Monday, January 28, 2019

Consider This – Election Time Again (Already…)

We are barely out of the mid-term elections. The Democratic Party took back the House of Representatives, but the GOP retain the Senate. The holiday period brought with it a government shutdown, all over what has always been a questionable campaign promise and even more doubtful solution to an alleged crisis at the southern border. For over a month, a quarter of the federal workers went without pay – yet many still had to show up every day and do their job while the party leaders postured and posed about who was at fault and what they would and wouldn’t accept to re-open the government.

It took five weeks, and presumably it is only a temporary fix, with Trump still demanding funding for “The Wall” and the Democratic House under Nancy Pelosi saying “No.” Unless the House and Senate come to an agreement with a two-thirds approval from both legislative bodies, there remains the threat of another shutdown if Trump gets the opportunity to veto the next spending bill or budget solution.

And now, the next round begins for the bid to be the next President. Unlike other countries – for example, the United Kingdom – there is only a few weeks or months before a national election. But here the campaigning starts a long time out, and will continue up until the fateful day in November 2020. Also unlike other countries, because of the multi-party system, we have the Primaries in early 2020 to determine which candidate will represent each party (specifically the Democratic and Republican parties). So… those who want to try to be “the one” are starting to announce their bids for the nomination.

Since Trump is the President, there more than likely will not be a competitor for the GOP this time around (it is considered bad form, unless the incumbent is truly incompetent and a “lame duck” who doesn’t know to step down). 

For the Democratic Party, it’s a wide open field. The question will become which candidate will best represent the party in the end – and, we hope, The People – when the candidates are thinned out. There are already at least eight candidates announced in some form or fashion: Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Juli├ín Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, John Delaney, Pete Buttigieg, and Andrew Yang. Warren is one of the more senior members of the party, fairly well-known across the nation already. Does she represent the “old guard” which gave the nation the Clinton and Obama administrations? Some might say so. As for the rest, many are new to their current positions in government – as Senator, a member of Congress, Governor – most are lesser-known to the nation, but are trying to make themselves to be the best option.

Only time will tell. 

Consider this – these are not the only options.

Unfortunately, most of the voting public only considers these two main parties. Granted, there is good cause for this, since they truly are the two powerhouses in nearly every level of government. However, there are more than just these two parties; others include the Libertarian, the Green, and the Constitution, among many others. While any of these might be a viable option, because there are so many fragmented groups in the “3rdParty” affiliations, they won’t garner enough votes to make a major dent in the two-party power struggle that has become our federal government. The best these parties can be – for now – are protest votes against the current administration and “most likely” opposition candidate. Many will blame the failure of a one of these two candidates on the “throw away” votes given to a third party over their figurehead. This was seen in spectacular fashion with the 2016 campaign, where key votes in swing states went towards Trump and against Hillary because of the relative success in third party voting taking more than a few percentage points away from Hillary’s totals. This can be further corroborated with the overall success by Hillary with the Popular Vote – she won as the overall “People’s Choice” but lost in the Electoral College because of those key votes which took away from the electoral votes.

Could a third party make a significant difference, and perhaps even win a major election in the coming years? Certainly. The Libertarians already have some success with this, and because of their impact in 2016, are becoming a known contender to a limited extent. And even a truly independent candidate could pull up and contend for the high office; even though Bernie Sanders tried to play within the rules of the main two parties, and probably should have been given the nod by the DNC, it was backroom dealings which gave that nomination to Hillary. But Sanders made his run without official backing or funding from the party, or other major backers, instead depending on the donations of individuals.

Even if Sanders doesn’t run again this time, he has already set the stage and proven the capability of a true, grass-roots campaign geared towards representing We The People, and not corporations or other political entities which are trying to maintain the overall status quo with any “old guard” candidate from either party.

It truly is time for a change. To so many people, the country is taking many steps backwards from where it had been two years ago – let alone ten or twenty years ago. This conservative, non-participatory ideal is no longer the driving factor of our society, though, and with more, younger candidates stepping up to the plate, the upcoming competition in the next – and future – presidential election cycle is going to define where this country will head next.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Consider This – Getting the Facts Straight

Fake News. Alternate Facts. Misrepresentation. All claims against mainstream journalism – “The Media” – which come from Trump and those who support him. With the longest government shutdown in history still going, as well as the continuing investigation into Trump and his campaign, alleged collusion with the Russians, and continued unrest for various causes across the country, news outlets need to be extra cautions about stories, their sources, and their veracity.

