Monthly Archives: December 2017

Democrats Still Don’t Know How to Talk to Their Own Voters

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, December 29, 2017)

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Democrats are poised to take control of the U.S. House and possibly the U.S. Senate in 2018, but their potential to squander this opportunity is hard to ignore.

One of the iron laws of electoral politics: The party of an unpopular incumbent president always suffers significant losses in midterm elections.

But if the 2016 Donald Trump campaign tell us anything, what’s past is not necessarily prologue. The Trump campaign broke all of the rules of political campaigns and still won (an electoral college victory).

Could the political pundit class be wrong again in 2018?

The Democrats should remember the broad consensus among political experts on the morning of November 8th last year. [Former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm’s premature endzone dance the day before Election Day is an entertaining reminder of the fallibility of political pundits.]

The lesson of that day is simple: Democrats should never be over-confident about their chances on any election day.

Although, the early signs are looking very good for the Democrats in 2018. The prediction market PredictIt currently estimates the Democrats have a 59 percent chance of gaining control of the U.S. House in 2018 and a 47 percent chance of controlling the U.S. Senate. In both cases, these probabilities are significantly higher since the election of Democrat Doug Jones in the U.S. Senate race in Alabama.

Yet, beyond the constant ‘anti-Trump’ drumbeat, the Democrats struggle to find a compelling message that appeals to a broad range of American voters, but particularly swing voters. Though, according to former DNC chair Howard Dean, the message doesn’t matter as much in midterm elections:

“In the off-year elections for Congress, your message is ‘I’m not the president’ and that’s all you need,” said former DNC chair Howard Dean on MSNBC’s Morning Joe recently. “In 2018, not being Donald Trump is enough and the Republican Party is going to get nailed with corruption because of the tax bill — 14 Republican Senators who voted for that tax bill are making one million dollars or more off a provision that was slipped in at the last minute by Orrin Hatch. You cannot be voting to line your own pockets. People don’t like that, I don’t care what party you are in.”

Dean is correct on the corruption charge, but whether the Democrats can make that charge (or any other) stick is the real challenge.

Of course, the early signs — including elections in Alabama, Virginia, New York, and Pennsylvania — show the Democrats are likely to witness a turnout surge in 2018 relative to the Republicans. There is also strong evidence independent voters are going to lean Democratic.

And underwriting these positive trends for the Democrats is the wide and indubitable #Resistance movement which is showing a persistence and vitality similar to the Tea Party movement in 2010.

However, there is a key difference between the Tea Party and the #Resistance. The Tea Party drew its energy from the impending launch of Obamacare that was not going to take effect until after the 2010 midterm elections. In other words, the Tea Party’s energy source was not going away before voters entered the voting booth.

In contrast, the #Resistance largely draws its power from the assumption that a serial misogynist, Donald Trump, colluded with the Russians to steal the 2016 election from Hillary Clinton.

Charges of sexual assault against President Trump are not going away, but should Robert Mueller’s investigation fail to support the collusion premise, and even if a number of Donald Trump’s inner circle are presented with obstruction of justice or false testimony charges — potentially even the president himself — what then will happen to the #Resistance’s energy level?

The Democratic Party’s leadership is not preparing its base for the possibility that the Mueller investigation will not prematurely end the Trump presidency.

The ‘Trump is a traitor, bigot and sexist pig‘ slogan may not be enough to convince voters to elect Democrats if the Mueller investigation finds little concrete evidence of collusion. Add a strong U.S. economy to the electoral equation, and the Democrats may not have the tailwind advantage they assume in 2018.

Despite what Governor Dean says, the Democrats need a coherent message in 2018, if only to set up their nominee, most likely Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), in the 2020 presidential campaign.

In that effort, the Democrats are already testing some messages before the 2018 midterms.

Beyond ‘Never Trump,’ What is the Democratic Party’s Message?

Last July, Democrats repackaged their traditional pro-labor and pro-government intervention economic policies under the slogan “A Better Deal.”

The Deal, focused on such things as fighting corporate mergers, lowering prescription drug prices and creating jobs for 10 million Americans, proved so uninspiring that the party leadership mercifully let it die on the vine before the American people even knew about it.

The National Republican Congressional Committee rightfully called the re-packaged Democratic Party agenda “stale.”

“Democrats fail to connect with millions of middle class Americans because they simply don’t understand them,” said Jesse Hunt, National Press Secretary at National Republican Congressional Committee.

But middle class Americans understand giving nearly 50 percent of tax cuts to the Top 1 percent? That’s the logic Trump and the Republicans are betting the 2018 midterms on.

With the passage of the Trump tax reform package, many Democrats believe they have their core argument for the midterms: Trump and the congressional Republicans serve the Top 1 percent to the detriment of everyone else.

On the surface, it appears to be a good argument. But it has one serious problem…it completely ignores the American political ethos embedded in this republic since its creation 241 years ago.

Americans don’t begrudge the ultra-wealthy or the advantages that come with it. Quite the opposite, on average, they applaud them. It was Barack Obama himself, in an interview with Bloomberg Business Week in 2010, said, “I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth. That’s part of the free market system.”

Americans are an aspirational people centered on individual pursuits of happiness, not collective outcomes or obedience to economic fairness or social justice. It is encoded in our Constitution, which is not a collection of moth-eaten political ideas and procedures but, rather, a testament of this country’s origin myth.

As social critic Sam Harris will tell you, “Words matter.” And the U.S. Constitution makes it clear in the Bill of Rights that individual liberties and freedom from the government supersede considerations of economic equity or justice.

Yet, what do today’s Democrats offer as a message to the American voter?

New York Times journalist Michael Tackett recently interviewed six prominent Democrats from outside the D.C. beltway about what message they would craft for their party in 2018. With one exception, their answers are not encouraging.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee says there are three pillars for future Democratic Party success: jobs, unity, and a focus on state-level solutions.

While there is nothing wrong with any of those ‘pillars,’ its not a significant upgrade from Schumer and Pelosi’s hastily crafted “A Better Deal.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel does mention the importance of ‘aspirational’ agenda, but decays back into proclamations about “making debt-free college a reality, expanding access to affordable health care and creating good-paying jobs.”

All good policy ideas and important to this country’s future. But its not a compelling message.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra talks movingly about his experience as the son of immigrants and says the government should again ‘have people’s backs,’ while Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo emphasizes Americans getting ‘a fair shot at a good job.’

South Bend (Indiana) Mayor Pete Buttigieg perfectly encapsulates these “new” messages when he says, “We are the party that is out to support and protect ordinary people going about their lives.”

Nothing gets voters more excited than being called ‘ordinary.’

One common theme across these five Democrats is that the American people need to be protected by the government. It takes the government’s help to create good-paying jobs, provide affordable health care, and keep college affordable.

Another theme they all carry is that the Democrats can win elections again if they craft the right mix of policy ideas — policy drives voters’ preferences.

If only that were true.

There was one Democrat in Tackett’s piece, however, that did seem understand how American voters think: Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

His words are inspirational, aspirational, and confrontational. He speaks of a “future where we can be the best version of ourselves” and “where every American can achieve their highest potential without limits.”

Reed may be low on specifics, but is high on ideals. This is at least the beginning of the right approach to communicating with American voters. They too are low on specifics but inherently understand the higher ideals of this country.

India’s young voters and America’s millennials may offer some useful insights to the Democratic Party

The Democrats may want to familiarize themselves with the fast changing politics of India over the past few years. As economic growth has quickened, India’s voters, particularly younger ones, are moving away from the traditional parties organized around caste or religious block and choosing ‘aspirational’ parties, such as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which scored significant electoral victories in India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh in 2017.

“For the first time, we are moving away from identity politics to aspirational politics” says BJP spokesperson Sudesh Verma. “The youth want to move up in life. They see that the BJP is a party that does not talk the language of caste (class) and religion.”

 Of course, India is not the U.S. and the social dynamics of a fast-developing country are different from those of a mature, developed economy. Nonetheless, consumer marketers in the U.S. have long known the importance of aspirational messages in attracting customers.

“Effective marketing has always been about identifying and fulfilling aspirations,” says Rainmaker Digital CEO Brian Clark. “If you’re selling material goods, you need to understand how your widget fits into the broader aspirational lifestyle of your target audience.”

Yet, there is evidence, at least among millennials, that aspirational messages are becoming less important than socially realistic messages.

According to The NPD Group’s Marshal Cohen, Americans today are “shaped largely by the Great Recession, diminishing discretionary income, and the desire for experiences over things.”

