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.

Image: Flickr

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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

Art Gallery Twitter-style with #VisibleWomen

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If you’re into art – illustrations particularly – it might not hurt to take a moment and look up #VisibleWomen on Twitter. A significant number of female artists have taken to social media to show their work:

Yes, these women are out there doing their work in places you actually know about.

Here’s some from Disney:

And Cartoon Network:

And the world of comic books:

And fantasy/video games:

All I can say is drop by Twitter, check out #VisibleWomen, and keep scrolling to see the work from these remarkable women.

Image: Twitter/Maria Nguyen/@DTNart

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Art Gallery Twitter-style with #VisibleWomen

Misspent Outrage about ‘Peter Rabbit’

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Yes, Sony did put a scene in Peter Rabbit about severe food allergies. Yes, it is a serious subject. No, it probably wasn’t necessary for anyone to start calling for boycotts.

It’s been a long time since our society responded to situations like this in a more adult manner, so bear with me here. While I’m tempted to just relegate this to the “faux outrage” pile, I can’t, but that’s only because Sony chose to depict a potentially fatal allergy on the big screen.

But, instead of the extreme response we’ve seen from parents and groups on social media, perhaps the better route would have been to turn this into a teaching moment – for everyone. Saying that Sony was insensitive and calling for a boycott of the film forced the corporation to apologize publicly. Simply pointing out that the film showed a behavior that everyone needs to know is wrong would have left the door open for a deeper conversation about potentially deadly allergies in general.

Now, it’s not likely that many health teachers will think about pulling that scene from the film for class as an object lesson about what not to do. They will be rightfully concerned about reigniting the current outrage.

The fact remains that this film is pure fiction, and showing it as a dramatization of what not to do offers more than one lesson for kids. It also offers the opportunity to reinforce the ongoing lessons about the difference between fantasy and reality. No matter what, because of this outrage, Peter Rabbit has probably been lost as a teaching tool in general, and not just for learning about food allergies.

Maybe the outrage itself can be a teaching tool. When people are upset about something they see in media or entertainment, perhaps they need to think twice before crying for boycotts or other extreme actions. While many people might seem supportive of the outraged people, sharing that feeling doesn’t educate anyone on anything except the fine art of getting upset. Righteous indignation might feel good for a moment, but in the end it doesn’t promote discussion on what caused it in the first place. That discussion falls too far below the headlines, and isn’t tweetable. In the case of Peter Rabbit, even asking why Sony decided to put a poorly done Jackass stunt in the film would have brought more attention to real issue – food allergies. At least then, people might have asked why Sony got it so wrong.

Image: YouTube Capture

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Misspent Outrage about ‘Peter Rabbit’

Why College Campuses Don’t Need Title IX

University administrators are revolting against Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, because she dared to suggest that our institutions of higher learning should’t be getting into the business of law. Title IX has lead to what many have called “kangaroo courts” punishing students who are accused of rape on campus, without the benefit of due process or anything remotely similar to competent legal representation. In the worst cases, the accusers have essentially been turned into judge, jury and executioner.

While this system – definitely weighted in favor of accusers – has removed some true predators from campuses nationwide, it has also unfairly punished individuals who were not guilty. Also, the entire Title IX system has failed to give more than a minor increase in something that American students have been hopelessly behind on for years – sexual education.

Title IX is essentially like closing he barn door after the horses have run out, since its focus is primarily on punishing “predators” on far too flimsy evidence. The fact that this is happening in institutions of learning is doubly disturbing. It is true that teaching young people about respect, self-esteem, personal boundaries, sexuality, healthy interpersonal relationships, and overcoming poor parental guidance should start long before students reach college. That doesn’t mean that university administrators should think that offering “sex week” and “safe spaces” fulfills their obligation to at least attempt to use their educational requirements to actually prevent sexual assaults on campus.

But, there won’t be a meaningful conversation about the fact that most students in the U.S. do not learn what they need to know to engage in healthy intimate relationships at any age. Before college, the primary protest is that parents should teach this – they generally don’t. In college, the focus leaps between remedial learning of the basics, and an exploration of advanced sexuality – rarely is there enough content and conversation about respect and boundaries. None of the above tend to include the most basic concepts that land young people into false allegations of rape because they haven’t learned them. Our kids simply don’t learn how to read each others’ sexual responses, social cues, or emotional consequences of sexual activity.

Our college campuses don’t need Title IX. They need to start demanding mandatory comprehensive sexual education starting as early as possible. But, we won’t see that, because it would actually address the real problem – kids on college campuses are not prepared to deal with their own sexuality, and have been taught to expect the adults to protect them. Unfortunately, they should have been taught how to be the adults in the room.

Image: Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

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Why College Campuses Don’t Need Title IX

When Deregulation Can Be Bad

As a general rule deregulation is a good thing for business, and the public. Director of the Office of Business and Management Mick Mulvaney has found the exception to that rule, while working as the interim director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. NPR reports:

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created after the financial crisis to protect Americans from being ripped off by financial firms.

Now, President Trump’s interim appointee to run the bureau, Mick Mulvaney, is making radical changes to deter the agency from aggressively pursuing its mission.

An internal memo obtained by NPR says the CFPB on Monday will unveil a new strategic plan to that end. A “revised mission and vision of the bureau” for the years 2018 through 2022 will call upon the agency to “fulfill its statutory responsibilities but go no further.” It also says the bureau should be “acting with humility and moderation.”

To Mulvaney, that means dropping lawsuits against predatory payday lenders that happened to contribute to his campaign war chest when he was in Congress. In a perfect world, it would be fine to say “buyer beware” or the like, but these lenders that have been targeted for lawsuits by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau engage in deceptive practices. They also target people who can’t afford a lengthy legal battle to recoup losses.
In truth, Mulvaney is essentially legalizing loan shark operations, and apparently believes it is fine for these companies to threaten consumers as a part of their daily business. Also, he has no problem with interest rates far exceeding 100%.

With the exception of the anarchist fringe and perhaps the most radical conservatives, it’s fair to say that most Americans would say that they are morally opposed to companies that had been targeted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, because the public honestly does need protection from that level of deception. Unfortunately, Mulvaney probably will continue to tear down this agency, and the Trump administration obviously is fine with that idea. The public just needs to hope that these deceptive business practices don’t seep into more mainstream financial services, since we definitely cannot expect this administration to prevent the public from being deceived. Not all deregulation is a good thing.

Image: Photo by Alice Pasqual on Unsplash

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When Deregulation Can Be Bad