Computational Propaganda

Sick of all this memo talk? Too bad, because thanks to Lynna, OM in the Political Madness thread I discovered a new term: “computational propaganda,” or the use of computers to help spread talking points and generate “grassroots” activism. It’s a lot more advanced than running a few bots, too. You’ll have to read the article to learn the how and why, but I can entice you with its conclusion:

The problem with the term “fake news” is that it is completely wrong, denoting a passive intention. What is happening on social media is very real; it is not passive; and it is information warfare. There is very little argument among analytical academics about the overall impact of “political bots” that seek to influence how we think, evaluate and make decisions about the direction of our countries and who can best lead us—even if there is still difficulty in distinguishing whose disinformation is whose. Samantha Bradshaw, a researcher with Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Research Project who has helped to document the impact of “polbot” activity, told me: “Often, it’s hard to tell where a particular story comes from. Alt-right groups and Russian disinformation campaigns are often indistinguishable since their goals often overlap. But what really matters is the tools that these groups use to achieve their goals: Computational propaganda serves to distort the political process and amplify fringe views in ways that no previous communication technology could.”

This machinery of information warfare remains within social media’s architecture. The challenge we still have in unraveling what happened in 2016 is how hard it is to pry the Russian components apart from those built by the far- and alt-right—they flex and fight together, and that alone should tell us something. As should the fact that there is a lesser far-left architecture that is coming into its own as part of this machine. And they all play into the same destructive narrative against the American mind.

Democracies have not faced a challenge like this since yellow journalism.

The Nunes Memo

To understand what the memo is talking about, you have to trace back three separate threads.

Carter Page. In 2013, a number of Russian government agents tried to recruit him, via a lucrative deal with Gazprom. In return, Page admits to feeding them documents (which he claims were “basic immaterial information and publicly available research documents”). As luck would have it, at least one of those agents was already under surveillance (which would later lead to a conviction for espionage), so the FBI asked for and got a FISA warrant to ensure Page wasn’t part of a Russian spy network. That would have been scary, as Page was an advisor to then-candidate Donald Trump. These warrants expire every 90 days, and if the government wants them renewed they have to plead their case to a judge in a special court. The warrant against Page was renewed at least four times, by multiple people and multiple judges.

George Papadopoulos. According to the New York Times, “During a night of heavy drinking at an upscale London bar in May 2016, George Papadopoulos, a young foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, made a startling revelation to Australia’s top diplomat in Britain: Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton.” By “dirt,” he meant “stolen emails;” a spear-phishing campaign against the DNCC by a Russian government hacking group dubbed “Fancy Bear” succeeded in mid-March 2016, and on April 26th a Russian intelligence agent was teasing Papadopoulos with the emails. When they were released to the public in July 2016, the FBI opened an investigation into Papadopoulos. According to his guilty plea to the Special Investigator, Papadopoulos was bullish on getting Trump to meet Vladimir Putin and kept up his contacts with Russian spies during his time on the Trump campaign. As late as December 4th of 2016, Papadopoulos was publicly calling himself a Trump advisor.

Fusion GPS. In multiple congressional testimonies, Glenn Simpson said that his company was hired by The Washington Free Beacon to dig up dirt on Trump. Fusion GPS’s research found a tonne of it, most notably potential money laundering for Russian oligarchs. Simpson hired Christopher Steele, a former British spy with decades of Russia experience and a solid track record, to investigate the Russian angle. Steele’s work would eventually become “the Trump Dossier” (which may need to be renamed, as I somehow missed a second dossier). Partway through generating the 17 separate memos which would become The Dossier, Trump was crowned the official Republican presidential candidate and the Washington Free Beacon stopped funding it; the Democratic National Committee then picked up the tab. What Steele found had him so terrified that he, with Simpson’s approval, started sharing the information around. The first contact was an FBI agent in Rome; when the FBI themselves seemed oddly disinterested, he went to journalist David Corn and later Senator John McCain. The Dossier’s veracity has improved over time, and the Kremlin may have iced one of Steele’s contacts.

You’ll need a bit more background to fully grok it, but I can sprinkle that in while covering the claims of the memo itself.

[Read more…]

Winning Hearts and Minds

I’ll forgive you if haven’t heard of Ian Danskin, if only because he’s primarily known on YouTube as Innuendo Studios. You know, the person behind “Why Are You So Angry?” and more recently “The Alt-Right Playbook.” The latter project is aimed at sharpening the rhetoric of progressives to better defend against the “playbook” the Alt-Right uses in online arguments. It’s still a work in progress, but recently Danskin tried to jump ahead and compress it all into a single lecture.