This shift among consumers may be  driven by other factors as well, particularly social media, according to one market research executive.

“Advertising has always held up a mirror to society, so the rise of reality shows, online influencers and vloggers with lower production values and more natural settings have probably contributed to this (realism) trend,” says Paul Bainsfair, director-general at the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising in London, UK.

How might this consumer shift towards realism translate to politics and how should the Democrats (or Republicans, for that matter) respond?

Aspirational and realistic messages are not mutually exclusive categories and any conclusion that appealing to voters’ aspirations is now démodé is ill-advised.

Instead, this new consumer trend does suggest aspirational-focused communications, to be effective, will need to be firmly rooted in reality.

From a political perspective, voters may become less tolerant of sugarcoating or exaggeration and more willing to accept policy ideas that are a bit messy or imperfect. After two years of Donald Trump’s superficial relationship with knowledge and truth, voters may be seeking a level of policy realism political consultants would normally advice candidates to avoid.

Still, if the Democrats were to ignore the aspirational nature of the American people they would give the Republicans an opening to exploit. A realistic attention to taxes, defense spending, social programs and government deficits is not a license for Democrats to lower the expectations of the American people.

Without a more inspired message, the Democrats may squander their current advantage

Democrats keep insisting on making policy-based ideological arguments to an American voter population that wants to be inspired. The Republicans understand this and have effectively exploited it for electoral advantage since Ronald Reagan.

Unless the Democrats find a message to discount two years of strong economic growth in the minds of voters, they may not win control of the Congress in 2018 or the White House in 2020 — despite the flood of public opinion evidence suggesting otherwise.

K. R. K.

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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.

What if our president was a ham sandwich?

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, December 17, 2017)

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While browsing postings on Whisper, I came across a meme contrasting President Donald Trump to a ham sandwich.

For some of us, just saying ‘ham sandwich’ invites a grin.

‘Ham sandwich’ references have a serious origin, however. During a 1985 newspaper interview, former chief judge of New York state, Sol Wachtler, wanting to highlight the disproportionate influence district attorneys had over grand juries, suggested DAs could get them “to indict a ham sandwich.”

The ‘ham sandwich’ meme on Whisper wasn’t particularly clever, but it does suggest an intriguing question. Would this country be just as well off (or even better off) if we replaced our president with a ham sandwich?

Isn’t Donald Trump living proof of the position’s substantive irrelevance in the current era?

Just look at this president’s accomplishments and how little he was involved in achieving them.

In just under one year of the Trump administration…

  • Our economy is booming and shows no sign of slowing down. Employment is up. Wages are up.
  • A neoconservative created nightmare in Syria (thank you George W., Obama, Clinton and Kerry) has stabilized and ISIS is no longer a territory controlling power in Syria or Iraq.
  • And, after over 20 years of pushing the North Korea nuclear weapons and ballistic missile problem down the road, under the leadership of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, the U.S. has shepherded through the UN Security Council the most significant economic sanctions in a generation against North Korea.

And was Donald Trump critical to any of these results?

His election victory meant the Republicans would again make the federal administrative rules, regulations, procedures, orders, and decisions. The importance of judicial appointments cannot be underestimated either.

But everything done by this administration so far is consistent with post-Reagan Republican orthodoxy: cut regulations, appoint conservative (pro-business) judges, and defer to the generals on military policy. Donald Trump has introduced no new thinking on any of these policies.

Donald Trump’s core campaign promises were to build a wall and impose a travel ban on Muslims entering the U.S. Neither is going to happen soon, and probably never.

The policies implemented in the first year of Trump’s administration were pre-packaged and ready for the president’s signature soon after Day 1.

A ham sandwich wouldn’t have us on the brink of war with North Korea, would it?

North Korea’s provocative missile tests are the proximal cause of the current North Korean crisis, not Donald Trump; but the crisis’ urgency has been amplified through a series of impulsive and reckless Trump tweets. At least, Trump should be credited with refusing to punt on this external threat (as did previous administrations) and for getting the Chinese and UN’s career diplomats off their butts and making substantive decisions on North Korea again.

But, again, can Donald Trump take credit for whatever outcome is achieved on North Korea? Frankly, I don’t think Trump could pick out North Korea on a map if you narrowed it down for him to the Korean peninsula.

As the North Korea situation demonstrates, Trump is not as risk averse as past presidents. Barack Obama was painfully so, particularly on foreign policy.

The possible outcomes on North Korea now range from: an all-out U.S.-led invasion that could conceivably include a nuclear weapon detonation in a major city (Seoul being the most likely target) or North Korea returning to the negotiating table and agreeing to dismantle its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs in exchange for economic assistance and regime security guarantees.

Donald Trump’s lack of competence on everything limits his impact

Love him or hate him, most agree Donald Trump is not a normal president. He doesn’t acquit himself they way we’ve come to expect from presidents.

That may be a positive in some instances. Often through late night tweets, Trump shapes the daily news cycle like no president before him. But on specifics, forget about it. As former McCain senior campaign strategist Steve Schmidt once said when comparing Trump to former VP candidate Sarah Palin on their campaign debate performances: “She (Sarah Palin) was monumentally more fluent and prepared. She looked like Henry Kissinger compared to him.”

Furthermore, now in office, Trump has shown little capacity to learn public policy’s complexities to an extent necessary to influence support for his legislative agenda. Columnist George Will describes Trump as someone who “doesn’t know what it is to know.”

Yes, a major tax bill is about to be passed; but, by all accounts, the president has shown a limited understanding of tax or economic policy and no gift for persuading undecided legislators to support the bill.

Gary Cohn, the Trump administration’s chief economic adviser, may have faked a bad phone connection just to get Trump off a conference call with moderate Democrats being courted by Republicans to work on the tax bill. That account is disputed by the White House; but, sadly, there many other instances where Trump’s hostile relationship with facts and knowledge has been exposed.

Generally, cutting taxes, even if the bulk of the benefit may go to the wealthiest Americans, should be an easy sell to the American people.

But not for Trump.

A significant majority of Americans oppose the Republican tax bill. A recent Harvard CAPS-Harris survey found that 64 percent of respondents oppose the bill, while only 36 percent support it.

A ham sandwich would do no worse selling this tax bill.

Yet, there are things a ham sandwich could never accomplish as president, who are not just partisan political leaders pushing their legislative and national priorities. Since George Washington, who chose country over faction when he decided not to seek a third presidential term, the office has come to speak for the nation’s moral center of gravity. ‘Normal’ presidents are more than political leaders.

The seminal moment in the rise of the presidency as the nation’s moral compass was Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in 1863, delivered in the midst of one of the Civil War’s darkest moments.

Barbara Perry, a presidential historian in Charlottesville at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, calls the Gettysburg Address “the ultimate presidential speech of unification, grief, calming — but also uplifting and inspirational.”

Other presidential moments have reaffirmed the presidency’s healing role.

In the aftermath of 9-11, President George W. Bush stood with Islamic leaders at the Islamic Center of Washington to deliver words meant to unite a country and protect its most vulnerable citizens:

“Women who cover their heads in this country must feel comfortable going outside their homes,” Bush said. “Moms who wear cover must not be intimidated in America. That’s not the America I know.”

Though simple words, they exemplify why some have suggested presidents are our ‘pastors in chief.

Regardless if that’s true, we do look to our presidents in times of national crisis for comfort, inspiration and guidance.

Which is why President Trump’s remarks after last August’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia fell short of the standard set by previous presidents.

When asked by a journalist about the violence, which included the death of a young woman by a car-driving white supremacist protesting the removal of a General Stonewall Jackson statue, Trump said: “You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent.  And nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now.  You had a group on the other side that came charging in, without a permit, and they were very, very violent.”

In all seriousness, a ham sandwich would have been more soothing.

Perhaps, ironically, Iowa’s conservative evangelical community in the 2016 Iowa Republican caucuses may have unofficially ended the presidency’s role as a moral authority. In that caucus, Iowa’s evangelical voters split their votes between Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Trump. The election ended for many evangelicals the use of Biblical competency tests for selecting presidents. In their new reality, presidents are just powerful vessels (i.e., tools, if you prefer) leveraged to achieve partisan goals. Its all about politics now.

“I don’t give support simply by quoting the Bible. I want to see it lived out in the policy,” said John Lee, an influential Iowa pastor, prior to the 2016 Iowa caucuses. “I’m not electing a pastor in chief. I’m electing a commander in chief.”

