Category: Elections

Countering Republican Debate Tactics

For better or for worse, many of us find ourselves debating Republicans on Facebook and other forums. A brilliant video from John Oliver reveals the tactics used by Trump and his followers to distract and waste our time. I’ve embedded it below, and it will improve both your efficiency and effectiveness online.

If you prefer reading about it, Rolling Stone wrote about the video in an article entitled, Watch John Oliver Break Down Trump’s Three Dangerous Manipulation Tactics, which you can read or skim my thoughts below.

The three tactics are delegitimizing the press (Fake News), Whataboutism, and trolling. Here are some examples of how they’ve been used and some ideas on how to refute them.

Delegitimizing the Press (Fake News)

Republicans criticize every source of news that they disagree with. They don’t feel the need to cite alternative sources that contradict the facts, they just cry Fake News and act like they’ve proven their case.

On Facebook, I’ve had posters question Snopes.com, the Congressional Budget Office, FactCheck.org, the Guardian, Wikipedia, and many other sources. The best policy I’ve found is to cite original sources whenever possible. So don’t cite Wikipedia, cite the source cited by Wikipedia. Same with Snopes, or the Washington Post, or CNN.

When challenged, I ask whether they have any reputable sources that they can cite to disprove the facts I’ve stated. If they don’t cite any sources, I stop responding to their claims. “I’ll be glad to address any facts that you cite with sources, but otherwise, I’ll just stick with the position that I’ve proven.” 

Whataboutism

The next tactic is “whataboutism.” One frequent use by Trump after the election was to repeat the lie about Clinton giving 20% of the US’ uranium to Russia in exchange for contributions to the Clinton Foundation, despite the fact that the claims are patently baseless, as detailed in this PolitiFact article.

The response is to steer the conversation back to the issue at hand. For example, “even assuming what you’re saying is true, which it’s not, you’re saying that it’s OK for Trump to have colluded with the Russians because Clinton did this?” The risk is that the Republican will claim a double standard, or that the media is only focused on the issue because it’s Trump.

The best thing to do here is to simply beg off. “I’m willing to talk about Trump’s many ties to Russia and the treasonous nature of the Trump Tower meetings (as Steve Bannon has pointed out), but I’m not going to respond to extraneous claims.” If you can then make an additional statement in support of your original argument, perhaps you can get the Republican back on track.

I’m not saying it’s easy, particularly when the claim is a whopper, but recognize that it’s a tactic, an attempt to divert your attention and wear you down. Don’t get sucked in.

Trolling

The final tactic is trolling, or making provocative statements just to anger you and get a reaction. Call it another distraction technique. There are dozens of Trump examples, including his tweets about President Obama wiretapping his home in Trump Tower. The answer here is to just not engage. “Even if President Obama did wiretap Trump’s apartment, which I’m sure he didn’t, I don’t see how that’s relevant to discussing how the new tax bill benefits the rich.”

My favorite example from Facebook demonstrates all three tactics. In a discussion about healthcare (healthcare?!), a poster brought up that Hillary Clinton admired Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, who in 1924 spoke to a group of KKK women about birth control and once supported Eugenics. This is a clear example of both whataboutism and trolling. As you can see, I bit and found a Snopes article that refuted her claim, to which she used the first tactic, delegitimizing the press, of course citing no sources.  

The best response would have been, “Even if what you’re saying is true, which I’m sure it’s not, this has nothing to do with health care. Let’s stick to that, shall we?” Next time I’ll say that, and avoid getting pulled down the rabbit hole.

Many of us fighting the good fight have full-time jobs, and all of us have better things to do than waste time debating inefficiently. Watch for these tactics, recognize them when you see them and respond strategically.

I’m not a huge Oliver fan, but this bit is brilliant. Take five and have a look and listen.

Democrats Paint Virginia Blue

It’s shining today in the VA9th, even if the sun never peeks beyond the gray clouds currently painting the sky. Yesterday, Virginia voters painted the state blue, choosing the better gubernatorial candidate, rejecting campaigns based upon lies and negative ads, and rejecting the fraud who currently resides in the White House. Let’s hope it’s just the first step towards rolling back the malignant tide of divisiveness and policies by the rich for the rich formulated by Trump and his Republican enablers in both houses, including Morgan Griffith.

While overjoyed at the result, we have our work cut out for us in the upcoming Congressional race, as most of the VA9th was solidly red by margins close to 80%. Clearly, the statewide elections were won in NOVA.

