Texas School Administrator Proves Why We Need Civics Classes

A Texas School Administrator sent a message to students on social media informing them that they would be suspended from school if they chose to engage in on-campus protests of any kind in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

Needville Independent School District Superintendent Curtis Rhodes stated that his reasoning for this decision is to maintain order and discipline in the classroom. As laudable as this may be, Rhodes is also sending another message to students: our school district does not approve of or encourage political literacy or peaceful activism.

Rhodes stated that school is a place to learn and grow “educationally, emotionally, and morally,” so apparently he is of the belief that school is not a place to be educated about becoming politically literate adults. Any protests were described as “disruptions” which is generally true, but if Needville students would be like others across the nation, a protest probably would have been peaceful.

Beyond purely political motives, students across the nation probably are participating in these protests out of fear that their own schools may be next. Because most of the students are too young to vote, they undoubtedly feel that their voices haven’t been heard by adultsin office. Even if the adults disagree with the solutions students are saying they want, this is not the time to silence them.

Young people have long been accused of being uninterested in civic affairs and politics, and now that there are many students showing an interest, there are school administrators telling them that they will be punished for it? There is nothing wrong with wanting school to remain calm without disruptions, but instead of threatening suspensions if students chose to participate in a peaceful demonstration, perhaps the better option would have been to provide the students with a specific time to demonstrate. There is plenty of research that suggests short breaks for physical activity to enhance academic performance. A short walk out the doors of the school to the parking lot, and maybe a short period of quiet time outdoors wouldn’t have been a huge disruption for Needville students. It certainly would make their Civics teachers happy – if they have them.

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Texas School Administrator Proves Why We Need Civics Classes

#TwitterLockOut and the War on Bots

#TwitterLockOut is trending on Twitter because many conservative users of the social media platform noticed that they were losing followers, or that their accounts were essentially shut down. Even the coveted “blue check mark” didn’t seem to protect some people:

While many may be saying that this is a Twitter conspiracy to get rid of conservatives on the platform, there are legitimate reasons why the engineers would go after accounts offering a certain kind of content. Russian bots on Twitter have been pushing conservative views for some time now, according to breadcrumbs being offered from the Mueller investigation. Because Twitter can be totally anonymous, it’s entirely possible that at least some U.S. conservatives on Twitter have been interacting with Russians without even knowing it. These activities have been continuing, and include posts on the shooting in Parkland, Fla., and gun control.

It’s true that Twitter employees probably aren’t crying any tears over the idea of sweeping up piles of conservative accounts:

However, it is important to remember that Twitter is a private business, and is not required to guarantee use of its product to everyone. They are quite within their rights to censor content. In spite of the latest cries about that practice now, it’s not likely that Twitter will ever completely silence anyone ever. It simply isn’t worth the gamble for a company that just managed to start turning a profit. Its focus will be on bots and abusive accounts, because the goal will remain focused on their bottom line. Bots from foreign nations are likely to cause problems in the future for Twitter, since sooner or later the government may decide to levy penalties of some kind against social media companies that fail to even attempt to shut down these accounts. Twitter also wants to shut down abusive accounts because they won’t be able to turn around their sluggish user sign-up rates if they don’t lose the reputation for being the haven of anonymous trolls. One thing that has helped the company is a significant increase in active users, and whether they like it or not, that included an influx of active conservative users who were fired up by the Trump campaign and presidency.

So, Twitter needs to weed out foreign bots who are hiding among conservatives who already think that they are being targeted on the platform. Their employees are generally politically opposed to those conservatives, so they’re enjoying the job. However, their accountants know that the conservatives are an integral part of the company’s current successes. Sooner or later, there will be a time when the accountants will have a real conversation with the management and employees at Twitter, and it will go something like this – “We know you really don’t like all those conservatives, but we also know you like to get paid. Either stop targeting users who are putting cash in your pocket and are keeping this company afloat, or shut it down and call it a day.”

Maybe conservatives need to remember that, and realize that while the Twitter workers might hate them completely, there’s no way those people would have their jobs without the “evil conservatives.”

Image: Photo by James Sutton on Unsplash

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#TwitterLockOut and the War on Bots

Idaho State Senator Shows How Not to Do Constituent Relations

Idaho State Senator Dan Foreman apparently needs a remedial course in constituent relations, if the following outburst is any indication:

Good political consultants and campaign managers usually take at least a little time with a candidate, and explain that once someone is sworn into office that person needs to know how to deal with people he disagrees with completely. That lesson should include at least a few statements warning against having emotional outbursts in front of anyone while at work. State Senator Foreman must have missed that talk.