A Republican voter base that had in previous Iowa caucuses supported the overtly Christian-centered candidacies of Pat Robertson (2nd place in 1988, behind an Iowa-favorite, Bob Dole), Mike Huckabee (1st in 2008), and Rick Santorum (1st in 2012), was now supporting a candidate whose favorite Bible verse,  Exodus 21:22-25, known for its “eye-for-an-eye” passage, was singled out and repudiated by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount speech.

Well, maybe Trump isn’t walking in Jesus’ steps, but at least he’s consistent with Moses, right? Well, actually no. What should be no surprise by now, Trump completely misunderstands the meaning behind the ‘eye-for-an-eye’ passage.

According to Orthodox Rabbinic tradition, the ‘eye-for-an-eye’ passage “never intended to mandate physical punishment in personal injury cases” and instead “means the perpetrator must pay the monetary value commensurate with the victim’s injury.”

Though über Christian Ted Cruz actually won the 2016 Iowa Republican caucus, Trump’s close second place finish set the stage for his surprising strength among white evangelicals in other primaries and caucuses.

In the general election, four-out-of-five white evangelical Christians voted for Trump over Hillary Clinton.

We get it. Donald Trump is not the uniter in chief in the mold of Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama or George W. Bush, or pretty much any other U.S. President (except William Henry Harrison, who served for 32 days as president and spent most of it on his death bed, offering him little opportunity for comforting others).

Maybe there are other things a president does besides knowing stuff, making decisions, persuading others, and uniting a country?

“Over-turning the norms of American politics was a (Trump) campaign promise,” conservative columnist George Will recently noted.

In that effort, Trump has emphatically succeeded.

He is breaking most all of the rules.

Where presidents once carefully measured and crafted their words so as to minimize misinterpretations of their intent, now we have President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un trading insults like two schoolyard bullies. After Kim called Trump a “dotard” for saying during his UN speech that the “U.S. would totally destroy North Korea” if it developed an nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic,” Trump responded with a tweet (of course).

Kim, who serves his own internal audience by keeping this public pissing match alive, responded by calling Trump “old,” which, of course, inspired another Twitter reply from Trump:

In case you aren’t sure, this is not a new form of diplomacy. These are the blustery rants of two jejune adults who lack significant oversight from experienced advisers.

It is safe to say a ham sandwich would not have engaged in this type of banter with the leader of hostile nuclear power.

Are we better off for this banter? We will see.

Everything is Awesome…What could go wrong?

Objectively, it is difficult to deny the success of the Trump administration so far, despite what we are told by a daily blizzard of anti-Trump news from the major news organizations.

As George Carlin might say, the country is doing fine…its the politicians and the journalists that are f*ucked up.

That is probably closer to the truth than what you see on CNN or MSNBC or read in The New York Times. Trump  is wrong, though. They don’t give us ‘fake news.’ They are just so demented by their hate for Trump that they have stopped trying to see the world as it is, and can only see it as they want it to be.

Clumsy, unsophisticated Trump campaign operatives trying to get ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton from the Russians, who have been engaged in a long-term information operations campaign to discredit the American democracy, is not collusion.

But the news media have a Trump-Russia narrative they won’t give up without a fight.

This confirmation bias dominates today’s news. Journalists interpret all new information through a filter that is designed to draw only one conclusion: Donald Trump is an illegitimate, unqualified president that colluded with the Russians in order to get elected and remains loyal to their interests over those of the American people.

There is no need to watch or read the news anymore — the above sentence underscores every news story on every news outlet (not including Fox News, of course, which uses a completely different biased filter).

Yet, as the Trump-Russian collusion soap opera continues — with no end in sight — and a president that shows no evidence that he is learning on the job, the American economy chugs along…

…what could go wrong?

The nearly yearlong rise in the U.S. stock markets continues. Stock markets, which are forward-looking, though not always perfect predictors of future economic performance, are increasingly optimistic about this country. This increased optimism is not the residual effect of Obama’s economic policies — the impact of his policies were most likely baked into stock market prices months prior to his departure.

Stock markets react to surprises and shocks to the world economic system, not post-presidential popularity. It is possible Obama’s economic policies resulted in the recent (unexpected) positive economic strength, but that does beg the question, “What Obama economic policy?”

In terms of economic legislation, the Obama saw passage of a major spending bill early in his presidency to boost an ailing economy (though the U.S. Federal Reserve’s historical level of quantitative easing was probably more critical) and a healthcare bill (of course, known as Obamacare).

The Paris Accords on Climate Change can also be included as an economic policy accomplishment for the Obama administration.

Good luck proving any of those three economic policies account for the historic rise in the U.S. stock market since Trump took office. Especially considering the last two have been all but overturned by Trump and the congressional Republicans.

It is far more likely the U.S. stock market is reacting to Trump administration’s business-friendly rollback of regulations (including Obamacare) and likely reductions in corporate and personal income tax rates, particularly for wealthy Americans.

Now that will spur a stock market boom.

Of course, the five trillion dollars in new wealth from rising stock prices could evaporate overnight. Literally, overnight.

And there are clouds looming on the horizon that will challenge the Trump administration’s novel governing approach:

U.S. household debt is rising 60 percent faster than wages. This is not sustainable.

We are in the midst of a long-term experiment to see what level of public debt our economy can sustain without serious economic consequences. So far, so good.

Our (gross) government debt, as a percentage of GDP, stands at 106 percent and could go even higher with the passage of the current GOP tax bill. This level of public debt puts us in the neighborhood of countries like Portugal and Iceland in this regard.

While few economists see a recession in the next six months, but there are concerns.

“Easy monetary policies during the post-crisis period have propelled equity prices higher and driven bond yields lower,” according to Jeffrey Gundlach, founder of DoubleLine Capital. “But as central banks reverse their quantitative easing (QE) and raise rates, this ‘Goldilocks era’ will come to an end.”

In this last week, the U.S. central bank raised rates by a quarter of a percentage point to a range of 1.25 percent to 1.50 percent. It was the third rate hike this year.

And how will the world markets absorb the over 4 trillion dollars in U.S. Treasury bonds as the U.S. Federal Reserve reverses quantitative easing?

“U.S. Treasury debt is high quality and so the market will buy it…but at what price?” asks a frequent blogger, govtrader. “Will the market sell stocks to make room to buy up all this new debt (reverse QE)?  Does this cause the next stock market crash?”

According to govtrader, the answer is probably yes.

Perhaps a ham sandwich could have handled the job of U.S. president through the first year of the Trump presidency — but inevitably there will be an unforeseen economic shock or an unprecedented international crisis that will force this president to make real decisions based on complex, sometimes contradictory, information. When that happens, we will want more than a ham sandwich for a president.


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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.

The GOP Lost a Great Opportunity with Roy Moore’s Defeat

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, December 13, 2017)

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The beltway pundits this morning are saying, for the Republicans to have any chance of staving off an electoral disaster in 2018, Roy Moore had to lose in the Alabama senate election.

Not so fast.

Yes, Roy Moore would have been a malignancy attached to U.S. Senate Republicans. But he also would have represented an opportunity for the congressional GOP to distinguish themselves from such a man.

I’m old to remember how the Democratic Party in the 1970s used Alabama Governor George Wallace for the same purpose. And it worked….up to a point.

Could the Republicans have made such a pivot given their current White House occupant’s support for Moore? Why couldn’t they?

An ethics investigation process exists in the U.S. Senate to remove people like Roy Moore, who most likely had a historical pattern of inappropriate contact with female minors, a potentially illegal contact with at least one female minor. It is unlikely Moore would be convicted in a criminal trial on these allegations given the time passed and politicization of his case. However, had he been elected to the U.S. Senate, his fellow senators would have held him to a tougher standard than the American criminal justice system.

Fewer and fewer congressional Republicans are afraid of Donald Trump, who is proving to be a tragically bad leader of his own party. Why would they be? Donald Trump and Steve Bannon aren’t organized enough to influence more than a small handful of party nominations. It’s a big party and GOP party regulars still control the party nomination process for the vast majority of congressional races.

Had he been elected, Moore would have been publicly flogged and humiliated for the sole purpose of allowing Senate Republicans to cleanse their ranks and image of Moore’s stink.

Of course, the Democrats would work hard to deny the Republicans the positive sanitizing effects of expelling Moore from the Senate. But that is politics. Nothing is set in stone. Like a football game, until the game is played, nobody can know for sure what the outcome will be.

