't black or Jews or Hispanic or Muslim or people from any of the other groups Trump has stepped on on his way to the nomination.