If the verbal altercation in the hallway wasn’t enough, Foreman apparently doubled down with his best impression of Donald Trump on Twitter, according to HuffPost. There, he further clarified his opinion that abortion is murder, and even pulled the name of one of his colleagues in the State Senate. All of the above have earned Foreman an ethics inquiry, and rightly so.

Perhaps the worst part of the entire situation is that the college students Foreman treated so atrociously wanted to speak with him about legislation that objectively would help stop women from wanting or needing abortions. It’s true that the students were from an organization affiliated with Planned Parenthood, but their specific purpose for being in the building that day was to promote two pieces of legislation related to birth control prescriptions and updating sex-ed standards in schools. But, Foreman was blinded by his hatred for Planned Parenthood, and failed to do his job – represent and listen to his constituents even if he doesn’t completely agree with them.

Image: Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

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Idaho State Senator Shows How Not to Do Constituent Relations

Jennifer Lawrence Is Going Political

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Jennifer Lawrence is taking a year off from acting, so she can get political. Before anyone starts rolling their eyes, it’s important to recognize that unlike many of her colleagues in Hollywood, she’s not talking about paying lip service to pet causes or using the spotlight to push a national political agenda. Lawrence apparently isn’t taking this step to run her mouth on politics, like some people have complained about with other celebrities.

Lawrence is choosing to involve herself with a grassroots non-partisan organization dedicated to fighting political corruption. Her chosen organization is Represent.Us, and appears to be a slightly idealistic group that is determined to remove money from the political influence game. We’re talking about campaign finance reform, on a rather severe level. Otherwise, the organization also appears to be interested in using technology to fix our ballot boxes, since they want to remove bureaucracy between voters and the act of voting. While it’s not a totally hopeless cause, it is fairly limited, and definitely will be most effective from the bottom up – local first.

And that is why Lawrence should be commended. She is leading by example, showing her fans that it is important to know about our political process, and how they can get involved, too. We can only hope that in addition to promoting her own work at Represent.Us, Lawrence decides to learn about similar organizations focused on other issues – offer suggestions to young people who may not be interested in her personal cause. We can also hope that more celebrities take a cue from her, and choose to promote political organizations on the grassroots level instead of using their status to fire up divisive politicking and rhetoric. Young people particularly need to learn that political change doesn’t happen in large leaps at the top. It happens with incremental steps and hard work from the bottom up.

Image: By Jennifer_Lawrence_at_the_83rd_Academy_Awards.jpg: Mingle MediaTV derivative work: Tabercil (Jennifer_Lawrence_at_the_83rd_Academy_Awards.jpg) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Jennifer Lawrence Is Going Political

Facebook Doesn’t Know Jack About Politics

If you are among the millions of Americans who make use of Facebook, you probably have seen at least a little political content in your newsfeed. This is why the Mueller investigation into Russian propaganda about our political process is the daily fixation of news networks. Social media in general, and Facebook specifically is the wild west of political media since it is not governed like broadcast and print media in the U.S.

Over the weekend, Facebook executive Rob Goldman took to Twitter to talk about the Russian ad purchases on Facebook – and then he was forced to apologize. Goldman inadvertently implied that the Russians probably didn’t have a significant influence on the U.S. elections by pointing out that they purchased ads after the election. If that was the only mistake he made, perhaps that would be alright.

It wasn’t.

The simple fact that Goldman decided to weigh in on a subject that should have been forbidden by Facebook management is the real problem. By extension, Goldman has openly suggested to the public that he and his co-workers might have a clue about the political implications of the content their employer puts out on the web. He is an ad executive, and his co-workers are in marketing, IT, and programming. None of their job descriptions involve objective analysis of political impacts of the content they publish. On the contrary, their founder has repeatedly denied claims that Facebook is a media entity (which might engage in real analysis), and still insists that Facebook is a communication platform.

Facebook deals in information without analysis. The only analysis they are competent at completing is limited to user experience on their website, and if you ask many of their users they might say Facebook can’t even get that right. “Fake news” is a phrase that is bandied about by people who are upset about the substance of a given news report, but on Facebook it should be used to describe the billions of poorly sourced words that float through their systems unchecked. Just from the sheer volume, it is impossible for Facebook to police their content properly, so the only real solution is for people to view the site in the same way most teachers view Wikipedia. It’s a fine place to start, but it is not a reliable source for accurate information. That places it at least a step below “trust but verify” level information.

Goldman should serve as an object lesson for Facebook policy. Maybe it’s time to end the “open posting on Twitter” rule for management, and start requiring that their executives get their tweets about Facebook cleared before they go live. No matter what, it’s time for Facebook to tell their people to stop posting about things they know nothing about on social media – like politics.