We will never see the political game around U.S. Senator Roy Moore. Perhaps the GOP would have lost that game, but why would anyone be so confident the Democrats could capitalize on Roy Moore’s presence in the Senate hallways.

At a minimum, the internecine war on Moore would have made for great television and high ratings for MSNBC. Potentially, Roy Moore could have served as the GOP’s version of Al Franken (D-MN), a soon-to-be a former U.S. Senator.

Unlike Franken, however, Moore would have deserved being cast out of the chamber and the GOP would have benefited far more than the Democrats did by chasing Franken out.


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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.

How can we trust the Alabama Senate race polls? Answer: We can’t

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, December 12, 2017)

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How do we reconcile the final three polls for the Alabama U.S. Senate race? One, conducted by Fox News, shows Democrat Doug Jones ahead by 10 percentage points (50 to 40 percent). Another, by Emerson College, shows Republican Roy Moore ahead by 9 points (53 to 44 percent). Finally, a poll by Monmouth University shows the race to be a virtual tie (both candidates at 46 percent).

They can’t all be correct.

All were conducted at about the same point in time (between Dec. 6th and Dec. 10th). So, we can’t attribute the differences to the times in which the polls were taken.

As to the questionnaires, the questions themselves are similar enough to rule out format differences.

We do see, however, major differences in the methodologies used by the three polls: particularly with respect to the mode of data collection and the sampling frames.

The Fox News poll was conducted by the research firms, Anderson Robbins Research and Shaw & Company Research. They used live telephone interviews from a random sample of 1,408 Alabama registered voters. (You can find their methodology here.)

In general, a registered voter population skews more Democratic when compared to ‘likely voters.’

The Emerson College poll used a more complicated (and less expensive) data collection method. They employed an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system of landlines only and an online panel provided by Survey Sampling International (SSI). Their target population was of registered voters that were ‘very likely’ to vote. (You can find their methodology here.)

Based on’s experience with IVR (landline-only) samples, there tends to be a strong bias towards older, more conservative voters. In contrast, online panels tend to be younger and more liberal. In the Emerson College poll, the net bias of both data collection methods should presumably cancel out.

Finally, the Monmouth University poll was conducted by telephone from December 6th to 9th with 546 Alabama residents likely to vote in the December 2017 special election. Their sample was drawn from a list of registered voters who voted in at least one of the last four general or primary elections or have registered to vote since January 2016, and indicate they are likely to vote in the upcoming election. (You can find their methodology here.)

Unlike the Fox News poll, Monmouth filters their sample frame down to likely voters. Furthermore, by using a telephone (live interview) methodology, Monmouth does not contaminate its sample with the bias inherent in IVR (landline-only) samples.

So who do we believe?

Based on’s experience, the Monmouth Poll will come the closest to predicting tonight’s results in the Alabama Senatorial election.

It is going to be tight race.

We will see.


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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.

Where have you gone Woodward & Bernstein?

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, December 11, 2017)

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As journalism dies in this country, the major news media organizations are gaining customers. These two trends are not unrelated.

First, television and digital news audiences for many media outlets have been steadily growing since the election of Donald Trump. He is their dream come true.

According to the News Media Alliance, “Newspaper websites in the United States have seen an increase in paid subscribers (in 2017) — The New York Times has grown to more than 2 million paid digital-only customers, while The Wall Street Journal passed the 1 million mark.”

Despite being branded as ‘fake news by President Trump, CNN saw its 2017 3rd Quarter ad revenues grow by 9 per cent compared to last year. Likewise, CNN’s biggest competitor in the anti-Trump television news business, MSNBC, saw its prime time viewership grow 26 percent in November 2017 compared to November 2016.

Say what you want about President Trump, he is good for the news business.

The second trend is not a good one, however. Journalistic practice within national news outlets appears to be in a straight-line decline. Every few weeks now a news story has to be publicly retracted for fundamental inaccuracies. Perhaps more disturbing is that these journalistic fumbles aren’t just happening at the 24-hour-news-cycle-dependent television networks, but at the major national newspapers as well.

The most recent “reporting error” occurred on December 8th when CNN broke from its morning anti-Trump philippic to announce a “breaking news” CNN exclusive regarding an email in which WikiLeaks supposedly offered the Trump campaign prior access to the DNC’s Russian-hacked emails before they were made public.

According to CNN, multiple anonymous sources confirmed the e-mail contents.

MSNBC and CBS quickly repeated the CNN report on their own news platforms, presumably because they too had independently confirmed the e-mail contents.

This story, had it been true, would have been the first piece of concrete evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with a reputed Russian intelligence intermediary (i.e., WikiLeaks) to coordinate the release of information meant to damage the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

But, the story wasn’t true. Whatever email it was based upon, the journalists hadn’t actually seen; otherwise, they would’ve known that their timeline was off, rendering their ‘exclusive’ null-and-void.

Were the journalists set up by Trump sympathizers in the government? Were they set up by Never-Trumpers in the government that just wanted to keep the Trump-Russian collusion story alive? If CNN had any integrity left, they would try to get that answer for us. Prediction: They won’t.

The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald, one of the journalists that broke the Edward Snowden story in 2013 and a favorite target of the Democratic Party’s neo-liberal elites, offers a much more detailed description of CNN’s reporting error and its consequences in a recent article posted on Additionally, his article lists just some of the recent reporting errors made by major news organizations:

  • Russia hacked into the U.S. electric grid to deprive Americans of heat during winter (Wash Post)
  • An anonymous group (PropOrNot) documented how major U.S. political sites are Kremlin agents (Wash Post)
  • WikiLeaks has a long, documented relationship with Putin (Guardian)
  • A secret server between Trump and a Russian bank has been discovered (Slate)
  • RT hacked C-SPAN and caused disruption in its broadcast (Fortune)
  • Crowdstrike finds Russians hacked into a Ukrainian artillery app (Crowdstrike)
  • Russians attempted to hack elections systems in 21 states (multiple news outlets, echoing Homeland Security)
  • Links have been found between Trump ally Anthony Scaramucci and a Russian investment fund under investigation (CNN)

All substantively false or misleading stories that were (and may still be) promulgated as fact.

Isn’t the Trump menace justification for a little journalistic fudging?

A prominent Democratic Party operative recently asked if Donald Trump is capable of feeling shame for his actions. It is reasonable to ask the national news organizations the same question.

“But Fox News is far worse,” is frequently the first response when anyone suggests the news media is biased (particularly against Trump).

Well, yes and no. There is no question Fox News, under Roger Ailes leadership, pioneered a potent form of partisan advocacy within the context of a “news” organization. Ailes’ project turned the Fox News Channel into the nation’s most powerful cable news network.

Ailes’ formula was simple. Take selective, often loosely connected, facts and weave a storyline that fits a particular narrative favorable to the agenda of political conservatives.

For example, part of President Obama’s early childhood education was spent in a Muslim-majority community in the Indonesia. This is a fact. As President, Obama’s 2009 speech at Cairo University apologized for some past U.S. actions with respect to the Muslim world. Two facts with virtually no direct or concrete connection, yet, some Fox News commentators (e.g. Sean Hannity) openly conjectured over the possibility that Obama was secretly more sympathetic to the Muslim world than he was towards the U.S.

No serious person trying to understand U.S. policy in the Middle East under the Obama administration would make that connection, but Fox News did without hesitation or regret.

Fox News was, in that instance, engaged in an extreme form of what my former journalism professor called ‘interpretive’ or ‘conjectural’ journalism. In its non-partisan form, newspapers used to run these types of stories under the ‘news analysis’ banner. Such journalism serves a valuable purpose.

Standard journalism often provides only a gestalt-like representation of an event (such as the Trump-Russia “collusion” investigation) and it is through interpretative (or conjectural) journalism that an event’s meaning or relevance becomes more apparent. Journalists and commentators are doing the public a service when they fill in those evidential gaps.

That is not what the major news organizations are doing today, however.  Instead, many journalists, who are often wholly dependent on anonymous sources (often within the government) for their information, are being fed false or un-contextualized information in order to craft news stories that fit into pre-determined narratives (i.e., the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to defeat Hillary Clinton). Who concocts these narratives? It ranges from individual journalists, the incumbent administration, political parties, private corporate interests, to some combination therein.

Are the front line journalists and commentators complicit or just pawns in this symbiotic relationship? Considering that most broadcast journalists and political analysts are hired for their prior experience in either political campaigns or government service, it is likely the relationship between the news organization, the journalist and the source is a mutually-rewarding one for all involved.

