Saturday, January 22, 2022

The Un-Democratic Nature of US Political Reporting

On January 20, 2021, Joseph Robinette Biden took the oath of office for the Presidency of the United States and in that moment became indirectly responsible for 330 million Americans regardless of who they voted for.  Like every President before him, he swore to uphold the law and protect all Americans. The question he likely asks himself now is How do I protect democracy from the very industry that has turned it into a mash up of polling points, societal  trends, and party loyalty? 

Today's media (social, advertising, print, radio, and television) needs to be "schooled" in what democracy is and how democracy works. Here are a few things they might have missed in their Civics class. 

What is Democracy?

First off, democracy is not about the individual but about a nation that chooses to live under one set of rules for the benefit of everyone. Presidential approval ratings are selfish reminders of what has divided this country. It is not whether people like Biden but whether they see improvement at the end of his four-year term. Shows like The View , Meet the Press and other opinion based talk shows encourage viewers to take a short term, me-me-me view of political problems that cannot be fixed with simple legislation.  Today's media should educate and explain while leaving personal preferences to what takes place in the voting booth.

Next, democracy is not about voting rights or filibusters but about how many people are on the the ballot. Coming from a monarchy, the founding fathers thought having any choice was a luxury. What good does it do to register more voters and make voting easier when there is only one name on the ballot?  No one is reminding Bernie Sanders that he pledged to start a grass roots organization dedicated to preparing candidates to take on the role of elected officials. The Obamas are not working to educate younger voters about how to evaluate candidates. Both parties sow party loyalty based on hot-button topics and push a leftover agenda from past administrations. As if time is stuck in some strange moment that long ago ceased to exist, Congress attacks problems with the same solutions that have been used for over 200 years. Not learning from the past, today's media worships the well meaning but untrained and clueless candidate. These overnight breakout successes like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Kamala Harris and yes, Donald Trump, are better news stories than seasoned professionals that have worked their way up from local government.  What message does that send to voters, and is it really all that surprising that these STARS of the campaign trail fail to do anything more than make headlines? How does it feel to gaslight the public with a constant diet of celebrity-style hype and soft-ball questions?

Finally, democracy is not a popularity contest but about making informed choices without fear, peer pressure or manipulation.  Contrary to VP Harris's take on this country's standing as a free society, our simplistic form of government pales in comparison to some democracies.  While our government declares a winner and sets up a combative environment which rarely achieves much, other countries open the ballot to multiple parties and require the majority party to come to a consensus BEFORE the election is certified. Failure to do so nullifies the election and it begins again. As mass media focuses on the best news story and the most supportive advertisers, they fail to grasp how they warp the voting process in a way that is far more dangerous than requiring a picture ID or limiting voting hours. Their focus on an ever changing future robs the public of the present by distracting them from what is important in the here and now. That isn't democracy. That's propaganda. 

A Bit of History

President Biden is not the only president to be concerned about the integrity of the American election process.  

In March of 2001, just three months after Al Gore lost his final 2000 election challenge, former President Jimmy Carter received the first Jonathan Myrick Daniels '61 Humanitarian Award, at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington VA.  

For a small town reporter, this was a once-in-a-lifetime event.  As Carter explained his work establishing democratic governments around the world, he made a simple but blunt statement about the condition of American elections.  Whether it was part of his acceptance speech or the questions he answered following the ceremony, I do not remember but he very clearly stated his organization would not take on the American political process because it failed to meet the high standards that his group had for democratic leadership. It was such an unexpected and confusing comment that many compared notes before reporting it to readers.  I have no way of knowing if he changed his assessment of this situation or not.

Twenty years and five national elections later, the United States has failed to make any meaningful changes in the political process-- a process that benefits the few and subjugates  the many. Carter, in being a single term president, knew, all too well, the role that television and political reporting had in putting a Hollywood actor named Ronald Reagan in the White House. The same frenetic focus on poise and photo-ops overshadows today's political reporting. Carter brought peace to a region of the World, even for just a short time. Reagan took a global energy crisis and inflation and turned it into a massive change in the tax code that the country has yet to recover from. Which was better?

If journalists want to champion democracy instead of damage it, they need to change their focus from agency ratings, high dollar salaries, Twitter followers and website clicks and begin doing the hard work of report the ugly reality of the election system. Here are a few questions they might begin to ask. 

1. Why is the United States one of the few countries that allows political organizations and fund raising to be considered non-profit or charitable organizations?