But the campaign to unseat Griffith begins today, it begins now. Griffith has done little but trumpet the policies of the White House, which is particularly galling since there are few rich people in his district and many who need health care. Griffith has no vision to help make the VA9th strong and vibrant again, his major legislative efforts support large pharmaceutical companies or seek to undermine government-based offices like the Congressional Budget Office that help keep both parties honest. He supports and enables the lies that Trump keeps telling and fewer and fewer voters keep believing. We’re coming for you, Griffith, and if last night’s election doesn’t throw fear into your heart, you’re not paying attention.

We thank everyone on both sides who shared their honest views and emotions on our Facebook page over the last few months; intelligent conversation benefits everyone. To those who cursed, insulted, spread lies and mistruths, or attempted bullying, or those who debased the conversation with idiotic memes, we hope you learned from Gillespie’s stunning loss that lies and negativity don’t sway the Virginia voter. We’re big boys and girls and can take your insults, but if you want to be effective, try calm, supported logic. Or not. Keep doing what you’re doing to help us unseat Griffith and elect a Democratic congressman who will actually support the district. 

Northam vs. Gillespie: Experience and Readiness for Office

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam is pro-choice, supports Obamacare, and thinks the NRA “went off the deep end long ago.” He also thinks Trump is a “narcissistic maniac,” which carries some weight since he is board certified in Psychiatry.

His Republican opponent, Ed Gillespie, is pro-life, wants to repeal Obamacare, and is endorsed by the NRA. Though Gillespie likes to distance himself from Trump, he just hired Jack Morgan, Trump’s Southwest Virginia field director, to play a similar role for his campaign. According to Morgan, those who advocate removing Confederate monuments represent a “communist plot to undermine America.“ In a Scaramucci-like tone, Morgan recently ranted, “We have to combat these crazy leftists, some socialists, but a whole lot of communists…who are coming after our country and after our foundation.” So at least by association, Gillespie is firmly in the Trump camp.

We recognize that the facts and positions represented above have probably convinced 95% of the voters which way to go. For those who want to dig a bit deeper beyond a single issue, we present a series of essays that discuss aspects of each candidate. This essay covers experience and readiness for office.

Meet Ed

On his website, Ed Gillespie details “Ed’s Background” as a business owner with multiple distinguished roles serving Republican elected officials, including House Majority Leader Dick Armey and President George W. Bush. Gillespie also served in multiple positions within national and state Republican committees.

Nowhere on this page does it mention that Gillespie made his fortune as a Washington DC lobbyist. According to Wikipedia, between founding Quinn Gillespie & Associates in 2000 and the end of 2002, the firm had received $27.4 million in lobbying fees from companies like Microsoft, Verizon Wireless, and Enron (yes, that Enron). According to multiple sources, Gillespie sold his first firm for $40 million in 2004 and has since then set up his own shop, Ed Gillespie Strategies.

In fact, below is a timeline of Gillespie’s employment record from Open Secrets.org, which you can click to see at full screen. Other than a 2-year stint at the White House in 2007-2008, Gillespie has been lobbying more or less continuously since the mid-90s.

Few lobbyists straddled the line between serving their party and serving their lobbying clients more closely than Gillespie. When President Bush named Gillespie chairman of the Republican National Committee in 2004, watchdog group Public Citizen stated, “President Bush’s decision to name lobbyist Ed Gillespie as chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) will give one of Washington’s prominent power-brokers unrivaled access, influence and opportunity to further the interests of his corporate benefactors and his own lobbying firm.” More to the point, in 2007, the Washingtonian stated that Gillespie “has turned his relationship with President Bush into an $18-million business.

When Gillespie lost his 2014 Senate bid to Senator Mark Warner, he quickly rejoined consulting firm Brunswick Group as senior counselor and continuing lobbying work with his own firm. It seems clear that if he loses the Gubernatorial race, he’ll return to lobbying yet again.

Sending a Lobbyist To Richmond “Would be a Disaster”

There’s nothing illegal about lobbying of course, though it is disturbing that Gillespie fails to include any mention of lobbying on his website. Clearly, he doesn’t see it as a strength.

Interestingly, neither did communist-hating Jack Morgan, back when he campaigned for Corey Stewart, Gillespie’s opponent in the Republican primary. Specifically, in an April 2017 meeting with the Southwest Virginia Republican Women’s Club, Morgan stated, “it would be a shame — that I put [in] all the time I did, and all of you folks put in all the time you did…to send Donald Trump to Washington, D.C., to drain the swamp, and send a lobbyist to Richmond…That would be a disaster.”


Selling access and influence for money, the essence of lobbying, is legal in the private sector but a federal crime once in elected office…which makes you wonder what relevant experience Gillespie can bring to a position as Virginia Governor.


