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Getting worrisome: On poll results as ‘fake news’ and terrorist attacks as ‘unreported’

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
President Donald Trump receiving a figurine of a sheriff during a meeting with county sheriffs at the White House on Tuesday.

President Donald Trump has the lowest approval rating of any new president ever, and it’s gone steadily lower over the first two weeks of his term.  As I write this on Tuesday night, Gallup has him at 42 percent approve, 54 percent disapprove. On Inauguration Day, Gallup had him at 45 approve, 45 disapprove; it’s headed the wrong way. He still gets “approval” from a huuuge majority of Republicans. But disapproval among an even huger majority of Democrats and also, tellingly, below-water ratings from independents, leave his ratings in the toilet, compared to other first term incumbents in the modern polling era.

It’s worth mentioning that approval ratings a few weeks into your term, and 3.9 years before you would have to face the electorate again, aren’t really that important. It would be fine with me if all the polling being done was reduced by 90 percent. But, when you have a president with as delicate an ego as the current incumbent, bad approval ratings could, perhaps, cause him to act even crazier.

Instead, the current incumbent dealt with it by an act of denial that seems to serve him well, but that is a tad nervous-making for those of us in the reality-based community. According to the newly declared “Trump Rules,” polls like the one mentioned above, even from the august Gallup operation, constitute “fake news.”

I’m not being sarcastic. Trump literally tweeted that “Any negative polls are fake news,” and who am I to argue with the man who commands the Army, the Navy, the IRS, the Justice Department — and who has the nuclear codes.

‘All over Europe’

Trump is an expert on “fake news” because he makes it all the time. The other day, Trump said that terrorist attacks were happening “all over Europe” and that “it’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported. … In many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons, and you understand that.”

He didn’t elucidate upon those reasons, so I’m just going to assume it’s because reporters are in league with the terrorists and the terrorists don’t like it when we make a big deal about them blowing stuff up. I would have said that the terrorists like us to mention such things, so we’ll be more terrorized, but I wouldn’t know.

There’s just one problem. White House press spokester Sean Spicer (Lord, do I pity that guy; how can his new gig not be a stonewall drag?) was asked by the Washington press corps to divulge some of the terrorist attacks, that Trump knows about, but that are “not even being reported” because, you know, Rosebud.

Anyway, Spicer was prepared. And it turned out that he had a list of exactly zero terrorist reports from “all over Europe” or anywhere else, that were “not even … reported.” He had a list of 78 attacks some in the U.S., some in Europe, some in the Mideast, some involving casualties, some involving no serious injuries at all. And, guess what? All of them were, as you might expect, “reported” — but only if by “reported” one means “reported,” as in the news. In other words, none of them were unreported and many of them were very widely reported, but Spicer, who I believe has several fingers and toes still planted in reality but has to pretend otherwise to keep his job, changed the standard. He said that many of the 78 attacks, while reported, were (drum roll here) “underreported.”

Underreported is reported

Maybe so. Maybe not. First of all, underreported is reported and not “not even being reported.” Second of all, views can differ about how a big a deal the news media should make of things that happen, like including attacks in which no one was injured. And the key decision-makers on how newsworthy newsworthy things are would be news organizations. That’s pretty much in their purview, if by “purview” one means it’s their job. And people who are not journalists are entitled to have an opinion, and express an opinion on whether the professionals made too much or too little of an event.

Among the “underreported” incidents were the December 2015 massacre by a married Muslim couple (one American born, one a lawful permanent resident) that killed 14 people in San Bernardino, and the June 2016 massacre at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that killed 49 and wounded 53. Assuming those attacks a ring a bell with you because of the days and weeks of front-page and round-the-clock TV coverage they received, that might cause you wonder whether the perception of “undercovered” attacks might be in the eye the beholder, and possibly a very biased beholder at that.

But let’s not even go there. Because all of attacks on the White House list were reported. So what is Trump’s statement that many terrorist attacks are “not even being reported”? A slip of the tongue? A falsehood? A lie? Oh, I know: Fake news, as reported by a nonreporter whose idea of real news is that the New York Times is “failing,” that those who differ with him are liars and/or nasty, and/or crooked.  

Trump can say what he wants and do what he wants and, if necessary, if he really crosses the line, maybe can pardon himself. But the idea that we have a president who thinks that Gallup fakes its poll numbers and that underreported means unreported and that any evidence that he is not not universally loved and admired constitutes “fake news” worries me a fair bit.

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Comments (65)

  1. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 02/08/2017 - 09:42 am.

    Still Not Getting Trump

    It doesn’t matter to Trump if what he said is true. What does matter is that he mentioned terrorism, and now everyone is talking about terrorism, which I believe was his goal. The purpose of that goal is to get the country living in fear.

    Trump used the same playbook when he then said that the murder rate was at a 45 or 47 year high. He doesn’t care whether or not the media calls him out, what does matter is that “Murder Rate High” and “Trump” are in the headlines,which is generally what most people remember. Again, the goal is to get us to live in a state of constant fear.

    And what does a government do after it succeeds in creating a climate of fear?

    • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 02/08/2017 - 03:23 pm.

      Who doesn’t get Trump?

      He’s not acting, he’s not playing a game or a role, he doesn’t have the mental capacity to do that, he says these things because he BELIEVES them. Terrorist attacks not being reported and the Murder rate are common memes in rightwing circles. Trump listens to them and he BELIEVES them. He’s a conspiracy theorist and a follower of Alex Jones. His top advisor is another rightwing hero, Steve Bannon. He’s not throwing shade, he believes this stuff. If you want to “get” Trump listen to what he says and take it literally. He means what he says.

