It’s no secret that Trump has a tendency of making things up as he goes along, so no one is surprised when he lies. However, when it gets beyond the typical lies to his base to keep them happy and lies to the rest of us to make our heads implode, there’s a problem.
It all started in a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and it was all about Trump’s favorite topic these days – trade inequity. Trump’s claim to Trudeau was that the U.S. has a trade deficit with Canada, which is untrue when one considers the sum total of trade between the two nations. Technically, the U.S. does import more raw materials from Canada, but we more than make up for it in consumer goods and services. (Yes, we do buy a lot of building materials from Canada, but without them we wouldn’t be enjoying one of the best years in construction in at least a decade. Albeit, that’s according to my husband who sells those materials in the U.S., and our household bank accounts.)
Trump claimed that he corrected himself privately with Trudeau, but then there was this:
We do have a Trade Deficit with Canada, as we do with almost all countries (some of them massive). P.M. Justin Trudeau of Canada, a very good guy, doesn’t like saying that Canada has a Surplus vs. the U.S.(negotiating), but they do…they almost all do…and that’s how I know!
So, the lie continues on Twitter. But, that’s not enough to cover this one. The unusual circumstances surrounding what probably could have been written off as yet another Trump lie is the fact that Trump got caught on an audio recording saying that he knew he was lying. Yes, that was uncovered by the Washington Post and Politico, but to understand how bad this situation is, the story was even picked up by the online tabloid, Hello Giggles.
Yes, that means that Trump is making headlines as a liar to heads of state on a website that classifies a story about some Miley Cyrus song lyrics “News.” Talk about lowering the bar?
So, here it is:
Pro-tip for the President: Lying to world leaders is bad. It makes you look like a complete idiot, since most of the time, when you lie to leaders you are probably lying about something that you should know because you are the President. When in doubt, smile, shake hands with the leader, and talk about how much you like being friends with the other person in the room who undoubtedly knows more about being a world leader than you do. (Just skip that “friend” talk when you inevitably follow through with your stupid idea of meeting with Kim Jong Un.
He’s not your friend.)
Students across the country are taking their First Amendment rights out for a walk today, and are protesting against school violence – or guns. While it is a good thing to see them speaking out in general, the problem is that they are taking a media and politician provided shortcut on the issue. Instead of honestly exploring and discussing the problem of school violence in the classroom (or among themselves), they are choosing to blame guns. That is approximately the same as blaming cars for car accidents, as opposed to blaming the drivers. More importantly, it is ignoring an honest exploration of the real causes of school violence. They are students, so they may not be prepared to deal with the uncomfortable possibility that they bear some of the responsibility for the problem. Following are a handful of issues that are being ignored today, because it’s easier to just blame some inanimate objects.
1. Bullying – Like it or not, one common trait among the majority of people who commit mass attacks (with guns or other weapons) in schools is a history of being bullied. This is an age-old problem, and it’s unlikely that anyone will find a solution for it until human beings cease to have feelings of envy and hatred. We would also need to reach the point of living in a society that no longer has any kind of social classes. Since we can’t change nature, the best that we can do is to mitigate the problem.
Students should be demanding local laws that levy fines against the parents of bullies. They also should be demanding that schools be held harmless in court for acting in good faith to prevent bullying – or in common speak, they should request laws that prevent parents from being able to sue schools for reasonable disciplinary actions against their children when they are bullies. For those who would be concerned about how the schools would use the money from fines, demand that the funds be used for school programs and activities that have been suffering from budget cuts.
2. Zero Tolerance Policies – Most schools have zero tolerance policies on violence in schools, and on a very simplistic level that seems like a good idea. However, most schools also have security cameras just about everywhere, so the reason for having those policies no longer exists. The policies theoretically were adopted because teachers and administrators can’t be everywhere, so they can’t always tell who started a fight in school. In reality, the typical reason why these policies are adopted is to avoid litigation. Schools don’t want to be sued (usually by the parents of the aggressor in these fights), so it’s easier if everyone involved in a fight gets punished.
Students should demand the right to defend themselves in school. This issue is related to bullying, and it is no secret that many bullies tend to back down when they realize that their targets aren’t going to take a beating without fighting back. Obviously this issue becomes far more complex in many urban schools with gang problems, but punishing both aggressors and victims does not help students. It definitely doesn’t lead to safer schools either.
3. The Media Spotlight – The students from Parkland, Fla. have become the media darlings since tragedy hit their school, and eventually there will need to be a debate over how the spotlight affected their behavior. For now, it’s just necessary to point out that the media doubled-down on its negative role in mass attacks on schools by putting the spotlight on students who decided to speak up before they had time to process what had happened and grieve.
Part of the allure for people who end up engaging in this kind of violence is the desire for the spotlight, so students need to think about ways to remove the “instant celebrity” factor. The adults certainly are failing miserably in this area, since the media and politicians have been quite happy to use children for their own agendas lately.