Perhaps Morgan was referring to the fact that selling access and influence for money, the essence of lobbying, is legal in the private sector but a federal crime once in elected office. Perhaps Morgan recognizes that Gillespie has spent most of the last 20 years practicing skills he can’t legally use if elected.

In this regard, it’s also useful to scan Gillespie’s employment timeline above for any mention of work at the state or local level. There’s little, if any, which makes you wonder what relevant experience Gillespie can bring to a position as Virginia Governor. With a one-term limit, we need a Governor who can hit the ground running, not someone who needs to learn on the job.

Meet Ralph

Ralph Northam served in the military from 1984 – 1992, practices as a pediatric neurologist, and has taught medicine and ethics as an assistant professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School. Among other volunteer activities, for 18 years, Northam has volunteered as medical director for the Edmarc Hospice for Children in Portsmouth, where he cares for terminally ill children.

From 2007 through 2013, Northam served as a state senator, and he was elected Lieutenant Governor in Virginia in 2013. According to the Virginia Constitution, this is not a ceremonial position. Rather,

“According to the Constitution of Virginia, the Lieutenant Governor’s official duties are to serve as President of the Senate and preside over the Senate. In addition to these Constitutional responsibilities, the Code of Virginia provides that the Lieutenant Governor shall serve as a member of several other state boards, commissions and councils, including the Board of Trustees of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation and the Center for Rural Virginia; the Board of Directors of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and the Virginia Tourism Authority; the Virginia Military Advisory Council, the Commonwealth Preparedness Council and the Council on Virginia’s Future.”

In essence, the Lieutenant Governor position is a training ground for the position of Governor, which is why three of the last eight Lieutenant Governors were elected to that position, most recently Tim Kaine.

To Summarize

Northam has ten years of state legislative experience, four years as the second highest elected executive in the state, and absolutely nothing to hide.

Gillespie has no state level experience, and little other experience he can use as Governor, at least legally. He also has more gaps in his online resume than the Nixon tapes, which really makes you wonder what else he isn’t telling us.

Which is a great lead into our next topic, Ed’s tax plan, which we’ll post next week. Here, Ed isn’t telling us that Kansas tried pretty much the same plan, and it failed miserably. Back in a week.

Liebrecht: More People Need to Vote

By Nancy Liebrecht

Virginia recently held its primary for the governor’s race. A total of 908,994 people voted, just 16 percent of the state’s registered voters. This is appalling, and it is a critical reason why our government is so dysfunctional. People are not involved and are not paying consistent attention to the issues. This is a problem for both parties.

It used to be that the Republican Party championed conservative values such as prudence, frugality, self-reliance and a belief in evolutionary versus revolutionary change. National security and upholding our alliances were fundamental. The imperial presidency of Donald Trump reflects none of the party’s traditional values or positions. Our credibility on the international stage has been undermined by an impulsive president who has disrupted both old and new alliances. Fiscal responsibility is being jettisoned by proposed tax cuts that will primarily benefit the Trump family, the billionaires in the administration, and the folks with whom Trump associates at Mar-a-Lago. The rest of us may just get a few bucks to spend at Walmart, if that.

Trump’s trillion dollar infrastructure plan is now exposed as a plan to not build anything but to sell off public assets to corporations. Established climate science is ignored so that energy companies will continue to profit while ordinary people deal with the consequences of global warming, such as disease, increased fire hazard, water shortages, and more catastrophic weather events. In short, the Republican Party seems to have sold its collective soul to the corporate devil.

While the Republican Party was becoming a vehicle for oligarchs to gain and hold power, the Democrats were asleep at the wheel. The Democrats used to be the party of the working man, but for the past few decades, they bought into the idea that easy credit was the best means to bolster a slowing economy instead of making hard decisions of how to invest in both public and private sectors to achieve real economic growth.

While financial deregulation provided the appearance of economic growth, it fostered the excess of debt that produced the crash of 2008. It fueled speculation that has given us extreme income inequality, stagnant wages, financial instability and a dearth of new enterprises that are the real engines of economic growth. It is estimated that only 15 percent of capital sloshing around in financial institutions is actually used for research and development and creating businesses.

While Democrats were along for the ride on the credit rroller coaster there were some voices in the party who advocated reining in Wall Street and reinvesting in endeavors that provide long-term stability and growth. The two best known are Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, but lately there has been a surge in the formation of grassroots groups that are pushing for reform within the party, and people who never considered becoming politicians are running for office. The Progressive Ninth, a group in our area, is mostly comprised of regular people concerned about the direction of the country and how this will impact our communities.