2. What percentage of PAC funding goes into supporting the candidate, family and staff? (Remember John Edwards and his hair cuts?)

3.  Is the minimum support rule required to enter debates a form of voter suppression because these events choose to squash the viewpoints of people who mainstream media doesn't give the time of day?

4.  Explain to the public the difference between the one vote-one person process that occurs on election day and the loosely monitored polling methods used through social media. There is no comparison and the results amount to misinformation and voter manipulation. Will agencies be embarrassed to admit they are not a fair representation of national demographics?

Before criticizing any elected officials, media has an obligation to make sure their findings are as objective and factual as possible. Like CEO who blames everyone else for the company's failures, Congress encourages mass media to distract the attention from their irresponsibility. Perhaps that is what voters should understand is the real form of voter suppression.  

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Hey, Senator Romney: What's Wrong With "Transforming America"?

Because of host Chuck Todd's rather personal take on the three big news topics (Politics, Climate Change, and Covid-19), my direct knowledge of Meet the Press has dropped off dramatically during the pandemic. It seems I should have been watching on Sunday Morning (1/15/2022) as Senator Mitt Romney offered his insight into President Joe Biden's "bad year". 

Presumably feeling he could speak for the entire population, Romney commented to the show's viewers that Biden was not elected to "transform America".  With all due respect Senator, that is exactly what so many of us did expect and if the two political parties stopped thinking that elections were all about them, they would have realized that "transformation" is exactly what voters have wanted for three decades.  Normal is a dysfunctional group of 535 individuals that simply go from one election campaign to another.  Each time, the hope of America is that we have elected someone with the creativity and skill to ditch the jobs mindset from FDR's passe New Deal era. Biden understands that he needs to go big or go home.  It is our two party system that keep refuses to be creative enough to make that happen.

The "Crazies" Are Loose in Congress

From the perspective of a Washington outsider, each party has its share of "crazies" as you have tagged those who fail to adhere to the status quo.  Have you not realized that Nancy Pelosi has been like a woman possessed in her mission to do anything that would go against a Republican agenda. There is no civility, cooperation or even thought about anything but how to get back at the other side. That's not normal. That's pathetic.  

Americans Deserve More than "Normal"

This country achieved zero unemployment in the mid-1960s. Instead of shifting to higher wages, less production and fewer work hours to keep the numbers up, the country did what it had always done--opened the borders to immigrants willing to work for less.  The result was the same as it had been the 1800s. Racial unrest, political division and a working class that was hard pressed to develop wealth.  Biden repeated that pattern because his party insisted on it. It is not anymore popular with the public now than it was in the 1960s.

This oppressive jobs mindset is not new. Congress applauds companies who are innovative in their business models but refuses to make it part of the overall fabric of working America.  Unable to recognize that voters say they want jobs because that's all they know, elected officials prefer to secure their political positions and focus on wealth creation even though it only exacerbates the problem. 

What Might Transformation Look Like?

It is time for both parties to focus on their country instead of elections. Is winning or losing an election really all that important?  Consider being a responsible leader and work on the following. 

  • Praise the States (Yes, all of them) - The Federal government has pushed their responsibilities onto the state and local government for years. It then criticized them for dealing with the challenge in their own way. The states got us through COVID, not the federal government. Change Congresses attitude and you might get more cooperation.
  • Ratify the Equal Rights Amendment - The Federal government's focus on protecting tiny sectors of the population increases division. Both parties do it. Republicans protect religions, big business and gun rights. Democrats protect ethnic groups, poverty (yes poverty not those who are impoverished) and cities. No one protects the average citizen who does the work and keeps this country going. Congress created this divided public, they need to come together and signal that they will protect us all. 
  • Fix the Immigration problem - Bringing in immigrants as a labor source to undermine the rest of the population was heinous a century and a half ago. It still is. Abusing them to keep profits high and labor costs low is not admirable. As for DACA, that is an easy fix if you would just do it (See DACA Citizenship: It Could Have Been So Easy )
  • Regulate, Don't Legislate -  While Congress is spending time debating laws we don't need, the federal government fails to do what it was suppose to do--keep us honest.  Renaming mountains does not improve the environment. Recalling thousands of pounds of foods and drugs for a misprinted label does not make us safer. It makes us poorer--both in spirit and financially. Regulatory agencies long ago became instruments of economy growth. It now falls to citizens to  stand up for themselves against businesses Congress promoted.  Protect consumers instead of turning safety into an economic policy.
  • Stand Up to the Climate Change Lobby- Climate change is a direct result of the World using the environment as a revenue stream.  The EPA has been more responsible for changes in the atmosphere than any carbon-based molecule (See  Air Pollution's the Answer: How Clean Air Policy Compromised the Planet and Public Health )
  • Stop Worrying about the Stock Market- The Stock Market does not put food on the table or educate children to with real information.  Before the Stock Market became the ruler by which economic growth was measured, banking favored local depositors. Now they are almost an inconvenience.  Switch focuses and inflation will drop.  