In recent days, we’ve had the news service Buzzfeed report on alleged conversations between Trump and his former “fixer” Michael Cohen. In their online articles, Buzzfeed claimed to have evidence through a third party that these conversations did occur, where Trump directed Cohen to lie about prior conversations had between the campaign and Russian officials about a Russian Trump Tower plan. While Buzzfeed tries to be a serious journalistic outlet, in at least this case they jumped the gun without confirming their sources and seeing the evidence their source claimed to have. The original Buzzfeed article was picked up by major news networks and carried nationwide, and then the facts came into question when doubts were expressed on both sides of the story – even the Mueller investigation team denied some of the allegations in the article.

Also, just a few days after this bombshell of alleged wrongdoing, a group of high schoolers were in Washington DC as part of a school-sponsored trip. The trip was allegedly planned to correspond with this year’s Women’s March in order to protest against it. Initial reports, after a video appeared on Twitter, claimed the boys confronted a Native American man who was walking The Mall near the Lincoln Memorial. Later updates to the incident also showed another group of individuals which had been also protesting, which the student group had also been dealing with, and claims continue that Nathan Phillips approached the confrontation of these two groups in order to try and diffuse it. This was also picked up from the initial Twitter post, and spread virally through social and news media. More video was released from different angles, as well as statements from the two main players in the video – Nathan Phillips, and the smug-looking student face-to-face with him, Nick Sandmann.

Consider this – breaking news is breaking the news.

While the newer news outlet, Buzzfeed, may have jumped the gun a bit to try and break a story, it isn’t the first time any media service has made this mistake – and it won’t be the last. There was a well-known network news anchor who depended upon his team of producers – Dan Rather. The CBS News team thought they were breaking the story about George W. Bush’s questionable service in the Air National Guard, but it came down to a lot of hearsay and no confirmable facts. Even now, respectable, mainstream media outlets, are trying to out-do each other and the plethora of online news startups (or “upstarts” as some think of these non-standard news sources). Even social media is a challenge to those traditional sources, since anyone with a smartphone and a Twitter account can post from the scene of any event, beating those “legitimate” journalists from getting the scoop.
As part of the business, news services want to be the first to every story. This is how they get the ratings, which then gets the advertisers, and that’s what pays the bills in most traditional media models. The “always on” capability of the general public – what I refer to as hyperconnectivity – defeats a lot of the efforts of the news outlets to be that “breaking news” source. More often, even the newer, hyperlocal news sites, still find their latest stories from social media, and then rush to get the details before a competitor can get the story out.

Because of this, the cry of “fake news” is becoming common. While there are certainly questionable sources out there – those created with a deep bias for or against a certain person or cause – not all news outlets are actually fake. However, even the legitimate news from traditional services or internet-based sites can suffer because they are lumped into the generalized grouping of “news” – even the most stalwart and trusted media companies of the past suffer from the accusation of falsifying their reports, misrepresenting the facts, and only trying to sensationalize one side of a story.

While it is up to news agencies to ultimately “get the facts right” in their reporting, the public needs to remember there are basically three sides to a story; two of them are based upon the opinions of the opposing sides, the third is the truth between them. Sometimes it isn’t worth it to be first on the scene, but instead to be thorough and get all the facts to present a well-researched article for the readers and viewers to form their own opinion. Too much sensationalizing and polarizing of the story is part of the reason there is such controversy in this country now.

Get the facts – all of them – and then consider this…

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Consider This – The Longest Time

To quote Billy Joel, “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Officially, as I write this, it is the 26th day of the partial government shutdown. More than a month ago, in a meeting with Democratic leaders of the incoming legislature, Trump said he would, “own the shutdown,” because in his mind the best thing for the safety and security of this country is to build a wall.

What is truly behind the shutdown is the funding of operations for the federal agencies which actually are the daily working elements of the government. From the National Park Service to the Food and Drug Administration, even the Transportation Safety Agency and so many other sections controlled by the government are all funded by taxpayer dollars. The allocation of this money is accomplished initially by Congress proposing a budget – or at least a spending bill – to establish the budgetary guidelines for each department. As there is no assigned budget for the fiscal year, the argument between the Oval Office and the Legislature is to provide a temporary fix (a spending bill) as a band-aid until an annual, fiscal budget can be agreed upon at all levels of the government.

The budget is proposed by Congress. This proposal then goes to the Senate, and finally to the President’s desk to be signed. Up until the day before the shutdown on December 21st, a proposed spending bill had passed through Congress and the Senate and was headed for the President’s signature – it provided for funding towards border security but did not specifically state any funding for Trump’s wall. So, he pulled his support for the bill and shut down the government.