[Read more…]

Are You As Smart As A President?

During his annual physical, Trump petitioned for, and got, a test of his mental abilities. The doc says he got a perfect mark. Let’s set aside that he also makes some questionable claims about Trump’s shape, and accept that part as accurate. The president himself is glowing about the high marks he got.

With North Korea persisting as the major global challenge facing Trump this year, the president cast doubt on whether talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would be useful. In the past he has not ruled out direct talks with Kim. “I’d sit down, but I‘m not sure that sitting down will solve the problem,” he said, noting that past negotiations with the North Koreans by his predecessors had failed to rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

He blamed his three immediate predecessors, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, for failing to resolve the crisis and, a day after his doctor gave him a perfect score on a cognitive test, suggested he had the mental acuity to solve it.

“I guess they all realized they were going to have to leave it to a president that scored the highest on tests,” he said.

As luck would have it, the test Trump took has both a work sheet and instructions available online. I recommend you spare a moment for it, but as a teaser I’ll share a few questions.

  • Indicate the right third of the space and give the following instructions: “Draw a clock. Put in all the numbers and set the time to 10 past 11”.
  • The examiner gives the following instructions: “Tell me the date today”. If the subject does not give a complete answer, then prompt accordingly by saying: “Tell me the [year, month, exact date, and day of the week].” Then say: “Now, tell me the name of this place, and which city it is in.”
  • Beginning on the left, point to each figure and say: “Tell me the name of this animal”.
  • The examiner gives the following instructions: “I am going to read you a sentence. Repeat it after me, exactly as I say it [pause]: “I only know that John is the one to help today.” Following the response, say: “Now I am going to read you another sentence. Repeat it after me, exactly as I say it [pause]: “The cat always hid under the couch when dogs were in the room.”

Take the presidential challenge! If you can equal his score, maybe you’re also fit enough to have partial control over the world’s largest military and full control of the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.

[HJH 2018-01-17] In hindsight, I’m a little worried the above comes off as ablest. The Montreal Cognitive Assessment is a legit test, and quite useful for certain things.

It’s a pretty useful tool to quickly assess dementia symptoms, or to assess cognitive functioning after a stroke. A 2007 study in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry found the Montreal Cognitive Assessment correctly detected 94 percent of patients with mild cognitive impairment, performing better than another test of cognitive wherewithal. It’s been shown to be helpful in identifying symptoms in Parkinson’s patients, and in those who have suffered a stroke.

The point is that it’s a really odd thing to boast about. It’s more difficult to own a driver’s license or graduated high school than pass this test. Breaking out the Champaign tells me you either lack enough intelligence to understand what the test is about, or you are so isolated that you think everyone’s beef with you is that you have dementia. It ain’t, I assure you.

Deeper and Deeper He Goes

The last few days have made it clear Trump has no minimum standards of ethics or decency, and it extends well beyond shitholes.

Trump condo sales that match [the US] Treasury [department]’s characteristics of possible money laundering totaled $1.5 billion, BuzzFeed News calculated. They accounted for 21% of the 6,400 Trump condos sold in the US. Those figures include condos that Trump developed as well as condos that others developed in his name under licensing deals that pay Trump a fee or a percentage of sales.

Some of the secretive sales date back more than three decades, long before recent worries that Russians tried to influence Trump by pouring millions of dollars into his businesses.

But a months-long BuzzFeed News examination of every Trump condominium sale in the US shows that such sales surged in the late 2000s and early 2010s, when some Trump businesses were in financial trouble and when Donald Trump Jr. made his now-famous remark about the Trump Organization seeing “a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

No wonder Trump marked his business as a red line that cannot be crossed, he’s likely been helping Russian oligarchs launder their money. And while Wolff has a less-than-stellar journalistic record, this sounds like something he taped (bolding mine).

It was clear where Mueller and his team were going, said Bannon: they would trace a money trail through Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen, and Jared Kushner and roll one or all of them on the president.

It’s Shakespearean, he said, enumerating the bad advice from his family circle: “It’s the geniuses, the same people who talked him into firing Comey, the same people on Air Force One who cut out his outside legal time, knowing the email was out there, knowing that email existed, put the statement out about Don Junior, that the meeting was all about adoptions … the same geniuses trying to get Sessions fired.