      Edit: Trump at law enforcement today conference: “People say I was kidding. I don’t kid.”
      We need to believe him when he says this stuff.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 02/08/2017 - 03:22 pm.

        Oh He Believes It Alright

        But there is a larger game afoot. When humans make decisions out of fear, they agree to do and allow things they never would otherwise.

        Do you really think the immigration/visa holder fiasco is temporary? Of course it isn’t. It’s all part of turning up the heat incrementally.

        There is more to come, he’s only prepping us. The day will soon come when any disagreement is unpatriotic, and to a far greater degree than it was during the run up to the Gulf War.

        • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 02/08/2017 - 08:39 pm.

          Its not him that has the plan

          it his man Bannon, Trump didn’t even know what he was signing with the immigration order, he had a vague knowledge that’s it. Listen to what he says, what’s important to him, is not the larger picture, its the day to day distractions. Right now he’s focused on redecorating the Oval Office.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 02/08/2017 - 10:49 am.

    Keep calling him out

    Eric, “worries me a fair bit”, “for those of us in a reality based community”
    It Seems that the reality based community is still having a difficult time accepting 3 premises the reality of “The Republican Brain”, “The Characteristics of Fascism” and it couldn’t happen here. As well as a good portion of the free world. “The Republican Brain” Chris Mooney, makes a great phycological analysis “science based” about the penchant for Republicans to lie. Ironically it is also supported by “Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, specifically for the XXX J type. (Introduction to Type 5 edition)/ Isabel Briggs Myers. The general nature is that these folks have an over sense of order, black, white, and a high intolerance for gray, thus they tend to make judgments on little data and instead have a sense of “knowing”. Now as the data comes out they have to lie to support their bad judgment, and their phobia about having to revisit the bad judgment, it creates to much of a sense of disorder and lack of control. They don’t want to change their mind; the world should change to suit their vision! Not a Phycologist or a Psychiatrist, however seems to be some interleaving between the Characteristics of Fascism and the “Republican Brain”. Example: Control of mass media: Seems the POTUS is fanatical about trying to control the media, why? Per above, it does not fit his poor judgement lexicon, rewrite the news to fit his sense of “knowing”. Another example: (Frank hit this one in an earlier comment) Obsession with National Security: Fear is a great motivational tool to control the masses, according to Trump, in one way or another he has indicated we should be afraid of almost everything that is not white male and born in America. Another example: Religion and Government intertwined: Recent statements by Trump about reversing the Johnson rule, Preachers getting the right to preach politics from the pulpit. Example: Corporate power is protected, there are a number of recent events, reducing EPA regulations on drilling in Indian or Federal lands, coal mining run off in streams, reducing the foreign corruption regulations, reducing Dodd Frank regulations, the list is already pretty long. Example: Disdain for Intellectuals and the arts. (Fascism List : Dr. Lawrence Britt )
    We are in a dilemma, the lies will not stop, as we have seen in congress, the senate and the white house, a poor judgment leads to a bad position, and these folks can’t go back on a bad decision (damages their ego’s and sense of order and control) thus the lies have to continue to prove their typically faulty “knowing.” Get used to it. We have all been properly warned, 1984, Animal, Farm, Idiocracy, the problem, many folks can’t handle the truth, much less reality, and need to make the world form to their “knowing” in the “knowing” no facts required. Welcome to a Fascist leaning America 2017.

    • Submitted by Harris Goldstein on 02/08/2017 - 11:56 am.

      Trump and Co. understand, quite correctly, that what people feel is more important and compelling than what they know. So they maintain the narrative. And they only have to maintain that narrative for another year, because then they can say they’ve made us safe.

      They inflate the bogeyman to a level far greater than reality, then take credit when they bring it back to the level it always was.

      And, by the way, when does some politician get up there and say we are Americans. We don’t hide in the corner and shiver in fear. If Trump was president in the 40s, Teresa May would have been speaking German during her recent visit.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 02/08/2017 - 12:10 pm.

      The Johnson Rule

      Trump is playing hide the hanky with the Johnson rule. Even most evangelicals don’t really care much about it.

      The real reason: dark money. It is not hard to st up a “church”, and all donations to it are private. Then “church” can spend all of it’s money on politics.

      And if you’re worried about what this means to the Kochs of the De Vos families, you’re still not getting it. Here’s a few hints: Putin, Syria, Iran.

  3. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/08/2017 - 10:57 am.


    It is also possible to “overreport” a story. Terrorism depends on publicity for its impact. The goal is to create a climate of fear, and the climate of fear is accomplished only if there is publicity. A constant drumbeat of fearful reporting helps the terrorists do what they have set out to do.

    Overreporting is also going to encourage the dangerous lone wolves. They get their inspiration, if not their direction, from established groups like Daesh. Their quest for terrorist glory is urged along when they see that the havoc they can wreak is psychological as well as physical.
    In today’s NY Times, a story about the “underreporting” question makes reference to Margaret Thatcher:

    “Margaret Thatcher famously declared that ‘we must try to find ways to starve the terrorist and the hijacker of the oxygen of publicity on which they depend.’

    In a speech 32 years ago, Mrs. Thatcher, the British prime minister facing a threat from the Irish Republican Army, said she was not calling for censorship but proposing that “a voluntary code of conduct” for journalists might keep them from aiding ‘the terrorists’ morale or their cause.'”

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 02/08/2017 - 03:12 pm.