Perhaps students should demand that their schools adopt “media blackout policies” particularly when any acts of violence occur on campus. Maybe state that the media can know that there has been an incident, but may not know the identity of the suspect. Law enforcement agencies should also be encouraged to adopt similar policies. Press freedom is involved in this, but because there is no shortage of experts in psychology and criminology who would freely state that media attention is often part of the motivation for these attackers, a case definitely can be made for preserving public safety.
While not quite to the level of shouting fire in a crowded theater, the media definitely has been glorifying mass attackers simply by putting their photos out as quickly as possible. The public is curious, but that doesn’t mean that the public is entitled to know the identity of these people, particularly when they are minors. Unfortunately, many of these attackers end up dead, so we can’t question them to find out exactly how important media attention is, but based on writings they’ve left behind, it’s not unreasonable to think that many of them wanted that moment of fame when they died.
4. There’s (Almost) No App for That – Some regions and schools in the country have smartphone apps for students to report questionable behavior of classmates. There are also some programs that teach students how to recognize risk factors for suicide and violent behavior in their peers. Schools that have continual and comprehensive education about safe and respectful social interaction are a rarity, since this kind of education typically falls under the umbrella of sexual education.
Students should be demanding local apps that they can use on their devices to report questionable behavior before it reaches the boiling point. Of course, that means they’ll also need to demand comprehensive education on psycho-social skills and best habits, which probably will open debates on sex education, since that’s where that kind of curriculum currently exists. If parents don’t like that, the schools might want to consider online courses, so students can “home-school” those classes. But, the fact that many schools do not offer this kind of education from day one of kindergarten or preschool through high school graduation contributes to the problem of all kinds of school violence – not just mass attacks.
5. Social Media Mayhem – Social media is a cesspool, and there is no shortage of violent content there in spite of the attempts of the platform developers to prevent it. It’s also the place where students put up photos and writing that can be highly disturbing. They do it there because it tends to fall under the radar of parents and teachers.
Students should be learning to police themselves, and report content to school officials when they see it. They shouldn’t stop there. Their parents should know about it. Their local police department should get a report. When students see their peers post content on social media that implies that the peers in question intend to harm themselves or others, students should report it to every adult they can think of until someone actually does something about it. They should report it repeatedly, if necessary. This is not being a tattle-tale or a “narc”, or whatever other negative term a student wants to call it. It is the responsible act that must be done, period.
Note that there is no talk about guns in any of this, and there is a very good reason for that. Once someone reaches the point where he has decided to commit a mass attack in school, acquiring the weapon is the last act. If we are going to be serious about stopping this kind of violence in schools, we need to intercede long before someone reaches that point. If we don’t, then we will never see an end to these attacks. At best, we will see fewer attacks with guns, but more attacks with knives, bombs, or any other weapons that are easier to acquire. Everything we do will be useless until we recognize that fact, and act on it.
With Spring slowly starting to creep its way back into our lives, we had a few sunny but slightly chilly days in March to tease us. Well, tease all you want mother nature! I was off and took advantage of it (she reminded us its still winter later in the week). Day one was spent with friends Bryan and Dave, our main goal was to photograph trains. However, the railroad was not agreeing with us and it turned more into a day of good food and laughs with a couple trains and a few side stops. Day two was spent with one of my favorite road trip partners, Ilona. Almost every time we are out something memorable happens. This includes anything from having the crap scared out of us to uncontrollable laughing. Needless to say, any trip with her is an absolute adventure! A few of the photos were taken on March 3 with a majority being taken on March 6.
The trip with Ilona on March 6 was made up of stops at various places and sites to see. This blog will be focused mainly on memorials we visited on this trip, in the near future I will write about additional places we visited. The trip started with my 40 minute drive to her home to pick her up. Since I got a slightly later start than I wanted I decided a gas station visit would occur later and sooner (trust me you will hear more on this later). After picking up my side kick for the trip we headed off to the first stop, located about 10 minutes from her home that she did not know about.
The Mammoth mines were made up of two mines. Mammoth #1 Mine was a mine shaft and Mammoth #2 was a slope mine. Mammoth #1 was owned by Colonel J.W. Moore Coke Company in Greensburg, PA. In 1889 the mine was sold to The H. C. Frick Coke Company.
Located off a country road, hidden behind the Mt. Pleasant Township Road Department remaining out of site, out of mind is the only reminder of this disaster. Here the sealed shaft of Mammoth #1 Mine remains with an old coal cart and a memorial stone with the names of those 109 men and boys forever lost.