“Look, Kasowitz has known him for twenty-five years. Kasowitz has gotten him out of all kinds of jams. Kasowitz on the campaign- what did we have, a hundred women? Kasowitz took care of them all. And now he lasts, what, four weeks? He’s in the mumble tank. This is New York’s toughest lawyer, broken. Mark Corallo, toughest motherfucker I ever met, just can’t do it.”

“Took care” of “a hundred women?” It sounds an awful lot like Kasowitz paid off hundreds of sexual harassment complaints against Trump. Given news just broke another of Trump’s lawyers may have paid $130,000 to a porn star to bury a sexual encounter, and that over a dozen women accused Trump of sexual harassment or worse is, it’s not that far-fetched.

No wonder Republican representatives are fleeing their party in record numbers. Who wants to share a party with Trump?

[2018/01/13 HJH] PZ Myers brings up an excellent point:

Which means that when a porn actress, Stormy Daniels, says she did not have sex with Donald Trump, you should believe her, barring any solid evidence to the contrary. It is a non-story. At its worst it might be a tale of consensual sexual interactions between two people, one of whom is sleazy and repellent (it’s not Daniels I’m talking about)…but as long as it’s consensual, it’s only their business.

This is nothing but an attempt to harm Donald Trump, an activity I might approve of, by associating him with the unfair disrepute of sex workers. All it can do is further damage the standing of sex workers in general and Stormy Daniels in particular, to no good end.

Still, I think I can mount a worthy counter-argument. The following is an edited version of a comment I posted, with a few more links added.

For one thing, the evidence that nothing happened consists of a letter being produced by Donald Trump’s lawyer. For decades, Trump has lied and openly defied the law; forging a letter wouldn’t be a big deal for him or his “pit bull” lawyer.

Secondly, sex workers almost never talk about their clients. We live in a culture which heavily shames them for their work, so clients usually demand discretion to protect their reputations from splash damage. Coming forward about Publicly naming a client would pretty much kill a sex worker’s career. Nonetheless, Daniels was in negotiations with two separate news organisations to discuss one of her clients before mysteriously cutting off contact. She must have had a good reason to go that far.

Thirdly, we have plausible reason to think something non-consensual happened. Trump has nineteen women claiming sexual harassment or worse against him. His time as owner of Miss Universe demonstrates his sub-human view of women, and those beliefs are correlated with likelihood of sexual assault. It’s quite plausible Daniels was forced into non-consensual acts, and even a sex-positive view of sex work would condemn that. It would also explain Daniels’ move to talk with news organisations, which came at a time when allegations of sexual assault against Trump were a news topic.

There’s a chance Daniels was just in it for the money, of course. But I think there’s reason enough to report on this story, above and beyond our society’s taboo about sex.

Kremlin Watch: Papadopoulos, Fusion GPS, and Fake Americans

The Last Jedi was excellent. My scribbled notes may turn into a blog post at some point, but until then I need another pick-me-up. And what better cheer is there than foreign governments messing with US politics, amirite?

Return Of The FBI

It looks like we’ve got our answer to why the FBI was looking into Trump, and it involves booze and Australians.

During a night of heavy drinking at an upscale London bar in May 2016, George Papadopoulos, a young foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, made a startling revelation to Australia’s top diplomat in Britain: Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton. About three weeks earlier, Mr. Papadopoulos had been told that Moscow had thousands of emails that would embarrass Mrs. Clinton, apparently stolen in an effort to try to damage her campaign. […]

The hacking and the revelation that a member of the Trump campaign may have had inside information about it were driving factors that led the F.B.I. to open an investigation in July 2016 into Russia’s attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of President Trump’s associates conspired.

Bravo on this one, New York Times. It also swats down the “coffee boy” line about Papadopoulos.

He was hardly central to the daily running of the Trump campaign, yet Mr. Papadopoulos continuously found ways to make himself useful to senior Trump advisers. In September 2016, with the United Nations General Assembly approaching and stories circulating that Mrs. Clinton was going to meet with Mr. Sisi, the Egyptian president, Mr. Papadopoulos sent a message to Stephen K. Bannon, the campaign’s chief executive, offering to broker a similar meeting for Mr. Trump.

After days of scheduling discussions, the meeting was set and Mr. Papadopoulos sent a list of talking points to Mr. Bannon, according to people familiar with those interactions. Asked about his contacts with Mr. Papadopoulos, Mr. Bannon declined to comment.