The nascent progressive movement in the Democratic Party is rooted in the same sense of frustration with national politics that spawned the Tea Party, but there is a critical difference between the two movements. The Tea Party views government as being inherently evil and seeks to dismantle as much of it as possible. This leaves a vacuum into which power-seeking oligarchs are happy to move. Democratic Progressives recognize that government exists to provide for the common good and seek to refocus the Party on policies and actions that benefit most of us and not just the wealthy.

The current situation regarding health care exemplifies this. Antipathy to government and a desire to “shake things up” have given us a Republican president and Congress who are now working on a bill that will deprive millions of medical insurance while giving the wealthy a huge tax break. Universal access to health care is a big problem that only government can solve, but our elected representatives will not do this if we do not make our voices heard. That is not going to happen if only 16 percent of the electorate, Democrats and Republicans, can be bothered to learn about the issues, the candidates, and actually vote. We all need to get involved. We need to make an effort to understand the issues. We need to talk to people who may not agree with us, and most importantly, we need people who are genuinely motivated by civic duty to stand for public office.

Liebrecht is a retired landscape architect and environmental scientist. She lives in Fries. This article was originally published in the Roanoke Times.

Liebrecht: Voting against Trump

There are lots of reasons to vote against Donald Trump. A big one is his embrace of Vladimir Putin, a ruthless dictator ruling a petrostate with a failing economy. Putin maintains order in Russia, something Trump admires, by suppressing and even murdering his opponents while favoring the oligarchs who support him to the detriment of ordinary Russians.

Trump’s admiration may be rooted in genuine approval of a brutal strongman or because Trump is in debt up to his eyeballs to Russian oligarchs, or maybe both. We do know that all major U.S. banks have blackballed Trump due to his multiple bankruptcies, and we also know that the Trump Organization has, as a result, been reliant on Russian money to finance some endeavors. We do not know the extent of Trump’s reliance on Russian and other foreign financings since he has refused to reveal any tax or business records that might disclose conflicts of interest. There is, however, enough evidence to know that these conflicts exist.

A second reason for voting against Trump is his checkered business career built on exploiting bankruptcy laws and cheating regular Americans. He has a decade’s long history of not paying subcontractors for the goods and services that they provided to his projects, and this has caused real financial hardship and even complete ruin for some small businesses. Additionally, Trump’s history of bilking people out of their life savings via condo sales for buildings never constructed and fraudulent enterprises such as Trump University is well documented.

Ordinary Americans who think Trump is their voice and has their interests at heart ignore his record at the peril of the country. It is unlikely that he has had a change of heart after decades of exploiting regular working folks. In running for president he is just taking scamming to a new level.

Trump started his campaign railing against Mexican immigrants and quickly added Muslims to his list of foreign villains threatening our country. Finding an audience for his invective, he has ratcheted up the vitriol. Since he has a history of racism, of not renting apartments to “colored” people, he may believe what he says about immigrants, but this has not stopped him from employing both legal and illegal foreign workers, particularly when he could put more money in his pocket by doing so.

He used illegal Polish workers on the Trump Tower site in the 1980’s to avoid paying higher union wages to Americans. The Washington Post recently reported that illegal Mexican workers were used in the construction of Trump’s new hotel in Washington, D.C. From 2008 to 2015 685 H2-B visas for foreign workers were issued for service jobs at Trump’s Mar-A-Lago Resort in South Florida. The reason these visas were needed, according to the application forms, was that there were “no qualified Americans available,” but in 2015 alone, Career Source, a free employment agency in Palm Beach County, placed 1,800 American workers in service jobs in the Palm Beach area.

Finally, due to an apparent dearth of tall, skinny American girls, Trump Model Management has been importing young foreign women and employing them illegally on tourist visas since 1999. Clearly, Trump does not think even the existing rules on immigration should apply to him.

The fundamental reason for voting against Trump is his economic policies. Popular anger about increasing disparities in wealth and economic opportunities has fueled passions in a divisive campaign season. While employment rates have risen in the last few years and there is now an indication that middle-class incomes are also rising, too many Americans are living on the edge and feel trapped by the absence of opportunities to improve their lives. Their anger is justified. Forty years of financial deregulation and policies promoting trickle down economics have created this situation. Yes, there are problems with trade deals, and technology has eliminated jobs that once provided access to the middle-class, but the critical source of inequality and lack of economic opportunities is that policies and regulations based on trickle-down economics favor the one-percent to the detriment of the rest of us.

Trump’s proposals for huge tax cuts and broad deregulation in the expectation that this will jump-start growth are just more of same failed ideas that have got us where we are today. We should know by now that if we deregulate and cut taxes on the wealthy, they do not invest in America; they just keep the money, which will work out just fine for Trump and his kids, but not for us.

Liebrecht is a retired landscape architect and environmental scientist. She lives in Fries. This article was originally published in the Roanoke Times.