On January 27, 1891 one of the most deadly mine disasters in Pennsylvania and the United States occurred here, the Mammoth Mine Disaster. Also known as the Frick Mine Explosion occurred just after 9:00 AM. It is believed the explosion was caused by firedamp being ignited by a miners oil lamp. Most of the miners are believed to have survived the explosion however they suffocated by the effects of the afterdamp. 79 of the 109 are buried in a mass grave at a local cemetery.
Just to give you an understanding, firedamp is a flammable gas found in coal mines. It is the name given to a number of flammable gases, especially methane. It is particularly found in areas where the coal is bituminous. The gas accumulates in pockets in the coal and adjacent strata, and when they are penetrated, the release can trigger explosions. Historically, if such a pocket was highly pressurized, it was termed a “bag of foulness”. Afterdamp, is the toxic mixture of gases left in a mine following an explosion caused by firedamp, which itself can initiate a much larger explosion of coal dust. It consists of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen, hydrogen sulfide, another highly toxic gas, may also be present. However, it is the high content of carbon monoxide which kills by depriving victims of oxygen by combining preferentially with hemoglobin in the blood.
The incident at Mammoth prompted Pennsylvania state legislation to strengthen mine safety inspections. The President of H.C. Coke Company, Thomas Lynch introduced the phrase, “Safety is the first consideration” and it appeared on every company circular. Soon after the expressions was shortened to a very common phrase we see everyday at nearly every workplace, “Safety First”. Soon after this disaster, the company published 25 mine safety rules. As the number of accidents increased, the rules increased. These rules were later adopted by other mining companies throughout the region. Most of the rules were listed in the 1916 edition of the Coal Miner’s Pocketbook.
While this was a very tragic accident to occur in Southwestern Pennsylvania, this event not only changed the industry but also gave us a simple saying that our lives depend upon, “Safety First”.
The next memorial stop on this trip is located in a much busier location but still surely goes highly unnoticed by the hundreds maybe thousands that pass by it daily. Located on the side of Route 30 East (Lincoln Highway) in Ligonier Township at the intersection of St. Clair Hollow Road stands a marker and stone monument to a man many never heard of.
Arthur St. Clair was born March 23, 1737 in Thurs, Scotland. In 1757, St. Clair purchased a commission in the British Army, Royal American Regiment, and came to America with Admiral Edward Boscawen’s fleet for the French and Indian War. On April 16, 1762, he resigned his commission, and, in 1764, he settled in Ligonier Valley, Pennsylvania, where he purchased land and erected mills. He was the largest landowner in Western Pennsylvania. In 1770, St. Clair became a justice of the court, of quarter sessions and of common pleas, a member of the proprietary council, a justice, recorder, and clerk of the orphans’ court, and prothonotary of Bedford and Westmoreland counties.
By the 1770’s Arthur St. Clair seen himself as more of an American than British. During the Revolutionary War, he rose to the rank of Major General in the Continental Army, however after a controversial retreat from Fort Ticonderoga he lost his command. After the war, he served as the 15th President of the Continental Congress. During his term he passed the Northwest Ordinance. He then became governor of the Northwest Territory in 1788. In 1791, St. Clair commanded the American forces in what was the United States’s worst ever defeat against the American Indians. Politically out-of-step with the Jefferson administration, he was replaced as governor in 1802.
Major General Arthur St. Clair died in poverty on August 31, 1818 in Greensburg, PA. He was buried under a Masonic monument in St. Clair Park in Greensburg. Arthur St. Clair has had many places named after him in seven states as well as in Scotland. The American Civil War steamer U.S.S. St. Clair was also named after him.
After departing the St. Clair Monument, we were also done with Westmoreland County for now and headed for Johnstown in Cambria County, PA. Here we visited the Grandview Cemetery. Good reason for this cemetery be to named Grandview, the view is just that. However, if you plan on visiting wait until spring. We hoped to ride the incline while there however it was closed for the season. The cemetery is one of the largest in the state, over 235 acres.
Johnstown has had a pretty rough history. Besides for being an industrial powerhouse at one time, the city was nearly wiped off the face of the earth. After several days of heavy rain the South Fork Dam on the Little Conemaugh River gave way releasing 14.55 million cubic meters of water. The wave of the flood waters reached as high as 75 feet and speeds of 40 mph, it took 65 minutes for the lake to drain. When it crashed into the city of Johnstown the wave was 36 feet high. When it was all over most of Johnstown was destroyed and 2,208 people per killed, 777 of those bodies were never identified. Those 777 souls were laid to rest at the Grandview Cemetery in an area known as the, “Plot of the Unknown”.
A simple sign marks the location of the unidentified remains of those killed on May 31, 1889. Here in the Plot of the Unknown stands 777 identical unmarked headstones, one for each of the unidentified. While they may never be known, these headstones ensure they will never be forgotten. On the backside of this section stands a large monument to honor those lost.