If Republicans and Democrats were to come together and change their focus to lifestyle rather than wealth, America would be transformed. Biden has the negotiation skills. Are you and your fellow Republicans willing to be part of the process?  

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Voting Rights 2022: Senators, Do You Know What You Are Doing?

Update: 1/18/2021 As the Senate debates voting rights, advocates are rushing to provide documentation that the US is on the verge of another election crisis. Published findings vary based the biases of the news outlet or advocacy group.  It is interestingly that states listed as "Restrictive" make up less than 20% of the country.  In most cases, what classifies as "Restrictive" is how convenient elections are not how fair or secure the process. Unlike the Jim Crowe era, property ownership, literacy, ethnic background and gender are not cited by any of these studies as factors for denying the right to vote.  The danger to democracy is making voting so simple that it becomes meaningless. 

With millions (if not billions) of pages on record that detail how all levels of government work, it is understandable that the average citizen has a minimal knowledge of the rules. Nevertheless, the founding fathers anticipated that unintended consequences were a very real possibility in a representative democracy. Generally speaking, a handful of statutes meant to protect elected officials from honest mistakes, now, seem to contribute to the gridlock, financial obsession and poor decisions common in Congress.  

As President Biden lobbies for another landmark (???) voting rights bill, the question has to be "Do Senators know what they are doing AND what might be the negative impact of this legislation on future elections?"  History tells us, good legislation comes from forethought and consensus, not deals. Bad legislation comes from quick action, personal agendas and legal protection that make officials brazen and irresponsible. 

Why Support the Filibuster?

For discussion here, the  provision of executive privilege (also known as qualified immunity) and a thinly worded non-binding clause that releases future officials from maintaining laws which are no longer financially or socially viable come to mind. Together these two provisions have been held up in the courts to the point that officials cannot be held accountable for much.  It is the provision of qualified immunity that appears to have emboldened several republicans to take actions meant to decertify several state and local elections.  With a do-over clause firmly in the hands of any future official, current officials all too frequently feel justified in passing questionable and often unnecessary legislation for special interest groups.  

In the end, it is the filibuster that only stands between a power driven political party (Democrat or Republican) and serves the majority of American interests. 

Shaming is NOT Professional Behavior

Since the quick demise of the Build Back Better spending package just before Christmas, high ranking Democratic leaders including the President, Vice-President and both Congressional leaders have chosen to resort to the unprofessional teenage tactic of shaming the American people.  VP Harris first told the country it would no longer have the respect of the World and then yesterday, voiced what seemed to be a personal admonishment of stubborn members of congress. Neither plays well for a country that has listened to this prattle for the better part of six years. Threats and recriminations by Schumer, Pelosi and Biden have done little to move the discussion to a more amicable tone. 

New York Times Photo

Blank Check Legislation

While polls are not concerned about Why? Biden's administration has such low polling numbers, this average citizen would say a contributing factor is a "Blank Check/ Trust Me" mentality.  Far too many pieces of legislation are passed without taking the time to discuss how they would work.  This Voting Rights bill as well as the other bills which have foundered during this past year all seem long on promises and short on details.  Some outcomes are a given and are likely to cause widespread difficulties for states which have a long history of fair and safe elections. It should be remembered that nearly three-quarters of the adult population voted in 2020 and no widespread corruption was found anywhere.  Those figures alone question whether this is necessary legislation or just political posturing. 

Federal Micro-rmanagement is Costly and Ineffective

From the implementation of Environmental Protection laws and federally mandated education programs to administration of Medicaid, Welfare and Food Stamps, federal oversight has been costly and bureaucratically top heavy for states.  Rarely providing full funding for the programs that it institutes, local businesses and citizens pay more in local taxes in order to comply with the expense of paperwork and staffing. There is nothing in the Voting Right Act of 2021 that would not put additional burden on the states.  Here are some findings to consider before support a such Blank Check legislation. 

  • Making Election Day a National Holiday will not change accessibility but could increase errors. Election officials, as government employees, would have the day off. Those that  are responsible for the security of the election process could open the door to countless challenges if they did not perform their duty. Is this a What was Congress thinking moment?