    One small addition

    To “…the terrorists don’t like it when we make a big deal about them blowing stuff up…” I’d personally like to add the word “people,” as in “…the terrorists don’t like it when we make a big deal about them blowing people and stuff up…” I confess that, as a soft-hearted liberal, I’m less disturbed by the “stuff” being blown up than I am by the “people” who might be injured or killed.

    Sadly, I’m afraid Frank Phelan’s comment is largely on-target. Beyond his first two paragraphs, however, I think most of us who’ve been around a few decades, or who are students of history, know the answer to his rhetorical question at the end..

  5. Submitted by Curt Carlson on 02/08/2017 - 11:27 am.

    Broken record

    At the risk if sounding like a broken record: please read Harry Frankfurt’s essay “On Bullshit” for some elucidation of the phenomenon of those who don’t even care about facts, but say whatever they think might get the reaction they’re trying to elicit.

  6. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 02/08/2017 - 11:29 am.

    What is interesting that the 7 top causes of preventable death in the US are tobacco, obesity, alcohol, infectious diseases, toxins, motor vehicles and firearms. In 2000, adding up to almost 1.5 million people a year.

    And is it any wonder that those exact causes of death are those are the issues where the Republicans stand fast–defending tobacco, defending unhealthy food and drinks. reduced funding for health education, reduction of pollution regulation and oversight, cutting public health and oversight of pollution, regulation of the auto industry, and of course, fighting any and all forms of gun control.

    But hey, the dozen or so deaths of Americans in America each year from terrorists.

    Unacceptable !!

    Time for a crackdown regardless of constitutional issues.

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 02/09/2017 - 11:37 am.


      This cannot be repeated often enough.

      People actually are worried about a terrorist attack in terms of their physical well being. It is #9999 on the list of things likely to do you in. Take all the money spent on the war on terrorism and buy everyone a home radon detection test kit and thousands more American lives would be saved. Why is a life lost to terrorism worth a 1000 times a life lost to cancer? Let’s cure cancer, inflict every terrorist with cancer and offer the cure only if they mend their ways: all problems solved!!!

  7. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 02/08/2017 - 12:09 pm.

    Keep calling Trump’s lies what they are, Eric!

    You’d have to be one of the Trump voters who really don’t pay attention to politics and don’t read widely but who came out of the woodwork to vote for him, to NOT know of those terrorist attacks!

    This is like skeet shooting: Trump pulls the trap, and the press shoots down the lie. Time and again.

    Except it’s not a sport. it’s our democracy at issue.

  8. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 02/08/2017 - 12:42 pm.

    …There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”…

    “A Cult of Ignorance” by Isaac Asimov, 1980

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 02/08/2017 - 02:20 pm.

      And before Asimov

      there was Mencken.

      • Submitted by Bob Tourdot on 02/08/2017 - 03:15 pm.

        I’ve been thinking of the quote below from Mencken since Nov

        “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” H. L. Mencken

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 02/10/2017 - 09:49 am.

          And a few more

          There is always a well-known solution to every human problem–neat, plausible, and wrong.

          Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

          The men the American public admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars;
          the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.

  9. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 02/08/2017 - 03:15 pm.

    Amen to both

    Asimov and Mencken, pointing out what some now label as “inconvenient truths.”

  10. Submitted by Jeff Michaels on 02/08/2017 - 03:44 pm.

    Poll reveals The Donald more trusted than the media

    Frustrating as it has to be to Eric and his Fellow Travelers in the establishment media but President Trump is still viewed as “more trusted” than the news media. A just released Emerson College Poll revealed the following:

    “The Trump administration is more trusted than the news media among voters, according to a new Emerson College poll.

    The administration is considered truthful by 49 percent of registered voters and untruthful by 48 percent.

    But the news media is less trusted than the administration, with 53 percent calling it untruthful and just 39 percent finding it honest.

    The numbers split along party lines, with nearly 9 in 10 Republicans saying the Trump administration is truthful, compared with more than 3 in 4 Democrats who say the opposite.
    The Emerson poll found that 69 percent of Democrats think the news media is truthful while 91 percent of Republicans consider the Fourth Estate untruthful.

    Independents, meanwhile, believe both the administration and the news media are untruthful, with 52 percent saying the administration is untruthful and 47 percent saying the same about the media.”

    My guess is the establishment media will not give this poll the attention given to Eric’s aforementioned Gallup Poll.

    • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 02/08/2017 - 04:55 pm.

      And you?

      Do you consider Trump truthful?

      More generally, if too many citizens believe whatever an authoritarian ruler tells them to believe, and yield both the interest in testing, and cognitive capacity to test, what they are told, democracy collapses into authoritarianism. What do you think this threshold is? Do you think it is below 49 percent? Does this concern you, or do you prefer authoritarianism to democracy? I’m not judging, I’m just interested.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/08/2017 - 04:57 pm.

      Meaning What, Exactly?

      It looks like you have summed up Trumpism nicely: The only thing that matters is winning, and scoring points. His numbers are better than the media, so that proves . . .something. Never mind what, because substance isn’t important. What’s important is that Our Beloved Leader is glorified in every way.

      The poll numbers don’t contradict the basic fact that Trump lies. He built his campaign on lies. He tells lies with an ease that would make Richard Nixon blush.

      This poll also doesn’t alter the fact that a majority of Americans disapprove of his performance as President. My guess is that the right-wing echo chamber will continue to denounce this poll as heresy.

    • Submitted by Nick Foreman on 02/08/2017 - 06:30 pm.

      Had to dig deep for this poll?

      Emerson College? Poll run by students? Noticed that the same poll on Election Day last year predicted a landslide for Clinton!! Probably inaccurate for media review by republicans too – 90% of them get their news from establishment Fox News. More alternative facts?