In the big picture, it matter less that journalists are being manipulated than the fact that false, misleading, and/or illegally leaked information is increasingly entering the nation’s information blood stream.

So, how can it be mitigated or stopped?

Given the large news outlets are witnessing significant growth in their bottom line financials since the 2016 election, it is naive to think the news organizations and their corporate owners will kill their own golden goose.

They won’t. But, perhaps, the public can start holding news organizations more accountable for abusing their dependence on anonymous sources (i.e., power elites) for news stories.

The national news media’s failure is more fundamental than just a few ‘false’ news stories…

After reading the Greenwald piece on CNN’s most recent Trump-Russia collusion story retraction, I dug out an old essay I wrote last spring critiquing another CNN news “exclusive” on information they uncovered linking the Trump campaign to Russian intelligence operatives.

The March 22nd CNN story exemplifies the failure of modern, American-style journalism.

The substance of CNN’s story (here), written by Pamela Brown, Evan Perez, Shimon Prokupecz and Jim Sciutto, was in its first two paragraphs:


(Washington) – The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, US officials told CNN.

The FBI is now reviewing that information, which includes human intelligence, travel, business and phone records and accounts of in-person meetings, according to those U.S. officials. The information is raising the suspicions of FBI counterintelligence investigators that the coordination may have taken place, though officials cautioned that the information was not conclusive and that the investigation is ongoing. (March 23rd revision,


I don’t doubt one word of the story.  But that’s the problem.  There is nothing to doubt.  It is devoid of substance.  Filtered throughout the entire story are modifiers like “possibly” and “may have.”  It’s not a news story, it’s a tease for an actual news story.

With this CNN story, and many like it since, we are either being entertained with the ‘sausage-making’ details of investigative journalism or, worse, being manipulated by anonymous sources who share the goal of bringing down a presidency that don’t like.

Woodward and Bernstein popularized anonymous sourcing, but they also knew its proper role in investigative journalism…

As news consumers, we should all be asking ourselves: What does good investigative journalism look like?  To what extent should we discount journalism that fails to meet our own expectations and standards for good news reporting?

These are not easy questions to answer.  But in my own effort to answer them, I reached into the news archives and re-read the actual reporting that led to our nation’s first presidential resignation. For me, what I found was stunning and more relevant than ever.

So, find an old pair of white stripe “Big E’ Levi pants (with the flared boot cut) and follow me back in time to the early summer of 1972…

Washington, D.C. (June 18, 1972):

Richard Nixon is in the middle of his presidential re-election campaign when a news story breaks in The Washington Post.  The headline on June 18, 1972 reads:  5 Held in Plot to Bug Democrats’ Office Here (Original Story Here).  The first four paragraphs in the story, written by Alfred E. Lewis, reports about a simple break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.:


(Washington) – Five men, one of whom said he is a former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency, were arrested at 2:30 a.m. yesterday in what authorities described as an elaborate plot to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee here.

Three of the men were native-born Cubans and another was said to have trained Cuban exiles for guerrilla activity after the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.

They were surprised at gunpoint by three plain-clothes officers of the metropolitan police department in a sixth floor office at the plush Watergate, 2600 Virginia Ave., NW, where the Democratic National Committee occupies the entire floor.

There was no immediate explanation as to why the five suspects would want to bug the Democratic National Committee offices or whether or not they were working for any other individuals or organizations.


From this story, we know who, did what, where, when and how:  Five men, a former CIA employee, three Cubans, at DNC offices, June 17th at 2:30 a.m. The most important paragraph is: There was no immediate explanation as to why the five suspects would want to bug the Democratic National Committee…or whether or not they were working for any other individuals or organizations.

Those questions, of course, eventually would be answered.

But this is just crime-blotter reporting. Right? It’s not investigative journalism. How can you compare court record regurgitation to the hard work required to understand the potential complexities of the Trump-Russia connection? You can’t. Enter Bob Woodward (who did the legwork on Lewis’ story) and Carl Bernstein — two young, ambitious Washington Post reporters who are given a story assignment that they cannot know beforehand how it will change this country’s history.

Their August 1, 1972 Washington Post story, three months before the general election, gives the first real glimpse into the potential scope of their investigation — which, itself, is mirroring an ongoing FBI investigation. Sound familiar?

The headline reads: Bug Suspect Got Campaign Funds (Original Story Here).  The story’s primary information is not reliant on anonymous sources or baseless conjecture. No clever innuendo required:


(Washington) – A $25,000 cashier’s check, apparently earmarked for President Nixon’s re-election campaign, was deposited in April in a bank account of one of the five men arrested in the break-in at Democratic National Headquarters here June l7.

The check was made out by a Florida bank to Kenneth H. Dahlberg, the President’s campaign finance chairman for the Midwest. Dahlberg said last night that in early April he turned the check over to “the treasurer of the Committee (for the Re-election of the President) or to Maurice Stans himself.”

(Four more paragraphs down in the story…)

A photostatic copy of the front of the check was examined by a Washington Post reporter yesterday. It was made out by the First Bank and Trust Co. of Boca Raton, Fla., to Dahlberg.


The story is a little over three months old when a September 29, 1972 Woodward and Bernstein story carries the headline: Mitchell Controlled Secret GOP Fund (Original Story Here).  The substance of the story connects the Watergate break-in to the Nixon administration:


(Washington) – John N. Mitchell, while serving as U.S. Attorney General, personally controlled a secret Republican fund that was used to gather information about the Democrats, according to sources involved in the Watergate investigation.

Beginning in the spring of 1971, almost a year before he left the Justice Department to become President Nixon’s campaign manager on March 1, Mitchell personally approved withdrawals from the fund, several reliable sources have told The Washington Post.

Those sources have provided almost identical, detailed accounts of Mitchell’s role as comptroller of the secret intelligence fund and its fluctuating $350,000 -$700,000 balance.

Four persons other than Mitchell were later authorized to approve payments from the secret fund, the sources said.

Two of them were identified as former Secretary of Commerce Maurice H. Stans, now finance chairman of the President’s campaign, and Jeb Stuart Magruder, manager of the Nixon campaign before Mitchell took over and now a deputy director of the campaign. The other two, according to the sources, are a high White House official now involved in the campaign and a campaign aide outside of Washington.


There is no rhetorical hedging with words like ‘may have’ or ‘possibly.’  Note also that Woodward and Bernstein rely on multiple, anonymous sources.  And, more notably, these FBI sources, which are involved in an ongoing investigation, are willing to confirm names, dates, and timelines.  There is no conjecture or speculation.  The story is built on the best information available at the time.  Further down in the story, Woodward and Bernstein give the reader some important background information on the anonymous sources themselves:


Sept. 29, 1972 Washington Post story continued…

The sources of The Post’s information on the secret fund and its relationship to Mitchell and other campaign officials include law enforcement officers and persons on the staff of the Committee for the Re-election of the President.


In today’s daily, often leak-driven, news cycle, such detailed background on anonymous sources is rarely provided.  When it is, it is so vague and amorphous it denies the reader any real context to judge the veracity or reliability of the source(s).

While there are still special prosecutors and congressional hearings to be appointed and held in the future, Woodward and Bernstein’s investigative work reaches its apex in their story on October 10, 1972.  Citing conclusions from the FBI and Department of Justice investigations, they lay the foundation for what will be a national obsession over the next two years.  The Post headline reads:

FBI Finds Nixon Aides Sabotaged Democrats (Original Story Here).  The story wastes no time cutting to the chase:


(Washington) – FBI agents have established that the Watergate bugging incident stemmed from a massive campaign of political spying and sabotage conducted on behalf of President Nixon’s re-election and directed by officials of the White House and the Committee for the Re-election of the President.

The activities, according to information in FBI and Department of Justice files, were aimed at all the major Democratic presidential contenders and — since 1971 — represented a basic strategy of the Nixon re-election effort.

During their Watergate investigation, federal agents established that hundreds of thousands of dollars in Nixon campaign contributions had been set aside to pay for an extensive undercover campaign aimed at discrediting individual Democratic presidential candidates and disrupting their campaigns.


On August 8, 1974, Richard Nixon resigns from the presidency, over two years after the Post’s initial break-in story.

Folks, that is how high-quality investigative journalism is conducted.