  • Most polling sites are open at least 12 hours out of the day, some longer  There are very few people who cannot arrange their schedule to vote if they chose to do so. Remember 150 million people voted in 2020. 

  • Mandating mail-in ballots for everyone is costly and time consuming. Mail-in ballots have the greatest chance of being mishandled as we saw in the aftermath of the 2020 election. 

  • Many states already meet the minimum standard publicized by advocates of this legislation. As an accomplished negotiator, would it not be a better use of the President's time to target the few states who do not offer these provisions and move toward a common basis of understanding.  Why make all states suffer but allow more conservative states to come around to a more moderate in their own time. Residents of these states have the right to hold their own lawmakers accountable without intervention from the federal government.

From what seems to be in print, there is nothing in this bill that offers any real protection to voters that is not already available.  Why our elected officials feel the need to push their will on 330 million people when all that results is more problems makes little sense. American citizens are neither dumb nor mindless but they are tired of being characterized as bigots, racists, gun toting vigilantes, or uneducated puppets.  Until Congress shows respect for Americans and ignores the polls and studies, citizens will continue to be unimpressed with both political parties.  

Thursday, January 6, 2022

January 6, 2021: Lesson for Those Pushing Federal Voting Rights Control

 ** This is a copy of a Letter to the Editor I sent to The News-Gazette in Lexington, VA (Published 1/13/2021).  In the last year, my viewpoints have not changed.  I still feel betrayed by the person that was duly elected by this locality.  While I did not vote for Rep Ben Cline, it is my fervent opinion that he owes me the same respect as those who voted for him. Having worked with Ben at the state level since he followed in  Bob Goodlatte's steps, it is this lack of respect for opposing side that keeps questioning this younger Republican. 

Twice in the last 20 years, Republicans were able to put their candidate in the White House without winning the popular vote.  I suppose they thought they could easily challenge the 2020 election to again tip the results in their favor. 

January 6th Capitol Riot Image

As the Senate leadership pushes for more federal control of national elections, January 6th is one of many reasons why the federal government should leave voting oversight to the states.  Not only was Donald Trump able to use his influence as President to enlist the help of hundreds of average citizens (believing they were doing the right thing) who now have federal charges against them, but he also convinced more than a handful of elected officials and government employees to abandon their oath and side--not for the good of the country--put for his personal gain.   Few know of the "delayed" stimulus checks that dropped into the accounts of new Social Security recipients on election day as if they were being bribed to vote in a set manner. Had it not been for state and local election boards who did their job according to the law, we might be in a very different place. 

Certainly changes to the Electoral College are long overdue, but control of elections should remain the  responsibility of the states  Voting should be easily accessible but it should not be easy to do.  A second layer of oversight will not make voting safer, but does have the potential to increase the opportunities of corruption. 

Dear Editor;

Today is January 6, 2021. It is early. I am worried. By the end of the day, will the USA still be the largest democracy on Earth or will it be the latest power to topple due to the efforts of a single charismatic person who has a fondness for power?

As Americans, we do not understand how close we are to losing our place at the top. We  have ignored a years-long, systematic  challenge to our election process with one and only one purpose in mind - to put a dictator in office.  I am ashamed to say that my representatives, State Del. Ronnie Campbell and Congressman Ben Cline, assisted this effort.

By definition, a dictator rises to power through unconventional or forced means and stays in power by keeping those who support him happy. Per Wikipedia, an estimated 50 countries are considered dictatorships. Leaders have titles such as President or Prime Minister. The countries have constitutions, elections, and regional and local governments - just like we do. The only difference is that, in some way, the one in power is able to control the outcome.

A month ago,  NBC12 affiliate in Richmond reported that Cline (6th House) was one of 120 representatives that signed on to a Texas-based Supreme Court challenge. SCOTUS made quick business of the case by saying it “has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another state conducts its elections”.

On Jan. 5, reported that Campbell (Va 24th) had signed a letter to VP Mike Pence recommending the House throw out  Virginia’s election results. Such a challenge would also have needed the support of a US Senator to move forward which it do not have.

Neither action appears to be valid under scrutiny.  By supporting measures that have now been rejected by countless courts, the Electoral College and hopefully Congress itself, these two men have remained loyal to the party and its most conservative donors. At the same time, they have avoided the difficult decisions that are required of their office.  Is that what we voted for? Is being a successful public servant nothing more than promising action that is not allowed by law then saying “I tried”?