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 02/09/2017 - 07:59 am.

      Regarding the Emerson poll–it is a student-run poll at a university on a semester basis.

      There was one question on “Trump”–do you believe that the Trump administration has been generally truthful or untruthful.

      There was one question on “media”–do you believe that the media has been generally truthful or untruthful.

      The choices of answers were were to press 1, 2 or 3 for yes, no or unsure.

      So, first. there was no subtlety or depth related to the questions that lead to the poll headline. No lead-in, no follow up.

      Note that there is no division between “Trump administration”” and Trump himself in the question. Were the respondents responding to administration or Trump personally ?

      Likewise for the “media” question. All media, from Alex Jones, through cable Fox news, to CBS, the New York Times, in one giant lump. A far bigger and enduring lump the than the “Trump administration”. Virtually everyone in the US knows of multiple examples where one media outlet or another has lied.

      The poll is what it is–a snapshot of a question with more subtlety required for analysis than the poll allowed.

      But it really doesn’t get at anything in depth.

      A “C”, with the headlines greatly misrepresenting the results.

  11. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 02/08/2017 - 04:19 pm.

    We should pay more attention to the fact checkers’ statistics on the percentage of Trump statements that are true. Not to polls that tell us that Republicans refuse to acknowledge a lie when they smell one.

    Apparently Trump’s lies are somewhere between 66 and 80 per cent of his utterances. Depending on which day of the week it is.

  12. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 02/08/2017 - 07:42 pm.

    This is why

    Trump’s low rating now is a reasult of relentless demonization by the left… Of course, he should have just state this fact and let it go…. but unfortunately he can’t… By the way, Gallup doesn;t fake the numbers but, as Mr. Black recently said, we should all look at the polls more sceptically now..

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 02/09/2017 - 08:36 am.

      Sorry, Mr. Gutman, no demonization required.

      The country (and the world) was strongly polarized with respect to Trump long before the election. And his daily tweets and actions have certainly not swayed those who found him objectionable 6 months or a year ago. A falling approval rating reflects the growing disillusion of those who voted for him on the basis of the statements of his proxies that “he didn’t really mean the harsh things he said”, and that “he has a secret plan”, and that one “should listen to his hear and not what he says”, and that “he is better than her”.

      He’s not winning over anyone who opposed him and he’s losing those who voted for him in the hopes he would be better than he seemed to be.

      • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 02/09/2017 - 08:46 pm.

        It’s there

        Trump sets himself up all the time, as I acknowledged, but he has been doing what he promised so I don’t see how his supporters may not like it. But media attacks affect the thinking of those who was neutral.. Just tell me, was any otehr president in recent history demonized as much as Trump is?

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 02/10/2017 - 12:25 pm.


          What other president has lied as much as Trump? What other president has been as corrupt as Trump? What other president has been as incompetent as Trump? Trump is (so far) a uniquely terrible president.

          • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/10/2017 - 01:37 pm.

            Uniquely Terrible

            I’m not so sure. James Buchanan sat around and dithered while the south seceded, leaving the whole thing for his successor to clean up. On the other hand, Trump has only been President for a month. As his fans say, give him a chance.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 02/09/2017 - 05:09 pm.


      “I never did give them hell. I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell.”
      Harry S Truman, in Look, Apr. 3, 1956

      • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 02/10/2017 - 07:35 pm.

        What truth?

        I (and many others) was telling the truth about Obama’s presidency and Clinton’s candidacy but many didn’t want to listen.. And Trump has not been a President for a month yet… What truth?

  13. Submitted by John Appelen on 02/08/2017 - 08:44 pm.

    Important Note

    Even a Moderate Conservative like me can not disagree with the comments here. Trump’s “reality” is beyond my comprehension. Either he is delusional or he is working to distract / manipulate everyone like a magician which is not good.

    What frustrates me more is that only 2 of the GOP Senators voted against DeVos. Now I am okay with charters, school choice and competition, but to confirm a person with no education and/or personnel management experience amazes me.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/09/2017 - 09:16 am.


      “Either he is delusional or he is working to distract / manipulate everyone like a magician which is not good.” I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive, but I think the evidence points most strongly to Option A.

    • Submitted by Cathy Erickson on 02/10/2017 - 07:55 am.

      Thank you, Mr. Appelen

      For your comments…I haven’t yet been able to figure out the the votes for DeVos either.

      • Submitted by Dan Landherr on 02/10/2017 - 09:48 am.

        Campaign contributions

        She bought the seat. There is no other explanation for nominating someone that incompetent.

        Senators who received campaign contributions from DeVos should have abstained from voting.

  14. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 02/09/2017 - 07:32 am.

    The Typical Liberal response

    Once again, Eric decides to spend an entire column (and a few hours of research) disputing what some guy said with 280 characters and a millisecond of thought.

    Look, the majority of critical thinkers completely “get” columns like this. Unfortunately, these types of arguments might as well be made in Greek to a large percentage of voters. It’s fine to argue facts, but you need to go beyond that. As others have noted….appeal to emotions, just the ones that are opposite of Trump’s.

    At this rate, I expect Eric’s next piece to be a critical analysis of the veracity of Charlie Manson’s beliefs.

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 02/09/2017 - 11:47 am.

      He’s not “SOME GUY”…

      Whether it is 280 characters or 280 pages: it is a statement from the leader of the “free” world. And the idea that the leader of the “free” world only puts milliseconds into his pronouncements is an even bigger issue. When do you hold him accountable: is there a minimum # of characters and then it becomes a subject for further scrutiny? Maybe Trump can preface every pronouncement with:

      This is a Type A communication: Just me ranting about things that irk me today.