Image: Photo by Stefan Cosma on Unsplash

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Facebook Doesn’t Know Jack About Politics

Congressional District Chaos in Pennsylvania

The Congressional District map has been re-drawn in Pennsylvania, and the Supreme Court followed through on its threat to do it for the legislature and governor if they failed to do it. As maps go, the new one does appear to be fairly organized, but it’s still going to cause a fair amount of chaos particularly in western Pennsylvania.

The above map offered by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania will have a profound effect on the current 18th Congressional District that voters will be more aware of than any other in the Commonwealth. In March, there is a special election to fill the seat vacated by Tim Murphy, but in May, voters in that election may find themselves in a new district with all new candidates for office. The current candidates for the 18th District reside in other districts on the new map, so it’s possible that they both could be running for different seats just a couple months after the special election.

Before anyone gets annoyed with inaction by the Pennsylvania lawmakers and governor, it is important to consider this district. No matter what, the people would have faced shifting district lines in this region, and it will undoubtedly be the topic of many conversations about government waste. Pennsylvania is going through the added expense of a special election for a district that won’t exist in the same way after this year, and it’s fair to assume that whoever caused that will be blamed. The governor and lawmakers all will face re-election, so it’s not surprising that they left the map drawing to the court – better to avoid backlash from voters at the ballot box.

Of course, Republicans have stated that they are going to petition for a hearing with the U.S. Supreme Court on this entire situation, since drawing the Congressional map is supposed to be handled by Pennsylvania’s legislators, not the court. Time will tell how this new map will change the balance of power going to Washington, since both sides are claiming that it will help them at least a little.

It’s too soon to make any assumptions because Pennsylvania already did shift unexpectedly in 2016 for Trump. While it’s possible that is an indication of a real political trend toward the right, it’s important to recognize the fact that Congressional candidates in Pennsylvania often campaign in the middle of the road. The current campaign for the 18th District is offering a pro-gun Democrat, and a pro-safety-net Republican according to recent ads offered by the respective candidates. The more polarizing ads are from out-of-state political groups from both sides of the aisle. While there are some voters on the fringes in Pennsylvania like in any other state, the fringes simply don’t tend to sway the rank-and-file voters toward the middle anywhere near as much as people outside the Commonwealth may think. Honestly, the largest issue this year will be over the new district lines, and there aren’t any obvious targets for anger over that on any ballots. The people and the candidates are all going to be able to claim problems with what the court has done, and the justices will be out of reach of everyone on election day.

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Congressional District Chaos in Pennsylvania

Parkland – It Is Too Soon to Talk Activism

Parents and students from Parkland are constantly appearing on television screens across America, and there are members of the media who are quite happy to place them there. True, they are doing this because the news cycle is ridiculously fast sometimes, but that doesn’t change the fact that these people are human beings who have just dealt with tragic losses. I am only hoping that this doesn’t do irreparable damage to these people, but I won’t say that I hope they don’t end up angry and annoyed with the media personalities who pushed them in front of the cameras, like this one:

While I have no doubt in my mind that the people of Parkland are absolutely fed up with lip-service from the government on mass shootings, this is not the time for them to be pushed into the spotlight to speak on the issue. This is the time for them to grieve, and process what has happened to them. Those are human issues that cannot be rushed to appease the media’s desire to fit them into their production schedules before the rest of America loses interest.

If it wasn’t too soon, then instead of impassioned speeches about gun laws, there would have been at least a little talk about what America has lost in the past few decades. Someone would have been saying “when did we stop watching over our neighbors?” Teens might have looked at each other, and asked, “who saw the social media posts by this kid, and why didn’t we insist on the adults doing something about it?” That didn’t happen in Parkland, Fla., but it did happen in Uniontown, Pa.:

Time.com offered that story to the nation in late January, and if not for the actions of one teen and his parents, Uniontown would have been in the headlines because of a mass shooting. But they weren’t, and I’m guessing that in spite of Time.com carrying that story, very few people outside of western Pennsylvania knew about the shooting that didn’t happen. Based on the information that we’ve seen so far, the only reason why Parkland didn’t end up like Uniontown with a small crime headline about a thwarted attack is because the law enforcement system broke down. The FBI failed to follow up on a tip about the shooter.

But, the grieving teens and parents from Parkland are taking cues from the media now, so their message is about the evil of guns. It’s really not that simple. The real problem is the fact that as a society we have become isolated. We avoid involving ourselves in situations with our neighbors, presumably because it is none of our business. Someone else can intervene, tell the authorities when a troubled teen starts posting about killing people on social media. He might be just trying to show off, right? Or maybe the family will try to start trouble for me. Rationalize as much as you like, but the problem isn’t the guns – it’s us.