There’s also proposals to write “neutral” opinion pieces in favour of Trump, taking advantage of his access. Well worth the read.

Fusion GPS Strikes Back

The news about Papadopoulos also undercuts a Republican talking point: Fusion GPS’s “pee tape” dossier kicked off the FBI investigation, and since that was paid for by Democrats the FBI is now tainted with Democrat cooties. Or something like that, the argument’s never made much sense to me. Whatever the case, two of the people behind Fusion GPS are pushing back.

We walked investigators through our yearlong effort to decipher Mr. Trump’s complex business past, of which the Steele dossier is but one chapter. And we handed over our relevant bank records — while drawing the line at a fishing expedition for the records of companies we work for that have nothing to do with the Trump case.

Republicans have refused to release full transcripts of our firm’s testimony, even as they selectively leak details to media outlets on the far right. It’s time to share what our company told investigators.

We don’t believe the Steele dossier was the trigger for the F.B.I.’s investigation into Russian meddling. As we told the Senate Judiciary Committee in August, our sources said the dossier was taken so seriously because it corroborated reports the bureau had received from other sources, including one inside the Trump camp.

The intelligence committees have known for months that credible allegations of collusion between the Trump camp and Russia were pouring in from independent sources during the campaign. Yet lawmakers in the thrall of the president continue to wage a cynical campaign to portray us as the unwitting victims of Kremlin disinformation.

As if that wasn’t eyebrow raising enough, Glenn R. Simpson and Peter Fritsch tease some of that testimony.

We told Congress that from Manhattan to Sunny Isles Beach, Fla., and from Toronto to Panama, we found widespread evidence that Mr. Trump and his organization had worked with a wide array of dubious Russians in arrangements that often raised questions about money laundering. Likewise, those deals don’t seem to interest Congress.

There’s more, but you’ll have to click through for that.

Attack Of The Cloned Americans

On top of all that, Russia shows up in an unexpected place. The FCC, like a number of departments in the US government, request public input on big policy changes. The number of comments coming in about Net Neutrality broke records, and for poor reason.

A study has found more than 7.75 million comments were submitted from email domains attributed to, and they had nearly identical wording. The FCC says some of the nearly 23 million comments on Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal to gut Obama-era rules were filed under the same name more than 90 times each.

And then there were the 444,938 from Russian email addresses, which also raised eyebrows, even though it’s unclear if they were from actual Russian citizens or computer bots originating in the U.S. or elsewhere.

The oddities in the FCC’s inbox have attracted scrutiny from New York’s attorney general and from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which has opened a probe. […. New York Attorney General Eric] Schneiderman said the FCC had not cooperated with his investigation.

Rachael Maddow, my source for this story and inspiration for this blog post, goes into detail about those shenanigans and similar ones afoot. It’s worth pointing out that this one may have nothing to do with the Kremlin; automated bots are common enough that their mere existence says little about their origins, and while the Russian emails are weird there were also a tonne from Germany. Still, it does fit in with Kremlin tactics.

The point of this new propaganda is not to persuade anyone, but to keep the viewer hooked and distracted—to disrupt Western narratives rather than provide a counternarrative. It is the perfect genre for conspiracy theories, which are all over Russian TV. When the Kremlin and its affiliated media outlets spat out outlandish stories about the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in July—reports that characterized the crash as everything from an assault by Ukrainian fighter jets following U.S. instructions, to an attempted NATO attack on Putin’s private jet—they were trying not so much to convince viewers of any one version of events, but rather to leave them confused, paranoid, and passive—living in a Kremlin-controlled virtual reality that can no longer be mediated or debated by any appeal to ‘truth.’

Their goal is to get “the West” to stop believing in democracy, and the day we stop believing democracy can work is the day we lose it.

Uh Oh

Apologies for setting off the fire alarm, but:

Francis Rooney (R-FL): I’m very concerned that the DOJ and the FBI, whether you want to call it deep state or what, are kind of off the rails. People need a good, clean government.

Hallie Jackson: Do you think people don’t have a good clean government? … There are those that look at comments, like the ones that you’re making, and say that Republicans are working to, essentially, try to discredit the Department of Justice and thus discredit the Russia investigations. Is that not what you’re doing?

Rooney: No, I don’t want to discredit’m. I, just, I would like to see the directors of the agencies purge it, and say, look, we’ve got a lot of great agents, a lot of great lawyers here. Those are the people I want the American people to see, and know the good works being done. Not these people, who are kind of the deep state.