I suppose time will tell.

Monday, January 3, 2022

Media Bias: Would Lois Lane Approve of Modern Reporting

Sadly, the end-of-the-year news coverage trickles down to a steady stream of depressing media posts highlighting the many challenges humans have failed to solve in the previous year.  Regardless of whether it is a printed newspaper, daily news show or radio highlights, the focus is the same--a litany of barely resources articles aligned more with personal perspectives than real life concern.  As I scrolled through coverage by TIME, The Daily Beast, NPR (National Public Radio), The Hill, NBC  and others, a thought came to me. Would Lois Lane Approve of Modern Reporting? 

Original Cast Superman TV Series

While the iconic character has changed with the times (no flowered hat, tailored suit with floral hankie in the pocket and cute pumps for the CW's version in Superman and Lois), Lois Lane represents what good journalists once aimed to become.  From the time she first appeared in DC comics in June 1938, Lois might have been a hapless damsel in distress but she was anything but lacking in her skills as a reporter.  Often rescued because she did her job without fear, Lois shows a tenacity for the truth modern journalism rarely has.  With nothing more than a note pad and her own brain, Lois not only wrote her own copy but did the research and interviews necessary to check and double check the facts before going to press.  She understood her topic on more than a cursory level and would never have submitted a story that she, herself, could not defend.

My guess is that she would be greatly disappointed in an industry that now depends so heavily on TikTok, Facebook, and marketing press releases for content. She felt an obligation to the public and she would expect today's reporters to explain instead of repeating a political or socially accepted perspective.  She would expect reporting--not hearsay.

As the year ends, I can only imagine how Lois Lane would cover topics related to climate change and the pandemic.  Nevertheless, here are a few notes that might be in Lois Lane's notepad if she were reporting today. 

Covid -19

  • Computerized records cannot tell the difference between a patient admitted for elective surgery or one needing treatment for Covid symptoms if both test positive for the virus.  This means hospitalizations based on simple data act as exaggerations of the pandemic and look worse than they really are/were. 
  • There are 113 COVID-19 vaccines currently being developed worldwide.The three versions used in the US may not be the most effective, just the ones this administration has approved.
  • As of December, 2021, the actual amount paid to pharmaceutical companies for pandemic supplies is unknown. In support of an already lucrative business, government expenditures to drug companies will likely rival the bank bailouts of 2008-2010 with no strings attached. 
  • The Pfizer shot is nearly 4 times as expensive as the Johnson&Johnson shot but does not show any significally better control of the illness.
  • There is no way to specifically tell how a person becomes infected with Covid. An air borne virus is just that--air borne. Persecution of the unvaccinated is like all prejudice--rooted in political hype and personal fear.  

Climate Change

  • A 1.5 degree C difference is less than 3 degrees F. The rate at which ice melts at 35 degrees as opposed to 32 degrees is extremely slow. (Remember that Thanksgiving turkey that took a week to thaw out in your 38degree refrigerator? Enough said) Keep in mind that most of the world's glaciers and ice packs do not even reach 32 degrees-ever. 
  • Bill Gates wants you to believe the 150 year old notes of a college profession as proof of global warming. He fails to mention that 2+ billion computers, which did not exist in the 1950s (climate change baseline), are giving off heat every time they are used. Which makes more sense--a tiny molecule of gas that has been around since the beginning of time or computers generating heat that has nowhere to go?
  • According to product testing guides, an electric stove is less efficient and gives off more heat into the surrounding air than a gas stove.  And yet, gas stoves are being banned.
  • There are an estimated 300 million street lamps which give off heat every night even if they are solar powered. Each gives off some heat increases the air temperature of the World.
  • Any moving part causes friction and heat regardless of how it is powered. This heat dissipates into the surrounding air and raises ambient temperature. 
  • An iceberg that breaks off from a glacier might not cause sea levels to rise because water takes up less space than ice. Since most of the iceberg is below water level it may simple disappear into the sea as it melts with little or no change in sea level.
  • Wildfires started by poorly maintained electric lines, arson, or any human activitity are not climate change. Where electric lines have been put underground the incidence of wildfires and power outages have dropped dramatically
  • Air conditioning and refrigeration work because they funnel heat to the outside.  Sounds like every time someone cools something they heat the outdoors.  
This year, channel the spirit of Lois Lane and question what TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and news sources tell you. The World will be a better place if we all search for the truth instead of accepting what is put before us.  Have a GREAT 2022!