We have failed as a society because we have reached the point where we can give ourselves a pass for neglecting to act when we see people in trouble. It’s easier to blame guns than it is to own up to the fact that we can see women and children abused – physically or verbally – on a daily basis without saying a word to anyone who could help them. Parents find it easy to tell their children not to associate with kids who don’t “fit in” or “get in too much trouble.” That’s not as bothersome as picking up the phone, calling the school, and reporting questionable behavior to guidance counselors or school psychologists.

It’s none of our business, until that failure to act turns into yet another mass shooting. Then it’s definitely our business, but not our own fault. It’s the guns, or the politicians who fail to write laws. If we’re honestly looking for a law to prevent these tragedies, we all might end up in trouble. Such a law would need to require that citizens do not remain silent when they see warning signs of violent behavior in teens. We would need to teach our children how to see those signs in themselves and their classmates. But, the people of Parkland won’t realize that until long after the media has moved on from them. They may never reach that point, because it’s a truth that we simply don’t talk about. Of course, if we did talk about it and admit it was the truth, then we would have to admit that our society has created these monsters – they are simply the logical result of our own indifference toward each other as human beings.

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Parkland – It Is Too Soon to Talk Activism

Presidential Pardons and Political Expediency

Presidential pardons for everyone! At least that is what the GOP seems to be wanting over the Russian probe. But, is that a good idea?

Politico arguably made the case for Trump to give out pardons – even preemptive blanket ones – to everyone who is indicted by the investigation headed by Robert Mueller. It’s fair to guess that the intent of the author was to point out how dastardly the GOP and Trump could really be, though.

Historically speaking, the American public sometimes reacts negatively toward presidential pardons of a political nature – like the backlash over the Nixon pardon. However, those hard feelings are generally short-term in nature, and in the case of Nixon, might even contribute to the slippery slope of political misdeeds. What caused Nixon to resign in the early 1970’s became part of the political toolbox for Karl Rove by the 1990’s, and arguably helped put George W. Bush in office.

So, if Trump would hand out pardons for political crimes and misdemeanors involving a foreign power now, it’s entirely feasible that the U.S. election process could become susceptible to interference from abroad without protest by Americans in the future. True, that may seem an extreme result now, but back in the 1970’s, voters would have been appalled if someone traveled back in time from the late 1990’s and told them that political operatives were regularly doing what Nixon had done.

This is how politicking works, in small increments over time. What may seem like a good idea today, for the sake of political expediency can turn into the status quo of the future. Unfortunately, the impact on our nation’s future is rarely considered in times like these, so it is very likely that presidential pardons will flow freely during this administration. Nixon had been told that he could not pardon himself, but it’s impossible to say whether or not Trump will need to test that principle. The long-term impact of a president exercising the power of pardon on himself should terrify every American, but even that is uncertain.

For now, Americans should think twice before they just let it slide if Trump starts giving out pardons like candy over this case of the Russians interfering in our elections. While it certainly would be easier for all concerned in the Trump administration, there also is the inevitable backlash. Temporary as it may be, it could fall in time to cause crushing GOP losses – part of the reason why it’s currently assumed that Trump would wait until after November. No matter what, Trump and the GOP would suffer at least a little in the eyes of the voters, because the perception would be that the president is covering for his friends. Regardless of which side of the aisle a president is, this is not a good thing. President George W. Bush knew that, which was why he didn’t pardon I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and just commuted his sentence. A pardon would have given the impression that Libby was getting away scot-free, while commuting the sentence still left the man with a mark on his record, albeit a largely symbolic one. But, appearances do matter, which is why Trump is trying very hard to keep the public and media focused on anything but one simple fact – Mueller’s investigation is starting to indicate that the U.S. election process may not be impervious to international influence. Once the people truly grasp that notion, it will be difficult to sell them on the idea of pardons for anyone.

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Presidential Pardons and Political Expediency

Fergie Fouls on Anthem?