      This is a Type B communication: Pay attention, I really mean it.

      The problem is that we are facing a critical shortage of critical thinkers and that is why we have Donald J Trump as our President…

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 02/09/2017 - 10:25 pm.

        Well now there is something I can disagree with… I think we have Trump because the alternative was even scarier… And I think that desire by the Liberals to drag the USA into being a democratic socialist state is because there are few “critical thinkers” on that side of the equation.

        Punishing people who learn, work, stay married, save, invest, etc with much higher tax rates so that it can given to reward people who do not learn, work, stay married, save, invest, etc seems like the ultimate in “not critical thinking”.

        Every wise responsible critical thinking parent understands the simple fact that one must promote responsible behaviors if one wants their child to grow up into a mature responsible independent adult. Just bailing them out and giving them things when they behave poorly enables their continued failure.

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 02/10/2017 - 09:52 am.

          Your last sentence

          is a nice description of Trump’s ‘career’.
          And a competent President who understands the issues is a threat only to people who are trying to game the system — the ‘Robbing Hoods’ (take from the poor and give to the rich — see Republican/Trump tax proposals).

          • Submitted by John Appelen on 02/12/2017 - 07:50 pm.

            Please Note

            Please remember that the poor pay almost no taxes, and many get more back in payments, services, credits than they pay in taxes. So one can reduce what the poor receive from the rich via government facilitated wealth transfer… But I don’t see anyone looking to rob the poor, maybe just not give them so much from the wallets of tax payers… Thoughts?

            Please remember that it is those wealthy people who pay the bills for millions of other tax payers.

            • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 02/13/2017 - 11:18 am.

              Poor pay taxes

              Nearly every single penny of a poor person’s income is subject to taxes. If they are employed, they are paying into SS and Medicare. Add to that, they spend nearly everything they earn because they need to, so their income is further subject to sales taxes. If they pay rent, they’re contributing to property taxes. Never mind (because we’re talking about taxes) that the poor pay disproportionately more for the things they buy because they don’t have any other options (higher interest rates, inability to buy in bulk, higher insurance rates, wage theft, etc.). Fortunately, in MN, at least food and clothing are exempt from sales taxes, and we make some attempt to claw back property tax. Interestingly, places like TN, AR, and LA tax the bejeezus out of people using sales tax. You know, where poverty is pretty darned high (11th, 6th, and 3rd poverty rate in the nation, respectively).

              • Submitted by John Appelen on 02/13/2017 - 01:14 pm.

                Kind Of

                You are absolutely correct that the poor pay sales and FICA taxes.

                The idea that the poor pay property taxes is absurd…They pay rent for a space to live in… The Property Owner pays the tax on the property they own. Or do you argue that the renter’s should own part of the property because they pay rent?

                Finally the reality is that many poor folks receive far more back from the government than they pay in. Be it in the form of food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance, free k-12 education, welfare, child tax credit, earned income tax credit, preschool sliding fees, heating assistance, etc, etc, etc. This difference is made up by the folks who pay more than their fair share via our progressive income taxes.

                This is not necessarily a bad arrangement, since the money has to come from people who have it. However to say that we are going to rob from the poor and give to the rich is simply inaccurate.

                • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/13/2017 - 04:51 pm.

                  What the Rich Get

                  Government benefits are not limited to cash transfers. The rich benefit from law enforcement, a functioning court system, and infrastructure. True, everyone benefits from all three of those, but the wealthy have more at stake: if law enforcement is protecting my property, it stands to reason that the person who has more property is receiving more. Similarly, the economics of the legal system mean that it is the wealthy who will more often resort to the courts for their contracts and torts (sorry–that was hard to resist). Businesses also benefit from operating under the umbrella of the legal system even when they don’t have to use it.

                  Whether these intangible, non-cash benefits are worth as much as what the wealthy pay in taxes is another matter.

                  • Submitted by John Appelen on 02/13/2017 - 04:30 pm.


                    I agree that we all benefit from living in the USA. Of course what is a fair way to divide the costs is always the question. Personally I like #2 or #3, which are where we are today. And I understand that many Liberals don’t think it will be fair until we get to #4.

                    1.Fair would be if we took the total cost of government, divided it by the number of adult able bodied citizens. And each adult then paid their fair share of the bill. (ie Dues concept)

                    2.Fair would be if total cost of government was divided by the total income of every adult able bodied citizen. And each citizen paid their fair share of the bill. (ie Percent of Winnings to the House Concept)

                    3.Fair would be if total cost of government was divided by the total income – some base living cost (~$25,000?) of every adult able bodied citizen. And each citizen paid their fair share of the bill for every $ they make above the base living. (ie Percent of Winnings above Base Cost to the House Concept)

                    4.Fair would be if taxes and credits/programs were set to reduce the net income and wealth gap between the adult able bodied citizens. This means high income and wealthy people pay significantly higher rates than other citizens in attempt to attain a fair society.(ie Equalization concept)

                    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/14/2017 - 09:26 am.

                      Fair Share

                      The difference between 2 or 3 on the one hand, and 4 on the other, is how you want to determine “fair.”

                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 02/14/2017 - 10:47 am.

                      All of Them

                      Actually all 4 of them are definitions of FAIR.

                      1. We all live here and get the benefits of doing so, shouldn’t we all pay an equal amount to support the country?

                      2. We should pay a fixed percentage of our “winnings” to the house for the opportunity to be here playing.

                      Then we get into 3 & 4, the Liberal progressive taxation concepts of fairness where we for the most part currently reside. Where successful citizens pay a higher percentage of their “winnings” to provide money to support the less successful citizens. In each of these some citizens receive more back than they pay in to support our society.