Sadly, we must return to present day journalism…

…the times have changed and journalists have been forced to change with it.  The Washington Post in 1972 wasn’t competing with 24-7 cable news networks.  And is it fair to compare the journalism on today’s CNN with The Washington Post or any other national-audience newspaper?  They have different audiences and business requirements.  Nonetheless, we should all expect more from today’s journalists than what we getting in the coverage of the Trump-Russia connection.  The use of anonymous sources is just one mechanism today’s journalists use to generate more stories faster.  The blurring of hard news with news analysis also increases the volume of content.

And though I am singling out CNN here, I could have cited any major news organization.

After the March 22nd CNN story broke, none other than Carl Bernstein himself said on Don Lemon’s CNN Tonight, “I don’t think there is any question there is a cover-up and the people in the FBI will tell you there is a cover-up going on.”

Perhaps Bernstein will be proven correct.  But it is interesting that the other half of Woodward and Bernstein offered a different set of conclusions on the Trump-Russia investigation up to that point.

“Apparently, what had happened here is a couple of (foreign) diplomats who can be legitimately wiretapped were talking about meeting with Trump or people on his transition team,” said Woodward on the March 23rd broadcast of Fox News’s O’Reilly Factor.  “Under the rules (for the U.S. intelligence community), and they’re pretty strict, it’s called minimization; you don’t name the American person who’s being discussed (and) the idea that there was intelligence value here is really thin…This could be criminal on the part of people who decided, ‘Oh, let’s name these people.’”

As of today, there is still no direct evidence of collusion between the Trump camp and the Russians.  On the other hand, we know intelligence leaks and the improper naming of U.S. persons within intelligence reports occurred during the Obama administration in its effort to collect intelligence on the Trump campaign and transition team.  In all likelihood, these were felonious acts.

My journalism school taught me about the reporting techniques of Woodward and Bernstein because they represented a clear break from the past.  Our uncritical acceptance of anonymous sources today was not the norm in the early 1970s.  The Watergate story would not have broken as quickly as it did without Woodward and Bernstein’s use of anonymous sources.  But, as the above Post excerpts indicate, their inclusion was supported by considerable biographical information regarding those sources.  And, even then, the Post received significant criticism (including by some journalists) for its use of anonymous sources.

So, while we should all take Bernstein’s comparisons of the Trump-Russia investigation to Watergate seriously, we need to be careful to separate fact from opinion.  On Don Lemon’s show, Bernstein was giving an opinion based on unsubstantiated facts to which we lack direct access.

After hearing Bernstein’s conclusions, even Don Lemon had to admit, “Nothing has been found yet.”

That remains essentially true nine months later.

Perhaps the most rational (while also cynical) reaction to the March 22nd CNN story came from Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov: “This is another piece of information without any sources which can’t be commented on, neither can it be taken as some serious thing.”

Was he wrong?

Good journalism requires multiple, independent confirmations of the crucial facts and their cogent, unbiased recitation by the journalist(s) or news organization.

The Only Reliable Defense for Bad Journalism, ‘Fake News,’ and Russian interference is an Educated Public

Can we expect today’s news consumers to consistently recognize and ignore bad journalism that fails to meet even the basic journalistic standards?  Perhaps not.

Can we expect the news and political opinion industries to self-police with respect to the dissemination of bad journalism and ‘fake news’?  Most definitely not. ‘Fake news’ in particular has set up a permanent encampment on the Worldwide Web.

So what do we do?

We must empower individuals to draw their own conclusions regarding the news they consume, and only then will our society and political system be protected from the corrosive impact of bad journalism and ‘fake news.’

Until that day comes, the public is on its own.  There is no industry or government solution to this problem (though, God knows, the Congress and lobbyists are already writing laws and regulations in the attempt to solve the problem).

Yet, there is reason for optimism based on research regarding the ability of news consumers to discern the levels of quality and bias in news reporting.  One such study, a 2013 experiment conducted by the Ilmenau University of Technology and reported by the European Journalism Observatory (EJO), found that all types of news consumers (in terms of education and interest) could recognize the differences between high- and low-quality news.  Another study, also reported by the EJO, concluded that “media users recognize comparatively well whether a news article is up-to-date, answers the important questions of who, what, why, when, and gives information about causes, consequences, and classifications of an event.”  More importantly, the same research showed that media users are reasonably good at evaluating the bias in a new story.  Where media users came up short, according to the researchers, was in their ability to determine if the information in the news article was accurate and comprehensive.  That is where the news consumer is truly at the mercy of the journalist(s).

Therefore, as you digest future Trump-Russia collusion stories, I suggest you look for the following attributes to determine if the story is accurate and comprehensive:

  • Are the story’s facts linked to named sources that would be expected to know such facts?
  • If the story’s primary information heavily dependent on anonymous sources, is there sufficient background information provided on those sources to know if they would have likely access to this information?  Has the journalist or news organization referenced these same anonymous sources in previous stories and has their information proved reliable?
  • Does the journalist connect the story’s facts in a logical and comprehensive way or does it seem more like an ad-hoc collection of information with no inherent or obvious connection?
  • Is the story full of weasel-words like: “possibly,” “may have,” “could indicate” or “suggests”?

As for Trump-Russiagate, the reporting has typically violated these attributes.

A good example is a February 14th New York Times story that broke the news that National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador talked about sanctions prior to Donald Trump’s inauguration (Original Story Here):


(Washington) – Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.

American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said.  The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.

The officials interviewed in recent weeks said that, so far, they had seen no evidence of such cooperation.


That last paragraph should have sent any discerning news consumer immediately to the sports page.  I am not quibbling with the Times running the story, even if the story read more like the notes a journalist would take while investigating a story.  With today’s infinite shelf-space for news, a journalist’s daily notes now qualify as news.  These are the times we live in.

Yes, the New York Times is more reliable than CNN (or any other cable news network).  That’s is not a high bar.  But, in comparison to the news stories associated with the Watergate crisis, the news industry covering the Trump-Russia story are peddling something in between “fake news” and high-quality journalism.  To put it differently, when I read the sequence of the Woodward and Bernstein stories, I was reading history.  Even when they were wrong on the facts (and there were at times), they corrected them (publicly and with high visibility) over the course of their investigation.

We are lucky to have the Watergate reporting legacy of Woodward and Bernstein to remind us what real journalism looks like.


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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.

Is Obama’s Justice League clearing a path for Kamala Harris?

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, November 30, 2017)

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A new Justice League has formed.

No, not the bad CGI-laden movie that failed to break $100 million in box office receipts in its opening week. [Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) was still awesome though].

This new Justice League is real and believes its on a mission to save humanity from a rogue force far more menacing than Steppenwolf or Darkseid.

Their Hall of Justice, at 2446 Belmont Road NW in Washington, D.C., looms just a few blocks from this dangerous cozener’s current quarters, the White House.

Of course, Donald Trump is the existential threat in this picture and the new Justice League is led by our former president Barack Obama.

Joining Obama in the Hall of Justice are his former Attorney General Eric Holder, former campaign manager David Plouffe, senior political advisor David Axelrod, long-time aides Valerie Jarrett and David Simas, DNC chair Tom Perez, former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, White House speechwriter Jon Favreau and a host of other former cabinet officers, aides and Chicago friends.

Regular meetings are held in the Obama’s D.C. residence, according to a source directly aware of these meetings. So many, in fact, that rumors flew around in March within the right-wing blogs that Valerie Jarrett had moved into the Obama’s new $5.3-million mansion in the Kalorama neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

Though the Jarrett rumor proved wrong, the real story was no less significant. Obama was building a team to retake control of the U.S. government from Donald Trump and the Republicans using the Obama’s house as the operation’s headquarters.

Their mission is a straightforward: Get Democrats in control across all levels of government and restore the Obama legacy that Trump continues to dismantle.

Its not like Obama has been hiding his intentions regarding his post-administration activities.

“I won’t stop. In fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my remaining days,” President Obama said in a farewell address to supporters in Chicago.

All the same, on January 21, it wasn’t clear what a relatively young 55-year-old Obama was going to do with himself in retirement, particularly at a time with his party in a ceaseless crisis over the Trump presidency.

Obama can’t just go away and write books like most other former presidents, can he?

Even before Obama left office, the obligatory presidential library was in the works and its parent organization, the Obama Foundation, created in 2014, was already laying the groundwork for the Obama post-presidency.

At its creation, the Obama Foundation’s board of directors included a Clintonesque mix of billionaires (John Doerr), investment bankers (former UBS Global Investment president Robert Wolf, GCM Grosvenor CEO Michael Sacks and Ariel Investments president John Rogers), friends (Vistria Group CEO Martin Nesbitt), political allies (former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick) and Obama administration holdovers (David Plouffe).