Jackson: Language like that, congressman, “purge?” Purge the Department of Justice?

Rooney: Well, I think that Mr. Strzok could be purged, sure.

To put that in context, Peter Strzok exchanged a series of private texts with Lisa Page, while Strzok was part of Mueller’s Special Council investigation. Upon learning of the texts, Mueller removed him from the case. Just over three months later, a selection of those texts were released to Fox News and Republican lawmakers, who immediately seized on Strzok’s anti-Trump comments as proof of bias. Problem is, only a subset of those texts were ever released, from an active investigation into the situation, and the Department of Justice is refusing to answer important questions about them. Also, Strzok had a lot of opinions.

Regarding Clinton, Strzok once texted, “I’m worried about what happens if HRC is elected.” He also referred to Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea Clinton, as “self-entitled,” and dismissed Sen. Bernie Sanders, I – Vt., as an “idiot.” Page also called Sanders supporters “idiots.” They also both had low opinions of President Barack Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, with Strzok writing it was “wildly offensive” for Holder’s portrait to be next to that of iconic Attorney General Elliott Richardson and insisting that a television be turned off when Holder spoke at the Democratic National Convention.

Page perhaps best summed up their worldview when she texted Strzok during lunch with an unidentified person: “We both hate everyone and everything.”

Finally, there’s no evidence Strzok’s private opinions had any influence on Mueller’s investigation of Trump! Remember the “active investigation” bit? When the texts were released to Republicans and Fox News, the DoJ had still not concluded an internal probe into the matter. Now that those texts have been hopelessly politicised, how can that investigation remain free of charges of bias?

And yet, based on that context, a Republican Congressperson is ready to “purge” the FBI of people like Strzok. People who, so far, are only guilty of privately saying mean things about the US President.


We’re not even a year into Trump’s presidency, yet the United States is becoming an authoritarian state far faster than I thought possible. Others are catching on to this, too.

Note that the calls for a “purge” of the FBI and DOJ are becoming more explicit, actually using the word “purge” and moving from the right-wing publications to sitting members of Congress. A small part of this is simple partisanship, what threatens the leader of your political party is bad and needs to be attacked. But what we’re seeing goes far, far beyond that and can only be explained by the Republican right’s broader embrace of authoritarianism, which both predates Trump, accounts for his rise and has in turn been accelerated by his presidency.

This point is critical to remember. Trump’s flouting of democratic norms during the campaign was a core element, perhaps the core element, of his appeal. Support for Trump certainly wasn’t in spite of this. Nor was it incidental. We focus on Trump’s antics. They remain erratic and unbridled. But equally important, probably more important, is the absence of any overriding respect for the rule of law or democratic norms among his supporters. Functionally that means the entire Republican party, even if individual Republican officeholders may express a muted displeasure.

Others were way ahead of me.

Given that some of [Rep. Lindsey] Graham’s worst fears about Trump’s Kremlin ties and mental state have been legitimized, what accounts for the senator’s changed attitude toward the president? There are a variety of possible rationales available for conjecture, many of which apply to the GOP at large. Opportunism may play a role, as Graham complies with Trump in order to pursue right-wing extremist economic policies and war. Blackmail may also be an issue, given that Graham has admitted his email was hacked, as was the RNC’s, by Russia. Trump has derided and threatened members of Congress and private citizens, and it’s not a stretch to imagine him unleashing his fire– publicly or privately–on Graham.

Graham’s radical change in rhetoric is reminiscent of the behavior one sees in autocratic regimes when potential political opponents are mollified or threatened into compliance. But the truly troubling question is not what is driving his changed behavior, but what it means for the rest of the GOP, especially as speculation mounts that the Trump administration could end Mueller’s investigation and propagandists recast Republicans like James Comey and Mueller as enemies of the state. In 2016, Graham initiated the call for an investigation into Trump’s Kremlin ties. In 2018, judging by his recent actions, Graham may lead the way in ensuring there are no consequences for what investigators have discovered.

Either way, it’s time to panic. Americans, your democracy is rapidly degrading! There is no better time to become politically active, to petition your representatives, and push back against those that would rob you of political power. The rest of the world is counting on you, because the consequences will effect the rest of us.

Words Still Have Meanings

It’s a bit amusing to sit down to write something, only to realize you’ve said it better before.