The Democrats came to power with the start of the new year, and have since put forth a spending bill which had previously been approved by House and Senate. But now, the Senate won’t pass that bill because of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The shutdown has prevented national parks and museums to open to the public – or even be maintained, with trash and other problems piling up instead of being cleaned and fixed by maintenance people. There is even talk that the military and other security agencies not receiving their pay.

Consider this – an alternative is available.

Simply put, instead of a basic majority vote from the House or Senate, there is a possibility that if enough approval is garnered in the Legislature, that it will not need the President’s approval. This is a two-thirds majority of the House and Senate, and can be accomplished if enough pressure were put on the elected representatives in those bodies.

Independent polls by various news agencies and other information-gathering sites are already showing fewer people supporting the Wall, and many wanting an end to the shutdown so business can return to normal with the government. Depending on which polling data you look at, the average approval rating is hovering around 40 percent – not quite his lowest since taking office, but he has never topped 50 percent. Right now, as the shutdown continues, this rating is trending downward. Only the staunchest of supporters (like Mitch McConnell) are sticking by Trump, and if this shutdown continues, some of them may start to wonder if they should continue to do so.

According to Trump, the shutdown could last months, or even years, if he doesn’t get the full funding for his wall. As much as he claims to be the best negotiator of deals, his current lack of compromise and negotiation is certainly putting that – and The People – to the test.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Consider This - Wagging the Dog

Three weeks. The partial shutdown of the government, and ensuing tit-for-tat complaining from both sides of the legislative aisle as well as the Oval Office, does not seem to be stopping any time soon. This is not quite the longest shutdown – yet – but it is already in the top three and poised to become the longest in only a few more days.

There are arguments for and against “The Wall” which Trump demands to be built. According to Trump’s Oval Office delivery the other night, there is a National Crisis brewing on the nation’s southern border, and for those who might believe, Trump is the only chance to prevent and defend us from the threat of poor migrants attempting to find asylum. Could there be terrorist and other undesirable criminal elements within those amassed at the border? Certainly… however, historically this has not been the case. Likewise, drugs could be crossing from the south, but again they usually come across through the normal gateways and ports, hidden in other legal imports.

Major news outlets are covering this continuing debacle over border security. Sound bytes from both sides talk about how the other side is the cause, and as time goes on it does become a bipartisan problem – in many ways it already is. Even with proposals in the House and Senate being the same as had been offered before, which now are not going to be accepted by the GOP – even though they had agreed before – this is an affront to The People. While the Democrats refusal to discuss any options with Trump can be considered a refusal to negotiate, it is Mister “Art of the Deal” who has not even allowed negotiations to begin, since he refuses to discuss anything which will not pay for the Wall (which he promised Mexico would pay for originally, and now claims the payment will come through a non-existent trade agreement).

Consider this:

Now is not the time to redirect people with talk of awards ceremonies and pseudo-political posturing about other made-up crises – certainly, the Golden Globes, and soon the Oscars, take the night and award the accomplishments of the entertainment industry. And, too, there is still much inequality between the genders – confounded even further with the inclusion of the LGBTQ community as well. Not to mention the “Me Too” movement and other related causes which people are wont to talk about.

I bring that up because someone took the time – on the same day of Trump’s “Oval Office Address” – to specifically not discuss the ongoing government shutdown crisis… in other words, wagging the dog.

And what, pray tell, is “wagging the dog”? There is a movie, from late 1997, which is a fictional account of the use of Hollywood entertainment to manufacture a crisis in order to draw attention away from a political scandal. Many liken this to the Bill Clinton affair, which a “rescue mission” to the island of Grenada was a distraction from the pending impeachment of Clinton. The term has become synonymous with using a different event – often a fictional, or less critical factual event – to draw attention away from a more serious situation. A political sleight-of-hand magic trick to make The People ignore the seriousness of a crisis in order to have the masses pay more attention to something which affects them much less directly.

This is the game of politics, especially useful in a time such as right now – and equally unfortunate that such machinations are utilized at all.

It is time for both parties to come together within the Legislature – in both the House and Senate – and come to an agreement on reopening the government. This Wall might be on the border, but it is already dividing this country more effectively, even without a brick laid in foundation, a steel slab erected, or a concrete molding poured.

The End of a Chapter

  I sit here watching, waiting for her next breath. She sleeps more, her breathing slows, but there are still those moments of clarity where...