Its this nation’s A-team for neo-liberal corporatists. As one former Obama official told me, “If you don’t control at least a billion dollars, you ain’t gonna accomplish shit in this town.”

Obama Foundation CEO David Simas, a founding member of this new Justice League, describes the Obama Foundation’s purpose as being more grassroots oriented and focused on “identifying, training and connecting the next generation of civic leaders throughout the country first and then around the world.”

Where the Clinton Foundation facilitated opportunities for the world’s financial elites and oligarchs to participate in substantive, public image enhancing humanitarian projects, the Obama Foundation is more concerned about building a political infrastructure parallel to (if not in place of) more traditional political structures such as the Democratic National Committee.

And while the Clinton Foundation will die with Bill and Hillary Clinton’s political relevance, the Obama Foundation is designed to survive well beyond Obama’s lifetime — and, in that effort, Obama has a plan.

Step 1: Take control of the DNC

In February, Obama’s former Secretary of Labor, Tom Perez, was elected chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), stunting the attempted takeover of the DNC by the party’s progressive wing, led by Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison.

While Obama never inserted himself into the DNC chair election, his former Attorney General Eric Holder did when he endorsed Perez in early February.

“As we’ve seen since the inauguration, there is much at stake for our nation, and our democracy and our party. We need a DNC chair who is a proven fighter and a proven uniter. Tom Perez is that person,” Holder said in support of Perez.

Holder is a former cabinet officer, close Obama friend, and a direct proxy. By electing Perez, the DNC is now tentatively controlled by the Obama wing of the party.

Since Perez’ ascendancy, the DNC has seen dismal fundraising totals, despite a Republican president at historically low approval levels. In August 2017, the DNC reported raising only $4.4 million dollars, compared to $7.3 million for the Republican National Committee.

Yet, none of the Democratic Party’s senior leadership is suggesting Perez should be replaced.  Why? Because Perez wasn’t endorsed for the chairmanship position for his fundraising prowess. Perez takes anti-charisma to thermonuclear levels.

Instead, he is a caretaker selected for his loyalty to Barack Obama and willingness to act in the interest of the 44th president. More importantly, he prevents a Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders loyalist from sitting in the DNC’s command position.

For all intents, constructions, and purposesObama now controls the DNC, but to what end?

It is wrong to assume Obama wants to personally select the next Democratic presidential nominee in order to avoid the mistake made in 2016. Obama is too smart and too strategic to think in such a limited way.

Obama understands history. He, more than anybody, respects the importance of the competitive process in selecting a presidential nominee. The legitimacy of the nominee is predicated on the assumption that he or she is the preferred candidate of the majority of Democrats.

In 2008, when Hillary Clinton was the presumptive favorite for the Democratic nomination, it was Obama who emerged from the nomination process as the party’s nominee. As his stock rose among Democrats following his Iowa Caucus victory, Obama’s communications team eagerly juxtaposed Hillary’s establishment candidacy to Obama’s outsider status.

Given his thin resume in 2008, Obama benefited from the Democratic Party’s competitive nomination race. Merely going toe-to-toe with Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden in the early nomination debates lifted Obama’s credibility among voters.

In contrast, Hillary did everything in her power to limit the number of nomination challengers in 2016, thereby solidifying her establishment-candidate status at a time when the public mood was not favorable to such candidates.

Obama certainly understands this dynamic and recognizes a competitive nomination process in 2020 will help the Democrats’ eventual nominee.

That said, Obama has told confidants, according to our sources, that Hillary cannot be allowed to either run or be central to the process in picking the next Democratic nominee. While Obama genuinely believes the Russians interfered in the 2016 election and holds himself partially responsible for not doing more to expose Russia’s interference, he also believes Hillary was ill-equipped to overcome such a challenge.

“Anytime he (Obama) is reminded that Hillary blames him for not doing more to stop the Russians, he gets visibly upset,” says a long-time Obama friend. “He truly believes he would have run the 2016 race by more than 10 points — and thinks Joe (Biden) would have won by a similar margin.”

So, it should not surprise anyone that Obama is actively working to prevent something like Hillary’s covert takeover of the DNC in 2016 to happen in 2020. Obama simply will not allow it.

Step 2: Make the electoral field level again

Yet, for Obama’s Justice League to usher in the next Democratic governing majority, they also need to dismantle the structural barriers that disproportionately prevent Democrats from winning elections. Chief among those barriers, at least for U.S. House races, is gerrymandering.

The Associated Press estimated that Republicans won as many as 22 additional U.S. House seats in 2016 over what would have been expected based on the average vote share in congressional districts across the country.

Knowing this, the Obama team has asked Holder to oversee the Democrats’ National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC) to correct gerrymandering and other structural barriers to fair elections. Partnering with the Obama-aligned progressive group, Organizing For Action (OFA), their plan starts with winning more state-level races.

“Fixing gerrymandering can be the key that unlocks progress on so many issues the American people care about,” says Kelly Ward, the executive director of the NDRC.

In an email, Obama told OFA volunteers they would “provide the grassroots organizing capacity and mobilization that we’ll need to win state-level elections and move other initiatives forward ahead of the 2021 redistricting process, making sure that states are in the best position possible to draw fair maps.”

Their task will not be easy and will not reap benefits any time soon, as the Democrats will need to control far more state legislatures and governorships than they do at present. Furthermore, redrawing congressional districts may not be enough to level the playing field.’s David Wasserman contends that the Democrats have a geographic clustering problem that will work against their efforts to redraw electoral maps.

“Even if Democrats were to win every single 2018 House and Senate race for seats representing places that Hillary Clinton won or that Trump won by less than 3 percentage points — a pretty good midterm by historical standards — they could still fall short of the House majority and lose five Senate seats,” says Wasserman.

According to Wasserman this result is attributable to both GOP gerrymandering and Democratic voters’ clustering in urban districts.

“The net result is that the median House seat is well to the right of the nation,” adds Wasserman.

Redistricting is a long-pole project and the Obama team needs to address a more immediate problem: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Step 3: Unify the two wings of the Democratic Party by marginalizing the party’s two biggest names (not named Barack): Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

The Obama team’s efforts will be for naught if they allow Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders to lead the party going into the 2018 and 2020 elections. Hillary in particular has too many loyalists in key party functions, including fundraising among big donors, to assume she won’t leverage those connections for her own purposes, whether its running for president again or hand-picking the next presidential nominee.

To stop Hillary from injecting herself into the 2020 campaign, the Obama team is engaged in an ongoing and coordinated effort to discredit Hillary (and to a much lesser extent Bernie Sanders). The trick however is to do so without alienating Hillary’s core supporters.

Former DNC interim chair Donna Brazile launched the first attack in November when she released her book — Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House — about the 2016 election. Despite some recent backtracking, Brazile’s descriptions of the ham-fisted tactics used by Hillary’s campaign were less than flattering.

“As Hillary’s campaign gained momentum, she resolved the party’s debt and put it on a starvation diet,” Brazile wrote in a November 2nd Politico article. “It (the Democratic National Committee) had become dependent on her campaign for survival, for which she expected to wield control of its operations.”

In practical terms, Hillary Clinton used the Democratic National Commitee’s (DNC) as a fund-raising clearinghouse.

Federal Election Commission law limits direct individual contributions to presidential campaigns at $2,700, but the limits are less restrictive for contributions to state parties and the DNC.

As Brazile notes in her Politico article, “Individuals who had maxed out their $2,700 contribution limit to the campaign could write an additional check for $353,400 to the Hillary Victory Fund—that figure represented $10,000 to each of the 32 states’ parties who were part of the Victory Fund agreement—$320,000—and $33,400 to the DNC. The money would be deposited in the states first, and transferred to the DNC shortly after that. Money in the battleground states usually stayed in that state, but all the other states funneled that money directly to the DNC, which quickly transferred the money to Brooklyn.”

In other words, the Clinton campaign engineered a fundraising system where money meant for the eventual nominee and state-level races was funneled directly to Clinton. Was that legal? Probably. Was it ethical? No.

Brazile’s skill for artful dodginess emerged a few days after her Politico article when she pulled the reins on those who interpreted her sharp criticism of the Clinton campaign to mean Clinton had rigged the nomination.

“I found no evidence, none whatsoever” that the primaries were rigged, Brazile said during a November 4th appearance on ABC’s “This Week.”