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Some people were a little upset with how Fergie sang the National Anthem at the NBA All-Star game. While it’s true that her version wasn’t exactly “straight”, perhaps the outrage is a bit… well, misplaced? In case you haven’t seen or heard it yet, here it is:

Yes, she did put a little “heat” into her rendition, but that’s Fergie. She made her hits and her reputation in the music industry on her ability to make just about anything at least a little sexy. If anyone should be catching fire today from the public, it should be the event organizers for hiring her in the first place. And that is assuming that you really think it’s utterly disrespectful to croon the anthem that way. Remember, Fergie just played around with the style – making it her own. Even though she made it a little sexy, Fergie didn’t overtly show disrespect while singing it, like someone else did:

While it’s true that Fergie definitely did the anthem in a way that no one else would – or could – she definitely didn’t push the envelope to the point that some people might think. At least now we know how she’ll sing the song, and it’s a fair guess that Fergie isn’t on anyone’s list of “artists to book for the singing of the National Anthem.” Well, maybe Jimmy Kimmel might ask her to do it on his show, but what else should we expect?

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Fergie Fouls on Anthem?

Parkland and a Logical Approach to School Shootings

Last week, in Parkland, Fla. there was another mass shooting at a high school, which has caused a firestorm of debates about gun control. Unlike some other cases in the past, this shooting has illustrated a severe breakdown in just about every governmental and law enforcement system that could have (and should have) prevented this from happening.

First, we should address a problem with media coverage that remains in spite of expert advice. It is impossible to view coverage of this shooting without seeing at least a photo of the shooter. Psychological experts have repeatedly stated that at least part of the motivation behind these crimes is the spotlight, so the media is tempting future events simply by giving the perpetrators what they want – media attention. This applies even when the shooter commits suicide, because they die knowing that the media will make them famous in their last act.

While it is tempting to demand that our leaders “do something” in the aftermath of a tragedy like this, it’s also important to evaluate what actually happened. In this particular case, there are no laws that would have prevented this attack, but existing laws and governmental systems could have prevented it if they hadn’t failed. The shooter’s threats to commit this crime were reported to the FBI, the school district was aware of his instability, and the family either should have seen signs of danger or should have been told by members of the community that there was a problem. While the weapon(s) the shooter acquired may have been purchased legally, there was good reason for the family to request that law enforcement remove them from the home.

Our nation does have more school shootings than any other nation in the world, and it is true that part of the reason is because our citizens also have the most weapons. However, comparisons absent other factors do not paint an accurate picture of the situation we are facing as a nation either. Our problem isn’t the fact that we guarantee the right of citizens to bear arms, but that we are comparing ourselves with nations that do not.

On the world stage, there is arguably only one nation we can accurately compare ourselves with when it comes to bearing arms – Israel. Many citizens in Israel not only own weapons, but also carry them on a daily basis. There is compulsory military service, so there is no question about whether or not any adults have attended gun safety courses. Teachers are regularly seen in the streets with automatic weapons, while guiding their students on school outings. While some citizens may not like guns and may choose not to carry one, they fully comprehend the fact that they are tools for public safety. Most importantly, in Israel, there is no such thing as a “gun-free zone.” This means that criminals – regardless of motivation – cannot choose targets where they can assume that they will not face armed individuals. As a result of this, Israel ends up on the list of countries where a mass shooting has occurred, but it is among nations where weapons are essentially banned. That is in spite of the fact that many citizens own and carry weapons every day, and in spite of the fact that Israel is not on a list of nations that miraculously doesn’t have citizens with mental health problems.

Of course, the primary difference between the U.S. and Israel is that they have a much larger problem with terrorism than we do. Mass shootings are not a common problem for them, but mass casualty attacks by other means are. However, that is a direct result of the geo-political factors for their region, nothing more. If they would suddenly broker peace in their region but continued to use weapons as they do today, mass shootings still would not happen any more frequently than they do now.

In the U.S., mass shootings do not occur where shooters know they could be faced with armed resistance. That is why schools, shopping malls and movie theaters are chosen as targets. Even one of the survivors from Parkland – a teacher with two children in the school – suggested on ABC’s This Week that having retired or off-duty law enforcement officers armed in schools might help. Her objection to armed teachers was based on her personal feelings about weapons, so maybe she would have conceded that would be a good idea if school personnel would be given proper training before being permitted to keep weapons on campus.

No matter what it is counter-productive to discuss enacting new laws when the current ones still aren’t being applied and enforced. At most, we do need to look at improving the technology we use for background checks, and we need to consolidate data from Federal to local levels. We also need to remember the simple fact that criminals and the criminally insane do not by definition abide by laws. Gun laws only restrict people who would use weapons as they are intended in society – as tools for public and personal safety. Also, we need to seriously rethink “gun-free zones” in the same way Israel would. They do not specify areas as vulnerable to criminal attack because citizens are forbidden from protecting themselves and others with weapons, and neither should we.

Image: By Marcus Quigmire from Florida, USA (Drug Free and Gun Free) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Parkland and a Logical Approach to School Shootings