                      And yes there maybe a few wealthy people who avoid paying more, but with AMT in place this is very hard to do.

                    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/14/2017 - 10:56 am.

                      “[P]rovide money to support the less successful citizens.”

                      This circles back to my point that everyone benefits from government spending to some degree. The “less successful” aren’t the ones reaping most of the benefits from the Patent and Trademark Office.

                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 02/14/2017 - 11:28 am.

                      But the less successful could use the Patent office if they chose to…

                      Just as the successful often don’t use the Medicaid, Welfare, and other government services. And many of them do not use the K-12 education system. And many of the credits and services phase out at their incomes.

                      You are correct that people do get different benefits from living within our society. Some just pay a lot more for them for better or worse.

                      Please remember that I accept that the successful folks will pay the most whether it is fair or not. They can afford it whereas many can’t. I just think we should be more thankful and less entitled.

                    • Submitted by Dan Landherr on 02/15/2017 - 09:47 am.

                      I think it would be great if we could get back to #3

                      Unfortunately the wealthiest pay lower tax rates than their employees, not higher

                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 02/15/2017 - 10:41 am.

                      Please provide a source…

                      I agree that this can happen in a few cases:
                      – years where wealthy donate a lot to charity. (good thing)
                      – years where the wealthy do not sell any assets.

                      But overall I think it is a myth.

                      The complicating factor is FICA… Since we treat it as an entitlement that the contributor will get back at sometime, I think of it more as “forced insurance / savings” and not a tax. (ie just premiums & earned benefits)

                      Also, please remember that if a family pays 20% in taxes and gets back 30% in free Medicaid, food programs, cash, EITC, child credit, etc. Technically they have a -10% net payment.

                      So it is definitely complicated.

  15. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 02/09/2017 - 09:43 am.

    Which is worse

    Fake news, or a
    fake president?

  16. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 02/09/2017 - 10:10 am.

    “Getting worrisome”

    My great Aunt Bertha could be a great cynic ( far to the left of center but she didn’t recognize it I bet?) and on mundane things mostly but occasionally having strong views but in opposition to the status quo opinions… talking to herself at times while washing clothes and hanging them up to dry and talking her own brand of politics to her neighbor across the back yard fence…all in the same time period extended…

    She usually drank a cup of tea after completing her domestic chores and used that word phrase, “getting worrisome” on occasion looking at the heavens above and seeing the clouds gather and the the breeze go still and the sky turn yellow…sometimes it was a tornado approaching; sometimes just high wind but it was “getting worrisome”

    I think of G…W.. as a catch phrase one could say or as recognition at least, of a tornado coming and could say, has arrived already…Trump the destroyer as tornado poliitics ready to destroy the land, the landscape and yes too our blessed democracy as it once was?

    Worrisome indeed and whole lot more …

  17. Submitted by Misty Martin on 02/09/2017 - 12:40 pm.

    Mr. Black, it worries me a fair bit too!

    I continue to admire your writing style, and how well you express yourself. What you penned here is exactly how I see it, only I could never have written it so well. Guess that’s why journalists write so much better than ordinary folk, lol.

    But you are absolutely correct, I’m afraid our new President and his administration are in over their heads. Did he really tell the President of Mexico that “there were a lot of bad hombres down there, and since it seemed that Mexico’s military were afraid to do anything about them, he (Trump) might just have to send the U. S. military down there, because they (the U. S. military) weren’t afraid, and have them clean things up.” Or something like that. Wow! There’s just something new every day. Not to mention both our President and his Press Secretary seemed to have had the impression that Frederick Douglass –
    – American social reformer, orator, writer and statesmen – who died on 2/20/1895, might still be alive in 2017 (or so it appeared from their speeches) when each spoke of the legend while commemorating Black History Month.

    What has our country come to?

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 02/10/2017 - 07:35 am.

      It may be time tr revive the descriptor “Mayberry Machiavelli”

      ….Mayberry Machiavelli is a satirically pejorative phrase coined by John J. DiIulio Jr., a former George W. Bush administration staffer who ran the President’s Faith-Based Initiative. After DiIulio resigned from his White House post in late 2001, journalist Ron Suskind quoted him in an Esquire magazine article describing the administration of the Bush White House as follows: “What you’ve got is everything—and I mean everything—being run by the political arm. It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis.”[1] In a 2002 letter to Suskind (but not published until 2007),[2] DiIulio wrote that the “Mayberry Machiavellis” were the junior and senior staffers who reduced every issue to a simplistic black and white, us vs them narrative.

      The phrase invokes the infamous Machiavellian-style power politics coupled with the simplistic mindset of rural small town, as exemplified by the fictional town of Mayberry in the television shows The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry R.F.D., which ran on the American television network, CBS, from 1960 to 1971….


      The most important counter-terrorism tool is an educated population. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher expressed this well: “Democracies must find ways to starve the terrorists and hijackers of the oxygen of publicity on which they depend.” In lieu of this, terrorists come in many shapes and sizes, but all thrive on the free publicity of media outlets who too eagerly report on their barbarity. Many times this multiplies the effect of a single action and artificially increases the reach of these organizations. Parsing out when honest, necessary reporting becomes unhelpful, gratuitous and potentially detrimental to the audience is beneficial to society as a whole.