Despite Brazile’s tamping down of the ‘election rigging’ charge, the conclusion had already metastasized within the mass media and was impossible to depose.

And for good reason. While presidential nominees typically take control of their party’s administrative apparatus after they’ve secured the party’s nomination, the Clinton campaign, confident in its inevitability, absorbed the DNC months prior to actually winning the nomination.

Is that rigging the election? Given the facts and the timeline, it is a reasonable conclusion.

Bill and Hillary Clinton had no reason to expect Donna Brazile’s loyalty. Hillary had already been burned by Brazile during the 2008 nomination when Brazile, who was on the DNC rules committee, tried to block Hillary’s attempt to seat national convention delegates from Florida and Michigan, the majority of whom were committed to Clinton.

The problem for Hillary’s 2008 campaign was that those two states had violated party rules in scheduling their primaries and, according Brazile at the time, seating those delegates would have changed the rules in the middle of the game and that was tantamount to “cheating.”

Calling Bill or Hillary a cheater is a good way to get your name taken off the Friends of Bill (FOB) or FOH list and Brazile is permanently off that list — if she was ever on it.

And while Brazile attempted in the 2016 election to get back into the good graces of the Clintons by feeding debate questions to Hillary before a 2016 CNN-televised debate, everyone knows the Clintons have long memories.

However, Brazile’s Judas kiss didn’t sting the Clintons nearly as hard as the knee-to-the-crotch move New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand planted on them a couple of weeks after Brazile’s article.

In the midst of allegations that Minnesota Senator Al Franken had given a female performer an unwelcomed tongue-kiss during a 2006 USO tour in Afghanistan, Gillibrand was asked during a New York Times podcast if she thought President Bill Clinton should have resigned during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

“Yes, I think that is the appropriate response,” responded Gillibrand.

While there is no evidence Gillibrand was acting as an Obama surrogate when she suggested the 42nd president should have resigned, she nonetheless helped the Obama team’s effort to weaken Hillary’s power within the party.

The woman hand-picked by the Clintons for the New York Senate seat vacated by Hillary when she became the U.S. Secretary of State had gone rogue. Cue the Clinton bootlickers.

Philippe Reines, a top adviser to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, rebuked Gillibrand on Twitter:

Reines would have a point if we were just talking about a ‘consensual blowjob’ with an intern. Unfortunately, by the time the U.S. Senate voted to save Clinton’s presidency in 1999, journalists had documented our 42nd president’s lifetime of sexual predatory behavior and a repeated pattern of denials, lies and slut shaming — and the co-pilot through every new bimbo eruption? Hillary Rodham Clinton, the enabler-in-chief.

Even women that should know better defended Bill and Hillary from Gillibrand’s blindside attack.

“I admire her (Gillibrand) for speaking out and for being really honest and blunt and brutal about it, even when it comes to Democrats and even when it comes to President Clinton,” said longtime Democratic strategist Maria Cardona, a former Hillary Clinton aide…”

here comes the ‘but’

“…But, Gillibrand’s fight is far from a straightforward one even within the party, added Cardona. “President Clinton is beloved.”

As Cardona is learning, the #MeToo movement has ushered in a new paradigm for how men and women conduct themselves professionally (at least in the news media and entertainment business). Cardona and Reines are two decades behind the public mood and Bill Clinton is now the poster child (along with Harvey Weinstein, John Conyers, and Matt Lauer, and others) for a type of work behavior that is unacceptable going forward (we can hope).

As many of Hillary’s loyalists continue the attempt to put distance between Bill’s creepy history and the former First Lady, the Obama-wing of the Democratic Party has seized on the current zeitgeist to end any hope the Clinton’s had of being significant players in the upcoming 2020 presidential election.

While the Clinton machine easily dismissed Gillibrand’s comments as the calculated move of a potential presidential candidate, the broadside delivered by Obama’s Secretary for Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, made public a critique of Clintons that had, up to then, only been heard in the fringes of the Democratic Party (i.e., millennials and Bernie supporters).

Unlike Brazile or Gillibrand, Sebelius is still in good standing with the party establishment and her motives cannot be assigned to the strategic calculations of a likely 2020 presidential candidate.

It was during a podcast with former Obama senior strategist David Axelrod, a founding member of the new Justice League, that Sebelius decided to lay some serious wood on Hillary Clinton.

As Axelrod led the conversation into a discussion of the current sexual harassment and assault debate, Sebelius took the topic of Bill’s libertinism to a new level for mainstream Democrats.

“Not only did people look the other way, but they went after the women who came forward and accused him,” said Sebelius. “And so it (the White House) doubled down on not only bad behavior but abusive behavior. And then people attacked the victims.”

The next logical step for Sebelius was to go where no loyal Democrat had ever gone before.

Sebelius told Axelrod it is legitimate for Democrats to criticize the former first lady and Secretary of State for her role in what Sebelius called “a strategy of dismissing and besmirching the women who stepped forward” with allegations against Bill Clinton.

Though the mainstream media had moved on to the newest wave of sexual harassment allegations and the latest Trump tweets, the Democratic establishment heard Sebelius loud and clear: Hillary Clinton cannot be the standard bearer for the Democratic Party going forward — not in these new times. Her inability to effectively leverage the Donald Trump Access Hollywood tape bears some responsibility for the electoral debacle in 2016.

Any other Democratic presidential nominee would have possessed the credibility to hit back hard against Trump. But not Hillary.

And it was no accident that Sebelius made this monumental statement on The Axe Files. Both Axelrod and Sebelius are Obama loyalists. Sebelius’ statement on Hillary was likely crafted at the highest levels of the Obama team.

Clearing a path to the nomination is not ‘rigging’ the election.

As long as Hillary Clinton continues to suck oxygen out of the Democratic’s Party’s air, rising stars like California Senator Kamala Harris (who was one of Obama’s earliest supporters in 2008) and Gillibrand are going to find it difficult to elevate their stature on the national stage.

It doesn’t help them that almost all big Democratic donors still have strong ties to the Clintons and, should Hillary run again, will be compelled to help her again amass a large campaign war chest going into 2020.

The Clintons have been playing this game for years and they are good at it.

The Clintons’ joint plan since Bill left office was a top-down strategy focused on facilitating Hillary’s rise to the presidency. Clinton Foundation fundraising, though ostensibly independent of Hillary’s U.S. Senate and presidential political campaign activities, shared many of the same big money domestic donors (e.g., Harvey Weinstein). This overlap, though legal, played close to the ethical margins and invited charges from Hillary’s political opponents that she was too often less than honest and always a bit dodgy. 

The Obama post-presidency, so far, is taking the opposite approach. Where the Clintons’ top-down leadership style kept the power and money under their control, the Obama approach appears, at this early point, to be directed towards building from the bottom up.

The irony here is that, during the Obama presidency, the Democratic Party’s state and national infrastructure was neglected. Perhaps driven by guilt, Obama now recognizes the Democrats will not realize the full extent of their demographic advantages vis-a-vis the Republicans until they regain their electoral footing at the local and state levels.

For almost three decades, since Michael Dukakis’ defeat in 1988, the Democrats have prioritized presidential politics over all other considerations.

It has paid dividends at the presidential level (Bill Clinton and Obama) and left the party needlessly weak and demoralized at other levels.

The Trump presidency has changed the Democrats’ orientation however — though it remains to be seen how the Resistance’s energy can reduce the Democrats’ geographic clustering problem. Unless there is a secret plan in the works to relocate some California Democrats to Montana and Iowa, the Democrats will struggle to win and maintain control of the U.S. House and the Electoral College will always confound their efforts to win back the presidency.

The good news for the Democrats is that Obama and his Justice League team are working all angles of the problem. They want the presidency back as well as control of the U.S. Congress and all other levels of government.

In this project, Obama will never publicly promote one presidential candidate over another until that person has secured the Democratic nomination, but he will never allow the Clinton’s to be significant players in selecting the next Democratic nominee either.

With an assist from the Russians and FBI Director James Comey, Hillary Clinton blew it in 2016 in part due to her inability to credibly exploit Trump’s documented mistreatment of women. Obama and his team have subtly but definitively let Democratic donors know that.

Hillary’s acolytes nonetheless continue to plant seeds of hope that she will run for president in 2020 (Mike Vespa’s plea is a good example) — but that will not happen. The Clinton era is finally over. And say ‘Hello’ to the Democrats’ next presidential nominee, Kamala Harris.


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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.