A short walk from the Plot of the Unknown stands the tallest monument in the cemetery. Paid for by the public, this monument was placed here to honor those who served in the American Civil War. The monument is surrounded by the Circle of Soldiers who served in the Grand Army of the Republic.
On the other side of the cemetery at one of its highest points stands this large memorial. Originally placed in the Union Cemetery in 1898. This monument honors the graves of those that were washed away in the flood on May 31, 1889. In 1949, this monument was moved here, possibly to protect it from any future floods.
After departing Grandview Cemetery we continued our journey for the day. There were other stops in between the monuments we already talked about and the final monument of the stop. Since this blog is only focused on the monuments and memorials we will discuss the other stops in future blogs.
As I said before, trips with Ilona are always entertaining. This time, it was my own fault. At the beginning I told you I skipped the gas station stop to make up time for me getting a late start………. As a divorced male, I should have known better, but typical man moment, I did it anyhow. When we left Johnstown I knew fuel was getting low but I did not want to go into downtown to get gas. We left the city and most of Cambria is pretty rural. I knew we would be okay, however a woman is a woman. The discussion for this part of the trip was mainly focused on the fuel situation. Against her better judgement we continued on making stops, none of which included a gas station as none were nearby along the way. My goal, make it to Sheetz gas station in Portage, and we did. Here we got lunch and gas, she was happy once again. However I did hear about it the whole trip…… lesson learned here fellas, start with a full tank of fuel.
The final stop as far as monuments and memorials go on this trip was a very interesting place that is probably little known outside the local community. I first stopped here on March 3rd with my friend Bryan but knew this was a place Ilona would really enjoy. She is that dark morbid friend of mine that we all have…….now that I think of it I have a lot of those but she is the darkest. Take my word on this when I tell you…….she has an antique casket in her home.
Located at St. Michael’s Basilica in Loretto, PA is the tomb of Prince Demetrius Gallitzin. The tomb sits in front of St. Michael’s under a statue of the prince. The tomb is vary narrow with not a lot of space but it is open to the public.
Prince Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin (December 22, 1770 – May 6, 1840) was an emigre Russian aristocrat and Roman Catholic priest known as The Apostle of the Alleghenies. Since 2005, he has been under consideration for possible canonization by the Catholic Church. His current title is Servant of God. The Prince was born into inherited privilege. His father was the Russian ambassador to the Netherlands and his mother was a Prussian Countess.
The Prince arrived in the United States on October 28, 1792 and quickly became interested in the needs of The Church in the United States. He chose to give up his inheritance and become a priest. He attended the newly formed Seminary of St. Sulpice in Baltimore on November 5, 1792 and Father Gallitzin was ordained on March 18, 1795. In 1799, Gallitzin founded the settlement of Loretto, PA and it became the first English-speaking Catholic settlement in the United States west of the Allegheny Front.
The Prince would go broke at one point in an attempt to build the community of Loretto. Even through the toughest of times he never forgot where he planted his roots in Pennsylvania. He turned down numerous positions within the Roman Catholic Church to remain in Loretto. He was considered for positions in Philadelphia, Kentucky, Pittsburgh, and was also nominated to be the first bishop of Cincinnati and Detroit, all positions that would require him to leave Loretto. Finally, he did accept appointment as Vicar-General for Western Pennsylvania.
By the end of his life he paid back all of the loans he incurred to create the town of Loretto. It is believed that he spent nearly $150,000 of his own money to create a community for Roman Catholics. For 41 years, Price Gallitzin traveled the Allegheny Mountains in all types of health and weather conditions. After a fall that severely injured him preventing him from riding a horse, he continued to travel by sleigh. His travels consisted of preaching, teaching, serving, praying and offering the sacraments. A doctor had recommended bed rest and warmth for the exhausted priest, but he was reluctant to curtail any of the Lenten or Holy Week services. Father Gallitzin ministered faithfully until the very end of his life, and after a brief illness, died at the age of 69 in Loretto on May 6, 1840, shortly after Easter.
For more photographs of these places and many more places, click over to my Facebook Page, Neat Road Trips. Be sure to watch for additional blogs coming out soon on other places I visited on this most recent trip. Please share this page and be sure to “Like” Neat Road Trips on Facebook and invite your friends.
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.
#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:
Looks like thousands of Twitter users committed the thought crime of tweeting about “God,” “the American flag,” and “guns,” and were taken off the platform. Our undercover reporting into Twitter showed those terms indicate to engineers you are “for sure a bot.” #TwitterLockOutpic.twitter.com/hI88iUEcCD
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.”
Idaho State Senator Dan Foreman apparently needs a remedial course in constituent relations, if the following outburst is any indication:
This is how Senator Dan Foreman, Idaho District 5, treats his constituents. We drove 7 hours to meet with him and he threatened to call the police if we entered his office. SPREAD THIS! pic.twitter.com/SfDzdciqg1
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.