      Nations would be keen to aid their constituents understanding that a powerful weapon of insurgents and terrorists, and the vulnerability of the American people, will always be our own fear. Finding the hole in protective security measures, such as the American population’s education on terrorist activity and counterterrorism measures, is one step. The other is to work together as a global media community to de-sensationalize reports and publicity distributed about terrorist activity, in an effort to diminish extremist groups’ high profiles, relentless media reaction, and to tarnish their media agendas. Finally, by doing this, trepidation and emotional turmoil can be reduced, which terminates terrorist publicity efforts. Publicity is a powerful means that can also assure us that fear need not be the answer to extremist media strategies. Accomplishing these goals could ultimately remove the fuel that powers the insurgent engine: public fear.

  18. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 02/09/2017 - 09:44 pm.

    Trump’s constant lying

    Why would anyone trust anything he says?

  19. Submitted by Pat Terry on 02/10/2017 - 12:36 pm.


    When the appellate court decision on the Muslim ban came out yesterday, there were multiple Facebook posts by people claiming the court hadn’t cited any case law. Clearly they were all aping some right-wing news source, but you only need to spend a few seconds looking at the decision to see that his objectively false. But none of these people actually read it.

  20. Submitted by Rosalie O'Brien on 02/11/2017 - 08:12 am.

    Fascinating Insight…

    on the way economic factors influence thinking. This isn’t economic factors like jobs at the grass roots level; this is more subtle, as in when local radio can no longer afford to pay individual persons to report local and national news, they buy syndicated stuff to survive, thereby doing a 180 on their real reason for existence to begin with. Given the demographic data on election results, this seems to me to be a much bigger factor than is commonly recognized.

    Thanks, R. Hanson, for your thoughts. I’m more petrified than ever. In an age of atomized (as in extremely diffuse) communications, it’s not surprising that a greater number of people will gravitate toward communications that have a greater degree of entertainment value, regardless whether they are grounded in fact.

  21. Submitted by Dan Berg on 02/11/2017 - 10:19 am.

    Shining example

    Trump is if nothing else the shinning example of how dangerous power is when it is centralized and wielded by the person/people who are best at manipulating popular opinion. Power in a democracy invites this behavior because is shows consitant success. Fear of terrorists, the rich, the poor, businesses, cops, banks, and just about anything else is always presented with hyperbole and dishonestly because it works to focus large groups with somewhat diverse interests to act as a herd.

    Yes, some of the fears are to some degree justified and some of the foundational issues can be addressed through state action. The issue is the more problems we look to solve through state action the more our fates are tied to elections and the more each election is worth. The high stakes make it even more attractive to do whatever is needed to win an election. At some point we will end up with a Trump character or something different but equally bad or worse.

    Populists and progressives have always worked to build the structure in which we now exist, one where there are no set rules and popular opinion should control all. There was a willingness to trade liberty for security and always assumed the democratic element would prevent problems rather than simply be controlled by them. Now Trump is the one in control and people seem to be shocked at the results.

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 02/13/2017 - 01:12 pm.


      The anarchic libertarianism you propose is no less prone to abuse in the same manner, albeit at a more localized level. Is it truly better to die by a thousand cuts, or in one swing of the axe? Perhaps the problem is human nature?

      • Submitted by Dan Berg on 02/13/2017 - 02:54 pm.

        I proposed?

        I proposed that? Didn’t realize it. The issue is understanding the limits of any tool and not deluding oneself into thinking any are able to save us from ourselves if applied to everything. The idea that we can centralize vast amounts of power and leave it up to a popularity contest to determine how it is used is so nonsensical on its face that it takes a level of dogmatic delusion typically only seen in religion to support it. Rule of law and a strong understanding and protection of individual rights has huge benefits and very few downsides. Expanding centralized power can work as long as those two items are not interfered with.

        The main issue with most Progressive ideology is that it is based on the idea that the state gives us our rights and therefore can create new ones or remove them at will without any ethical issue. Democracy is great for certain things but it is immensely dangerous as a way to determine who has what rights or who should get what resources. Using democracy as a tool for those things results in both the destruction of actual, natural rights and the corruption of the democratic process. Each tool has potential uses but needs to be understood and evaluated honestly. Something that will likely result in an understanding that makes no political ideologue happy.

        Centralized systems are what are most susceptible to a singular act of destruction. Diverse systems without strong central management are typically more robust and while messy and ever changing more able to adjust to unforeseen circumstances. The thing about localized abuses is that they are less damaging than universal ones. This doesn’t mean we can’t act in large coordinated groups, just that the current design of our political systems are doing more harm than most are willing to admit. I would be happy to work on developing a safety net for health care, housing, food and transportation as well as strong environmental protections but understand the futility of it in the current environment. To often ideas that challenge mainstream thinking are simply dismissed as part of the fringe or as too extreme rather than addressed on their merits.

        • Submitted by Matt Haas on 02/14/2017 - 12:35 pm.

          You might be willing

          But attempting to coalesce the fractious segments of society to do so, without the mechanism of a centralized authority, will prove to be impossible. Hell, we can’t do it WITH centralized authority. What you’re talking about (whether you intend it or not) is feudalism. It might not start out that way, there might be good intentions, but in the end all that will result is a bunch of smaller fiefdoms, controlled by various rulers, competing with all the others. It’s the fundamental flaw with systems like the one you describe, unless EVERY individual buys in, you are left with leaders competing for followers, generally the ones who are the best at exploiting the ones who play it straight win. The rule of law that you rely on to grant your “natural” rights is only existent if folks agree to abide by it. It’s as ephemeral as a whim. The idea that it can be enforced without, or the beyond the will of the governed (democracy) is fallacy.