But, rolling back to the start….

Sen. Susan Collins on Tuesday blasted coverage of her support for the GOP tax bill as “extremely discouraging” and “unbelievably sexist.” […]

“I believe that the coverage has been unbelievably sexist, and I cannot believe that the press would have treated another senator with 20 years of experience as they have treated me,” she told reporters in the Capitol. “They’ve ignored everything that I’ve gotten and written story after story about how I’m duped. How am I duped when all your amendments get accepted?”

Having dug into the details, there might be a faint glimmer of truth in there.

Collins also singled out a report that she said included a line about how she “didn’t cry” during a recent meeting with protesters, many of whom suffer from grave medical conditions. That line was later removed after Collins complained, but not before the story posted online.

And sure enough, if you read an archived copy of that New York Times article:

As a group of progressive activists and constituents prepared for a 15-minute meeting on Wednesday with Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, they sat in the lobby of her office and developed a last-ditch strategy to persuade her to vote against the $1.5 trillion tax bill barreling through Congress: tears.

“If Senator Collins actually saw you as a human, saw me as a human, then she wouldn’t pass any of this,” said Ady Barkan, a member of the Center for Popular Democracy, who recently learned he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or A.L.S., and uses a wheelchair. […]

After her meeting at her office, it did not appear that Ms. Collins was ready to change her vote, or that she had been brought to tears.

This fits into a common sexist stereotype.

One of the most persistent ideas about the differences between men and women is that women are more emotional than men. Research on stereotypes has shown emotionality to be one of the general dimensions of sex stereotypes: women are said to be more expressive, excitable, and easily hurt than men. They are also supposed to be more sensitive to the emotions of others […]. Not surprisingly then, when we think of an emotional person, a woman most quickly comes to our minds […].

The large and uncontested consensus about women’s greater emotionality not only characterizes common sense. The assumption that men and women fundamentally differ in their emotional lives can be found through the history of Western academic thought: whereas maleness stands for reason, femaleness is characterized by another mood of understanding, in which taste, sensibility, practical sense and feeling are more important […]. From the 19th century onwards, rationality and emotionality have largely become associated with the supposedly different natures of men and women, the former fitted for productive labor and the latter for household and emotional labor.

Fischer, Agneta H. “Sex differences in emotionality: Fact or stereotype?.” Feminism & Psychology 3.3 (1993): 303-318.

By using tears as a theme in that article, it was indirectly reinforcing the stereotype that women are driven more by emotion than logic and reason. That is sexist.

Except that’s not all the article said.

Ms. Collins remained respectful and strained to convince the room of about a dozen skeptics that the promises that had been made to her were ironclad. She defended her decision in the face of the group’s challenges that previous Republican promises for the tax bill had been broken, including a commitment to not add to the deficit and to not benefit the rich, and that written agreements are not law.

“I do not believe that I’ve given up leverage,” Ms. Collins said. “I’ve used my leverage to negotiate agreements that are promises to me.” She added, “I’m sorry that you don’t believe in the agreements.”

The deals that Ms. Collins struck that extend beyond the tax bill have been the subject of much speculation and doubt in Washington, because they would require the backing of House Republicans and some Democrats.

Alan Rappeport’s article primarily presents Collins as a rational, autonomous agent. The Senator claims she has negotiated for bipartisan health legislation and against automatic Medicare cuts. It puts that front and centre, focusing on the debate over how secure those pledges to Collins have been, and leaves the call to emotion as a background theme. At the other end, emotion is a strong tool in the activists’ toolkit. Appeals to emotion are not automatically sexist, they only become that way when generalized across a sex. Rappeport’s article was not directly sexist, as it did not explicitly state women are more driven by emotion; at best, it indirectly contributed to existing sexist stereotypes. That’s not a good thing, but that has to be weighed against the large portions where it indirectly challenges those stereotypes as well.

Note as well that the Senator claimed her coverage was “unbelievably sexist.” Yet when pressed, the best example she could give is the indirect, conflicting example above. It’s a pretty safe bet that Collins is conflating “criticizing women” with “sexism,” possibly in an attempt to defend herself from people critiquing the strength of her concessions. She might also legitimately misunderstand what “sexism” means, a terribly common problem.

I was going to transition to talking about how Status Quo Warriors rely on ignorance of terms to support their views, but I realized past-me already did an excellent job on that subject. So please accept this brief meditation on sexism instead, and follow the link for more interesting reading.