          • Submitted by Dan Berg on 02/15/2017 - 06:09 am.

            Not a binary question.

            The trouble is believing that we must coalesce completely and eliminate meaningful variation in order to succeed. What we have now is feudalism where all powers fight for followers, just one without the old geographic limitations. Instead it is between parties and layers of government whether they be different agencies or city, county, regional, state etc. Add to that the various schisms between and amongst business interests, unions, and any other number of special interests. It is what happens when we put so much wight to popular opinion. With Trump as president it is hard to argue that the current system hasn’t provided the ultimate reward to the one who was “the best at exploiting the ones who play it straight win”. Just now that person has more power than otherwise would have. More diversity and less, not no, centralized control would greatly reduce the potential damage.

            Rule of law is at constant odds with a democracy in that they are polar opposite in their structure and philosophy. The whole concept of rule of law is that it must exist outside of the democratic process because the democratic process is simply not capable of being fair, just or in any way consistent, all things that by definition are needed to have rule of law. The idea that we can vote on who gets what rights or which should be defended automatically eliminates any hope for rule of law because having it would eliminate the ability to reward the various constituencies for their support. Justice (rule of law) must be blind while to succeed a democracy must be informed.

            It is possible to have organized cooperation without the use of state force as directed by popularity contest. The only thing we need to agree on is that the power we give to the authority tasked with defending core rights can’t be shared with the one determining the way we divide resources and determine ongoing and shifting policies. After that we can agree or disagree on just about anything without the ever present concern about flipping form one existential crisis to another.

            There are many ways to develop system where we can act collectively without using the force deployed by the state but they have a lot of limitations. The limitations is what make them unattractive to those who desire power more than justice and value the ability to universally enforce their standards over the value of diversity.

            • Submitted by Matt Haas on 02/15/2017 - 11:34 am.


              So you’re a utopian then. (Not meant as a slur, just a descriptor). A few questions to clarify, 1. How is the “authority”, tasked with enforcing “justice”, created? By whom? Who ensures that the “justice” it metes out is legitimate? 2. If there is to be no coercion (that is the term right?), how do you plan to get the buy in from society needed for such a system to operate, how do you prevent bad actors from utilizing the supposedly unbiased “authority” to subvert and overrule the supposedly separate political system that exists to guide day to day affairs? What are the consequences of such action? 3. What happens if folks decide they no longer “agree”?

              To me, it seems the system you describe is a recipe for chaos. If there’s one constant about human nature it’s that humans seldom agree about much for very long. It seems you base your system for societal governance on the consensus of the governed to abide by “rule of law” as prescribed by the unnamed “authority” you cite. Isn’t this suspiciously close to the mob rule democracy you seek to avoid, sans any way for the governed to remove such authority once established? A “benevolent” dictatorship I suppose…

              • Submitted by Dan Berg on 02/16/2017 - 07:22 am.

                Not untrue

                I guess I would take utopian over most tables since it is positive if a bit flighty sounding. To me it is about long term strategy rather than short term tactics. Right now everyone is so concerned with winning every small battle (because as mentioned above the stakes are so high) that there is no concern for where we are headed. Even the best tactics are for naught if the strategy doesn’t get you where you want to go.

                At its core government is in place to defend the natural rights of its citizens. The fundamental items needed to do that are national defense, courts and an internal police force. I would add environmental protection. Having your neighbor (broad term) polite your property is no different than having them steal from you. It would end up being a function of the courts and police but deserves its own mention.

                The most interesting idea I have heard for how to fund that would be a contract tax. Simply put it would be applied as a percentage to every contract the participants would want to be defendable by the U.S. courts. The tax would pay for all of the items mentioned including public defenders and prisons. (I would also be interested in the idea that legal teams for the defense and prosecution be paid the same.) The intriguing part of this mechanism is that if you wanted to buy a car from your dad you could do so with no tax since you wouldn’t expect to need the courts to defend the contract. Meanwhile large corporate transactions would need to be defensible and the parties involved would need to pay the tax. It naturally puts more weight on those who get the most benefit from the system. It is also completely voluntary, non-coercive and easy to manage.

                The other good thing about the above is that it is completely transparent and in turn will help reduce wasteful spending. For me, we spend far to much on defense and prisons and I believe if people saw the money going out of their pockets going directly to those things would reduce our desires to simply have more of them. People actually use the courts and police services and would want more tangible benefit from the money they were spending. When taxes are taken, put into a big bucket, then divided back up again all sense of value is lost.

                For everything else there is a lot of flexibility but typically the biggest question is how to fund programs to support those who are not able to take care of themselves. My preferred thought is a consumption or sales tax because it is transparent, fairly easy to collect (low friction costs) and proportional. The simplest way would be to supply some sort of base income to everyone. Potentially an amount from federal and others from state, county and city entities to account for cost of living variations. Finland is starting an experiment with this though there are some flaws in their methods from my point of view.

                The base income would supplant all other programs and eliminate the issues of corruption that is inherent in a system where popularity determines who gets what. There would also be a direct connection between the tax level and the income so people would understand overtime they purchased a sofa, sweater or beer the cost of providing the safety net. It would also eliminate all arguments around one group benefiting at the expense of another.

                Again, for me these are all ideas worth exploring that infinity more value than the current self destructive political chattering because at least have the potential of a positive outcome. The current system and discourse simply have little to no chance at long term positive outcomes. They are institutionalized chaos and destruction that reward the absolute worst behaviors and give the least capable among us the most authority. The current systems byzantine and opaque complexity illuminate any chance of the public to be informed on meaningful subjects while at the same time it asks them to vote on what to do about it.

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